Martial law and the royalist state

17 08 2014

When Western governments call for an end to martial law and a return to democracy and freedoms, these governments misunderstand the nature of Thailand’s military dictatorship.

In fact, as the dictatorship itself makes clear, these restrictions are critical for the regime as it destroys its enemies and those it views as threats to the royalist state and “Thai-style anti-democracy.”

A military boss has stated that martial law “is still necessary to combat opponents intending to derail the work of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)…”. General Theerachai Nakwanich says that marital law will “keep them [opponents] in check…”. Revealingly, he adds that martial law is an important “tool” for the military dictatorship and facilitates its repression of opponents.

It is now almost 3 months since coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha declared martial law as a prelude to the military coup.

Martial law is not critical for the existence of the military dictatorship, but it is reflective of the repressive character of the regime and its intolerance of any signs of dissent. In fixing the cracks in the royalist state, martial law is important for it grants the military dictatorship impunity in its political mission.

It will be removed when the military dictatorship and the powers-that-be feel that the rules of politics have been changed in ways that prevent any further challenge to the existing order of economic and political power.

Thai-style anti-democracy

16 08 2014

A few days ago, Pravit Rojanaphruk at The Nation had a story on The Leader, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, and his speech last Saturday where he twice mentioned that “the country needs is ‘Thai-style democracy’.” Pravit rightly asks: What is Thai-style democracy? He begins by observing:

While Prayuth did not elaborate on the differences between Thai-style democracy and the so-called Western democracies, the fact that he used the words “Thai-style democracy”, and even added at one point that Asean needed its own form of democracy, has led some to suspect that what he meant was a new form of limited democracy and Asian values.

Naturally, by the use of the term “Thai-style democracy,” it will necessarily “deviate from what we expect from Western democracies.” Pravit argues that this Thai version of “democracy” is “about making semi-dictatorship seem more natural and palatable to Thais and the world.” What seems to be “Thai” about it is limited to the fact that it is a military dictatorship that is using the term to describe the deviation.

Pravit notes that “[c]alling it ‘Thai’ makes Thai-style democracy sound more natural and suitable for us…”. He wonders if Thai-style democracy is just another term for “semi-dictatorship.” He might have asked if it is just “Thai-style dictatorship.”

Academically, there have been attempts to delineate what “Thai-style democracy” is and why it was “invented.” [Some of the following links open and download PDFs] There’s this study after the 2006 coup, which PPT finds less than convincing, and Andrew Walker’s response to it. Federico Ferrara had it on the way out. Michael Connors had a discussion of it linked to ideology. Kevin Hewison and Kengkij Kitirianglarp spent time analyzing the concept of Thai-Style Democracy and wrote of its use by royalists.

In the end, Thai-style democracy is revealed as no democracy at all.

We think all of these are worth a read as they say quite a lot about the military dictatorship’s political direction.

Updated: Dopey diplomat

14 08 2014

Update: Below we add a relevant post from Ji Ungpakorn.

A “senior Western diplomat” is quoted in the Bangkok Post, doing “his” best impression of the yellow-shirted, coup-promoting, pro-military U.S. Ambassador Ralph “Skip” Boyce, who enthusiastically supported the military coup in 2006.

This Boyce-like “pragmatist” believes that “[a]lthough the composition of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) ‘does not look as good as we had hoped’ because of its heavy military membership, the medium and long term outlook is more important.”

Really? This diplomat, based in Bangkok, watching events of recent times, actually thought that the military wasn’t going to dominate the puppet assembly? Could this senior diplomat be so uninformed and so politically silly? Living in a bubble might take on a new meaning.

This “senior Western diplomat” said “we should look at ways to engage with the new Thai government in every way we can…”. Why would that be? Western diplomats just want to coy up with military dictatorships and military fascism? Well, yes, some of them do seem to like that.

The “senior Western diplomat” went on to observe that “[o]nce the composition of the NRC is revealed it would provide some indication as to whether Thailand can achieve its roadmap towards democracy.”

Really? This diplomat, based in Bangkok, watching events of recent times, actually thinks the military is about establishing something other than the anti-democratic “Thai-style democracy”? Too many nights out with the royalist elite?

It seems so, for this “senior Western diplomat” states:

Thailand is in the process of finding its way towards a broad democracy but also one that works. Both these bodies will try to shape a new system. The months of political turmoil and protests leading up to the coup are the latest attempt by Thailand to find a democratic system that works [for Thailand]. It may take Thailand another 10 to 20 years before it achieves its objectives….

There must be a reason why a “senior Western diplomat” would come up with such military and anti-democrat nonsense. Just an uniformed royalist? Perhaps it has to do with a hope for a nice post-retirement sinecure? Or maybe “he” is just about being a class-conscious royalist twit. Or perhaps “he” just believed the military dictatorship’s propaganda.


