Royalist propaganda

5 01 2014

PPT has made a few comments recently on the domestic media and the work of anti-democracy propagandists like Veera Prateepchaikul and Thanong Khanthong. We haven’t commented too much on royalist and anti-democracy propagandists who are popping up in the international media, except to briefly mention royalist dolts like Stephen B. Young and extremists who have latched onto Thailand as a site for bizarre rants disguised as commentary.

In recent days, several readers have passed on more of the international propaganda that is being cranked up by the royalist anti-democracy campaigners in Thailand. As with much of this stuff, it tells a story that is not meant to be accurate or factual. Rather its purpose is to establish a discourse that “proves” the anti-democrats’ claims and program.

Interestingly, some of this is by exactly the same “friends of Thailand” who were prodded into action to defend the 2006 military coup and the actions of the Abhisit Vejjajiva-led government that used military force to smash the red shirts in 2010.  Like Young, these propagandists are those who have had long connections with the palace and monarchy. Indicative of this is David Van Praagh, a former professor and former Canadian Globe and Mail correspondent in South and Southeast Asia who is the author of Thailand’s Struggle for Democracy: The Life and Times of M. R. Seni Pramoj. The book is a hagiography of a prince and royalist politician who was one of the founders of the Democrat Party.

His recent piece in the Globe and Mail was under the headline “Why Thailand is crucial to democracy in Asia.” It is about “royalist democracy,” and seems somewhat awkwardly twinned with a far more scurrilous fairy tale on democracy at YouTube, apparently produced by people so closely connected to events that Thaksin becomes Tharksin, with Thaksin and his cronies being elected by uneducated, dumb or bought peasants and – this is a surprise – controls the military, police and independent agencies. Ho hum, but it tells the story of why democracy doesn’t exist in Thailand and why it is that pro-Thaksin parties have won every national election since 2001 but that this is wrong and bad.

Van Praagh does argue that his favorite Democrat Party should stand in the upcoming election. That’s all well and good, except that it is too late for this. He also seems to miss the point that the Democrat Party is now in the hands of extremists. Yet van Praagh lives in a different political world that wants the monarchy to be something it isn’t. The extremists in the Democrat Party know that they must grab the future. So while van Praagh supports “democracy” it is a “democracy” that is monarchist.

He begins his op-ed with a complete nonsense:

But Thais never learned from farangs (foreigners) how to make democracy work. Instead they have endured a long series of military coups, corrupt politicians and, at especially critical times, pro-democracy intervention by the revered constitutional monarch Bhumiphol Adulyadej.

Should we point out that the monarchy’s interventions have been some of the most anti-democratic? Think of 1976. Think of 2006. Think of the monarchy’s long support of military dictatorships. Should we point out that Thais don’t need to be taught about democracy by foreigners?

His perspective is colored by his prejudices:

One group, led by wealthy exiled Sino-Thai profiteer Thaksin Shinawatra, whose younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra is Prime Minister in his absence, thrives politically as well as economically on corruption – routinely paying poor rice-growing farmers for their votes.

Vote-buying? Really? There are still people who believe this after all of the recent commentary that has shown this claim to be a “dangerous nonsense.” Note the claim that Thaksin is a rich Sino-Thai profiteer and compare this with the description of Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is mistakenly taken to be somehow critical for the “other group” in this conflict:

… growing out of the middle-class Prachatipat or Democrat Party founded in 1946, has in effect thrown away this vital credential by opposing and even planning to disrupt a Feb. 2 parliamentary election called by Yingluck, who has rejected a postponement proposed by Thailand’s Election Commission.

Led by Oxford-educated Abbisit Vejjajiva, the Democrats have turned their back on democracy by following dissident Suthep Thaugsuban, who favors a non-elected national council.

Perhaps Abhisit could also be described as an elitist Sino-Thai who has never really worked, having been groomed for wealth and power? Perhaps the Democrat Party can also be accused of vote-buying, when the military poured funds into coalition constituencies in the last election? And the claim that the Democrat Party is a party of democracy is a claim that simply cannot be maintained when its long history of royalist support for coups and military rule are considered. In fact, Abhisit is the most recent in a line of anti-democratic Democrat Party leaders.

Van Praagh then comes up with a series of nonsensical claims:

The underlying assumption among Thais is that Yingluck and her ironically named Clean Thai Party will win another election.

The first claim is true enough, but “Clean Thai”? We think the author has been watching the propaganda video above, where the Puea Thai Party – For Thai Party – is referred to as the “Pure Thai Party.”

If she does, and brings back Thaksin under an amnesty – the first reason for anti-Thaksin street demonstrations – the so far laid-back army is likely to take matters into its own hands, reviving the tradition of military coups by again deposing the Shinawatra family. The army commander has neither accepted nor rejected the possibility of another coup.

For a start, PPT does not believe that an election will be completed and a government formed from it. But that’s our guess.The amnesty is pretty much dead and a coup is likely.

Living in a fantasy world, van Praagh opines:

If Prachatipat does not return to its senses and its roots, and does not win the early February election, Thailand’s democracy landscape will be all but barren.

Win? Really?

This will have an adverse impact on other Southeast Asian nations aspiring to genuine democracy, especially Indonesia with its army in waiting, and the Philippines with its gap between rich and poor much greater than Thailand’s.

Moreover, setbacks for democracy in Southeast Asia and elsewhere in Asia and the Pacific will provide grist for the mill of China’s expansionism, with Southeast Asia its first regional target for anti-democracy statist regimes. Thailand’s Thaksin, for example, has strong ties to Beijing.

