Placing Hopes in Prime Minister Prayuth

Prayuth Chan-ochaIt was rare enough to ever see General Prayuth wear something in public that was not his military uniform, and him in parliament was probably something never seen before. Only a few days later after his first address to the National Legislative Assembly, he would be nominated by that parliament as the 29th Prime Minister of Thailand- a much more regular-sounding title than ‘Chief of the National Council for Peace & Order’. The timeline that the NCPO had proposed earlier stated that the NLA-nominated interim PM will be in power for at least a year.

Back in 2006, a military coup d’état toppled the government of Thaksin Shinawatra. It was hailed by those against Thaksin as a great and admirable feat, but perspectives have changed significantly since then. The triumph against Thaksin was short-lived, and only a short while after the military gave up power was a Thaksin-backed party elected.

“Sia kong”, the Thais now call that coup- “a waste”. Not only did it fail to prevent the return of Thaksin, but it also failed to solve any of Thailand’s lingering political problems. Indeed, the political turmoil would continue to intensify. Eight years later, after innumerable rounds of protests, changes in government and points where Bangkok seemed close to becoming engulfed in civil war, the military would once again launch a coup, under General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

The people had, and still has, high hopes for General Prayuth and his newly established junta. Thailand has been plagued by political problems for what feels like an eternity; surely there must come a time where this cycle of corruption, protests and division will come to an end? Surely, reform and reconciliation is still possible? At a point where the political gridlock seemed to have reached a dead end, where the country simply had no way of moving forward, General Prayuth launched his coup. Many hailed him as a savior. A time of change was coming, they felt. The previous coup was a waste, for it failed to accomplish anything in the long term; will Prayuth, with his decisiveness, be able to pull Thailand out from its abyss?

At the core of people’s fears are that the coup d’état will end up as ‘sia kong’- a ‘waste’- like the 2006 coup. Of course, not all have this fear; there was no shortage of hysterical criticism from the supporters of Thaksin when both coups were launched, and the last thing they would want is for the coup to succeed in rooting out Thaksin’s influence. But for many others, who had been bitterly disappointed by how the 2006 coup turned out, their last hope seems to be with General Prayuth. General Sonthi, who had masterminded the coup that overthrew the original Thaksin government, would hand power over fairly quickly, allowing others to finish the job that he started. The result: a wasted coup. The interim government that had been set up in the aftermath of the coup was widely criticized later for being inefficient and, for the most part, simply not doing anything.

General Prayuth, however, has shown that he is taking a different course by choosing to don civilian clothes and participate in governing the country in the long term. With his nomination as interim Prime Minister by the NLA, and his acceptance of this position, he is fully committing himself to tackling the country’s problems for at least the next year. 

As chief of the NCPO, General Prayuth has done a remarkably good job. All of the violence and chaos that was threatening to engulf Thailand and lead to a civil war was instantly halted, and the NCPO worked on solving a variety of problems in the short term, whether they be paying back the farmers the money they owed from the previous government, setting up centers for reconciliation, or even things as trivial as cleaning up the beaches of Phuket, both literally from the littering garbage and metaphorically from the various local influences and mafia. The junta moved with striking efficiency and speed, a stark contrast to the slow and agonizing procedures of the usual politicians.

These, however, are all quick fixes for the short term. The junta has not yet begun what many perceive will be the long term solution to Thailand’s deep rooted problems: national reform. A blanket term, this will have to encompass many things, which the NCPO had identified as covering politics, the bureaucracy, law and justice, local administration, education, the economy, energy, public health and improvement, mass communication and society.

General Prayuth may have proven that he can bring back law and order, but the largest and most difficult of all his tasks- national reform- has yet to begin. By becoming the Prime Minister, he has committed himself to overseeing this process. The general started shouldering on the huge burden since he launched the coup, and has since ruled with an iron fist. Yet even an iron fist can only do so much. Everyone’s wishes are now being relayed to him, and him only. Conciliate the various groups that seem to forever be in disagreement? Eliminate Thaksin’s influence? Crack down on the endemic corruption that plagues the bureaucracy? Reduce energy prices? Reform the educational system? Ensure that populism won’t ever be used to woo voters again? Thailand’s endless problems are deep-rooted- some of them have built up for years, even decades- and solving any of them will be an immensely difficult task.

