Military boss is country’s boss

25 08 2014

Wassana Nanuam at the Bangkok Post, who sometimes sounds like a military cheerleader, has a flawed account of General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s elevation to prime minister following a very quick sign-off by the king.

Thailand’s 29th prime minister received the “royal command” in a ceremony at army headquarters. The Dictator is now “commander of the army, head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and prime minister…”. Getting his appointment in a ceremony behind Army doors was “a break from tradition,” yet it is certainly symbolic of where the power currently resides and where Prayuth places himself.

Prayuth is said to be the “first serving military officer to become prime minister in 22 years, when the Black May revolution of 1992 overthrew then-premier and Gen Suchinda Krapayoon.” That’s true, sort of. At the time that Suchinda took power, it followed an election, and the constitution required that he resign his military positions.

The report also states that Prayuth is “the first coup leader to serve as prime minister since Sarit Thanarat in 1957.” This is incorrect. Suchinda was a coup leader and so was General Kriangsak Chomanan. So too was General Thanom Kittikachorn, depending on how one counts coups. We see no reason for diminishing the role of the military and its coup-making!

Apart from this, the report throws in details about General Prem Tinsulanonda, another former unelected prime minister, who edged out Kriangsak by arranging an internal Army move against the latter. Having the support of the palace assisted Prem.

In the report, “Privy Council president Prem … has decided to forgo his usual meeting with senior military leaders to mark his birthday this year.” Given that they all slithered around to the old man’s place just a couple of weeks ago, and that he is unwell, that’s not s aurprise, but the comment attributed to Prem that he “does not want to disturb NCPO members…” is suggestive of his support for the military junta.

Prayuth and the prophecy

20 08 2014

Banyan at The Economist uses the ascendancy of the military dictatorship and the personal power of The Leader and dictator General Prayuth Chan-ocha to resurrect an old prophecy – used in the 1970s too [clicking downloads a PDF] – about the demise of the Chakri dynasty:

The king is unwell, the crown prince unpopular and their kingdom is unquiet. An old prophecy holds that the Chakri dynasty will only last nine generations. King Bhumibol Adulyadej happens to be Rama IX. In May a coup brought to an end a series of elected governments that had been run by a clan of civilians.

The prospect of another military man temporarily in civilian garb while grabbing and holding the premiership at the head of a palace-backed, reactionary and right-wing regime prompts this apt description:

The army men in charge of the new dictatorship say their aim is to build a “Thai-style democracy”. Their intervention looks more interested in reviving a system of tutelary democracy, in which a bunch of royalist elites control the state, though the new regime denies it. Their alternative explanation, based on a notion of Thai uniqueness, seems to have been pulled out of a hat like a rabbit.

Most of the rest of the article is spent discussing the so-called China card. This involves the military’s “turn to China” [and other authoritarian regimes] as it has been criticized by some Western governments and the support to Sino-Thai capitalists by Chinese state investment.

Prem’s economic model

16 08 2014

As PPT has pointed out more than once, the implicit political model for the current military dictatorship draws on the periods when General Sarit Thanarat was dictator and then a period when General Prem Tinsulanonda was unelected prime minister and palace favorite. The economic model for the junta looks increasingly like the Prem model.

The Wall Street Journal recently took this theme up and points to links to Prem’s economic model and approach.

In the 1980s, Thailand’s military-backed government oversaw a growth miracle, spurred by the development of heavy industry and Japanese investment. The generals who seized power in a military coup in May are staking their legitimacy on a similar renaissance—but they face a more complex economic backdrop.

Since the coup, the junta has made economic matters its priority. It has paid almost $3 billion in [politically] delayed subsidies to farmers. The generals have cleared around a third of a $22 billion backlog in investment projects. And they have announced plans to spend $75 billion over eight years to improve transport infrastructure, linking Thailand with China.

Their goal is to arrest a slump that has made Thailand one of Asia’s worst-performing economies this year.

In this, the WSJ states that the “model” adopted by the military dictatorship is from “the government of Prem Tinsulanonda, a former army commander who led Thailand as prime minister in the 1980s, backed by a cohort of technocrats. Gen. Prem, who at 93 years old still wields clout in the military, leveraged Japanese government loans to build roads, rail and industrial parks along Thailand’s eastern seaboard.

As one economist explains it, the “aim is to get back to the good old days of 1980 to 1988, when technocrats ran the country. There’s a belief, there’ll be government investment-led growth…”.