The extremists and the anti-democracy lot reckon that Thaksin is an ally of a secretive U.S. alliance to tie Thailand into a global capitalist plutocracy. But then there is a long royal discourse on nasty Chinese capitalist who only become Thai by their allegiance to the king, and by funding his quirky projects and ideas. Thaksin is anti-royal and therefore not a “good Chinese,” but an evil one:

Thaksin, the root of Thailand’s troubles, also claims he owes allegiance to King Bhumiphol. Many Thais do not believe him, and they may also be swayed by the sharp drop in Thailand’s economy, particularly the decline in exports of rice.

We have no idea how the rice bit adds to the royal stuff, but plenty of farmers like the rice support scheme. To hammer the “bad Chinese” bit home, van Praagh makes the obvious point:

Presumably, the king does not believe Thaksin either. He has publicly excoriated Thaksin for corruption. That was before he was compelled for health reasons to suspend the role he had created of mediator of last resort in Thai politics. But after four years in hospital, and while anti-Thaksin demonstrations were going on, King Bhumiphol, looking healthy on his 86th birthday, drove with Queen Sirikit to his palace on the ocean near Bangkok.

He then gets to his point. Only the king can deliver democracy and “save the nation”:

The king’s appearance during the latest Thai crisis clearly sent a signal. It was not clear immediately what the signal is. But many Thais who have yearned for democracy for decades strongly hope that Bhumiphol is reasserting his role when he banished autocratic governments in 1973 and 1992, and thereby saved the nation.

Frankly, we think the palace learned a lot from its identification with the 2006 coup. It wants to stay behind the scenes. Indeed, both the king and queen are weak and doddery yet we have little reason to think that they are not supporting the anti-democrats. Van Praagh’s op-ed seems to suggest just this, calling for what the protesters say is absolute democracy with the king as revered head of state.





Glee over anarchy

3 01 2014

PPT almost never cites The Nation’s ASTV-like op-ed writer Thanong Khanthong, except when the point is to illustrate the extreme anti-democratic position. Reluctantly, we do it again, as his most recent gleeful scribbling tells the story of the next couple of weeks.

Suthep Thaugsuban, the leader of the people’s uprising [PPT: sic. he means the umpteenth attempt to throw out an elected government], has set January 13 as the day for a Bangkok shutdown. The momentum is in his favour. [PPT: just this once, we agree with him]

… Supporters from other provinces have been arriving in the capital since before New Year, joining Bangkokians in preparing for the shutdown. Whistles will be blown by the millions as the capital is shut down to force the removal of Yingluck. [PPT: notice the words used refer to a "removal"] We are about to witness a classic people’s revolution against a government that has lost all moral and political legitimacy. [PPT: it remains unclear how this is a "people's movement" when the consensus is that the majority would still vote for Yingluck, if given a chance]

To stage a people’s revolution without ripping up the Constitution, the number of people on the streets does matter. [PPT: of course, the movement is entirely about another illegal and amoral removal of a popularly-elected government] And Suthep has millions from various walks of life behind him. An unprecedented number of more than a million anti-government protesters showed up on November 24. [PPT: recall that this movement denigrates numbers when they are associated with landslide election victories] But the record was broken again on December 9 – the day Yingluck Shinawatra caved in by declaring a House dissolution. [PPT: compromise is capitualtion in the eyes of the anti-democrats] The people [PPT: propgandists always claim to speak for "the people"] now want back the rights and power they had temporarily given to the government. They do not need a military coup. Unarmed and peaceful, they can reclaim sovereignty over the country from a tyrant government that has proved to be working against the interests of the people. The learning curve will be tough. But democracy will have to be earned the hard way. If the people want to change the country, they have to take action rather than praying for a miracle. [PPT: oddly, he is pessimistic about the military (or monarchy) stepping in. PPT reckons an intervention - military, judicial or palace - is increasingly likely, especially as the military brass is opposing an emergency decree; this is not that different to its failure to respond to airport occupations in 2008]

… If the Yingluck government were to be toppled, it would not only wipe out the political and business interests of the Shinawatras but would also upset the geopolitical interests of the US. [PPT: this indicates how the leadership of the anti-democracy movement and its propagandists have been swayed by the rants of extremists] It is an open secret that the US has already “handcuffed” the Thai government into allowing it to revive the U-tapao military base. Thailand is an important Asian ally in Washington’s campaign to contain China. Oil deals in the Gulf of Thailand are also on the table, not to mention security arrangements in the South China Sea, and the Trans Pacific Partnership free-trade area. That is why the US has openly intervened in Thai affairs by calling on the people to honour the February 2 election. The international media have also been parroting this line of pseudo-democracy, which would extend the tenure of the corrupt Shinawatra regime. [PPT: this again indicates how anti-democracy propagandists have been swayed by the rants of extremists]

[PPT: Thanong then sets out the scenario for the protesters] … Bangkok will be shut down for several days. Suthep has hinted that 10 or 20 days of uprising could finish off the caretaker government. This would pave the way to ending the Thaksin regime once and for all. The people plan to fall back on Article 3 of the Constitution to declare they have taken sovereign power back from Yingluck. There are strong legal and constitutional grounds for doing so: the Yingluck government lost its morality and legitimacy by introducing an amnesty bill to whitewash corruption and those with charged with serious criminal acts. [PPT: he refers to a bill that was defeated before it became law] It also attempted to amend the Constitution to consolidate its power over the Senate. [PPT: amending the constitution is entirely legal and aimed at implementing a long-held election promise to make the senate more democratic, as it was before the 2006 military-palace coup] When the Constitutional Court ruled against that amendment, the Yingluck government and members of the ruling party publicly declared they would not accept the ruling. This blatant challenge to judicial power rendered the government obsolete. [PPT: as far as we are aware, disagreeing with a court decision is not yet grounds for dissolving a government]