The new Prime Minister probably knows that his work is only about to begin, and his work is not going to be easy. The number of problems are so diverse, and their severity so strong, that anyone would find themselves overwhelmed. The Nation writes about an interview with former PM Abhisit:

The ruling has done well in the first phase of its mission, but the road ahead will not be rosy…While the junta has managed well such emergencies as political violence and the unpaid money in the rice-pledging scheme, the real issues such as the national economy and problems of low prices for agricultural products are waiting.

(The Nation)

 

At the very least, however, he will be able to work for longer and spend more time with these problems than the generals of 2006 did. The most important thing is to ensure that we will not need another coup. This one cannot be allowed to become ‘sia khong’, for Thailand has wasted too many years with the political turmoil. As we prepare to enter the ASEAN economic community, as our neighbors continue to develop, we can hardly afford to remain paralyzed by politics.

Some will say that it is overly optimistic to hope that any positive change will come out of the efforts of the National Legislative Assembly and the National Reform Council, as spearheaded by the NCPO and General Prayuth’s upcoming government. After all, Thailand has had close to twenty coups, and still we have failed to work out the model of democracy that fits us and leads to good governance. However, General Prayuth’s work so far bodes well for his future success.The honeymoon period of 90% approval ratings may be over, but the facts still stand that the NCPO’s achievements are numerous and real.  If he continues to move with his characteristic decisiveness, implementing the reforms that are needed, then it may not be overly optimistic to place hope on General Prayuth.

Indeed, we can only hope that he is up to the task that he has put himself for.

There are also still those who argues of the junta and General Prayuth’s illegitimacy, for the lack of democratic governance. However, a question must also be raised: is democracy a means or an end in itself? Democracy is often thought of as the most free and preferable of political systems, but in the previous decade it has failed to produce good governance. If good governance is our goal, then we have not been reaching it through democracy. Suspending democracy for a limited time, even if that limited time reaches a year, under a strong leader who is willing to reform the system to eliminate the most corrupted elements of the previous government and create a true democracy in the long term, in addition to reforming the country and purging the various deep-rooted problems; this is worthwhile.

Indeed, General Prayuth has promised as much. The song ‘Returning Happiness to the People’, the lyrics of which was written by the general himself and regularly played on TV, has a chorus that says the following:

เราจะทำตามสัญญา / We shall keep our promise

ขอเวลาอีกไม่นาน / Let us have a little more time

แล้วแผ่นดินที่งดงามจะคืนกลับมา / And beautiful times will return

เราจะทำอย่างซื่อตรง / We shall be honest and principled

ขอแค่เธอจงไว้ใจและศรัทธา / Please trust in us

แผ่นดินจะดีในไม่ช้า / The country will be well soon

ขอคืนความสุขให้เธอ ประชาชน / We shall return happiness to the people.

As NCPO chief, General Prayuth has kept his promise; he has achieved peace and order. Now, as Prime Minister, we hope that he will continue to keep his promise to achieve successful national reform. The coup, hopefully, will not be wasted.

-Ken

In For a New Round

The golden rule of writing is supposed to be ‘just keep writing’- ‘it takes time to find your voice and style’ – ‘practice makes perfect’. To be honest I’m really not sure if that’s happening to me. Maybe it’s that I’m one of the exceptions to the classic wisdom that the older you grow, the more experience you accumulate, the wiser you get. Or it’s because I’m not writing enough. Probably the latter. Perhaps the former. I don’t know.

The fact still stands, however, that I’m not sure where I’m going with my writing. Am I becoming more ‘confident’ with my style and voice? Not really. If I was asked to explain my ‘writing style’, I wouldn’t know what to say. That’s not to say that I’m not changing or developing as a writer. While there’s no subconscious feel of evolution when I write, once I look back at things I wrote just maybe two years ago and what I have now, there really is a change. It’s good to know that writing is dynamic, not static.

