Sunday, January 31, 2010

US launches largest Asian war games in Thailand

RAYONG - The US military began its largest war games in the Pacific region Monday -- an annual training exercise with troops from Thailand, Japan, Indonesia and Singapore, now joined by South Korea.

At the opening ceremony in the eastern Thai province of Rayong, US Ambassador Eric G. John said that the "Cobra Gold" exercise, now in its 29th year, had become a "multinational showcase event."

"The US continues to view this exercise, which is our premier training event in Thailand, as an important symbol of US military commitment to maintaining peace and security in Asia," he told the audience.

John welcomed South Korea's participation in the event, which runs until February 11 and will see soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen from the six countries taking part in operations across Thailand.

He said the focus of the exercise was on joint peacekeeping operations and humanitarian and disaster responses, for which it offered "unparalleled" preparation, citing the 2004 tsunami relief operation as an example.

"It's imperative that our separate militaries learn to work with each other -- together -- and rehearse for the day their services are needed to answer that call for help," he said.

"As Cobra Gold is the US military's largest exercise in the Pacific region -- and indeed, the largest exercise of its kind in Asia -- we welcome the contributions of all the nations who will participate in the coming days," he said.

In total representatives from more than 20 countries will participate, observe or support, he added.

Thailand and the United States are long-time allies, but a large sum of US military assistance to the Southeast Asian nation was suspended after a Thai coup in 2006. The aid was resumed after elections in December 2007.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Thailand's Big Issue: Coup-Coup Rumours

A bunch of tanks drove down the street last Sunday night, which could only mean one thing to some people.

NOT THIS TIME / A soldier guards Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue following the 2006 coup three years ago.

The army called it a minor public relations boo-boo, that the generals didn't put out a press release that some tanks and armoured cars were being pulled back from the South to repair sheds in Pathum Thani province for maintenance, and there was no question of a coup d'etat.

There was just one problem with this _ that's what they would say anyway. It is the line the army has used before every coup since 1962, including the disastrous coup of 2006. It took down the Thaksin government and proceeded to run the worst administration of the country in memory.

So, with its denials effectively meaningless, the opposition had the chance to make political hay while the public could only wring its hands. The Stock Exchange of Thailand index tanked, but that was just part of what was a very bad week for both the government and the military.

The coalition partners split with the ruling Democrats, putting government survival on the clock (see Winners, below).

The rogue Maj Gen Khattiya ``Seh Daeng'' Sawasdipol may have been on the verge of a spectacular crash-and-burn mission, but last week he succeeded in making army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda look powerless _ and frustration has led many a general to reach for the coup-coup clock. (see Losers, below).

And the red shirts, as always, were there to prod the army and opposition and even take a shot at the Supreme Court panel currently deliberating the case to seize Thaksin's billions.

The army spokesman had it right when he said that coups were out of fashion, that the 2006 putsch had proved that the military could not handle problems that politicians should solve. And again, that was what army chief Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin said just weeks before he overthrew Thaksin and parked tanks on the streets of Bangkok.

There is no doubt that another military coup would be disastrous for the nation's image, bring actual trade sanctions from parts of the Americas and Europe, and send terribly skittish foreign investors running for the wings.

None of this has stopped coup-makers in the past, of course. The army still has the means to seize power, and there are no signs of a political leader who intends to take those means away.

The Ten Commandments Of Thai Politicians

I rarely do this, but this “field manual” for Thai politicians written by Prophessor Stephen B. Young for The Nation is worth to be mirrored in full. You may remember The Nation’s telling interview back in September last year with the man. Young introduces his helpful rules for Thai politicians with this:

“Having tasted of politics both east and west, and having shared many a story over the last 49 years with Thais in and out of government and politics and from Isaan villages to royal residences, it seems to me the current unrest in Thailand could be overcome by application of the following guidelines for Thai politicians:” (…)

Take a deep breath. It’s an again telling list. Explicitly mentioning to “beware farangs bearing condescending advice” as if we’d still be stuck in colonial times. Or Thailand as a potential Leitkultur? The old man has definitely gone Thai. And who’s that “established moral elite”?! But Young only lists eight helpful rules. So what two rules are missing to make it a uniquely Thai Decalogue? Maybe “Thou shalt first and foremost dismiss thouself” …

1. Stand up to bullies

In periods of political transition and turmoil, authority wanes and self-seeking vigorously asserts itself. Then bullies tend to appear. But, fortunately, their bark is much more impressive than their bite.

