Plaque mystery spirals into realm of absurd

Flashback: June 24, 2016, at the Royal Plaza. Activists lay flowers around the metal shield of the Khana Ratsadon (People's Party) - instrumental in transforming the country from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy on June 24, 1932. (File photo by Apichart Jinakul)

Matters that might at first seem simple sometimes turn out to be bewilderingly perplexing.

The switcheroo involving the 1932 Revolution memorial plaque seemed at first to be a simple act of theft or vandalism. But once the matter was brought to the attention of the authorities, things rapidly spiralled into the realm of the surreal.

And the more people try to make sense of it, the murkier it becomes.

The replacement of the plaque came to light just before the Songkran festival, but it is believed to have taken place a week or so earlier.

Wasant Techawongtham is former News Editor, Bangkok Post.

When reporters posed questions to the authorities, the response was -- to paraphrase -- "I'm not aware of it".

Both government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd and National Council for Peace and Order spokesman Winthai Suvaree, who can normally answer anything the press might throw at them, were lost for words.

The Dusit district chief who has jurisdiction over the area knew nothing about it either. The Fine Arts department chief not only did not know anything about the switch but claimed -- rather hilariously, I should say -- that the plaque was neither an artefact nor had any historical value.

The police not only did not know about it but would not accept complaints to look into the matter, claiming -- I'm not sure whether I should laugh or cry here -- that no one owned the object, and therefore no one could file a complaint. Huh?

You have to ask yourself: Is this for real?

The plaque was installed there for only 80-plus years and is associated with arguably the most significant political development in modern Thai history.

If it was a rogue object, shouldn't it have been removed a long time ago?

The area where it was installed was only a few metres from the equestrian statue of the highly revered King Rama V. You could say it is sacred ground that is never for a minute out of sight of people in uniform.

In addition, there are at least 11 security cameras aiming at that one spot. These have been found to be also missing from the scene, surprisingly.

The city administration told the media with a straight face that all 11 cameras had been taken down just days before the switcheroo to allow repairs to the traffic light posts on which they were installed.

People who flocked to the scene to look at the new plaque were told not to take photographs. Later a fence bearing a sign proclaiming the area a royal ground was set up around the new plaque, giving shape to a Thai saying "fencing the barn after the cattle have bolted".

The silliness in this country knows no bounds. But this latest episode really takes the cake.

This really worries me. The Thai people under this military regime are already under orders not to think or speak their mind. But now we are supposed to not see or hear as well.

George Orwell would love to have written such a story.

We seem now to be living in another dimension where reality is distorted out of all proportion and truth is anything the powers-that-be say it is.

Common sense, reasoning, logic and sense of shame are all flying out the window. The way officials respond to citizens' inquiries on the matter goes something like: You say apple, I say donkey.

People who demand authorities look for the missing plaque have been told they could find themselves in trouble.

Pol Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, deputy national police chief, warns they could be charged with filing false reports if they cannot prove to be the true owner of the object.

Most recently, Col Piyaphong Klinphan, an NCPO spokesman, says the NCPO would like to "request the public's cooperation and understanding" as the government and concerned parties are focusing on the national reconciliation process.

People, he says, should pay more attention to maintaining peace and order rather than instigating for the return of the plaque.

I'm confused. Demanding officials to perform their duty is now equivalent to telling lies and disrupting public peace and order?

Let's not get into a discussion for the moment over whether the 1932 Revolution was right or wrong. Let's focus on the simple fact that an object of historical value has disappeared, a fact that ordinarily should concern officials at various levels.

Thefts of much less significance have had much more success at being solved. What could possibly prevent officials from performing their duty on this matter?

If we cannot rely on the authorities to solve a simple theft and act of vandalism, what else can we expect?

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