I’ve signed up for WattPad. WattPad is like the YouTube of writing, and while it’s difficult to actually gain a huge readership on there, I think it’ll be a fun platform to explore. Because of this, from now on any new fiction works that I write will probably end up being posted both on here and on WattPad. This is my WattPad profile page. Yes, I’ve posted three old short stories up; I’ll publish the rest later.

But as for the direction I’m heading, of the actual content I want to post on WattPad- I’m still not sure. I’ve written in many posts for months now that I want to start a novel. I still do. Finishing a novel is still one of my longtime goals and I’m not going to drop it. When I will get to start, however, is another question. A new school year has started, and while during the term breaks I can draw up grandiose plans of all the things I’m going to write and everything I’m going to explore, my choices become severely much more limited when term starts. Time is a remarkably finite resource indeed.

The problem is there’s just so many things I want to try out. I still believe that while short stories don’t have much of an audience, they’re still a great way to explore other genres and just be experimental in general. I probably will keep writing new short stories, but don’t expect them to be as much of a focus as they were before. I also feel like trying my hand out at fanfiction. Writing should be original, that much is true, but maybe fanfiction might do me some good. I don’t know about that yet, and I won’t know unless I try.

In terms of nonfiction, you might notice that I’ve been reblogging things over from Publish Your Mind and History Republic lately. PYM I no longer work for, sadly, but History Republic has recently gotten itself a domain- historyrepublic.com! I’ll be posting there regularly over there with history articles and also analysis of current events. Thai politics I probably won’t be writing about too much; things have calmed down and there just isn’t much to whine about anymore on here.

And so, once again, while I am still lost in the realm of fiction, I do have a bit of sense of where I’m going when it comes to non fiction. This year, I’m really going to try to make my writing regular; which means that there are regular times in which my writing comes out, not just whenever I feel like it. I want a writing schedule, so to speak. I’ll see how my WattPad experiment goes, explore new fiction writing and just have fun. I’m in for a new round.

-Ken

 

 

The Writing Lab: Generating Plots

Originally posted on Publish Your Mind:

Sitting at a desk and trying to come up with a plot can be a really exhausting experience. This isn’t a hyperbole. Many writers know that just trying to get a good plot to use for writing.  Sometimes I feel like the most difficult part about writing fiction is, in fact, coming up with a plot. Without a plot, you don’t have a story, and you simply can’t really start writing without a plot, or at least a premise, already in mind. However, coming up with a good plot is a difficult and brain-wrenching process. So what are some ways with which we could come up with plots?

The following are some strategies that might help you in your prewriting or plot-brainstorming stage. You could, possibly, use these strategies for a variety of fiction types, whether it be short stories or full-length novels.

1) Keep track of your plots

The first…

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Could WW1 Have Been Avoided?

Originally posted on History Republic:

A hundred years ago, the First World War was started after Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo by a group of Serbian nationalists. People ever since have wondered the question of whether the war could have been averted, or at least postponed. After all, if 20 million casualties would result from something as small as the assassination of just one man, then surely there must have been a way the war could have been avoided?

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Short Story: Perpetual Agony

Originally posted on Publish Your Mind:

“I believe the best service to the child is the service closest to the child, and children who are victims of neglect, abuse, or abandonment must not also be victims of bureaucracy. They deserve our devoted attention, not our divided attention.” -Kenny Guinn

This short story was used as a submission entry to the ASEAN Young Writer’s competition 2014.

SHORT STORY: PERPETUAL AGONY

Phuket, Thailand – 2048 A.D 

I played a final arpeggios to end the song, before standing up and bowing to the general. General Kriangsak’s guests clapped, and so did the general himself. “What a prodigy! He’s only sixteen, yet he plays the piano so well!” I heard someone saying. Such comments were made frequently when I played.

“With your permission, I shall return to my own residence.” I said.

“That permission is granted. Thanks for today.” The general stood up to pat my shoulder and as I…

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Is the US Blundering in Thailand?

Kristie Kenney has always been a well-known, high profile ambassador. Notorious for her ‘never-ending’ childish selfies and intensely disliked by the protesters- they perceived her as being pro-Yingluck- the ambassador once again came under fire for the US embassy’s Independence Day party.

