A number of government offices were forced to close their doors yesterday after coordinated DDoS or ‘Distributed Denial of Service’ attacks by tour guides, travel agents, hotel owners, taxi-drivers, Grand Palace ‘it’s closed today’ touts, the Patpong ladies ping-pong team and countless others.
The massed protesters were expressing their outrage at government plans for a ‘single immigration gateway’. Mobilized by various social media sites, crowds converged simultaneously on Tourism Authority of Thailand offices, the Ministry of Tourism and Sports headquarters, Immigration Division offices, Damrongtham Centres and other venues. Staff were besieged with repeated requests for information on how to buy a train ticket to Mukdahan, complaints that ‘the taxi meter was rigged, I’m sure it was’, and assistance in locating a Serbo-Croatian interpreter for a sick relative in Bamrungrad Hospital ‘where they only speak Arabic’.
When the overcrowding and noise became unbearable, staff were forced to close their doors and tell members of the public to go away. It is not known if the offices would be ready to re-open today as many officials promptly took ‘stress leave’.
The protests began when someone spotted that a 30 June Cabinet Resolution had been mistakenly posted on the internet. In it was an order from the Prime Minister for government agencies to implement as soon as possible the ‘single immigration gateway’.
The justification for the scheme is stated in the Resolution, which charges the relevant agencies ‘with implementation of a single immigration gateway to be used as a device to control inappropriate immigration.’ This was apparently in reaction to endemic corruption at immigration control points on the nation’s borders, which were known (even by the Chief of Police who chose his last week in office to mention it) to be selling visas and entry permits to all manner of undesirables.
As news of the plan spread, opposition snowballed. It was pointed out that a single gateway would be totally insufficient for the volume of international travel, and would cause a collapse of the lucrative tourism industry and severely affect other sectors of the economy. Many noted that immigration entry points were barely capable of handling the current workload with dire warnings of the chaos that would ensue if all travellers had to pass through a single gateway.
Others pointed to the impracticality of the scheme. ‘Suppose a Malaysian tourist wants to enjoy the cultural hospitality of Hat Yai’, said the proprietor of Heavenly Bodies Sauna and Massage in that town. ‘Instead of jumping on a bus and being ready to enjoy our unique cultural experiences within an hour or two, he will now have to fly to Bangkok to enter the single gateway and then come all the way back down here. He might have lost the urge by then.’
Although the 30 June Cabinet Resolution unequivocally mentions ‘implementation’, language repeated in further resolutions on 21 July, 4 August and 25 August, government representatives answered criticism by saying that ‘implementation’ only meant ‘feasibility studies’. So there was nothing to get upset about, was there? It’s not as if the government is going to do something people think is stupid. They’re only planning to do something stupid.
In fact, Minister ML Panadda Diskul of the Prime Minister’s Office accused those protesting the implementation-cum-study of spreading false information and rumours by repeating what the government said.
In a press conference, the Minister in charge of immigration called on the public to stop using the term ‘single gateway’, which is exactly the term used by the government. It would only cause confusion if everyone insisted on using the correct words.
He then claimed that the idea was to boost tourism by increasing the nation’s tourism competitiveness. A single immigration gateway would also reduce the costs of entering Thailand, he claimed, without further explanation.
Furthermore, he said that this measure would reduce the threat of the country being invaded by terrorists, paedophiles and cheapskate backpackers who only come here to become crime victims and ruin the country’s reputation.
With incredulity growing by the minute, the Minister revealed that the real motivation of Gen Prayut’s enthusiasm for the idea was his concern for the nation’s children and young people who may come into contact with non-Thais without an ‘appropriate framework’ for deciding who is or is not a Good Person.
A sceptical public remained unimpressed, hence the deliberate efforts to shut down government agencies by having them do what they are supposed to do, only more so.
Observers however have warned against declaring victory. They note that the government has never said they are giving up the idea. In fact it might be applied to even more areas of administration. It is thought by some that the new draft constitution will include the idea of a ‘single voting gateway’ to ensure that only ‘responsible’ votes are cast.
About author: Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).