“Reform” turned on its head, 1984 style

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Just as the dictatorship in George Orwell’s book “1984” claimed that “war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength”, the Thai junta is claiming that a military dictatorship which destroyed democracy is “kicking off a process of political reform”.

Let us be clear about this. General Prayut Chan-ocha, the head of the junta, ordered the cold-blooded murder of 90 unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators in Bangkok in 2010. He and his military mates have taken part in two coup d’états against elected governments and they have threatened, imprisoned and tortured political prisoners. The military’s allies in the Democrat Party have staged violent street protests against the electoral process with total impunity, while the army sat back and watched with satisfaction. This reactionary shower have repeatedly stated that Thai citizens are “too uneducated” to have the right to vote. They hate all public spending which benefits the poor. These are people who support the use of the lèse-majesté law to jail activists for decades for merely criticising the status quo. Those who protest against the dictatorship are summonsed to “have their attitudes changed” in military camps.

The anti-democrats hated Taksin and his political machine because he won the hearts and mind of millions of ordinary people through real pro-poor policies. These reactionaries could never win mass support in society, so they resort to the use of force.

Taksin’s parties were not leading the struggle for democratisation, but that is not the point. The point is that most citizens used their brains to vote for these parties for very good reasons. This is what the anti-democrats hate about democracy.

If Prayut and his loathsome cronies are trying to reform the Thai political system to make it more democratic, the Earth must be flat, there must be fairies at the bottom of our gardens and aliens must be able to control our thoughts through the TV!!

Yet there is no shortage of lick-spittle, fawning, devious, reactionaries lining up to take part in the military’s anti-reforms. Among them are right-wing university academics, judges, the Electoral Commission, business people and civilian and military officials. They tell bare-faced lies that this will “reform” Thailand and put us on the road to freedom and peace.

There is also no shortage of gutter journalists at the Bangkok Post and the Nation newspapers who report this circus as though it was a real reform process.

Finally there are the pathetic NGO activists and the worst sections of the labour movement who are falling over themselves to get on the anti-reform train with suggestions for the junta. They are either cheap opportunists or political idiots. Maybe they are both.

But the creation of a “Burmese-style Guided Democracy”, where the military and their allies control power whatever the election results, will be unstable in Thailand. People have a long tradition of fighting for democracy and they will not tolerate for long the turning of the clock back to the old dictatorship days.

When the fight for democracy resumes in strength, we shall have to sweep the military and all their fawning toadies from power and deny them any role in building a future democratic system.

Moral hectoring

14 07 2014

Like most military dictatorships, the Leader’s regime can’t keep itself under control. The Leader has decided that it is his role to hector Thais on their moral failures.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha, in another of his televised speeches on Friday, that there are 12 main values as decided by the junta:

1. Love for the nation, religions and monarchy
2. Honesty, patience and good intention for the public
3. Gratitude to parents, guardians and teachers
4. Perseverance in learning
5. Conservation of Thai culture
6. Morality and sharing with others
7. Correctly understanding democracy with the monarchy as head of the state
8. Discipline and respect for the law and elders
9. Awareness in thinking and doing things, and following the guidance of His Majesty the King
10. Living by the sufficiency economy philosophy guided by His Majesty the King
11. Physical and mental strength against greed
12. Concern about the public and national good more than self-interest.

In a dictatorship, no sooner does the dictator make a statement than loyal minions must implement it, no matter how nonsensical.

So it was that in less than 24 hours, the Ministry of Education proudly announcedc that it “plans to implement junta leader Gen.Prayuth Chan-ocha’s 12 main Thai values into the education reform roadmap for the years 2015-2021.” We can’t imagine this bunch of military chumps being around in 2021, but this is all part of re-establishing order and hierarchy, all underpinned by a North Korean-like “love” for the monarchy.

The significance of the military dictatorship’s determination to wind back the clock is expressed by Suthasri Wongsaman, who is the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education. She “said that the Ministry had already started revising history and civic duties in order to make students learn about the duty of Thais, discipline, morality and patriotism.” That curriculum begins later this year! The junta’s lackey also stated that her Ministry would “strengthen” the curriculum for the boy/girl scouts and Red Cross Youth.

It is remarkable that curriculum change can take place so quickly and with no attention to education, just propaganda, order and hierarchy. Just like Sarit in the late 1950s! Thai-style democracy is re-established.

Royalist “constitutionalism”

16 03 2014

As PPT has posted before, there is support for the anti-democratic movement from various scholars connected to royalists and Thailand’s right since the days of the CIA’s involvement in the U.S.’s support for anti-communist and authoritarian regimes fronted by the military. The royalists have regularly wheeled out the relatively unknown American Stephen B. Young to support the anti-Thaksin Shinawatra and anti-democratic movement and to promote palace-inspired and conservative royalist ideas regarding politics and forms of “Thai-style democracy.”