Nothing about the party or the ambassador herself was particularly striking. Those that she chose to invite were, however. Not only were the main leaders of the NCPO (National Council for Peace and Order) not invited- the members of the Democrat Party were also all absent- but a lot of pro-Thaksin figures were invited, and indeed, did show up. Veerakarn Musikapong, a well known UDD leader was seen, along with Chaturong Chaisaeng, Kittirat Na-ranong, and Chadchart Sittipunt; all of them are former ministers under Yingluck who were ousted with the coup. An anti-monarchist band was even playing at the party.

Kenney, understandably, has immediately sought to downplay these invitations, claiming that thousands had been invited from across the country, and that there was no political message intended from the invitations. Few believe her. For diplomats and politicians, there is no such thing as a ‘time-off’ where gestures did not matter. The United States has also on so many occasions expressed support for the Yingluck government and been so vocal in condemning the coup,  and so it would be very easy for anyone to think that this is a clear declaration of the USA’s stance on the situation in Thailand: that they remain firm supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra. If Kenney thinks that the public will not interpret these invitations as a message, then she is very naïve indeed.

Of course the United States could try to argue that Kristie Kenney has been acting all in her own private capacity. But if that’s the case, then that’s akin to an ambassador creating her own foreign policy. It would be ridiculous of the United States allowed that much power to any one ambassador.

Kristie Kenney and Yingluck Shinawatra

The USA’s stance has been unchanging through the political turmoil. During the protests, the embassy repeatedly issued calls for the respect of democratic institutions- ignoring completely that the broken system of democracy in Thailand was the very reason protesters were on the streets. Once a coup overthrew Yingluck, John Kerry was one of its harshest critics, hypocritically condemning it without considering any of the benefits that it had brought. 

These two cases show an ignorance of realities on the ground. Unsurprising, considering that according to American writer Michael Yon, Kenney forbade her officials from ever visiting protest sites and thus learning more about the situation. This is further explained by Stephen B. Young, son of a successful former ambassador to Thailand who served during John F. Kennedy’s tenure as President of the United States. He wrote in an editorial in the Bangkok Post:

It is a worry but not a surprise that the current American government has failed to properly understand Thaksinism. Too many American officials, from the ambassador on down, work in a weird office environment literally walled off from Thailand…American officials in Bangkok — as with our embassies all over the world now — just don’t get out to get the true feel of a country and its people. Their ability to judge has been crippled by these self-imposed limitations…Our embassy is cutting itself off from learning the truth about Thailand.

This self-inflicted ignorance is distressing, indeed, considering that it has led the embassy and the US government into continuing to be firm supporters of the Thaksin regime without truly understanding what is going on. It is even more distressing, especially to the USA, when it is considered what implications a stressed tie to Thailand will bring. As the United States’s first ally in Asia (and currently a major non-NATO ally), Thailand has been extremely valuable to the United States in the past. Now, however, there is a real and oft-expressed rising anti-American sentiment especially among users of Thai social media. While this may not be indicative of the government’s stance, it cannot be denied that the United States government has been hostile towards the junta. The Independence Day party in which no key NCPO members were invited only make this very public.

If the United States continues to ignorantly pursue a policy of coldness towards the NCPO, then it must consider the possible implications.

It’s simple geopolitics. With the conflict in Eastern Ukraine (which Obama, hilariously, called an example of ‘American strength’), turmoil in the Middle East and hostility in the South China Sea, the United States is under pressure in all corners of the globe. Facing resurgent and assertive nations like China and Russia, this is not a time in which it can afford to lose any of its allies. China, on the other hand, is on a hunt for new allies. Although Thailand has historically been a major ally of the United States, it could lose Thailand to its opponent if they are not careful with foreign policy. With the US so hostile and unreceptive to the NCPO, China may very well attempt to fill in the gap.

The American Interest writes:

Is it possible that China would seek to take advantage of this opening? The two countries have no history of conflict. They have no territorial disputes…As Bower [of CSIS] put it, “You could lose an alliance and if you don’t lose an alliance, you could in effect lose the primacy of a friendship with one of ASEAN’s anchor countries.”