The same economist states that Thailand is so much changed since Prem’s era, that such a state-led growth model is “not as compelling as in the past…”. The WSJ points to Thailand’s problems: “Thailand lost low-end production” but has very limited investment “in education, research and infrastructure, stopping the country from moving into higher-end parts of the global electronics supply chain;” exports “have stagnated over the past three years”; “China is starting to eat away at Thailand’s market share in electronics;” infrastructure spending has been modest; there is weak domestic demand; and investment has stagnated:

Thailand’s economy, meanwhile, contracted 0.6% on year in the first quarter and is forecast to have slowed further between April and June, which would mark a technical recession. (Official data is due Monday.) Foreign investment applications, by number of projects, slumped by around a third on year during the first five months, and 10% by value. Applications by Japanese companies, the largest investors in Thailand, fell the most.

Can decades old models make a difference? It is doubtful. Unmentioned in the article, however, is another significant factor: the titans of Thailand’s domestic capitalist class have been more interested in crushing the lower classes than in developing an economy that is more robust. Their fetish for maintaining political and economic power has drained the economy of its growth.

The military threat to the military dictatorship

13 08 2014

At the Bangkok Post, military affairs journalist Wassana Nanuam is usually a reasonably useful reporter of military rumors. In her most recent article, she reveals a quite startling motivation for the military dictatorship:

As army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha and other armed forces leaders approach their scheduled retirement on Sept 30, they need to be sure the transfer of military power goes smoothly and that their successors will not stage a counter-coup against them.

A counter-coup? If this fear is truly felt amongst the military junta, then it suggests greater dissension within the military than has so been evident in the past couple of years. Sure, there was talk of tomato soldiers – red shirt supporting soldiers – and so on earlier, but this seemed to amount to little when crackdowns and coups were needed.

At the end of September, Prayuth and the bosses of the navy and air force and the Supreme Commander will retire. All are members of the junta. While there have been postponed retirements under military and quasi-military regimes in the past, Wassana reports that such a strategy is unlikely this time, not least because Prayuth will likely be premier and other junta members may get cabinet positions.

So is there a chance that anti-coup brass might get to the top? While that is the implication of the line quoted above, it seems highly unlikely. The transition, long managed by Privy Council President, former unelected premier and General, Prem Tinsulanonda, he is now aged and losing his capacity.

Stepping in is “former defence minister Prawit Wongsuwan and [also] former army chief Anupong Paojinda,” who will be “the main architects of the transfer of power. Gen Prawit is now chairman of the NCPO advisory panel and Gen Anupong is deputy chairman.”

Prayuth, Prawit and Anupong “have kept close ties since the early stages of their military careers when they served in the 21st Infantry Regiment in Chon Buri. They were also members of the Burapha Phayak, or Tigers of the East, the name used by present and former soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Division (Queen’s Guard) based in the eastern province of Prachin Buri.” They have been the principal “red-busting” force of recent years, slaying, jailing and harassing red shirt political activists and protesters. Under “the Abhisit Vejjajiva government. Gen Prawit was defence minister while Gen Anupong was the army chief and Gen Prayuth was deputy army chief” and it was they who planned and implemented the attacks on protesters in 2010.

They have also made sure that their trusted cronies got to the top in the military: “When Gen Prawit was army chief between 2004-2005, he assigned army officers from the Burapha Phayak faction to control the army’s key combat units, replacing those from the Wongthewan group. After the Sept 19, 2006 coup, Gen Anupong and Gen Prayuth took on the role of army chief successively.”

Deputy army chief General Udomdej Sitabutr “is favoured for the post of army chief. He is also a member of the Burapha Phayak group.” An unnamed “army source said Gen Udomdej is the one who Gen Prawit, Gen Anupong and Gen Prayut trust most as they and Gen Udomdej served together when they were young soldiers.”

The idea of a counter-coup seems fanciful, yet back in the period of Premocracy, it was only threats from within the military – often from disgruntled field commanders – that appeared likely to unseat Prem. It was support from the palace that maintained his position. PPT suspects that the current palace is with Prayuth, Prawit and Anupong.