After the people invoke their sovereign power as per Article 3 of the Constitution, they will resort to the extraordinary measures afforded by Article 7 to seek royal endorsement for the appointment of an interim prime minister and government. [PPT: neither article of the constitution is considered appropriate for the current situation. However, we have no doubt that, should the anti-democracy lot get hold of government, no law will constrain them] A people’s council will then be formed to lay down foundations for comprehensive reform to end corruption and set Thailand back on the path of genuine democracy. [PPT: he means that the rules of politics will (again) be changed to allow the minority supporting the anti-democracy movement to retain power] This is how events will play out in the coming weeks. Nobody knows the outcome, but the scene could turn ugly. The certainty is that Yingluck and her supporters will not relinquish power easily. [PPT: in fact, the Yingluck government has made several compromises; it is the anti-democracy movement and its Democrat Party that have refused to compromise or accept the results of elections]

Contrast Thanong’s views with those of an entirely less gleeful editorial at the Jakarta Post:

Thailand is sliding into anarchy, which from experience has meant intervention.

Following a spell of military rule, elections will be called or, more likely, forced on the caretakers. A government could also be appointed via some constitutional artifice.

What follows has not varied much – dissatisfaction over blatant or exaggerated misrule brings the establishment class and the masses into open conflict again, to be resolved temporarily by applying a variation of the old formula. The polarisation in the stand-off between the Puea Thai government and the Democrat Party-inspired insurrection shows that the country is more divided than ever – but mind the attendant dangers.

Will Thailand ever get off the wearying cycle of self-flagellation? Its Asean partners admire the Thai insouciance and the nation’s immense gifts, but are dismayed the country is being torn apart by feudal notions of class distinction, demonstrated in an inability to acknowledge the existence and interests of the other.

The worry is that a Thailand that continues on this course would destroy itself, with Asean the loser. If the election called by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra does not produce an outcome that is accepted by all Thais, are there alternatives?

Indefinite military rule is anathema to most Thais as it is unnatural, unwanted, and its past record has not been exemplary. A grand coalition, or a government of national unity, is an idea that could be explored, however far-fetched it may sound.

But Thailand’s party political tradition is not strong, and it lacks enough leaders of vision and unquestioned devotion to the idea of equal opportunity. As for rule by the unelected, it could never hold for lack of majority consent.

Would a return to an absolute monarchy be acceptable, as the royal house commands respect while past civilian and military choices have mostly been disappointing? But after the reign of King Bhumibol Adulyadej is over, how the Thais would regard such a scenario is unknown.

There is another unspeakable, remote possibility – civil war that could lead to a break-up of the kingdom. The present deadlock is different in that there is little room for compromise.

The elites insist on a right to rule, whichever form it takes. The pro-government red shirts, who have felt patronised and put upon, have spoken the first murmurs about secession if a re-elected Puea Thai party were cast aside, or an unelected claque [PPT: clique] were foisted on them. If the election is disrupted or put off, or results that favour the incumbents are voided, Thailand will have entered a fateful phase.





Updated: Suthep’s call

9 12 2013

We thought readers might find the demands of the anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban of interest. It is easy to see the influence of years of People’s Alliance for Democracy and yellow-shirted “academics” at work. Note that this is sent out as a Declaration. We add some comments in brackets:

Issued: 9 DEC 2013

Declaration 1 / 2013

People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC)

It has become clearly evident that the government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the ruling Pheu Thai Party, has exercised its powers under the influence and direction of Thaksin Shinawatra, an escaped and convicted criminal [Democrat Party-speak since 2008], currently in exile. This puppet government has abused its executive power, acted unlawfully, and blatantly violated the Thai Constitution [this is why the Constitutional Court's decision was so critical to the plan to overthrow the government], reinforced at every step by the Pheu Thai Party’s abuse of legislative majority in the lower and upper houses of parliament. Yingluck Shinawatra’s government, in its capacity both as the executive and through its dominance of the legislature, has distorted the principles and spirit of democracy in its acquisition and consolidation of unconstitutional power as follows:

First

The government and the Pheu Thai and coalition parties’ lower house representatives and senate members under its leadership, have amended the Constitution [they did not amend it; rather they passed a bill in parliament that, under the constitution should have been made into law, but was blocked by the constitutional court] in an attempt to demolish the underlying constitutional principle of checks and balances between separate branches of government [this is nonsense; the law was about the legislature and making it fully elected. The opponents don't like elections]. This attempt was undertaken by abusing the parliamentary majority in a tyrannical manner despite widespread, repeated protests from all factions of the Thai public that the government and Pheu Thai Party claim to represent [this is  fabrication. The bill was debated in parliament and protests on this bill were very small. "Tyrannical" appears to refer to a normal parliamentary procedure that limits "filibustering"]. This amendment was found by the Constitution Court to violate the constitution both substantively and procedurally. Substantively, the amendment demolishes the constitutionally mandated balance between the lower and upper houses as well as that between the legislative and executive branches [this is untrue]. Procedurally, the amendment process was undertaken in an unconstitutional manner because votes were retroactively counted and the right of parliamentary representatives to debate the draft amendment were cut short. Yingluck Shinawatra’s government and lower and upper house representatives have therefore destroyed public trust by abusing their parliamentary majority in a tyrannical, undemocratic manner, unpracticed by and unheard of by civilized nations [this is a propaganda point].

