Depressing and familiar

Reading the Bangkok Post this morning seemed like a trip back in time.

One story at the Post has the The Judge Advocate-General’s Department “seeking a further extension to a deadline to challenge a court ruling that revoked the dismissal of former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva from the army reserve.” He allegedly used “fake documents when applying to join the army as a lecturer at the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy in 1987. The job exempted him from military conscription and gave him the rank of acting sub-lieutenant.”

That story has been around for years now, and Abhisit has been cashiered once in 2012 and then the “Civil Court … ruled in 2015 that … Abhisit had used false documents when he applied for the job and that the Democrat [Party] leader had lacked the necessary qualifications.” An Appeals Court overturned the ruling last year and reinstated Abhisit.

It is a rather simple case that is important to Abhisit because it involves face and status. It is important to his opponents as an example of double standards.

Another Post story has General Prayuth Chan-ocha denying “a report stating the government will revamp the selection system of provincial governors by seeking experts, including those outside the Interior Ministry, to serve in the positions.”

This proposal was apparently recommended by Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak. Somkid reckoned he wanted “governors who have vision …, expertise, strength, … and initiative.”

As a former Thaksin Shinawatra minister, when CEO governors were promoted, it is easy to see why The Dictator has had to quickly respond to a wildfire of yellow-tinged alarm, denying any plan to change the time-honored, elite-supported manner for controlling local populations.  No “vision” or “initiative” required when repressing and managing the dangerous masses.

A third Bangkok Post story is of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) “investigation” of Thawatchai Anukul’s mysterious death in custody on 29 August 2016. This is the former official said to have worked with members of the elite to acquire land – an “normal” enough thing in Thailand. He somehow ended up being investigated and taken into jail. He then died. A first “investigation” concluded “Thawatchai strangled himself by wrapping his socks around his neck and attaching them to a door hinge.” The problem was that the police’s Institute of Forensic Medicine “reported in its initial autopsy result that Thawatchai died of abdominal haemorrhaging and a ruptured liver from being hit with a solid, blunt object together with asphyxiation from hanging…”.

Now the family says it can’t get an autopsy report because “the findings could not be revealed now as they might affect people involved in the case.” Perhaps results will be available for a court hearing in a month or so.

You get the picture. Impunity, cover-ups and complete incompetence are “normal.”

Yet another Post report is of “reconciliation.” General Prawit Wongsuwan has decided that “political parties and pressure groups will be asked to sign ‘a memorandum of understanding on national reconciliation’ as part of government efforts to heal the political divide…”. At the same time, he scotched discussion of an amnesty.

“Reconciliation” has been on the political agenda since the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime. The problem has been that “reconciliation” has not involved justice. This time around, Prawit wants ideas from “representatives from all political parties and groups will be invited to contribute ideas, including academics, legal experts, senior military soldiers, and police officers.” After this the junta will “establish a set of guidelines that will promote unity.”

That sounds like what might be expected for “reconciliation” run by a military junta. As Prawit “explained,” the military can play a role in “reconciliation” processes because the military is not viewed as a party to political conflict! Gen Prawit said: “The military never has enemies. It has no conflict with anyone.”

Democrat Party leader Abhisit declared “there was a need to determine the truth behind political unrest” before reconciliation. He means a truth that suits him.

Perhaps surprisingly, Puea Thai Party and official red shirts were sounding enthusiastic. But, then, they desperately need an election as soon as possible.

Interestingly Puea Thai’s Sudarat Keyuraphan, observed that “success in fostering unity rests on the sincerity of those in power.” She added: “Those in power must show sincerity and maintain impartiality, and must avoid getting themselves involved in conflict themselves. They must listen to all sides equally, rather than invited parties involved in conflict only as a token gesture as before…”.

Related, and at the Bangkok Post, former Thaksin aide Suranand Vejjajiva observes that the military “regime will find it hard to achieve meaningful reconciliation if it is not committed to a return to full democracy and applying the rule of law.” He points out that the military’s “reconciliation” is embedded in the authoritarian “roadmap to democracy” and “its true authoritarian agenda to manipulate political outcomes after a new general election is held either this year or the next.”

Nothing will change the roadmap to authoritarian tutoring over a further 20 years. He says the junta “has to realise that only democracy can pave the way for political reconciliation.”

Suranand’s democracy is not one the military comprehends. It is establishing a 1950s version of Thai-style democracy.

He predicts that “[a]ny future meetings on national reconciliation that Gen Prawit expects to call will end up as a series of shows for the media, if representatives of political parties show up at all.”

That’s been the pattern: impunity, PR and repression. It is depressingly all too familiar.

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