More fanatical monarchism

9 08 2014

Monarchism has underpinned all governments since 1957. It has been required since General Sarit Thanarat crushed the last of the Khana Ratsadon and any others who favored a politically restricted monarchy. Strikingly, when monarchism has become ultra-royalism, it has been the regimes closest to the palace that have been most fanatical. Think of the right-wing palace fascism of privy councilor Tanin Kraivixien in 1976-77, the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime of 2008-11, and now the military dictatorship under The Leader, General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Prayuth’s reign dictatorship is already emerging as one of the most hardline and reactionary of this selection of ultra-royalist regimes. Here are some recent examples of the nature of the regime.

At Khaosod it is reported that the newspaper has been forced into outspoken self-censorship. We understand that this hardly makes sense, but look at the editorial Khaosod has published.

Khaosod English states it had to make changes “to a recent article about an anti-royal video posted on youtube last week.” The editors removed some rather innocuous direct quotes in the original posted article, fearful of the lese majeste law. The editorial stated that as “a news agency based in Thailand, Khaosod English is obliged to comply with Thai laws. However, we always strive to find a balance between the boundary of the law and our strong commitment to an objective, accurate news reporting.”

That is a moving boundary, moving mostly to the right, and a boundary that is almost impossible to locate, meaning that self-censorship is the rule, and it becomes more extensive under repressive lese majeste regimes like that of the curent military dictatorship.

Also at Khaosod, the nature of the royalist nature of the regime is further revealed in story headlined, “Hardline Royalist Elected Head of NLA.” By NLA is meant the puppet assembly, handpicked by The Leader. That The Leader’s choice as head of the puppet assembly was “unanimously” voted into the position tells you a great deal about how slavishly loyal this “assembly” is. No independence, no thought, no representation. Asia Sentinel has a useful article on this “lap dog.

The one chosen as The Leader’s boss of the puppet assembly is Pornpetch Wichitcholchai, a former Supreme Court judge. Judges are, by definition, ultra-royalists who leave snail trails on the path when they slither off to the palace.Snail Trail

The last time he was a member of a puppet assembly after the 2006 coup, Pornpetch wanted tougher lese majeste laws. Yes, sentences of 15, 20 and 30 years are simply insufficient when protecting the royalist elites wealth and political power.

Khaosod states that his proposal back then was to expand Article 112’s coverage to “cover members of the Royal Family, the Head of Privy Council, all of the Privy Councilors, and ‘any person who has been appointed a representative of His Majesty the King’.” He also “suggested granting judges the power to outlaw media coverage of ongoing lese majeste trials.” Pornpetch reportedly withdrew his bill “because he was told to do so by the Privy Council…”.

This time, as the slave of The Leader, Pornpetch has said that choosing a premier is not something that is urgent for the puppet assembly. ho need a prime minister when you have an all-powerful and palace-sanctioned dictator.

Meanwhile, getting right down to the most important things, Prayuth has barked about lese majeste (again). Perhaps he’s been excited about the queen’s birthday and the lavish spending to “celebrate” yet another propaganda moment. More likely, he has been enraged by the video calling for the king to abdicate and return power to the people.[clicking opens a YouTube video, banned in Thailand]

The Leader identified some of those he considers opposed to the monarchy and who he wants locked up for decades. He said, in a televised address: “Let me name them,” he said. “[They are] Chupong Theetuan, Anek Chaichana, Saneh Thinsaen, Amnuay Kaewchompoo and Ong-art Thanakamolnan.” PPT has no links for Ong-art or Saneh. Each of the named men is reported outside Thailand. Prayuth warned that he’s hunting more.

Just for good measure, The Leader, joined by even some of his blogosphere “enemies”, decided to condemn Kritsuda Khunasen for claiming she was tortured while in Army detention. He said the claims were untrue and just meant to attack his military dictatorship. Why should anyone believe Prayuth on this? It makes little difference, for under the dictatorship, the military can do what it wants and there is “no plan to investigate the issue.”

At the Wall Street Journal it is pointed out that Prayuth is in firm control. It observes: “The point of this tight control is to rig Thailand’s future political system to prevent supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who the majority of Thai voters support, from forming a future government.” This is too soft and and too narrow. Even The Economist is remarkably weak in identifying military authoritarianism for what it is: a dictatorship. Thailand’s military dictatorship is winding back to a Premocracy, denying democracy, and cementing the foundations of the royalist state.



Puppet assembly

1 08 2014

As expected, the military dictatorship has appointed a puppet National Legislative Assembly packed with military and police and anti-democrats. (In fact, only anti-democrats could agree to serve as military puppets in this way).