Subsequently, the Constitution Court ruled that these actions undermined the rule of law and democratic principles and amounted to an attempt to obtain authority in a manner violating the Constitution. Despite its awareness that the Constitution Court’s findings bind parliament, the cabinet, courts, and all state organs, in accordance with Article 216, paragraph 5 of the Constitution. The government, through the Prime Minister, knowingly, deliberately, and urgently submitted the draft amendment for Royal approval. Furthermore, the speaker of the house of representatives, the speaker of the senate, along with the minister of the interior who is obligated to uphold domestic laws and peace — all under the influence of the Pheu Thai Party – blatantly rejected the Constitution Court’s ruling. This rejection is in and of itself a clear and intentional violation of the Constitution, and serves to simultaneously destroy the rule of law and elevate the government and its parliamentary allies above the constitution and supreme law of the land. [as we have shown time and again, this Court practices politics, not law]

Second

The Amnesty Bill supported by Yingluck’s government and its allies is an abomination [on this, we agree, and it is gone, defeated in parliament and withdrawn as well]. The lower house of representatives, under the tyranny of the parliamentary majority [PAD-speak], urgently passed the Amnesty Bill to whitewash convicted criminals and acts of malfeasance and graft retrospectively from 2004 onwards and also to absolve the illegal acts and 2,873 murders related to the fight against drugs in southern Thailand, specifically benefitting Thaksin Shinawatra. Not only does the Amnesty Bill violate Pheu Thai’s vow to the public to limit the bill’s scope to assist politically-motivated protestors during the civil unrest of 2010, it contravenes international principles and agreements to which Thailand subscribes [not that such things ever bothered Suthep when his party was in power; it is the usual double standards], such as the the UN Convention against Corruption and the principle against granting immunity to state officials committing human rights violations, on which the UN Commissioner for Human Rights issued a warning statement [which Suthep and his lot repeatedly ignored on things like lese majeste when in power]. Much like its attempt to unlawfully amend the Constitution, the government and its parliamentary representatives’ push for the Amnesty Bill abuses public trust by exploiting its majority position, and is further evidence of the government’s dissolution of the separation of executive and legislative powers despite the Prime Minister’s repeated portrayals otherwise.

Third

Since 2010 the government has disregarded illegal acts of violence committed by its supporters [well, they were only elected in August 2011 - fixed typo - and the courts released red shirts jailed by Abhisit and Suthep for lack of evidence; at the same time, under them, charges against PAD went nowhere and were ignored], even discriminately compensating them for their transgressions. Most recently, the government turned a blind eye to evidence of actions by law enforcement-related operatives resulting in hundreds of injuries and in some cases, deaths, of innocent and unarmed Ramkhamheang University students peacefully protesting the government on 1 December 2013 [this is PDRC's fantasy "history" of those events, still under investigation]. In addition, the government has provided monetary compensation for civilians affected by civil unrest in 2010 above and beyond that granted to soldiers, policeman and civil servants under similar circumstances. The government’s discriminatory exercise of its authority runs counter to democratic principles and plain decency.

Fourth

The government, in conjunction with its tyrannical parliamentary majority PAD-speak], has acted to deeply divide Thai society into pro vs. anti-government factions [in fact, it was the military-palace coup, PAD, the Abhisit government and PDRC that has done this], and to permanently entrench such division in every manner. In addition to provoking acts of violence against government opponents previously mentioned, its own defiance of the judiciary – particularly its rejection of the Constitution Court’s rulings and jurisdiction (except those rulings beneficial to the government) – has served to encourage its supporters to threaten individuals and organs criticizing the government as well, including the justices of the Constitution Court who ruled against the constitutional amendment recently passed by parliament [we have seen no evidence of this]. The government’s hypocritical approach is deeply damaging to the rule of law in Thailand.

Fifth

The systemic cronyism employed by the government is an abuse and misuse of executive authority. Corrupt, inexperienced, and incompetent officials who support the government and the Thaksin regime without question are regularly promoted to positions of power over their honest, competent peers who dare question government policies and actions. This cronyism further serves Thaksin, resulting in irreparable damage to meritocracy and good governance, taking the bureaucracy backwards towards a feudal patronage system. [it is the PAD and PDRC that covet a feudal past; the evidence of cronyism is limited and less than under the Abhisit government]

Sixth

This government was involved in widespread corruption in its administrative governance. Through its populist policies, it allowed policy-led corruption [PAD-speak] to negatively affect the country’s interests and on its economy, [c]ausing damage to the country’s financial and budgeting systems. The resulting massive increase in public debt and adverse effect on the country’s credibility and decreased competitiveness. The failed “Rice Scheme”, was wrought with corruption in its process and caused over two hundred billion Baht in damages. The “Water Management Plan” will involve more policy corruptions and will put Thailand more deeply in debt. Its 2.2 trillion Baht debt scheme, voted illegally through parliament, will lead to more corrupt practices, administrative failures and compound the country and the Thai people to indebtedness [these are Democrat Party claims that seem to have no substantial evidentiary support]. These blatant corrupt policies were undertaken with impunity by this government, not in the interest of the nation, but for the benefit of Thaksin Shinawatra and his family [PAD-speak, lacking evidence].

