Rise of the sycophants

21 08 2014

PPT has previously noted The Leader’s penchant for rightist sycophants. As if to confirm the sycophantic nature of the military dictatorship, the Bangkok Post reports that the junta’s bullyboy policeman, Police General Somyos Pumpanmuang was chosen “unanimously” by the National Police Policy Commission to be the new national police chief.

It is made clear that Somyos was selected because of “his ability to work with the military junta…”. Of course, “ability” here means his sycophantic attention to The Leader’s wishes and demands.

Somyos the sycophantNeed we mention that the Commission is chaired by junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha?

Somyos’s “skills” were said to have been demonstrated “in leading a campaign to clamp down on illegal possession of war weapons [which] impressed the six members of the panel.” Most of these were fake raids.

Somyos “has close ties with assistant army chief Gen Paiboon Khumchaya and 3rd Army Region commander Preecha Chan-ocha and friends from Class 15 at the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School, which he attended. Lt Gen Preecha is a younger brother of the coup leader.” He also has “backing from NCPO chief adviser Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and former national police chief Pol Gen Patcharawas Wongsuwan.”

Somyos confrimed that his sycophancy is critical in his new position: “Pol Gen Somyot said later his performance in security affairs and his ability to work alongside other agencies were the main reasons he was trusted and chosen by the NCPO for the job.”

When he adds that “he was serving the military regime in tackling security problems on the ground and ‘other secret missions’,” we wondered if this included the smashing of poor farmers and landholders in Loei.

A statement on ongoing death threats against members of the Wang Saphung community has been forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

THAILAND: Death threat made against human rights defender in Loei

Death threats still stand and are repeated against the Wang Saphung community

We, the undersigned 18 organisations, are deeply concerned about the Wang Saphung community’s situation. The death threats against 10 community members are still standing. More worryingly, we have been told by community leader Mrs Viron Rujichaiwat – mother of a one-month old baby – that she received a phone call from an unidentified man, on the eve of the community’s reconciliation meeting – Saturday 16th August at 19:00. Here is the transcript of their conversation.

Unidentified man: “Are you the wife of Surapan Rujichaiwat?
Viron Rujichaiwat: Yes.
Unidentified man: Tell your husband that he watch out for himself.
Viron Rujichaiwat: Who are you?
Unidentified man: If your husband doesn’t stop his campaigning he will suffer the consequences.”

We see this phone call as a renewed death threat against community leader Mr Surapan Rujichaiwat, and also against Mrs Viron Rujichaiwat. This event worries us greatly regarding the security of Wang Saphung community leaders under death threats, and of the community as a whole.

Moreover, the Wang Saphung community’s dispute with the gold-mining company, Tung Kha Limited Company (TKLC), is at a very tense stage. This week (19th-22nd August), the Loei Court will start the trials for the first two of seven legal cases against a total of 33 community members. This judicial harassment will drain a lot of attention and energy from the community as a whole.

The Wang Saphung’s community organization, KhonRak Ban Kerd Group (KBRK), has also informed us on the result of their reconciliation meeting on Sunday 17th August, with TKLC representatives, which was mediated by Wang Saphung District Chief. All relevant authorities were also present, including the Maj. Gen. Woratat Supattananon (Military District Commanding Officer, Loei Province),Governor Viroj Jivarangsan, the Deputy-Governor, the Provincial Police Chief, Mr Vichai Cherdchivasart (Managing Director of TKLC), and the concerned village headmen.

After the meeting the KBRK clearly told us that no agreement had been reached during the heated meeting. The company proposed no changes to the current situation, which has seen all mining operations suspended since before the 15th of May attack on the Wang Saphung community. The KBRK asked for all the legal cases against community members to be lifted in the spirit of reconciliation. This proposal was categorically refused by the company, as were all the other proposals from the Wang Saphung community representatives. As the meeting resolved none of the outstanding issues between the community and the company, the authorities concluded the meeting by calling for another reconciliation meeting between all stakeholders to take place in a month’s time.

We believe that the Wang Saphung community will continue to engage in all mediation efforts. This is because we deem that it is the community itself which has the most at stake in seeing the tense situation resolved, as they are the ones suffering both from the mining activities and from the deteriorating security situation.

We call upon the authorities to:

Carry out an immediate, thorough and independent investigation into the death threats against Mr Surapan Rujichaiwat, and also against Mrs Viron Rujichaiwat with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;
Take all necessary measures to guarantee at all times the physical and psychological integrity of  Mr Surapan Rujichaiwat, and also that of Mrs Viron Rujichaiwat and all other leaders of the KBRK and their families, including reinforcing any existing protection measures where necessary;
Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Thailand are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.
We call upon the general public and all stakeholders to:

Publicly condemn the threats and harassment suffered by KBRK and the Wang Saphung community as a whole;
Listen to all stakeholders in this dispute, in order to avoid a one-sided perception of the dispute which can only aggravate the already tense situation;

We call on the media to give a voice to all central stakeholders in this dispute.