The king apparently received the list on Thursday and almost immediatley approved it. This action suggests considerable coordination between the palace and military junta. The list of those appointed was immediately published in the Royal Gazette (the link is fixed and clicking downloads a PDF in Thai).

Puppets and clowns

Puppets and clowns

There are 10 senior police and “105 military officers, 67 are from the army, 19 each from the navy and the air force.” The Leader, General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s brother was even appointed, just to keep some of the puppetry in the family.

The military/police bloc is a majority of the 200 appointed and will remain so even when 20 more are appointed and if none are military. But the notion of majority hardly matters for this puppet assembly.

This is because everyone in the assembly is going to dance to the military’s tune and to the strings it tugs.

The unelected senators group, composed of anti-democrats from the appointed part of the last senate got their reward for their longstanding opposition to elected governments, and can now join the puppetry as junior cast members.

Likewise the anti-democrat presidents of nine universities that also did their job in bringing down the last elected government, following the orders from higher up.

So too the business flunkies, including the military accolyte Narongchai Akrasanee, chairman of MFC Asset Management, Boonchai Chokwatana, chairman of Saha Pathanapibul Plc who is close to Anand Punyarachun and was once said to be funding the anti-democrats and a bunch of other royalists.

Colgate-Palmolive appears to have its hands being dirtied by one of its well-paid executives “serving” in the military’s puppet parliament, which is probably not a good look for an international company that advertises its dedication to “good governance.”

Other puppets include many with links to the anti-democrat, anti-election, anti-Thaksin and anti-Yingluck campaigns. They include Klanarong Chanthik, the notorious anti-foreign campaigner and wealthy scion of a corrupt military family, Songsuda Yodmani, and Kittisak Rattanvaraha, the “deputy chairman of the Thai Farmers’ Network who led protesters to pressure the Yingluck government to repay farmers under the rice-pledging programme.” In other words, the anti-democrat stooges are now puppets for the junta.

Finally, General “Ood Buangbon, former defence permanent secretary and close aide to Privy Council president Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, was also appointed.” Who was suggesting the palace wasn’t involved in this coup? Oh, yes, it was Prayuth….

Now we will will be treated to a show as the puppets dance for their masters.

Military-palace propaganda

30 07 2014

Sek Wannamethee is Director-General, Department of Information in the royalist-dominated Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He has written to the Financial Times, presumably directed to do so by the military dictatorship.

His letter is an example of the kind of propaganda peddled most vociferously during the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime.

Sek states he wants “to set the record straight…”. Straight like a nest of vipers:

The monarchy has been the core spiritual pillar of Thai society for over 700 years, a unifying force binding all Thais together, no matter their political beliefs.

700 years? Palace propaganda, perhaps, but it is also false to anyone with even a passing interest in Thailand’s history. Even the current dynasty came to the throne via a military coup. Nothing like a pedigree!

As such, the institution does not and cannot take sides in any political conflict. In a constitutional monarchy, the monarch has pro forma powers and responsibilities as prescribed by the constitution.

We imagine that Sek was just being silly here. After all, the military junta had only just secretly developed an interim constitution, and for long periods, the king has not been under a constitution. And Sek knows that the king and palace have long taken political sides. The 2006 coup was one example where the political involvement was clearest, but this cabal of elite men that is “the palace” is a nest of political vipers (and less straight).

In exercising this function, His Majesty the King is ever conscious of his non-political role. The monarchy is, therefore, non-partisan and above politics. Any suggestion otherwise is entirely unfounded and completely unacceptable.

Horse manure.

Sek continues with his propaganda: “The incident of May 22″ – he means the military coup – “must be viewed within the context of the previous eight months.”

Indeed it must. The mutinous military protected anti-democrats, armed them, and supported them in order to bring down the elected government.

So Sek is right that “Thailand was then a dysfunctional democracy plagued by political paralysis.” That paralysis was the work of anti-democrats in the pay of the royalist elite and supported by the palace’s military.

He then bleats the military mantra: “the only sustainable way for democracy to thrive in Thailand is for it to take roots from within by the hands of the Thai people and not imposed upon by the international community.”

The international community does not impose democracy on Thailand. It is the military and palace that does not allow the “Thai people” to establish democracy. It is not “sustainable” because of the domestic forces of anti-democracy.


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