Bullies are only testing the water to check their buoyancy. If confronted with firmness and quiet perseverance, they will protest with more threats of violence and retaliation, grumble loudly, and then slink away.

The bully wears a mask like a dancer in a khon play. Wait to see the true face behind the mask before making judgments about the real game being played.

Calm and respectful abiding by principle and the law will reveal whether or not bullies have real power to impose their interests or whether all they have is bluster.

2. Barami can’t be bought

Real barami, the kind that comes with bun and which brings genuine distinction, does not come simply by holding positions of power and possessing a lot of money.

Power and money bring a certain kind of forced pre-eminence, to be sure, but not lasting admiration and gratitude. Subordination of supporters bought with money or imposed with power does not last. Uneasy lies the head that surrounds itself with hypocritical professions of loyalty from paid or coerced retainers.

The politician who goes down the road of seeking money and administrative power can never turn back to virtue. More and more money and power become ever more necessary to keep one’s dependents in line. So, the game has to be fixed to get the means to keep up one’s position. Real barami slides farther and farther away.

Thus, it is foolish to use politics to climb the ladder of barami and try to enter the ranks of the established moral elite. It won’t work.

Use politics to serve the people and the right kind of barami will come to you of its own accord.

3. Thai politics is just another form of Thai drama; take your mask off

There is a lot of smoke and noise in politics; rumors and schemes; shifting alliances and false friendships; all under the cover of polite conventions and smiling deference.

But the noise and the gestures are mostly those of actors only. Take off your mask and expose to public disdain the others who then refuse to do so. Be yourself and speak your mind – politely of course.

Don’t just play a role of convenience; be decisive and take real risks in order to do good. Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

4. Confront with kreng jai

Confrontation can be civil and respectful. In fact, differences don’t have to be confrontational, more like sharing views in a dialog or a conversation. Detach points of view, suggestions and concerns from power and status; let comments and ideas stand on their own for consideration by others.

5. Dialog is not defeat

Dialog is the meeting of minds around ideas and initiatives. It is not a posture assumed for the purpose of tough negotiations. Standing on principle while entering into dialog does not compromise your barami.

6. Beware farangs bearing condescending advice

The farang mindset, no matter how well educated or how well intended, has no necessary commitment to the well-being of Thai society. Nor will the farang mindset necessarily have good remedies for Thailand if all goes wrong with farang recommendations to better conform Thai values and social practices with foreign standards.

Even the well-meaning farangs will probably not stick around to pick up the pieces if it all falls apart. Remember the Americans in South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

7. Everyone is responsible

Don’t leave important matters to a Thevada. Thai citizens shape Thai destiny. The helpful touch of many hands accumulates much good karma. Provide space for the effects of constructive contributions coming from all over.

8. Use the Thosapit Rajatham

The ten guiding principles of just rule, taken from Theravada teachings on moderation, can work just fine in the 21st century.

Politicians, political parties, even government programs, can be judged good or bad by their alignment with the Thosapit Rajatham.


Read more:

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thailand's Eastern & Oriental Express train

Q: I've been to Thailand many times but have yet to take and the luxury Eastern & Oriental Express train. I've heard it will soon operate a new route. Do you have the details? Thanks. Lenka

A: This luxury train offers you a once-in-a-life-time experience. The Eastern & Oriental Express is admittedly one of the world's great train journeys, but if you've been to Asia many times already, you may be less exited about the exotic scenery than by the luxury and charm of the train service as well as the amenities found in its suites and compartments and, of course, the fine dining and wine.

The new route will take passengers from Bangkok across the Friendship Bridge to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. The new schedule is due to start on February 23 and the four-ay, three-night trip, known as "Voyage to Vientiane" will start and end of Bangkok.