Signed By:

1. NGOs Coordinating Committee, Northeastern Region
2. E-san Human Rights and Peace Information Centre
3. Network for Isaan Natural Resources and Environment
4. Eco-Culture Study Group
5. Center for Community Information for Social Justice
6.  The Udonthani Conservation Group
7. People’s Network on Community’s Mineral Resources
8. Mid-Chi Basin Community Group,
9. Dao Din Student Group
10. Assembly of the Poor, Rasi Salai Dam’s affected group
11. Lam Panieng Basin Conservation and Rehabilitation Group, Nong Bua Lamphu Province
12. Mekong Studies Group
13. Mekong River Conservation Group, Pakchom District, Loei Province
14. Community Resources Centre
15. Cross Cultural Foundation
16. Protection International
17.  EnLAW Thai Foundation
18.  People’s  Empowerment Foundation

We raise this issue because Somyos is closely aligned with the company that has hired thugs and police (often one and the same) to attack villagers (read the comment of 12 June).





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.





Updated: The Leader explains

27 07 2014

The interim constitution – in fact, a document that grants the military dictatorship sweeping power – is available in English translation. Given that the junta had already grabbed sweeping powers, this is hardly a shock.

Surprisingly, the grumpy military dictator General Prayuth Chan-ocha decided that, despite having his minions “explain” the need for a dictatorship, he needed to “explain” it again. The Bangkok Post has a story where The Leader states that the junta “sought to maintain a balance between the powers of the interim government and those of the NCPO [the junta].” He adds that the junta “has no desire for power or personal interest…”.

Perhaps The Leader hasn’t read his interim charter. If he had, then he’d realize that his statement to the nation is nonsensical. The interim constitution makes it clear that the military dictatorship and, more specifically, The Leader himself, have remarkable power that override those of any interim government.Prayuth planking

That government will be a bunch of junta flunkies, and under the interim constitution the junta is still acting illegally except for the fact that that basic law absolves the junta of all illegalities (section 41), including the illegal seizure of power itself (section 48). The junta continues to hold power and can even call a joint meeting with the junta-appointed Council of Ministers (section 46).

Prayuth defended the junta’s cancellation of local elections, saying that “the selection method was not transparent in some [local] areas while some of the people holding office were not effective.” In fact, the junta is transparent in its intentions. It wants no elections where its political opponents may win until it can fix the rules in a way that only permits its allies to be victorious.

Prayuth also “urged the media to correctly understand the NCPO’s intentions.” The problem is that the media – what little of it that remains supportive of democratization – knows the intentions of the junta only too well. Accurate reporting of this would lead to bans, censorship and “invitations” for re-education.

As The Leader “explained,” there would only be “problems” for the media “if you over-criticise or don’t have an honest intent.” Of course, it is The Leader and the junta that determines “intent.” More alarmingly, The Leader promised “media reform”: “In the second phase, there will be reform in all branches of the media and all media members must help and cooperate…”.

PPT can only assume that this is going to be a major state-military-junta effort to enforce “fascism with the king as head of state.” After all, The Leader “criticised the people who claimed to be ‘calling for democracy’ in the country.” He’s clear that His “democracy” is not the democracy of elections, voting and representation.

Update: To follow up on that statement by the Big Boss (-1) where he earnestly stated: the junta “has no desire for power or personal interest…”. The Nation reports that he must have been fibbing for “an informed NCPO source,” which means one of the military dictatorship’s junta, has contradicted the sill Prayuth claim with a statement of reality: “At least 100 senior military officers are tipped to be selected as members of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA)…”.

The Leader and liar, General Prayuth even personally “screened the list of people proposed to be members of the NLA presented by his assistant General Paiboon Koom-chaya, who is in charge of justice and legal matters for the military leaders.” The list includes some other flunkies who masquerade as academics, claim to head “non-government groups,” steal the slaves’ labor as “business people,” and who have done the palace’s dirty work as unelected “senators,” but the biggest group will be the men in green.

The powers backing Prayuth and the key links to the palace will also be there: General Prawit Wongsuwan, the mutinous former Army chief General Anupong Paochinda and former deputy Army chief General Dapong Ratanasuwan.





Updated: This is for the king II

31 01 2014

The idea that the palace isn’t showing favorites in this political struggle was again shown to be false when it agreed to a royal cremation for slain anti-democracy demonstrator Sutin Taratin. Of course, we haven’t seen any such events for the dead red shirts.

This is yet another signal that the palace is firmly supporting the demands made by Suthep Thaugsuban and his anti-democrats.

On the subject of the role of the palace, Shawn Crispin at Asia Times Online, who can always be relied on for a great story of intra-elite intrigue, backroom deals and unnamed sources, true or not, has some comments worth perusing.

He begins by reasserting a 2011 pre-election deal between Thaksin Shinawatra and “the royal palace and military top brass.” As far as PPT can determine, the source of this rumor is Crispin himself. Every other reference to this “deal” draws on Crispin’s article claiming this in 2011.

Crispin also sticks with his claim that the red shirt protest was “Thaksin mobilized and financed to topple the Democrat Party-led government in 2010 after a court seized over US$1 billion of his personal assets.” We think that when you deal only with the elite and the intrigue, you miss what’s really happening on the ground. This claim that Thaksin paid for it all is as silly as saying that all votes are bought or that the current demonstrators are all paid dupes of Suthep and his backers. Sure, there some funding of rallies – there has to be – but dismissing real grievances is dumb politics and blind journalism.

That “Thaksin’s rehabilitation and return from exile is still deemed as non-negotiable at the highest royalist levels” seems an unremarkable observation, deal or no deal.