Therefore, PDRC, comprised of Thai Citizens from all walks of life, cannot allow the political tyranny under the guise of majority rule and crony, monopolistic capitalism, collude to use parliamentary dictatorship to betray the trust of the people, destroy the balance of democratic and sovereign power, and to commit acts to assume and consolidate power contrary to democratic traditions and values [we assume they mean "Thai-style democracy"]. When a sitting government, whose responsibility is to uphold the public’s interest, betrays the trust of its people and uses its powers for the personal benefits and gains of Thaksin, his family and cronies, such a government clearly violates the social contract between the people and itself. Therefore the people have the right to reject the authority of these representatives. [as they did in the 2011 election, legally throwing out Abhisit and Suthep's tainted government; claiming a legal basis to overthrowing the elected government is bizarre]

Therefore, as Article 3 of the Thai Constitution states, “the Sovereign Power Resides with the Thai People”, we hereby declare that we, as people who aspire for justice and freedom, have come together in a show of power unprecedented in Thai history, have the duty to protect the principles of democracy and the constitution. We therefore exercise our rights to reclaim our sovereign power from the said political groups back to the Thai people. Through this People’s Reformation, we, the people have chosen to act to reform the country, eliminate the damaging effects of corruption, and ensure justice and fairness to all sectors of society.

PDRC will fully respect our sovereign obligations and continue to maintain good relations with all states and international organizations.

We ask for the cooperation of all Thais in building a future which is free, fair and peaceful for future generations to come.

It is interesting that the monarchy is completely missing, despite the symbolism of the monarchy in the demonstrations.

Update: A reader asks what the anti-government movement does when the king has already signed off on the election day. Is the lack of mention of the king a kind of rebellion now that the king is seen as ineffective for them?

Another reader points out that the War on Drugs data is the usual incorrect data on the number killed. We agree and we should have pointed this out as a matter of fact.





Updated: On Suthep, monarchy and violence

25 11 2013

In an earlier post we mentioned Suthep Thaugsuban’s call to make the country’s administration a genuine monarchy. Jakrapob Penkair, who says this was a call for an absolute monarchy, comments at Asia Provocateur. He notes that “… Suthep is practically changing his stage rhetoric from anti-government into anti-democratic regime-change.” Revealing its bias, The Nation is reporting only the Democrat Party’s “fixed” version of Suthep’s call for a change of government, claiming he said:

“A people’s government will be established to amend the country’s rules so that it is genuinely a democracy under constitutional monarchy,” he said…. Suthep encouraged people who back the protesters’ cause to seize state power “with their bare hands” by occupying government offices all across the country.

In amongst all of this, the palace managed to get out some propaganda pictures of the beach-side monarch. This goes hand-in-hand with bizarre denials of any behind-the-scenes activism in Thailand, claims that the foreign media “hate” or “loathe” the monarchy, and manufactured complaints about the foreign media’s “bias,” that lend themselves to xenophobia and violence. Such complaints mirror elite, palace and royalist barking about CNN and other media during red shirt protests.

Suthep’s demonstrators are being egged on with calls to violence couched in terms of saving the country and monarchy. As the Bangkok Post states, he “ordered protesters to storm into the offices of the Finance Ministry and the Budget Bureau in the afternoon. Later, another group of demonstrators seized offices inside the Foreign Affairs Ministry.”

The TJA executive meets on lese majeste

The TJA executive meets

There have been intimidatory challenges to the media and attacks on journalists. Remarkably, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association and the Thai Journalists’ Association could only manage a mild statement on such intimidation, while essentially justifying the actions of protesters. Such bias is expected from the ultra-royalist organizations, mirroring their previous bias.

The imagery has been violent for some days, and Suthep’s call for a genuine monarchy is mirrored in this photo of demonstrators from a weeks or so ago attacking the World Court and calling for the heads of “traitors,” while displaying royal and royalist paraphernalia:

Beheadings

Some of this violence and direct action has caused the Yingluck Shinawatra government to extend the Internal Security Act to cover Bangkok, Nonthaburi and other nearby areas.

Update: The Bangkok Post is reporting that:

… Suthep Thaugsuban has now called on demonstrators to seize state offices nationwide, including provincial halls and district offices, after protesters on Monday stormed the Finance Ministry, the Budget Bureau, the Foreign Ministry and the Pubic Relations Department (PRD).

As with the PAD demonstrations in 2008, this illegal confrontation is meant to create a crisis situation that will propel some action by judiciary, palace or military. Does Suthep have a plan? Who does he hope will intervene?





Nation, monarchy and crisis

25 11 2013

PPT can’t go through all of the news that is coming out as some newspapers provide a blow-by-blow (and breathless) account of the demonstrations to bring down the elected government. However, we can highlight some points from the English-language reporting.

One of the reports we saw earlier today which seemed revealing of the aims of the protest leaders was at Bangkok Pundit, where it was reported that Suthep Thaugsuban had called for reform in Thailand that would make the country’s administration a genuine monarchy. That’s PPT’s translation, and modifies Pundit’s a little:

Last night, we saw the anti-Thaksin protesters unite on a single stage. Prachatai has the quotes of what Suthep said and called for two things. First, we must join together to completely eliminate the Thaksin system from Thai territory )”ข้อที่ 1 เราต้องร่วมใจกันขจัดระบอบทักษิณให้สิ้นซากพ้นแผ่นดินไทย”) and second, we will fuse our heads together to change and reform Thailand so that Thailand becomes an administration system by monarchy in a true form (ข้อที่ 2 เราจะหลอมหัวในด้วยกันเปลี่ยนแปลงปฏิรูปประเทศไทย ให้เป็นประเทศไทยที่ปกครองด้วยระบอบพระมหากษัตริย์ ที่สมบูรณ์แบบอย่างแท้จริง.)

Pundit has the ASTV clip showing Suthep saying this as he follows yellow-shirted leader Suriyasai Katasila, calling all of the leadership “ajarn.” In fact, they are respected teachers in the sense that the tactics and ideas are all those of the People’s Alliance for Democracy over the past (almost) decade. Styling himself and his supporters as fighting for country and people, Suthep clearly expresses a preference for a “real monarchy” and Suriyasai expresses support.

As Pundit notes, the Democrat Party has tried to play this down as a slip of the tongue, but this is disingenuous.