If you've never explored northeastern Thailand and have deep pockets, this trip is definitely worthwhile. Interesting stops includes Phimai Historical Park in Nakhon Ratchasima as well as a side trip to Khao Yai's vineyards to taste Thailand's premium "new latitude" wines. Arriving in Vientiane, passengers will have a full day tour of the city before returning the next day.

The short journey is rather pricey, starting from US$1,950 (Bt65,000) for a State Cabin and $3,780 for a Presidential Suite per person and based on share accommodation. The price includes all meals on board, with complimentary tea and coffee in your compartment, and sightseeing tours.

That said, the trip would add a real bonus to a holiday in Thailand. Enjoy your stay!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Thaksin Shinawatra's American Doctoral Thesis

In May 1979, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra completed his Ph.D thesis. The title is "An Analysis of the Relationship Between the Criminal Justice Educational Process and the Attitude of the Student Toward the Rule of Law". Thaksin completed his Ph.D from the Faculty of the Institute of Contemporary Correctionsand the Behavioral Sciences at Sam Houston State University.

A few months ago back, BP obtained a photocopy of the Ph.D thesis from a reliable reader. The reader, who BP is known for more than 8 years, explained the background to how they obtained the dissertation and BP has little doubt it is real. There are a few different copies floating around Bangkok. Since obtaining a hard copy BP has read it and scanned it - it took longer than expected after the first attempt at scanning it was a miserable failure (BP learnt about British A4 and American letter size paper are different and shrinking to A4 size cut off an inch of text...).

A copy of the complete thesis is available from here (PDF - 22MB). BP makes no guarantee on how well it will print and it was hand-scanned so quality does vary throughout, but it is certainly legible.

It is certainly not the best piece of academic scholarship, but it does provide some insight into the person who wrote it. Pasuk Phongpaichit of Chulalongkorn University wrote in 2004 (PDF):

Thaksin studied jurisprudence, and his PhD thesis is about the rule of law (Thaksin 1979). But in the election campaign which brought him to power, he argued that law was often an obstacle which prevented political leaders from solving problems.

Pasuk and Baker in Thaksin (2009) at page 40:

Thaksin's doctoral thesis begins from the fascinating question of why "criminal justice practitioners" tend to break the law. The opening page reproduces press reports of police, judges and jailers beating and otherwise abusing people. His research examines whether education may help. He tests whether studying criminal justice at Sam Houston State University improves the students' attitude to the rule of law. The answr, based on 860 questionnaires, is that it does, but only a a very little bit (Thaksin 1979).

Then in the footnote at page 376:

Perhaps, the most intriguing finding of the research is that among students enrolling at Sam Houston State, those electing to study criminal justice hae the least respect for the rule of law when they arrive. Most of thesis consists of tables generated by SPSS. The test (excluding appendices) is fifteen thousand words. There is no reference to Thailand and the text talks of "our legal system" meaning the US.

Below are some excerpts from Thaksin's Ph.D thesis that BP wishes to highlight. The highlighted passages are not a summary of the thesis. The passages are on the beginning as that is where it is easiest to read between the lines and deduce Thaksin's thoughts or were interesting in light of the war on drugs. All emphasis has been added by BP:

Pages 3-4:

This study concerned two basic philosophic models of the criminal justice process (crime control vs. due process) pointed out by Packer (1968). The Crime Control Model is based on the proposition that the repression of criminal conduct is by far the most important function to be performed by the criminal process. The failure of law enforcement to bring criminal conduct under tight control is viewed as leading to the breakdown of public order and thence to the disappearance of an important condition of human freedom. The Due Process Model is based on the doctrine of legal guilt, i.e., a person is not to be held guilty of crime merely on a showing that in all probability, based upon reliable evidence, he did factually what he is said to have done. These two models comprise a continuum, with the models at the poles

At page 8:

Such a position applies equally well to practitioners in criminal justice; it is imperative that they too apply the rule of law with great humility. No person in authority is infallible, nor does he have the right to misuse or abuse that authority invested in him by practices primarily motivated by personal bias or the expectation of personal gain

At page 10, after reviewing definitions of the rule of law:

Thus, the concept of rule of law is a broad generic one. It can be stated in many terms, but one's acceptance of a set definition will depend upon his own personal biases and prejudices. Ultimately, then, it may be better to let rule of law itself be operative rather than leave its interpretation to each separate practitioner.