We do think that Crispin’s description of the anti-democrats is probably accurate. He says it is:

Fronted by former Democrat party member Suthep Thaugsuban and tacitly backed by a royal establishment with power centers in the bureaucracy, courts, military and monarchy….

He’s also correct to note that the upcoming election “will almost inevitably be marred by violence and finally ruled null and void by establishment-aligned agencies and courts.” And, we have said this too:

Other cases, including a fast-tracked impeachment motion against Yingluck for her alleged role in overseeing a mismanaged and widely criticized rice price-support scheme and pending charges against over 250 Peua Thai politicians for trying to amend the constitution, threaten to create a political vacuum before the Election Commission, as widely expected, officially nullifies the poll result. [Premier] Yingluck [Shinawatra] could be indicted in the rice-price case as early as mid-February.

We agree, and we’d add that those backing the Suthep lot have to keep them on the streets until the judiciary can act against the government in a 2008-like judicial coup. Crispin says this is the royalist strategy:

top royalists have bid to leverage the two-sided squeeze of anti-Shinawatra street protests and legal impeachment pressure to force Yingluck’s resignation and Thaksin’s acquiescence to the formation of an appointed ruling council.

If this scenario comes about and there is no major pro-Yingluck backlash, we think Crispin is also right to say:

… Thailand is more likely headed towards a period of appointed rather than elected governance, a political shift that royalist institutions will justify with rule-by-law arguments and will be backed but not overtly orchestrated by military force.

While much of this is speculation based on past experience, Crispin is on shakier ground when he gets back to his plots and intrigues. He says:

the push and pull is a reflection of ongoing and unresolved behind-the-scenes negotiations between Thaksin and senior royalists comprised mainly of retired senior soldiers, according to diplomats, mediators and a well-placed military insider familiar in varying degrees with the situation. Those negotiations through intermediaries have to date failed to reach a new stabilizing accommodation.

From what we have seen, we doubt there are any real negotiations. The royalists and palace seem to have determined to be rid of a pro-Thaksin government one more time.

Crispin mentions these negotiators: former army commander and defense minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, 2006 coup makers Lieutenant-General Winai Phattiyakul and Prasong Soonsiri, and retired General Saiyud Kerdphol. If Thaksin were dealing with these guys, he’d be bonkers for they all hate him.

As Crispin notes, this lot are in line with the anti-democrats in wanting “a purge of Thaksin’s and his family’s political and business influence, and appointment of a people’s council’.” They also want Thaksin’s whole family in exile.

None of this requires much negotiation unless the royalists are frightened of a red shirt rebellion.

ConnorsCrispin then follows this with speculation regarding succession, none of which is new. We’d simply point out that the snip from Michael Connors said similar things more than a decade ago. One way or another, speculation on succession and royal death has been going on for a very long time!

Crispin then speculates on violence, with no evidence whatsoever. He notes attacks on protesters but says nothing of attacks on red shirts. Why does only one kind of violence matter at this point in his narrative? Simply because his is speculative thinking out loud, quoting others doing the same.

Some of his claims, though, deserve quotation just for the tortured logic that gets the reader back to some real facts:

One [unnamed] military insider claims that January 17 and 19 grenade attacks on the PDRC were perpetrated by mafia elements involved in illegal video-game gambling and with links to police in Pathum Thani province north of Bangkok.

Okay, this is pretty speculative, but then this:

The [unnamed] source believes rogue police may have hired proxies to exact revenge for PDRC assaults on its personnel and property, while avoiding direct confrontations with military members, including soldiers in plainclothes serving as PDRC guards at certain protest sites.

That seems interesting to us. Rouge police suggests that there is no orchestrated government violence, which Crispin spends considerable time discussing.

Military personnel acting as anti-democrat guards. Interesting indeed.

Finally, Crispin gets to some verifiable facts while admitting he really doesn’t know what is happening:

Police officials have suggested that the PDRC, or allied military-linked culprits, have staged the attacks to frame the government and regain momentum amid signs of flagging popular support for their protests. Police arrests of active Navy Seals near one protest site, and the capture of an apparent military-linked suspect transporting war weapons from the army base central town of Lopburi to an unknown recipient, feed that narrative. Whatever the case, both sides have hidden incentive to escalate the shadowy violence.

Finally Cripin speculates on red shirt reaction and dismisses it, saying “UDD pro-election rallies organized in Thaksin’s and Yingluck’s geographical strongholds failed to galvanize large numbers…”. We think he’s not been watching this. His speculation on Thaksin “launch[ing] a UDD-led rural insurgency aimed at partitioning the country,” is simply the wildest speculation PPT has heard for a very, very long time, even from Crispin, who publishes the most outlandish of this stuff.

Readers can make of this what they will. Fairy tale? A few facts and lots of story? Who do the “informants” want this stuff to be heard by?

What is clear is that this is yet another bit of royal interventionism.

Update: Above it was noted by Crispin that “military members, including soldiers in plainclothes [are] serving as PDRC guards at certain protest sites.” The Bangkok Post confirms this:

More security guards have been recruited to provide protection for the protest leaders, most notably for the PDRC secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban.

Mr Suthep is driven around in a vehicle surrounded by a convoy of motorcycles made up of plainclothes police and soldiers. The convoy includes four to six security vehicles.