The monarchy has become involved, whether they like it or not. At Khaosod, the crown prince is reported by a senior policeman:

“His Royal Highness has summoned me to his palace earlier this evening”, Pol.Gen. Kamronwit Thoopkrachang said, “He is very concerned about his royal subjects. He doesn′t want to see Thai people fighting each other”…. Pol.Gen. Kamronwit also said the Crown Prince has explicitly urged all Thais to defuse the tension by dialogues and peaceful negotiations. “I think we all should obey His Royal Highness,” the police chief added.

In a constitutional monarchy, royals are meant to stay quiet, and this is an expression of concern that was probably best left unsaid, especially as it got caught up in criticism of “[s]ome of the protesters” who have decided “to block the roads around Nang Loeng Intersection” that “directly interferes with the Crown Prince′s scheduled travel route.” The policeman said: “They refuse to move and open the roads for the royal convoy…”.

Bangkok Pundit – doing some excellent work – reports another royal plea that suggests attempts by the protesters to have the palace involved in nefarious political positioning that PPT would link to Suthep’s slip of the tongue, where he said what had really been the tenor of discussions amongst the protest leadership. Pundit also points to the beginnings of calls for the king to intervene, suggestive of a “crisis intervention” like 1992.

Suthep has already promised a crisis by declaring that “the ultimate goal of the protest is to uproot the Thaksin regime and the protest will not end unless the goal is achieved.” He added:

“We won’t stop even if [premier] Yingluck Shinawatra resigns or the House is dissolved,” Mr Suthep told the crowd, which numbered in the hundreds of thousands….  “Our demonstration will continue until we can get rid of the Thaksin regime.” …  However, Mr Suthep maintained that the battle would not last long. “This battle will end in three days,” he said.

Three days seems like a prediction that would be difficult to make unless one had word of high-level intervention or the protest leadership planned violence. It may be the latter given that The Nation is reporting “chaos” after Suthep invited protesters to storm the Budget Bureau “peacefully.” Other protesters have been testing police lines.

Meanwhile, Suthep’s Harry Dunne, Abhisit Vejjajiva has political amnesia (or hopes that the rest of the world does) when he prattles on about “Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Pheu Thai Party [needing] to take responsibility for the ongoing protests.” He went on to declare that “the high number of people gathering at Rajdamnoen is a significant expression of Thai society who want to see a change.” Don’t recall Abhisit making such a point when he faced larger demonstrations in 2010. It gets more disingenuous when he says:  “It’s a pity that we do not see how the PM and the government will respond to the call. They just repeatedly say ‘please sit and talk’…”. He is simply lying for the media for Suthep has already ruled this out.





Military grumbles

23 11 2013

Major-General Surachart Jitjaeng is a spokesman of the Defense Ministry’s Public Relations and Information Office. He is reported at Thai PBS, commenting on politics, sent to us by a reader. Of course, a professional military is expected to keep its collective trap firmly clammed up on politics, but this is the Thai military, and it is a political military, not a professional one.

The spokesman is said to have commented that “the political situation has intensified after the ruling of the Constitutional Court…”, which everyone already knows, so there is no reason for the military to be making a statement on the obvious. The report says that the spokesman’s statement was “the first time” that the military had “directly criticize[d] the ongoing political turmoil…”.

While he went on to “call for all sides to put an end to the widening and deepening conflict in the country before it gets out of control and is too late,” this is the first rattle of the sword, reminding all players that the military is interested and the institution that often matters most in political disputation, always supporting the palace and royalist elite.

His observation was that the political struggle “would jeopardize national security,” providing the beginning of a justification for any future military intervention. When he adds that these struggles may mean that “the country could not survive,” the military is staking a political claim.

King Bhumibol AdulyadejSurachart “said that national conflict has developed throughout the past nine years and was deepening.” Ahem. Nine years is an interesting time frame, taking us back to 2004. Recall that there was no “national conflict” when Thaksin Shinawatra won the biggest-ever election victory in Thailand’s history in February 2005. It was that victory that saw Thaksin engage in political acts born of arrogance and sent a shiver of fear through the military and, most especially, the palace as they saw an alternative popular power center develop.

And, the political conflict was irrevocably deepened by the palace-military coup of 2006. A little political amnesia and historical revision always assists in propaganda activities.

The military spokesman then embarked on the usual military-nationalist-palace rhetoric on solving problems: harmonious love for king and country.

He saw the need to remind people that “past history” showed that “whenever Thai people disintegrated and struggling for power emerging, disaster will ensue.” We guess he means during the Ayudhya period, but we’d remind people that in modern times power struggles have usually involved monarchy and military preserving their interests, often with guns blazing, shooting down citizens.

Naturally (or so it seems) the spokesman then called on all “people love their monarch, love the country and religion and therefore should come together to build the country before it was too late.” “Too late” might mean chaos but probably is meant to suggest that the military coup remains an option.





Promoting PADist propaganda

20 11 2013

The Faculty of Political Science at Chulalongkorn University is home to some of Thailand’s most outspoken yellow-shirted academics. As a result, it is not surprising that it would host one of its former “stars” and People’s Alliance for Democracy ideologue Chai-anan Samudavanija who wrapped himself in academic credentials to unleash yet another political attck on the representative parliamentary system.

Back in 2009, PPT commented on Chai-Anan:Chai-Anan

Chai-Anan Samudavanija, formerly a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, is a long-time ally of Sondhi Limthongkul. He was also a supporter of Thaksin Shinawatra for a considerable time, and seemed to stay longer than Sondhi. Chai-Anan jumped ship when the People’s Alliance for Democracy was in Sondhi’s hands. Chai-Anan is also close to the palace, as director of Vajiravudh College and a member of the Royal Institute.

