Monday, December 23, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

For some days I have been reading here and there how the foreign media got it all wrong; that is the recent troubles in Bangkok. The journalists strongly disagree.

The message they put across seemed to say that a bunch of elites and people who did not want Thaksin Shinawatra, or anybody with the same surname in power, wanted an end to democracy – even the Democratic Party - and the end of a democratically elected government.

This of course has been borne out by the fact that the Democrats say they will boycott the election.

Well that all sounds perfectly rational.  This is a world’s first – Democrats demonstrating AGAINST democracy. Its a great news line.

Among the press and TV men criticized were of the Tom Fuller of the  New York Times and Jonathan Head of the BBC. Surely such prestigious organs such as these could not have been led up the garden path. Some Thais say they have totally misunderstood what is going on. Others that they have got it spot on.


“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.” 


The internet was abuzz as journalists quoted every other journalist who supported their own line. ‘Marvelous story on this link by Joe Blogs’.  And there was also the ‘I told you so brigade' writing from either balmy (should that read barmy) Singapore or windswept Britain.

I am a journalist. And I can tell you that in particular in Bangkok this is not a time to be among journalists. They will f…g bore the pants of you.

Anasuya Sanyale  the President of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, which is second only in the fight to defend journalists to the Girl Guide Association, stepped forward to defend the hackery in the Nation. She seemed to be saying there was a shortage of analysts. I think there is a surfeit.

Protesters in Asoke opposie Soi Cowboy (Sunday)

Actually my background is in investigations and crime. I accidentally became South East Asia correspondent for the ‘Observer’ after covering the executions of drugs traffickers in Malaysia.

After a brief stretch back in London with the Observer Film Company, as one of two founding members, and an even briefer stretch with FOX TV ‘The Reporters’ based out of Fox Five New York, (the programme was axed. It was too highbrow’)  I came back to Asia for the London Evening Standard – which, after a brief ten years with The Times – is where I am today.

I left ‘The Times’ because the 2010 riots were being reported by the Asian ‘editor’ based in Tokyo. (Also they paid less that the Enny Stannit). On the other hand I would have to add they felt my name was appearing in too many other newspapers.


“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” 
― H.L. Mencken


Anyway when journalists bitch it’s not a pretty sight. When I first came to Thailand I could not understand why the Burmese experts all seemed to hate each other as did the Cambodian experts.

Few of these guys had actually worked in newspapers or television. They had become de facto correspondents and you’d have trouble putting them on a fast moving story,  but they could write a long tome.

Above: BBC's Jonathan Head asks 'Aren't you ashamed?'

Anyway first of all. Be-reassured.  Whatever the BBC or New York Times says. It does not mean a thing. 

The majority of people in London and New York want to know. Is it still good to go to Thailand?   Are the beaches still as beautiful?  And the bars?  Whether Thailand is democratic or not, is neither here nor there. Only the money men care. The tourists had years of drunkenly floating down a river in inner tubes in Communist Laos.


“No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have searched the record for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.” 
― H.L. MenckenGist of Mencken

Above: Yingluck Shinawatra - 'We have to fight for democracy!' Interview by
Jonathan Head. Not one question put to Yingluck over criticisms of 
her government,


“Elections belong to the people. It's their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.” 
― Abraham Lincoln


Above: 'We love you Thaksin' - the BBC in Udon Thani. Democracy stolen 
from the reds. Interview Jonathan Head.

But let’s look at the alleged claims by foreign media:

It’s the rich elite who do not want to lose their stranglehold on power?

Really?  Their mega rival Thaksin Shinawatra made himself one of the richest people in Thailand by creating a mobile phone monopoly and outsting his foreign partner in a cable television operation. Why would he launch a campaign against the rich? They need rich guys in power defending the rich. But maybe the Democratic Party is sore headed.

They talk down to the people?  

Yes, this is one of two ugly sides of these demonstrations. The other one is the martial music.  But of course surveys have shown that the so called anti-democratic mobs were comprised of people of much better education and younger than the Red Shirt mob. They may feel they do not want to be ruled by country folk. That I can understand. (But of course the Shinawatras will not let that happen – as they have shown.) All men are equal. Some are more equal than others.