More on those behind the anti-democratic movement

16 12 2013

In earlier posts PPT had some information on those behind the anti-democratic movement, with some emphasis on the so-called academic support. Much of this indicated that the support base in that area was pretty much constant from the first days of the People’s Alliance for Democracy. In addition, it is clear that the leadership of the federated unions associated with state enterprises have remained solid in support of the anti-democratic movement that is now in action as a scion of PAD.

The leadership of the current incarnation is now focused on Suthep Thaugsuban and members of the Democrat Party. In past movements, this lot tended to remain in the background, leaving campaigning to the PAD types. Yes, certain members of the party spoke on stage, with the unpredictable Kasit Piromya appearing on the stage during the 2008 airport occupations. Of course, for a while there were some debates between the Democrat Party and PAD, with the latter demanding more radical action. That demand finally won through when the Democrat Party showed itself incapable of winning an election.

In terms of financial support for the anti-democratic movement, rumor has it that the major sponsors of Suthep’s have been the Bangkok Bank, the Singha Beer, and some add in the Central Group.

But rumors aren’t facts. So two stories by Reuters are of some interest, and we realize that these have been well-circulated, so we just highlight some bits and pieces from them.

The first story at Reuters is regarding “prominent Thais” who have joined the protests. First mentioned is the selfie-photogenic Chitpas Bhirombhakdi who at 27 and with nearly 2,000 Instagram photos of herself posted, is not just a self-indulgent and self-important upper class youngster, but is also “heiress to a $2.6 billion family fortune and, according to high-society magazine Thailand Tatler, one of Bangkok’s ‘most eligible young ladies‘.” The report notes:

Chitpas, whose family owns the Boon Rawd Brewery that makes Singha Beer, had dismounted the machine [a bulldozer that was to bust police barricades] long before police pelted it with rubber bullets and gas canisters. But her gung-ho act showed how members of Thailand’s most celebrated families are discarding all past pretence [sic.] of neutrality to hit the streets in the hope of toppling Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

We understand that several tubes of expensive moisturizer helped after the bulldozer scamming for headlines. Chitpas may be young for Thai politics, but her interests are with the old men who want to keep their hands on the political tiller. She supports harsher lese majeste laws – her family’s beer interests were initially co-invested with the then king back in the early 1930s.

Naphalai Areesorn, editor of banal Thailand Tatler, has also been spotting celebrities and hi-so opportunists at the anti-democratic protests. She is reported to have said:

“People you would normally see in the society pages were out there… All the people from big families used to be called the silent minority. Well, they’re not silent anymore.”

Spot market prices for sunscreen and cosmetics with high ant-sun indices have shot up.

Chris Baker is cited saying: “Banks, construction companies and other big Thai businesses have often openly supported Thaksin-backed parties or the opposition Democrats…”. True, but the big money has been with the anti-democrats for this movement is seen to best protect its interests.

Reuters reports that another “prominent Thai hitting the streets was real estate tycoon Srivara Issara, who along with her husband Songkran runs Charn Issara Development PLC. She led her own protest march from her company’s Bangkok headquarters to the nearby offices of the ruling Puea Thai Party.”Charn Issara

Srivara claims no party affiliation. “I really hate politics,” she said. Her march was inspired by her disgust for Thaksin (“that runaway criminal”) and her faith in protest leader Suthep, a former Democrat politician.

A friend in the PR business helped her dream up a protest slogan: “Moral righteousness comes above democracy”. Srivara publicised the march through Facebook and by personally handing out leaflets in the street the night before.

Thousands of people joined her peaceful rally, which she saw as an extension of Charn Issara’s corporate social responsibility programme. “It’s our duty to do something good for the country,” she said.

Here’s the company’s statement on CSR:

Charn Issara’s main principle is to differentiate the innovated projects and deliver only high quality product to exceed customer’s expectation. The Company ‘s ideology is to present only the best property development project to elevate better social responsibility and grant satisfaction to both the developer and its customers.

PPT has seen plenty of blarney in CSR, but this is pure marketing. She even dresses as she thinks a peasant did or would linking her to the religious base of the sufficiency economy nonsense that the elite embraces in ways that allow them to maintain their corporations and profits. So the company can build estates with golf courses and gobble up beaches. Its 2012 report can be obtained, with a 12MB download as a PDF, showing it as publicly-listed but family-controlled.

Another of Thailand’s wealth at the demonstrations is” Petch Osathanugrah, who along with his brother Ratch has an estimated fortune of $630 million. They own the energy drinks producer Osotspa and 51 percent of Shiseido Thailand.” It is known that the family has sponsored rightist NGOs and the report states that:

Petch believed it [another election] will only install another Thaksin-backed government, which will spark further protests.

His opinion of the mainly rural Thais who voted for Yingluck is unsparing but typical. They are ill-educated, easily swayed and greedy, he said, and their willingness to sell their vote to Thaksin-backed politicians renders elections pointless.

“I’m not really for democracy,” said Petch, who was educated in the United States. “I don’t think we’re ready for it. We need a strong government like China’s or Singapore’s – almost like a dictatorship, but for the good of the country.”

“I am longing for a Lee Kuan Yew,” he said, referring to former prime minister who oversaw Singapore’s economic rise.

We assume that he supported Thaksin Shinawatra when he wanted to be like the aged LKY.

