Dear Former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva,
My name is John Draper. I work at Khon Kaen University and I write occasional op ed columns for The Bangkok Post, The Nation, and Prachatai. In my day job, I work on the Isan Culture Maintenance and Revitalisation Programme and the Social Survey Center of the College of Local Administration, Khon Kaen University. For what it is worth, I also attended Oxford University, where I studied Modern History. However, it is as the father of three Thai citizens and the spouse of a Thai that I am writing to you now.
I believe we are both aware of Pericles’ funeral oration and of the phrase, “For a man's counsel cannot have equal weight or worth, when he alone has no children to risk in the general danger.” There is a direct Thai parallel, for no Thai would agree with the comment that a father of Thais should not try to help Thailand.
In that context, I would like to draw your attention to this recent article by the Bangkok Pundit and to this diagram, which CRES and Royal Thai Army spokesman presented to the public on May 26:
You yourself commented on this diagram in the following manner: “The truth is that this movement on this subject has been happening for a long time in the various media, but there are various connections. Now, CRES can much more clearly see the network and further action must be taken.”
In Thailand at the moment it is necessary to read between the lines. What you appear to be implying is that the Royal Thai Army’s attempts at reconciliation over the last two years have been a complete failure. In this, I concur. There have been very few initiatives to address the underlying causes of schisms within the Thai body politic either along class or ethnic lines. The inheritance and property taxes, necessary to wealth redistribution given Thailand’s extremely high wealth inequality, were welcomed by us both in the media, though these now have only token value due to being watered down. And, no steps have been taken to genuinely reconcile Thais split along ethnic lines.
The other problem with the Thai military’s use of such diagrams in public is the rhetoric they employ regarding the nature of being Thai. The diagram is apparently being use to expose a network which is allegedly attacking the Thai monarchy, which in the typical formula is a high institution which is respected and loved by all Thais (โดยใช้ข้อมูลอันเป็นเท็จมุ่งโจมตีสถาบันเบื้องสูงอันเป็นที่รักเคารพของคนไทยทุกคน).
The problem here is that the diagram involves not just individuals but media outlets and an entire political party. Thus, the numbers involved may be hundreds of thousands, if not millions. There are only two possible ways to parse the formula regarding the Thai monarchy as applied to the individuals and organizations in the diagram:
Potentially millions of people born in Thailand are not ethnically Thai. This may be true. Many are ancestrally Chinese or Lao or Chiang Mai Khon Muang. However, this interpretation splits Thais along ethnic cleavage lines. Is this the intention of the Royal Thai Military?
Potentially millions of people born in Thailand are traitors. Sedition and treason carry penalties of decades in prison and, potentially, death. This interpretation splits Thais along ideological lines. Again, is this the intention of the Royal Thai Military?
As an Oxford-educated political scientist and a former prime minister of Thailand, your comment on the diagram has great weight. This is a given. What I do not accept as a given is that you actually endorse the use of such diagrams. As we both know, such diagrams have typically been used by police states for repression. In particular, the former East German Ministry for State Security (the Stasi) made extensive use of such diagrams, as I comment on in this column for Prachatai, though the Stasi kept their diagrams confidential. This is an example:
The overall purpose of these diagrams was to facilitate the creation of a police state which could monitor networks, institutions, and individuals. Psychological warfare as well as military-style interventions (disappearances, torture) could be facilitated by such diagrams. What this Stasi diagram implies is that each unit on the Royal Thai Army’s diagram has its own sub-diagrams, similar to the above. This is a recipe for a descent into fear and loathing, for a socio-political order not born out of the rule of law or any social contract but born out of chaos.
Whatever happens after the referendum, the publication and use of this diagram is an admission of defeat by the NCPO. Its reconciliation attempts lie in tatters. The only way forward, then, is a political one. On this we can, I believe, agree.
As such, I would like to request a meeting with you. This may, of course, be seen as a presumptuous request. But, you see, I intend to enter Thai politics. I intend to commit every resource at my disposal to a political solution for Thailand, given the fact the military solution has failed. The political party I and many Thais may like to support, a social democrat one, may not even exist yet, but if that is so, I intend to help create it. And, I do not believe I am alone. Nor do I believe this makes us ideological polar opposites, as many of your own party’s principles and policies would appear to be consistent with aspects of social democracy.
If you agree to a meeting, to which I would like to bring a few colleagues, we would like to discuss a political way forward. But we would also like to discuss your position on the Royal Thai Army’s diagram. This is because that diagram potentially condemns those who enter Thai politics to a life of terror. It condemns their families and friends to a life of observation, of secret police monitoring their electronic communications. It dissuades political solutions and feeds authoritarianism and totalitarianism.
I can be reached at johndr(AT)kku.ac.th.