The mysterious men in black

The mysterious men in black

When analysing politics we should connect the dots as far as the dots (or our intellect) go, rather than stop at whichever dot satisfies our moral righteousness and ignore the rest. And we should be mindful of imaginary dots

But sometimes we stop connecting because we know the next dot could have a dangerous domino effect.

On Tuesday, a senate sub-committee concluded after an investigation that mysterious ‘’men in black’’ armed with assault weapons attacked security forces on April 10, 2010 at Khok Wua intersection. The clash left 26 people dead, six of them soldiers, with scores more injured.

The announcement came one day ahead of the gathering of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), which yesterday held activities marking the third anniversary of the tragic incident.

UDD members held activities marking the third anniversary of the tragic incident. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)

The conclusion of the investigation, however, is like an unsolved murder mystery, leaving the audience unsatisfied and full of questions. This is not to dispute the conclusion, only to beg for more questions, connecting more dots.

Who were the men in black? Were they rangers employed by the late Colonel Khatiya ‘’Seh Daeng’’ Sawasdipol, with the blessing of Thaksin Shinawatra? Were they disguised soldiers of the Royal Thai Army, with the blessing of then prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva? Or did someone else employ them? Where are they now?

The questions are simple to ask, if albeit difficult, as well dangerous, to answer. A full and impartial investigation would require that the finger point both ways.

It would have to fully investigate the UDD and its leadership, the lieutenants working under Seh Daeng’s command, as well as the Pheu Thai Party, including Thaksin himself.

It would have to fully investigate the Royal Thai Army, operation commanders and former army chief General Anupong Paojinda, as well as the leadership of the centre for the resolution of emergency situations (CRES), Suthep Thaugsuban and Mr Abhisit.

At this point, the proverbial ‘’this will never happen’’ echoes between the ears of everyone reading this article – and that’s the point. This will never happen. In fact, this cannot happen.

If it is proven that the men in black were employed by the UDD, this could lead to the arrest of actual relevant people, possibly bring the Pheu Thai Party crumbling down and disintegrate the Shinawatra political machine.

This could, perhaps, lead to tens of thousands of red-shirts on the streets in the firm belief that it is all an evil plot by the sinister invisible hand to destroy democracy. Possible or imaginary dots?

If it is proven that the men in black were employed by the Royal Thai Army, this could lead to the arrest of actual relevant people, including top army commanders and the leadership of the CRES, may throw the army regime into disarray and bring the Democrat Party crumbling down.

This could, perhaps, lead to tanks on the streets with the firm belief that this is all an evil plot by the sinister hand in Dubai to destroy sacred Thai institutions. Possible or imaginary dots?

Playing out the two scenarios as such is to make worst case assumptions, granted. Things may or may not play out that way, or not to the full extent, but who’s willing to take the risk?

Therefore, the stakeholders on both sides would not want to connect the dots farther. The price is too high. The next few dots may lead to a dangerous domino effect. As such, the mysterious men in black could be Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones for all we know.

On the other hand, the worst case scenario of this unsatisfied cliffhanger presented by the senate sub-committee is simply this: angry articles, angry speeches, angry blogs, angry facebook updates, angry forum posts and perhaps angry petitions – mere nuisances to the power players.

As with the case of who actually burnt Central World, it seems the last dot connected is the one that says: let’s play it safe.

Thailand is no longer in a political crisis as we have a democratically elected government and peace in the streets. But still, this peace is fragile and both sides must be careful not to push too hard, or something might break.

As to who killed whom, and who burned what during April and May 2010, the only people who would face prison time are those deemed "expendable". No formal agency or committee would connect the dots too high, because the dangerous consequence is anarchy in the streets.

Neither side of the political divide, and Thailand as a whole, want to go there, again, with the possibility of things being worse than the last time.

And while both the Pheu Thai regime and the Democrat Party may spiel rhetoric about justice and a full investigation, neither is exactly doing everything in their power to push for an actual full scale investigation. They understand the consequences.

The senate sub-committee’s conclusion – much like the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) investigating Mr Abhisit and Mr Suthep, the National Anti Corruption Commission (NACC) investigating Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and the various lese majeste cases – have their purposes.

It’s a tit-for-tat game to keep your opponent off balance, while the intention is not an actual conviction of "relevant" people, as this could invite the consequences we have discussed.

As well, the tit-for-tat game keeps supporters on both sides of politics busy and passionate, with their angry articles, angry speeches, angry blogs, angry facebook updates, angry forum posts and perhaps angry petitions.

Red coffin is carried around at the third anniversary of the tragic incident. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)

The strategy is to let them yell and scream "democracy" or "loyalty" until their voices are hoarse and throats parched -- then hand them a glass of lemonade to refresh.

It’s in the interests of the power players to perpetuate the self-serving good versus evil mentality. The context makes for an effective political tool to stir passions among the populace. A struggle where everybody is a good guy and everybody is the bad guy at the same time, depending on whom you ask.

After all, the power players will need to call upon the populace when they require bodies in the streets or in the voting booths. So keep them at it. Keep them believing in their superior moral sanctity. For now, the outlets of angry articles, angry speeches, angry blogs, angry facebook updates, angry forum posts and perhaps angry petitions will suffice.

The strategy is to keep the passion brimming, but also keep it in check. For there’s no greater tool to inspire atrocities than the sanctity of the moral cause. Every war in history attests to that.

Meanwhile, it’s the decisions and negotiations behind the scenes by the power players that will actually move this nation, or any nation for that matter. Decisions not made on moral grounds, but on the strategic and the practical. Again, here we assume key players act rationally rather than emotionally.

Possible or imaginary dots?

If imaginary, then never mind and have a good Songkran holiday.

Voranai Vanijaka

Bangkok Post columnist

Voranai Vanijaka is a columnist, Bangkok Post.


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