Chai-Anan has been a regular commentator at ASTV and his columns have been rather incendiary whenever the political temperature has risen over the last couple of years.

In another post, we pointed out that Chai-Anan was one of those who promoted the infamous PAD propaganda claim of a “Finland Plot” that linked Thaksin Shinawatra to a republican plot involving former communist activists. This pre-2006 coup device was meant to further establish the palace-Thaksin battle lines.

The Nation reports that Chai-anan is again allocated the job of propagandizing for palace, Sondhi and PAD against Thaksin, a task he relishes. As chairman of his own Institute of Public Policy Studies, long funded by PAD leader Sonthi Limthongkul, Chai-Anan has engaged in some some dubious name-calling and attacked representative politics in a manner that should again shame the Faculty of Political Science at Chulalongkorn University.

He blamed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for”the resumption of political turbulence” due to a claimed “lack of leadership,” saying “The prevailing political crisis has occurred because the country has a leader with low intellect who is a puppet of another…”.

Apart from repeating the base and misogynist charges made by Abhisit Vejjajiva not that long ago – we imagine that Abhisit gets his ideas from propagandists like Chai-Anan – the royalist repeats PAD’s disdain for electoral and representative politics:

Past protests erupted to oppose military dictatorship, he said, adding that this time around protests persist despite the existence of democratic rule and an elected government…. He called for a rethink of the political system, arguing that elections do not guarantee a government’s legitimacy, due to rampant vote buying…. “The elected government’s credibility is at its lowest ebb; protesters carry on their activities despite the [government's] pledge to abandon the push for amnesty,” Chai-anan said.

There are a number of points that could be made about this remarkably trite and biased set of assertions. We make just two.

First, to link “democratic rule” and demonstrations is a clanger of high schoolboy proportions. Collective action worldwide is associated with all regime types, with the possible exception of the most iron-fisted, and the capacity to demonstrate against an elected government has even been touted by PAD as a measure of “democracy” in Thailand. In other words, the causality suggested by Chai-Anan between protests and elected government is absent.

Second, allegations of vote buying are a long-held PAD belief that is meant to delegitimize the electoral process. In the 2011 election, PPT has no doubt that the Puea Thai Party would have won the election without spending more than a few baht. Vote-buying in 2011 (and with the junta’s 2007 constitution referendum) was mostly associated with parties supported by Chai-Anan’s friends in the military who clearly wanted the Democrat Party and its allied parties in parliament. Perhaps that vote-buying undermines the legitimacy of elections, but Thai voters have shown a remarkable determination to have their voice heard in recent years, and most especially since the coup.

Of course, Chai-Anan, as a card-carrying member of the royalist elite, could not let his propaganda moment pass without joining the “bloods” in their harping on the monarchy and the destruction of the world as they believe they know it. He asserted:

… that amid the crisis, the fabric of society was being torn asunder by an unprecedented movement to attack the monarchy…. The country is facing a precarious dilemma, he said, as loyalty to the King, once seen as the nation’s unifying force, is being undermined while the government leader is being propped up as a puppet, he said.

This is a yet another rehearsal of the Finland Plot claims: Thaksin is destroying the king and the monarchy. Chai-Anan and other royalists are keen to re-make this claim again and again as they believe that the monarchy’s propaganda provides a basis for the rejection of electoral politics and is their foundation for political struggle.





Ethnicity, culture and political venom

17 11 2013

Yesterday, we added this as an update on a vaguely related post that we have now decided to make a post by itself:

While reading the newspapers today, PPT was also a bit taken aback to suddenly come across a couple of pieces raising race as an issue. We have already posted the story from The Economist, and in that it is noted that: “… Thaksin, an ethnic-Chinese billionaire, is an odd leader for a group dominated by non-Chinese Thais from the north-east. But they like the populist economic policies, such as a rice-price support scheme attacked this week by the IMF, which he and his sister have pursued.” Well, they are also claimed to like the king, and he’s Sino-Thai too, as are almost all of Thailand’s big business people and major politicians. Northeasterners were particularly attracted to Chatichai Choonhavan, and he was also Sino-Thai.

But it is at the Bangkok Post that the ethnicity line is used more mischievously. In an editorial, the Post states at length that Yingluck’s decision-making in government is driven by her ethnicity:

the Thai-Chinese community champions the family unit. Whether in business or politics, the family is ever present. Never underestimate its cultural importance. As a younger sister – youngest in fact – of a Thai or Thai-Chinese family, obedience to elder family members, especially the patriarch, is the norm, the honourable, time-honoured, expected and righteous thing to do.

It hammers this line and concludes:

Leadership means one must be made of stern stuff. If one can’t stand up for oneself, how can one stand up for one’s country? Between the choice of family and country, as the prime minster, Ms Yingluck must choose the country first, in every single decision.

It does seem odd that suddenly ethnicity is made to matter.

Of course, they could have mentioned the king as an example of a Sino-Thai who has put country before family. But perhaps that example is a bit difficult to deal with as he isn’t the youngest daughter in the clan and his family has done very nicely indeed, with various members of the family doing pretty much what they like with the benefit of taxpayer funding.

The reason we are elevating and update to a post is to continue attention to the Bangkok Post’s sudden and one-sided attention to culturalist explanations of behavior. While most of what Voranai Vanijaka says in his op-ed at the Post is seemingly a mixture of culturalist half-truths and smart-arsed cynicism, we must agree that this paragraph really struck a chord:

We are a society built upon cults of personalities, relationships and superstitions. As such, we have a difficult time differentiating personalities from ideals, and we tend to attach our loyalties and beliefs to personalities, rather than ideals. Democracy takes a back seat.