The Sino-Thai business community, at least the big capitalists, have long felt comfortable with military dictatorships and see the monarchy as part of their created identity and a protector of their interests. They tend to see LKY’s conservative “Asian Values” ideas, which laud Chineseness as necessary for their prosperity.

Equally dismissive of voters is “Palawi Bunnag, a scion of a celebrated family of Persian descent who served Thailand’s early kings. Palawi, a qualified lawyer and frequent visitor to the protest sites,” and says:

Educating the electorate begins with people such as “our own drivers and maids,” said  felt people from northeast Thailand should be made to understand the limitations of short-term populist policies such as easy credit.

“They just want their lives to be comfortable, but they don’t think that in the long run they will have debts,” said Palawi. “Thaksin’s regime makes everyone have a lot of greed.”

Clearly, they have no conception of rural life or the changes that have taken place in the countryside.

But do they know the elite better?

Many in Thailand’s elite publicly excoriate Thaksin and his clan. But they also occupy the same rich lists – Forbes places the Shinawatra family 10th with a fortune of $1.7 billion – and move in the same rarefied circles.

Srivara Issara’s oldest son Vorasit, who recently vowed on his Facebook page to “beat the living crap” out of red shirt leaders, told Reuters he was friends with Thaksin’s son Panthongtae.

“Everyone knows each other,” said Palawi Bunnag, who – proving her point – is married to Vorasit and went to the same British university as Thaksin’s nephew Rupop.

Such proximity to the Shinawatras also affords a privileged insight. “They’re nice friends,” said Palawi. “But we also know their hidden agendas, their hidden businesses.”

They seem to be saying that the whole elite is a bunch of crooks. Few who vote for Thaksin are likely to disagree with that assessment. The subaltern judgement of politics seems to be that electoral democracy can produce some control of the elite, whereas the rich see it a nuisance for their profits and lifestyle.

The second story at Reuters: is not about the business elite but about the darker forces behind Suthep’s anti-democratic ranting:

But behind Thailand’s fiery anti-government protest leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, are two powerful retired generals with palace connections, a deep rivalry with the Shinawatra family and an ability to influence Thailand’s coup-prone armed forces.

The forces behind Suthep are led by former defense minister General Prawit Wongsuwan and former army chief General Anupong Paochinda, towering figures in Thailand’s military establishment, said two military sources with direct knowledge of the matter and a third with connections to Thai generals.

The report is clear on these two:

Although retired, Anupong, 64, and Prawit, 67, still wield influence in a powerful and highly politicized military that has played a pivotal role in a country that has seen 18 successful or attempted coups in the past 81 years…. It is unclear how far that influence goes, or how decisive they could be. But both have close ties to army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha. And all three have a history of enmity with Yingluck’s billionaire brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who they helped oust in a 2006 coup.

It adds:

Anupong was a leader of the military coup that removed Thaksin in September 2006 and two years later recommended on television that the Thaksin-allied prime minister step down. As army chief, he oversaw a bloody crackdown on Thaksin’s red-shirted supporters in 2010 in which 91 people, mostly red shirts, were killed. Anupong made Prayuth his heir apparent.

A former army commander, Prawit was a mentor of Anupong and a defence minister under the previous government replaced by Yingluck in the 2011 election. He’s also a close associate of former general Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, leader of the coup against Thaksin….

These older men are linked to a generation of soldiers nurtured by Privy Councilor Prem Tinsulanonda:

Anupong and Prayuth served with the Queen’s Guard, an elite unit with greater autonomy from the rest of military, with its allegiance foremost to the monarchy rather than the direct chain of command….

The report claims that:

As [t]his reign gradually draws to a close, long-simmering business, political and military rivalries are rising to the surface, forcing Thailand to choose sides between supporters of the Bangkok establishment or those seeking to upend the status quo – a constituency associated with Thaksin.

The king has now demonstrated his incapacity for political intervention as he is degraded by age and the interventionist queen is off the stage too. So the miltiary and the members of the Privy Council who can suck up their own drool step into the breech:

Prawit and Anupong had expressed readiness to intervene if there was a security crisis, such as a crackdown by police on protesters or clashes between pro and anti-government demonstrators, and if Suthep’s plan for an interim government was constitutional, said the source with military connections.

This even if “Suthep’s bid to upend Thailand’s current political order looks far-fetched.” But the military, while divided “has provided little security for her caretaker government at protests…”. The report adds, from a government source: “Once a lot of violence takes place and the government cannot enforce the law, then this country becomes a failed state. Then there can be a pretext for the military to come in…”. The report adds:

“Suthep is playing the game on the outside while Prawit tries to play the game on the inside,” said a senior military official who could not be identified because he was not authorised to speak to the media. “General Prawit has been clear about his aspirations to become prime minister.”

The calling of elections is a last-ditch effort at a constitutional solution for the crisis.

For the moment, the military brass seems to favor elections. This leads to a dangerous situation where Suthep, with the Democrat Party now sidelined as a normal political party, needs violence and a coup if electoral democracy is to be rolled back.