At page 11:

Kadish and Kadish (1973) write, "Punishment exists to prevent and condemn violations, not to offer citizens the option of committing them at the cost of imprisonment" [p. 95]. Thus, the restraining punishment must be clear to the offender before a crime is committed; he must know, too, that he cannot get off with a lesser sentence than someone else influential might receive. This should leave little chance for the citizen to bargain. Kadish and Kadish (1973) reemphasize this in the following statement: "According to the law and order model, the citizen's obli-gation consists of unqualified compliance with the mandatory rule of the state" [p. 96]. Although this idea of total compliance is expected, it must be realized that this is an ideal model, and that in practice there is somewhat less than full compliance to the rule of law, no matter how strictly the authority sticks to the rule of law.

At page 12:

This judge and jury role assumption'on their part was far above their right "to do so. The violation of the rule of law is paramount when it reaches this proportion. Skolnick (1975) concludes that the "standards for applying the rule of law' are developed by the courts in the setting of specific practices" [p". 17]. Neverthe-less, he also realistically concludes that "... appli-cations of the rule of law as well as conceptions of order will vary" [p. 17]

At page 13, has one of the clearest examples of Thaksin expressing a personal opinion, in relation to the issue of discretion excercised by criminal justice practitioners:

Before discussion begins, the author feels it imperative to point out that there are tenable arguments on both sides of the contrasting topic of application of rule of law'. The author does not presume to present a panacea to resolution but will attempt to identify areas of discretion which relate to the rule of law

Then, at pages 14-15 he quotes approvingly from Rawls:

Rawls (1971) points out why we cannot always enforce the rule of law :

Sometimes we may be forced- to allow certain breaches of its percepts if we are to mitigate - the loss of freedom from social evils that cannot be removed, and to aim for the least injustice that conditions allow [p. 243]

BP: Can anyone see a theme by Thaksin here?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

UAE fugitive treaty with Thailand is near

Mahmoud Habboush

  • Last Updated: January 10. 2010 10:19PM UAE / January 10. 2010 6:19PM GMT

Michael Bryan Smith, right, a British man accused of embezzlement in Dubai, is being held by the Thai police and could face extradition. Pornchai Kittiwongsakul / AFP

ABU DHABI // UAE and Thai officials are expected to sign an extradition treaty on Wednesday, a deal that Thailand hopes will lead to the UAE handing over the former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who is reported to be living in Dubai.

Talks to finalise the agreement began yesterday in Abu Dhabi, according to WAM, the state news agency.

Officials from the Sharjah Federal Appeal Court, Thailand’s foreign ministry and other representatives from both countries took part in the talks.

Thai officials said last April they were studying a draft extradition treaty with the UAE to bring back Mr Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and later sentenced in absentia to two years in prison for abuse of power.

International law does not require countries to surrender criminals to other nations, but most have agreements to ensure fugitives do not escape justice.

The UAE has signed similar agreements with at least 34 countries, and hopes it will facilitate the hand over of Emirati citizens who have been detained in Thailand.

Dubai is seeking the extradition of Michael Bryan Smith, a 43-year-old Briton who is accused of embezzlement and is being held by Thai authorities.

Dubai authorities want Mr Smith to face charges of forgery, betrayal of trust and illegal possession of public funds.

He is alleged to have stolen US$600,000 (Dh2.2 million) from the Dubai-based property company Limitless, where he worked, according to court papers. Limitless is a business unit of Dubai World owned by the Dubai Government.

It is not clear whether Mr Thaksin is still in Dubai. He is reported to have a number of passports, and business interests in several countries. He was stripped of his Thai passport.