He’s right about this. And Thailand is less than a month from its really, really big enforced celebration of its biggest personality cult. The king’s birthday has grown from a relatively small affair in the 1940s to become (North Korea-like) a huge celebration of a deified individual, making his birthday a national day, father’s day and the embodiment of “Thai culture.” Of course, it is all based on half-truths, cynical marketing and the triumph of the palace’s political manipulators.

Voranai mentions General Prem Tinsulanonda’s period as prime minister in the 1980s: “After Gen Prem Tinsulanonda stepped down in 1988, Thailand began a new experiment with democracy. The result was one heartbreak after another.”

Of course it has been like this. As much as anyone since General Sarit Thanarat, Prem worked assiduously to promote and fund the monarchy. He is responsible, as much as Sarit and the king himself for creating a democracy that was doomed to fragility and the palace’s repeated intervention in politics. It is not going too far to say that democratic politics is weak in Thailand because that’s how the police power brokers like it.

Ethnicity and culture can be powerful, but they have little to do with this outcome. Instead look to the nest of political vipers – palace, military, judiciary and Sino-Thai tycoons – that have their political way and enrich themselves.





Chiranuch’s appeal rejected

9 11 2013

Chiranuch Premchaiporn was was charged in 2009 under the computer crimes-cum-lese majeste law for 10 comments posted at a Prachatai web board in 2008.  She was convicted on 30 May 2012.

An AFP report at The Malay Mail notes she lost her appeal against her ridiculous conviction and sentencing on Friday. The Appeals Court upheld the eight-month suspended jail sentence and fine.Chiranuch computer

At Prachatai it is reported that the judge “agreed with the Court of First Instance that it was convincing that the defendant had not consented to the nine comments that appeared on the forum for 1-11 days. However, the court was not convinced that the defendant was not aware of one particular comment which appeared for 20 days.” The judge then went into royalist-elite-speak:

Given that the defendant was 41 years old at the time, she had graduated from journalism school and she had worked in the media industry, she should have been aware that internet forums can be abused by criminals who use it to defame the monarchy, the judge said, adding that as a Thai citizen, the defendant has a duty to protect the monarchy.

The judge further maintained that the monarchy is “related to national security.”

Protecting wealth, privilege and power at the most minute level is critical for the survival of the nation or at least the ruling class that clusters around the palace.





Thaksin’s gift to his opponents

29 10 2013

The politically daft decision by Thaksin Shinawatra and the Puea Thai Party hierarchy to support a ludicrous amnesty bill does nothing for the “Thaksin revolution.” A week or so ago, while not using this description, PPT commented:

… the combination of economic crisis, new constitution and the resulting advance of electoral politics saw Thaksin Shinawatra and his Thai Rak Thai Party “sleepwalking into history,” [clicking opens a PDF] offering national political-electoral platforms that came to be seen as a challenge to the royalist status quo. Voting for a party that promised and delivered opened people’s eyes to the possibilities offered by electoral politics that far exceeded the old “money politics” model.

… this is not an outcome we expected at the time Thaksin was first elected. We’re pretty sure that Thaksin didn’t expect it either…. Nor did Thaksin imagine that the palace and associated elements of the capitalist and royal hangers-on elite would find his politics such a challenge. That opposition pushed Thaksin even further to so-called populism and a political alliance with voters in rural and working class electorates.

Puea Thai logoThat has been the Thaksin revolution: whether he wanted to or not, his election and all that followed has pushed Thailand in directions that cause the royalist elite deep concern. Yet even they have had to accommodate the “new Thailand” of electoral representation and challenges to the hierarchical and feudal institutions that the royalists say they cherish.

But by supporting this amnesty Thaksin and Puea Thai are betraying those who have supported Thaksin and his parties.

Worse, Thaksin and Puea Thai Party are handing their opposition a chance for a political victory that they could not have conjured themselves. They can then set about (again) turning back the political clock.

Look at the list of those lining up to oppose amnesty. Of course, the Democrat Party opposes it as does it allied factions of People’s Alliance for Democracy-associated ginger groups. They are organizing street-based opposition that will be funded by the same business, military and old elite money of the earlier iterations of the yellow shirt rallies.

Then there is the royalist-dominated Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT) that is said to include:

finance and business organisations such as the Board of Trade, Federation of Thai Industries, Thai Bankers Association, the Securities and Exchange Commission, Thai Institute of Directors, Federation of Thai Capital Market Organisations, the Thai Listed Companies Association, and the Association of Thai Securities Companies.

While we might question the anti-corruption credentials of this group – think of all the corrupt deals of these businesses! – that isn’t the point.

The army brass is also now opposed:

Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has insisted he and his soldiers do not want a reprieve under the amnesty bill….

Gen Prayuth said he had talked to his soldiers to hear their views on the amnesty bill offering a blanket reprieve and they insisted they did not want an amnesty.

He said the army was not a party to the political conflict and soldiers are officials of the state who perform their duties under the law.

Gen Prayuth said he himself did not want an amnesty either.

As ever, the Army brass expects its usual impunity when it kills citizens, but the stated opposition is a significant political statement by Prayuth.

This opposition also allows the Bangkok Post, in the same article, to repeat the “men in black” claims:

“Men in black” were accused of firing bullets and grenades at soldiers in April and May 2010, leading to a score of injuries and deaths among troops. They were believed to have received military training.

The opposition may look weaker than it has been for several years, yet we think that gifting the opposition an issue that will unite the opposition and help it to grow is not just politically foolish but demeans the “Thaksin revolution.”








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