Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Thailand's creepy new prime minister

We already knew Thailand's new prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, to be a creepy character. When asked a question by a female news reporter, he responded with a question about whether she had had "wild sex" the night before.

But until this week, the outside world did not suspect Samak was this creepy: in an interview with CNN, Prime Minister Samak outright denied that the single most outrageous crime in modern Thai history, the 6 October massacre at Thammasat University (referred to as Hok Tulaa in Thai) ever even happened. As one scholar observed, "Hok Tulaa is the axis on which an entire 10 to 15 year piece of history turns; one can not hope to understand the political changes of the 1980's without at least a cursory understanding of Hok Tulaa."*

Therefore, Samak's denial is a big deal. Moreover, what happen 32 years ago on the campus of Thailand's most prestigious university is matter of historical record (see photo, above). By nighttime on 5 October 1976, 4000 rightist paramilitary groups were gathered at the gates of Thammasat University. Here is a widely accepted account of what happened next:
In the dawn of 6 October 1976, the rightists began to fire into the University campus using military weapons. Although the students pleaded for a ceasefire, the then police chief authorized a free fire on the University and the paramilitary groups stormed in. Students who were surrendering were forced to lie on the ground only to be beaten, some to death. Others were shot or hung and their bodies set ablaze. Those attempting to escape the University by jumping into the Chao Phraya River were also shot. . .
Officially, 46 people died in the crackdown, though the actual death toll was probably much higher. A Wednesday editorial published in the Bangkok Post gets straight to the point:

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej should be ashamed for declaring to the world in an interview with CNN over the weekend, that only one person died in the 1976 massacre of anti-dictatorship protesters at Thammasat University. . .

With his blatantly inaccurate statements to a worldwide audience, Mr Samak has shown disrespect to everyone who has fought for democracy in this country . . .

It is one thing to have taken part in moves to quell pro-democracy protests in the past, it is another trying to deny not just one's involvement but the entire event. What Mr Samak was doing in this interview goes beyond the pale, and even calls into question his ability to govern the country. Not only is Mr Samak not condemning the events or expressing the faintest bit of regret, he is denying that the crime perpetrated by the state against its own citizens ever took place. This is frightening. It runs contrary to photographic evidence that clearly shows dozens of students lying dead on university grounds. For any Thai citizen to give such an answer to an international audience that runs contrary to very clear evidence is disgraceful, but for the prime minister to do so is downright shocking.

Many Thais don't know the full extent of what happened in October 1976 as the brutal incident has been whitewashed in many history books. Mr Samak, however, knows well what went on because he played a key role in whipping up anti-Communist sentiment that played a key role in the events that led to the lynching and killing.

So what was Samak doing on 6 October 1976? To gather some clues, I consulted the Wikipedia biography of Samak Sundaravej:

On October 5, 1976 Samak was removed from his ministerial position, and in reaction organised an anti-government demonstration calling for the removal of three young liberal Democrat ministers who he branded as being "communists". On the evening of the massacre on October 6 he headed a lynch mob which confronted Prime Minister Seni in front of Government House.
No mention above of what Samak was doing in the morning of October 6, 1976. The Wikipedia entry continues:
Following the coup of October 6, 1976, Samak became Minister of the Interior . . . Samak immediately launched a fanatical witch-hunt which saw hundreds of supposed leftists, many of whom were writers and other intellectuals, arrested.
Samak Sundaravej played an important leadership role in the right-wing politics in the 1970s, yet he denies the most significant event of the times, the massacre at Thammasat University. This begs the question: Is the new prime mister of Thailand merely a creepy man, or something far worse?

Surely, for a democratically elected prime minister of Thailand to deny Hok Tulaa is to reject a cornerstone event in the evolution of Thai democracy. Prime Minister Samak denies a tragedy which consecrated in blood the democratic aspirations of the Thai people; the very principles on which which his office and his government stand. The words Samak spoke to CNN are analogous to an Israeli Prime Minister denying that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust; or a US president rejecting the sacrifices made by American revolutionaries or the soldiers of the Civil War. At least one wishes such comparisons would hold true -- for Thailand's sake.
*Bryce Beemer, Explorations in Southeast Asian Studies.
Photo: Wikipedia. The photo shows massacred student protesters. The Prime Minister of Thailand denies this crime ever took place.
1st Update: Back in August, Bangkok Pundit investigated the question of Samak's personal involvement in the massacre of October 6, 1976. His findings were inconclusive.
2nd Update: I have a second post on this incident.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Because all comments on this blog are moderated, there will be some delay before your comment is approved.