I know who burned CentralWorld

I know who burned CentralWorld

Give me my 10 million baht _ I know exactly who the arsonist that torched CentralWorld back on May 19, 2010 is. This dude is notorious. He has struck before and no doubt he will strike again. Hi name is Ai Puad.

He was first identified by Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung as the man who in October 2001 executed an undercover police officer at a nightclub. The crime was wrongly blamed on his son Mr Duang, now a police captain, who back then went on the run and became a fugitive, then surrendered to the authorities and later was acquitted of all charges.

While most of Thai society falsely pointed the finger at Mr Duang, Mr Chalerm knew exactly who the culprit was. He announced it to the entire nation and vowed to lead a manhunt, never stopping until he caught Ai Puad. But alas, Ai Puad has proven elusive.

Nine years later, he torched CentralWorld. It would not surprise me if he was the lone man in black who shot at security personnel, protesters and bystanders too. He may have also stolen my mobile phone back in 2007.

I have his description. He's between 170-175cm tall, has brown skin and black hair. That may be the description of half the male population in Thailand, including me, but Ai Puad has one unique feature: His hands are invisible. Hence his second nickname: "the invisible hand".

But here's where things get a bit complicated. Rumour has it that there are many invisible hands in Thailand.

What's more, there are video recordings of who might have ordered the arson attack. I'm not saying that there's a direct link. I'm not saying the videos prove anything. I know it's merely circumstantial. But Nattawut Saikuar and Arisman Pongruangrong were both caught on tape urging the burning of Bangkok. It's worth an investigation.

Furthermore, and again, this might not be a direct link, it might not prove anything and it might be merely circumstantial. But word on the street is that both Mr Nattawut and Mr Arisman work for Thaksin Shinawatra. Again, it's worth an investigation. Now where's my 10 million baht? A brother could use a new car.

Sarcasm aside, this is about as much as we know _ the names of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) leaders who urged it all on and who they work for. But this is hardly proof beyond a reasonable doubt, far from it. We also know that two red shirt protesters suspected of torching CentralWorld have been acquitted by the Criminal Court due to insufficient evidence. Then on Wednesday the Metropolitan Police Bureau released photographs of two men they suspect of carrying out the arson attack. The police said they also have photographs of six other individuals.

We also know that after the arson attack, the Democrat Party was in control of the government for 13 months, and the Pheu Thai Party has now been in control for about 21 months. Yet we are no closer to finding out the truth, those released photographs notwithstanding.

But it would be unfair to put the entire blame on either or both governments. After all, it's not the prime minister, ministers and MPs who were responsible for conducting an investigation. The responsibility lies with the Royal Thai Police in general and the Department of Special Investigation in particular.

But is this naive? It assumes that the police force is an agency that operates independently and without political interference, manipulation or direct demands. On top of which, politics itself is also subjected to interference, manipulation and direct demands, whether from some invisible hand here in Thailand or some visible hand in Dubai.

The tangled web of how things work in Thailand is quite complicated _ layers upon layers, twisting and intertwining. It is also a matter of everyone knowing exactly who's guilty, but no one being able to offer any convincing proof. There are those who insist the red shirts did it, those who are adamant that government troops in disguise did it and those who point the finger at the mysterious men in black.

But no one, no matter how vehemently certain they are of their opinion masquerading as fact, can offer any convincing evidence, if any proof at all. The matter was complicated to begin with. When the UDD leadership surrendered as the noose of government troops tightened on the afternoon of May 19, there was no order, no control. There was no leadership left, no one to oversee, to direct or to manage. It was chaos.

One could argue that CentralWorld wouldn't have been torched if the UDD leadership, as instructed by the government at the time, had directed the protesters out of Ratchaprasong before surrendering themselves. This might have prevented the anarchy that followed. Then again, one could also argue that it wouldn't have been torched if government troops had not moved in to begin with.

Where is the truth? There are three layers of complexity here. First, in a time of chaos and anarchy it's difficult, although not impossible, to grasp what went on and who actually did what.

Second, that problem becomes a near impossibility after being subject to heavy political manipulation from both sides of the political divide, and the workings of government agencies and supposedly independent branches. There's little transparency and accountability in anything that we do to begin with, so why would it be any different in the investigation of the burning of CentralWorld?

Third, the problems posed by a chaotic situation and the added complications of manipulation together must be run through the threads that make up the fabric of the tribal patronage system. Each needle is held by the hands _ visible and invisible _ of the priests and priestesses of the various cults of personality.

How can the truth be found, when the democratic process of seeking it is at the mercy feudal allegiances?

Add all of this together and "this is Thailand". The truth may be out there, but it's not likely to be unearthed and made public, because culturally we would sacrifice the truth to save face.

We would bend and break the rule of law to serve our tribe, our patronage network. We would lie, cheat and kill to serve our cult master. We would tell the world that this is done in the name of democracy and justice.

Truth and justice cannot be found, because we value them less than our face, our tribe and our master. Democracy cannot be had, because we value tribal victory over the principles that ought to be the foundation of a nation.

At the end of the day, it would not be hard to imagine that the players on all sides are guilty of one thing or another. Everyone will pin the blame on someone else, but when the clock strikes at midnight, everyone knows to agree that it's best to blame Ai Puad.

The reason I harp on tribal patronage like a broken record week after week is that if we don't change our cultural thinking, our social norms, then we have what we have today _ the tangled web we weave when first we practise to be corrupt.

We don't seek the truth. We seek to blame.

Hence in "big incidents" involving "big people", as in 2001 and in 2010 _ as well as all those that came in between and all that came before and will follow _ the tangled web will swallow up the truth, while Ai Puad cries, "Why me? Why is it always me?"

Contact Voranai Vanijaka via email at voranaiv@bangkokpost.co.th

Voranai Vanijaka

Bangkok Post columnist

Voranai Vanijaka is a columnist, Bangkok Post.

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