Well in the so called mob of elites I saw nurses, and students, and union workers, all displaying where they came from. They did not seem so rich. But the rich kids that were there got a big write up on Reuters - thanks to Thailand Tatler. But nothing wrong with that. I could have written it myself.

And then there was Nick Nostitz’s report on the bloody battle around Rajamangala Stadium, Ramkhamhaeng.

Now why would students from one of Thailand’s public universities, which draws its students from poorer families, want to attack the red shirts?  Nick provided a graphic account, suggesting there were aggravators (there probably were)  –  but no real answer to this question.

They are anti-democratic!  Well are we sure about that? They certainly do not want to go to the polls on February 2. I do concede that.


“If voting made any difference they wouldn't let us do it.” 


But hang on a minute. Its good to live here but the country still has a few problems to iron out:

We live in a country which is desperate for law reform, where the judicial processes border on disfunctionality, of which the jugges cannot be criticized for their application of restrictive laws, many of which are as open to abuse as the one for lese majeste.

We live in a country where a former Prime Minister is jailed for two years for massive corruption but can walk free, and where mushroom pickers gathering in the wrong spot can be jailed for 15 years – and we cannot criticise the judges.

We live in a country where multi-national companies can put human rights critics in jail at the drop of a load of cash, a practice used by Thaksin's Shin Corp, and where a psychotic child killer and rapist can leave the bodies of his victims around the country with impunity without the police starting an investigation.

We live in a country where time and time again successive governments have used their period in office to line their own pockets....and where the current government has taken the practice to a whole new level.

We live in a country where forests and beaches the property of the people have been stolen from the people by rich businessman – many of them linked to political parties – and where Anti-Corruption Agency moves against them have been deliberately blocked.


“A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.” 
― Thomas Jefferson


We live in a country where its FBI (DSI) has become a political tool of the government.

We live in a country where we cannot be sure the police is on the side of law and order and cannot yet be sure the army will not take  hand. But in any case where neither seem to be held to account for their misdeeds.

We live in a county where governments have consistently promised and consistently failed to provide a proper education system to replace learning by rote.

Now try setting up a democracy with all those problems.

Democracy is not the end all for Asia. Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore is constantly held up as he figure to follow. Is Singapore democratic? No. Where's the opposition? But its now one of the wealthiest countries in the world, although possibly one of the most boring.

Anti-government protesters nip into the Country Roads in Soi Cowboy  for a pint or two

But that's not the point - Nowhere have I heard the anti-government protest leaders say they want an end to democracy.

Now the Thai Stock Exchange, Tourist Council of Thailand, Board of Trade of Thailand, Federation of Thai Industries, Thai Bankers Association, Federation of Thai Capital Market Organisations and the Thai Listed Companies Association have backed the idea of an executive degree to form a Reform Committee whose findings must be made within the year and put into practice by the next government. Yingluck's promise to make reforms are not taken seriously.

That seems sensible. We all know governments are run by banks and big business. Lets hope they hurry up so Thailand can catch up with Burma and Cambodia. Let the election process continue and let the reforms be tabled by people without personal vested interest. Who cares who wins - but let whatever government be given some hard and fast rules with serious penalties, compulsory jail terms, if broken.


“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy.” 
― Elmer T Peterson

This was a Flying Sporran rant

“Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.” 
― George Bernard Shaw


On the matter of Thaksin, it’s my crime reporting background that sways me. Forget about the Tak Bai incident and Kru Se Mosque massacre, the War on Drugs, all carried out under the government of Thaksin Shinawatra. Blame the army and police. Jonathan did not ask Thaksin if he was ashamed.

But Thaksin has however committed a criminal offence and possibly many more. So I am prejudiced by my background writing about crime. And while Jonathan says (correctly) that Suthep Thaugsuban is no poster boy for anti-corruption Thaksin is provably so.


The whole dream of democracy is to raise the proletariat to the level of stupidity attained by the bourgeoisie.” 
― Gustave Flaubert

So don’t sometimes people have the right to say. ‘I’m as mad as hell and I am not going to take this anymore’. And, when they do, do we have to call them fascists?