Lese majeste updates

1 12 2012

Prachatai has published some useful updates on a series of lese majeste cases. PPT will summarize here and will 112.jpgupdate our specific pages on each case as well:

  1. In its first story, Prachatai refers to the truly bizarre case of two of the Royal Health Rumor 4. Back in October 2009 there were rumors that the king was seriously ill or had died. This caused a huge sell-off on the stock exchange, and the ridiculous Abhisit Vejjajiva-led coalition government began a witch hunt for those responsible for the rumors. Many observers considered the whole case so silly that it had been quietly brushed under the carpet. Not so. The Criminal Court is said to be “likely to deliver its ruling by the end of this year on a case” involving Katha Pajajiriyapong, then an employee in the trading a securities trading firm KT Zmico Securities (the firm sacked him). Katha is said to have posted comments on Same Sky or Fah Diew Kan web board. Apparently there is another charge against him from April 2009. He is charged under the 2007 Computer-Related Crimes Act. He has been on bail since his arrest in 1 November 2009. He is expected to get a verdict on 19 December 2012.
  2. Also one of the Royal Health Rumor 4, Thiranan Vipuchanun, a former director of a finance and securities trading firm, is “accused of posting on the Prachatai webboard her translation of a Bloomberg news article which reported the slump of the Thai stock market on 14 Aug 2009 due to the widespread rumours about the King’s health. Her case is now pending a decision by the prosecution.”
  3. Somyos Prueksakasemsuk is also scheduled to re-appear in court on 19 December 2012, and it seems that he may get a verdict then, having been held in prison since 30 April 2011 on lese majeste charges.
  4. Akechai Hongkangwarn who was arrested on 11 March 2011 and charged under Article 112 – lese majeste – for being in possession of illegal VCDs of an Australian television documentary that presented an accurate picture of the state of the Thai monarchy and 10 Wikileaks documents. He is expected to appear in court on 22 February 2013.
  5. One of the Bangkok 19 who were accused by the Army and its boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Yoswaris Chuklom or Jeng Dokchik, “a comedian turned red-shirt activist and politician, will appear in court for witness hearings on 11-12 Dec [2012]. He is being prosecuted for alleged lèse majesté comments in his public speech during a red-shirt rally at Phan Fa on 29 March 2010.”
  6. In the first week of November 2010, Sqn Ldr Chanin Khlaikhlung became the first casualty of then Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan’s warning that the military needed to weed out anti-monarchists in its ranks. This was also a part of the Abhisit regime’s royalist witch hunt. He will likely appear in a military court (closed to the public) in February 2013, facing lese majeste and computer crimes charges related to 24 comments on his Facebook page.
  7. Finally, Prachatai mentions a case PPT has not previously heard of when it lists Aswin (family name withheld) as likely to appear in Chiang Mai Court in February 2013 “to face accusations by an acquaintance of making lèse majesté remarks.”
  8. In its second story, Prachatai mentions another case previously unknown to PPT. The case goes back to the days of high alert on lese majeste by the royalist regime under Abhisit and refers to an unnamed Malay Muslim man whose case is outlined at the iLaw database. The Pattani resident is accused of “hanging banners with the picture of HM the Queen on a pedestrian bridge in the town” also allegedly “containing messages about violent incidents in the south and other parts of Thailand, together with a picture of HM the Queen, on 12 Aug 2009, the Queen’s birthday…”. It seems that this may be another case pursued by the military who are also accused of beating and torturing the man to get a confession on a crime he was not even aware of (standard military practice). He has been on bail. It seems this case has been kept secret.
  9. A third story refers to well-known Thammasat historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul who is said to be “pessimistic” and “both surprised and appalled by the decision of police to forward his lese majeste police complaint case to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).” He is due to appear before the prosecutor sometime this month.

The last story also refers to there being “currently at least seven people detained under the law with hundreds more in the process of possibly being charged or having received police complaints made against them.” PPT knows of eight currently detained, although we assume there are more we don’t know about. We are not aware that there are “hundreds more in the process of possibly being charged or having received police complaints made against them.” That said, there are two cases above we had never heard of before, suggesting that the case load and backlog that is inestimable. The opacity associated with this most political of charges lends itself to both under-reporting and exaggeration.

In late 2010, based on data related to charges laid, prosecuted and known conviction rates, we had guesstimated that there may have been some 350 jailed following lese majeste convictions or related computer crimes charges. We have no idea how many accusations there are or how many cases are winding there way through the system. In any serious judicial system, this law would be declared unconstitutional and scrapped. Until that happens, Thailand can never be a truly democratic country.





Democrat Party assets

5 10 2012

Most political commentators consider that the Democrat Party possesses few political assets. However, the recent release of wealth declarations by Democrat Party leaders when in government shows they had plenty of economic assets. The Nation reports that the National Anti-Corruption Commission is required to collect assets data for former ministers, one year after they leave office.

The former members of the Democrat Party-dominated Cabinet are not short of a baht, dollar or Euro. And, as noted below, some (all?) of them are worth a heck of a lot more but have done deals with family to spread the wealth about while maintaining control over the assets of the family-cum-company. We won’t list them and just draw attention to a few.

Wealthiest is Korn Chatikavanij who declared personal assets with his wife of 865.909 million baht or about US$28.6 million, apparently a “Bt4.5 million decrease from the amount he declared when leaving office.” Korn’s supposed to be a sharp investor, so the drop in assets, when the market has been rising seems a bit odd.

Second richest is Chaovarat Chanweerakul of the Bhum Jai Thai Party, with declared assets 754.237 million baht. Chaovarat’s family is much wealthier than this. His son (อนุทิน ชาญวีรกูล) and daughter-in-law Sanongnut (สนองนุช ชาญวีรกูล) are the major shareholders of the family firm Sino-Thai Engineering, and together hold shares just in this company valued at almost 4.8 billion baht and there are plenty of other family members listed as shareholders.