General Prayuth and Chinese officials

Indeed, China has been trying to fill in the gap. In early June, a delegation of Thai military commanders were invited to China for talks on regional security and joint training; this came not long after the coup and amid Western condemnation. Also in early June, General Prayuth assured the public that Thailand remained committed to its strategic partnership ‘at all levels’ with China’. It also must be remembered that ever since the opening up of China, Thailand and China have remained close; Thailand often acts as an unofficial ASEAN ‘envoy’ to China due to having no territorial and ethnic conflicts which allow talks to go smooth and unhindered.

A drift away from the United States towards China would be a loss for the former country. Barack Obama’s much hyped ‘pivot to Asia’ has, on the whole, not been very successful; everyone knows that its motive was to contain the rise of China, but now China is still as assertive as ever about its claims in the South China Sea, and the United States continues to risk being seen as simply a paper tiger. Thailand was the country that supported the US throughout the Cold War and today still remains very important to US strategy. Covert operations are often conducted in Thailand- an interrogation of al-Qaeda terrorist was conducted in Utaphao airport. It hosts military war games between various nations. And last but not least, it is still the stepping stone in Asia that the US needs; where else can the US base itself in its mission to rebalance power in Southeast Asia?  Coupled with growing problems in maintaining the US’s influence in eastern Asia, can the United States really afford to lose a strategic country in the heart of mainland Southeast Asia to the very country it is seeking to contain?

Yet this is exactly what the government of the United States is doing. It has harshly condemned the coup. It has cut off some military assistance. It has threatened to move Cobra Gold to another country. (A rather strange threat, as if Cobra Gold, a multi-country military joint-training event, is moved out, it would make it even easier for Thailand to continue with negotiations on joint-training with China, which was a topic of discussion during the visit). And most recently, it is publicly shunning the NCPO’s leaders from a party, while inviting major figures all associated with Thaksin and even anti-monarchist movements.

Clearly this is a diplomatic blunder. The friendship between the US and Thailand are old, historic and deep, but Thailand’s military leaders only have so much patience, and greater friendship with China is not an uninviting prospect. Not only is the United States refusing to withdraw support to leaders who never acted democratically while in office, but they are openly being hostile to the government that now runs the country and seems to be willing to let the country drift from its embrace while the US needs it most. The United States is blundering its way into alienating an ally it needs, and it’s doing this because it had failed to investigate and properly understand Thailand’s own political troubles.

It is suspicious, indeed, what secret motives the US may hold which makes them so supportive of Thaksin and Yingluck. Were any secret deals made, perhaps involving natural resources? It is unlikely that we can find out, although it is worth speculating and looking into. If there are any, however, the United States should consider that for now, the days of Thaksin and Yingluck are past. In the long term it could possibly receive far more benefits from continuing to support Thailand than to stick to blindly giving support to the Shinawatras.

If the United States truly supports Thailand and wants it to develop into a mature, sustainable democracy, it should end anti-coup rhetoric that ignores realities it does not want to hear, and should have a more inclusive attitude towards the NCPO. Kristie Kenney should strive to gain a better understanding of Thailand’s political situation, and refrain from committing any more diplomatic blunders. In the long term, it will be more beneficial towards both the United States and Thailand that reform of the country be completed successfully.

-Ken

Short Story: Descending Higher

Ken:

Today, June 28th 2014, is the centenary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which would trigger what was back then the most destructive war in history. Here’s a short story about the First World War. This short story was used as a submission entry to the ASEAN Young Writer’s competition 2014.

Originally posted on Publish Your Mind:

Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 10.07.09 AM

A short story on World War 1, on the centenary of the outbreak of the war that would change the world forever. This short story was used as a submission entry to the ASEAN Young Writer’s competition 2014.

Short Story: Descending Higher 

“Sir, what we’re considering right now…it’s illegal, sir.” 

“Please, sir, reconsider. It’s a violation of the terms of the Hague Convention.”

The general sat at the head of the conference table without speaking. The words of dissent and warning kept coming; they would not stop lecturing him.

“We cannot allow for the disgrace of the Kaiser and his nation! This blatant violation of international law will give the enemy the chance to portray us even more negatively in their propaganda, sir…” 

He allowed the man to continue droning on about the need to preserve the honor of the Kaiser, but after a minute he had enough. The general…

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