Because sure as the Lord made toffee apples - the Red Shirt Movement is being supported by the Tooting Popular Front. Put it this way there seem to be a lot of people think its socialists versus capitalism. Left wing Versus Right Wing. If only....

In fact those protesting on the streets today should have many points in common with the red shirts.

The word democracy is not a cure-all. Look at the Greeks who invented it in the first place.

But as Churchill said:"Its the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

But he did add:"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

Britain did provide however an education for its citizens.


“Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.” 
― Howard Zinn

The author was awarded the Maurice Ludmer Memorial Prize for Investigations into Fascism and Racism.


  1. You're sounding awfully like the singha heiress when you mention education (lack thereof) and democracy.... The democratic genie is out of the bottle now, I very much doubt the 15 odd million who voted for PT will accept another coup to facilitate a 'peoples council'. Next time they might not stop at burning down central world.

    Someone tweeted that the foreign media showed a district bias towards democracy in their coverage and that it was not necessarily a bad thing...

    Maybe they can reform to be more like Hong Kong which isn't strictly one man one vote...

    I think you may have gone native Andrew living among the Bangkok burgoise... My sympathy lies with the government with all its faults...

    1. Your'e spot on Tim. But like many I am no fan of the Democrats. They lost the plot years ago. I'm much more concerned that my father in law could one day become one of the rulers. You have spotted my Achilles heel.

    2. That should read ex-father-in-law

    3. Yes I have got a little native. Had I just arrived in Thailand I would have been shouting 'Freedom
      and 'Democracy'.

    4. In fact I did - straight from the Wapping picket line :-)

    5. Isn't the Singha heiress being pilloried because she's the Singha's heiress?

  2. Ponder on the following....
    "Why do governments only rarely or never use referendums (referendums are 'democratically' prohibited in Germany) on important matters and allow the majority to make the decisions that affect their lives?"

    "Why is democracy not used in the military system anywhere in the world? We know that the military uses the utmost dictatorial form of control in order to maximise its efficiency. Hence, if democracy does not work in the most efficient form of existence, in the military, why should it work in our daily lives?"

    "Why is democracy never used in the corporate business system, which is the financial engine of the world and especially the democratic system?"

    "Why do businesses of all styles and sizes have bosses running them, and not their employees having a say in the management by using a democratic vote?"

    Test: Ask any voter, in any democratic country, about his or her own democratic system the simple question. "How many seats does your Parliament hold?" and wait for the answer.
    Answer: The vast majority of the population has no idea at all.
    Democracy is a clever scam that persuades the many, that by having a right to vote for who is elected to represent them, that they hold the keys of power. In reality its real purpose is to give the power to the few for the sole benefit of the few. Thus the few have the protection of the many that voted for their elected representative.

  3. Can we vote on that proposition, Andre? ;-)

  4. At last, a journalist who understands the realities here in Thailand - well written, Andrew. It is indeed frustrating to listen to journalists from the BBC, Reuters, etc. spouting their black & white clear-cut views of the politics here...and get it so wrong. I've lived in Thailand for nearly 20 years and have never seen democracy practiced here. I have sympathies with the views of many of the ordinary protesters on both sides of the political debate here, and detest their powerful backers/manipulators on both sides. There is a desperate need to examine a new road ahead for Thai society, which is currently rotten to the core, and the succession of general elections that return governments composed of self-serving individuals isn't going to deliver change.

    1. Extremely well put. You've summarised the situation well. Kudos to AD too. A change from the one-sided analyses put forward by Andrew MacGregor Marshall who now seems to be influencing New Mandela doctoring posts to suit his own agenda. I had to laugh when he said in an interview that he believed in honest debate. Referring to Thailand, he made the comment "Nobody knows what is true or false". In reality, he accepts no view other than his own. Reuters eventually saw through his game. So should we all. Thank heavens for the likes of Drummond to tell it as it really is.

  5. Hi Andrew! Although I did work for the NYT and IHT for quite a few years, I have not worked there for nearly half a decade. Flattered to remain top of mind, but it was not my coverage getting criticized this time around. Hope all is well. Thomas Crampton

  6. My God Tom. My humblest apologies. Corrected.