The third richest is former the deputy finance minister Pradit Pataraprasit, worth 681.258 million baht.

Former justice minister Pirapan Salirathavibhaga also has a bit of loot, being worth 629.88 million baht. He’s the one with three flight simulators (F-18, F-16 and F-14 fighter jets) worth almost $2 million. Porntiva Nakasai, says she has assets worth 117.03 million baht. We wonder if that includes any of the massage parlor empire?

Former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva declared assets worth 53.944 million baht while his former deputy Suthep Thaugsuban proves that debts may also be a measure of wealth as he declared outstanding debts of 347.578 million baht and assets of 210.95 million. When he left office, Suthep declared assets worth 95.64 million baht, up from 81.607 million when the military hoisted Abhisit’s government into power. It seems that his assets and debts have increased very substantially. Suthep said he owed 248.57 million baht to the Islamic Bank of Thailand. We wonder if his loan their followed The Islamic Bank of Thailand Act, B.E. 2545, which stipulates that the bank operates a financial business that are not related to interests
(riba) or against Islamic principles?

The other surprise is former defense minister General Prawit Wongsuwan who has assets worth 79.063 million baht, sharply up from the 9.39 million he declared a year ago. It never ceases to amaze that poorly paid generals can do so well. A 70 million gain in a year suggests Prawit is a financial genius who has found a second skill late in life (probably not).





The royalist use of lese majeste

22 04 2012

How much effort has gone into finding, persecuting and prosecuting lese majeste? How much effort did the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration put into using lese majeste as a means of political repression?

The trial of Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, reported by Prachatai, has provided a rare insight.

Prosecution witness Colonel Wijan Jodtaeng is said to be the Director of the Law and Human Rights Department of the Internal Security Operations Command. As odd as it might be that an arm of the state’s repressive apparatus has a section that is working on law and human rights, we at PPT think of it as an Orwellian department for repressing human rights and using the law for state repression.

Col. Wijan testified that:

during the time that the Emergency Decree was in force in 2010, the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) was the main body which dealt with lèse majesté offences.  Security agencies collected evidence and sent this case to the Department of Special Investigation (DSI).  The DSI accepted it as a special case, and sent it back to the CRES which then assigned him to file a police complaint.

In other words, CRES, the special body established by the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime to suppress the red shirt demonstrations, also became the body that made complaints of lese majeste in this period. If it wasn’t already clear, this statement shows that lese majeste was used as a political weapon for political purposes by the Abhisit government.

And, it is worth noting that the colonel later told reporters that, until he was ordered to make the complaint against Somyos, he had never read the articles involved.

When asked whether the lese majeste prosecution of Somyos “involved CRES spokesperson Col Sansern Kaewkamnerd and followed the CRES ‘diagram of the plot against the Monarchy’,” Col. Wijan said CRES was involved and stated:

that the team working on this case consisted of over 30 officers from several agencies, including, for example, the DSI and the Council of State, and Col Sansern was part of the team, if he remembered correctly.

Yes, that is 30 officials working on the case against Somyos!

More broadly about lese majeste, the colonel was asked if any case was dropped under CRES. His answer: no, not a single case was ever dropped.

Prachatai also reports on the extraordinary effort that the Abhisit government put into hunting down red shirts and using lese majeste charges to repress them and freedom of speech. It cites evidence by a prosecution witness:

Col Nuchit Sribunsong from the Army’s Directorate of Operations told the court that since 2006 the security situation had apparently grown intense, and security agencies had monitored lèse majesté content in the media, on the internet, and in political public speeches.  Three magazines which were particularly monitored included Thai Red News, Voice of Taksin and Truth Today.

Colonel Nuchit adds further to the long list of government agencies involved in the great lese majeste hunt:

Information would be collected and analyzed jointly by the National Security Council, ISOC, the Police Special Branch, the National Intelligence Agency, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, etc.

And all of this “information and opinions would be submitted to the CRES for consideration.” And this colonel also stated that the concocted and now discredited CRES “anti-monarchy plot” diagram was “used as a tool in their planning and analysis.” That is, a fictional plot was used to concoct evidence and charges against political opponents.

Who was directing all of this political repression and the use of the draconian and politicized lese majeste law? Charges were stated to be:

up to the CRES, which was chaired by Suthep Thaugsuban, then Deputy Prime Minister of the Abhisit Vejjajiva government, to decide whether the articles were offensive to the monarchy.  He and the rest of the team just presented the CRES with information and a preliminary opinion.

It is absolutely clear that both Abhisit and Suthep were heading the CRES campaign of repression. They used lese majeste against political opponents. They funded it extravagantly to enable that it repressed opponents, with one reliable estimate being that between 7 April and 25 May alone, CRES spent 1.9 billion baht, with with ISOC spending a further 2.08 billion.

More than this, CRES included significant others, including the military brass, who regularly told Abhisit what to do. Army commander General Prayuth Chan-ocha simply over-ruled Abhisit through CRES. For some time, the CRES director was General Prawit Wongsuwon, who was defense minister. The military called the shots, in cooperation with Suthep and Abhisit, all concocting plots against the monarchy as a way of maintaining the royalist regime.





Amnesia on the military

15 06 2011

In a recent post we said: “PPT thought that everyone knows that the brokering of the deal for the Democrat Party-led coalition government was managed by the military with support from business and the palace.” In that post we were commenting on the recent Abhisit Vejjajiva epistle. It seems that this sudden amnesia has also infected the writers at the Bangkok Post, where two articles claim that the military’s involvement in cobbling together the Democrat Party-led coalition is somehow a new story.

The first story is by the yellow-hued op-ed writer Veera Prateepchaikul. He takes up Chart Thai Pattana Party leader Chumpol Silpa-archa’s comments in an article with the intriguing title “’Forced marriage’ was not made in heaven.” We take this as a reference to the palace. Interestingly, though, Veera doesn’t mention the palace. It seems he wants to shift responsibility away from “heaven.” Veera states: “Chumpol’s first public admission of Chartthaipattana’s ‘forced marriage’ with the Democrats and three other junior parties …has confirmed what the opposition Pheu Thai Party and many political observers have accused all along – that the military had played a crucial role in cobbling together the Abhisit government…. But Mr Abhisit has denied all along that his coalition government was put together with the help of the military.”

The second story is by Wassana Nanuam, who knows what happened very well. Her account also points to Chumpol’s comments “… Armed forces leaders, including Gen Prayuth [Chan-ocha], reportedly invited many politicians for a talk at the 1st Infantry Regiment to lobby them to support the Democrat-led government in December 2007. Both the military and the Democrat Party have vehemently denied this.”

The interesting point is the last sentence. PPT’s question is: How can the Democrat Party and the military deny it now and why does Veera think this is new?

We covered some of this in out linked post above and this earlier post. We again draw readers’ attention to the excellent Bangkok Pundit round-up on the Chumpol story. Let’s just cite a bit from that post, from The Nation: “    The shadow of the military hovers over moves to form a new government, which will see the Democrats team up with minor parties who agreed to swap sides “for the sake of the nation. “A key leader of one of the former coalition parties said most parties had moved to the Democrat camp due to a request by a senior military figure, who was conveying a message from a man who could not be refuted.” We would assume that the “man” is close to heaven.

We might add that Anupong and his co-military commanders made a public statement calling for the PPP government to resign. That was in late November 2008, in a nationwide broadcast.

What else does the media say at the time? Here’s some, from PPT’s paper files:

In the same Nation story, this is added: “key Democrat leaders namely Suthep [Thaugsuban] and Niphon [Promphan], along with their supporters namely Pradit [Pattaraprasit], Somsak [Prissanananthakul], Suchat Tanchareon from Puea Pandin, Somsak Thepsuthin from the disbanded Matchima Thipataya, and some MPs from Newin [Chidchob]‘s group met Army Chief Gen Anupong Paochinda at his residence. The only parties not invited were Pheu Thai and Pracharaj.”

On 11 December 2011, Wassana in the Bangkok Post stated: “Amid intense lobbying by both Puea Thai and Democrat camps, many key members of the coalition parties and key factions within them were seen visiting Gen Anupong at his official residence in the compound of the First Infantry Regiment off Vibhavadi Rangsit Road, both in small and large groups. Among these special visitors were reportedly Newin Chidchob and Sora-at Klinprathum, two faction leaders in the now dissolved PPP. The two men were seen at Gen Anupong’s residence on Dec 4 along with Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army’s chief-of-staff. Later, Pradit Phataraprasit, secretary-general of Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana party reportedly called on Gen Prayuth at his residence, also in the regiment compound. In the meantime, Democrat secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban kept in touch with Gen Anupong by phone…. On Dec 6, shortly before the Democrat’s plan to form a new coalition government was announced, Mr Suthep reportedly led a group of key members of the Democrats’ prospective coalition partners to meet Gen Anupong at the residence of former army chief Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, who is well respected by Gen Anupong. Even though the meetings were supposed to be secret events, they ended up in the open because of the unusual manner of the visits.”

In the Bangkok Post on 29 December 2008, Anupong “accepted that meetings between him and politicians from the Democrats and other smaller parties at his residence at the First Infantry Regiment on Vibhavadi Rangsit road paved the way for the Democrats to eventually form a new coalition government. The Dec 3, 4 and 6 meetings were attended by key figures of the former coalition parties of the previous government and influential Buri Ram politician Newin Chidchob, the leader of the breakaway faction of the dissolved People Power party.” It is clear that the cat is already well out of the bag and there can be no denying the meetings. What Anupong does then is add this, and this has been the basis of continuing dissembling by the military brass and Abhisit: ”They phoned me for my advice. Some asked to meet me. But I was not involved in setting up the government. I only suggested that they do what is good for the country…”.

But he can’t control himself, saying: “Society expects the military to help restore peace. But when this [the meetings] happened, I was attacked. What should I do, then?” PPT uses the words of a military source cited in the above story: “From the chain of events of the last few weeks, it cannot be denied that Gen Anupong had a hand in the successful formation of the present government.”

What isn’t very clear at all is the identity of the “man” who could not be disobeyed. Many have suggested Privy Councilor General Prem Tinsulanonda. Unlike Anupong’s involvement, however, this one is harder to pin down with adequate news stories.

But this is certainly no big news. The journalists had it right from the start. So why the collective amnesia now? Anything to do with the election?

 








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