We have previously mentioned Young as a commentator who heads up his own organization, the Caux Round Table, which is about shameless self-promotion. While the royalists like to say Young is a “scholar,” this is a misrepresentation. His major publication appears to have close connections to CIA-funded operations. His other publications are his own rants published in pretty meaningless places or self-published as a result of royalist support for their talking head.

A reader sent us a long version of yet another “paper” that Young has produced on the royalist “vision” for Thailand, and we were content to ignore it and let it disappear without trace. However, the conservative Bangkok Post has seen fit to publish a shortened version, so we are pushed to comment. In his longer paper, not only does the author spell “constitutionalism” incorrectly, but is listed as “Stephen B. Young, Esq.” as if from the 19th century. Both seem appropriate for that paper, which is a travesty of uniformed nonsense about Locke, Rousseau and constitutionalism.Young

For more and better information on these 17th and 18th century philosophers and their impact on constitutionalism, try here, here, and here. A bit of searching produces many papers that are learned and which contradict Young’s sometimes bizarre interpretations of Locke and Rousseau in this longer piece. So odd is his interpretations of Thailand’s history are impossible to briefly characterize here. What is more significant is Young’s remarkable confusion in his call for conservative reform.

Young’s basic point is that Locke’s approach to constitutionalism is a kind of perfect liberalism, while Rousseau’s is more radical and leads to authoritarianism. He argues that Thaksin Shinawatra and the red shirts are the inheritors of Rousseau’s alleged authoritarianism via the People’s Party, 1932, Pridi Phanomyong and Plaek Phibulsonggram. Indeed, Young makes the claim that Rousseau’s thought is the basis of all totalitarianism, and notion that has been refuted time and again since the early 19th century:

These interpretations, based on the concepts of the “total surrender” of individual rights (“l’aliéna-tion totale”) and of the absolute sovereignty of the state over all its members, draw conclusions from the Contrat social that are fundamentally opposed to the intentions of its author. Indeed, for Rousseau, liberty was the most precious of possessions, a gift which nature has made to men. They can no more be deprived of it rightfully than they can be deprived of life itself; nor can they be permitted to divest themselves of it for any price whatsoever. The social pact should not be interpreted as abrogating, in effect, a right which Rousseau declared inalienable and inseparable from the essential character of man.

Based on false premises, Young proceeds to make a nonsense of Thailand’s modern history. His interpretation of Locke and Rousseau is a manipulation to make a political point that resonates with palace and royalists. His selective use of quotes from these two philosophers is banal. PPT could be just as selective and note that Locke was “a major investor in the English slave-trade through the Royal African Company. In addition, he participated in drafting the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina while Shaftesbury’s secretary, which established a feudal aristocracy and gave a master absolute power over his slaves.” Hardly liberal, but also an unduly narrow interpretation.

His claim that “Thailand now needs sustainable constitutionalism harmonising with its Buddhist culture of seeking the equilibrium of the middle path between extremes and aligning with the rule of law” is a plagiarism of much earlier conservative ideas about constitutionalism that were developed in the early 1960s by Kukrit Pramoj (opens a PDF) and other royalists as elements of military-backed monarchism.

Firmly based in this conservative tradition, both Western and Thai, Young wants to provide a way forward for Thailand. He begins with an interpretation that Locke’s writings allow a popularly-elected government to be disposed of if it is believed to threaten liberty or property. Young chooses to interpret this as meaning:

“Thaksin’s manoeuvres to concentrate power in his hand by means of bringing elected officials under his personal sway caused his government to lose its legitimacy under Locke’s constitutional system. So, under that system, by seizing too much power Thaksin forfeited his authority and the people of Thailand were within their rights to withdraw allegiance from him and his ministers and seek to replace his government with one more faithful to upholding the public trust.

Young does not explain how this interpretation can be applied in circumstances where pro-Thaksin governments have been elected in every single national election since 2001. His claim that “the people of Thailand” could rise up against the elected government is simply an acceptance of anti-democrat propaganda. Other anti-democrats and royalists have avoided this philosophical gap by simply rejected elections.

Young, however, demonstrating his confusion and lack of imagination by arguing for more elections and a political system that looks a lot like the U.S. presidential system:

The executive branch of the national government should be removed from direct dependence on the National Assembly. The chief administrative officer of the cabinet of ministers should be directly elected by the people for — say — a three-year term of office. The election of the chief administrative officer would be held in years when the House of Representatives is not elected.

His other suggestions on decentralization, police, the judiciary (which he acknowledges is politicized), impeachment, and House and Senate are essentially American. Fixed term legislatures may or may not be relevant for Thailand, but certainly limit the very Lockean interpretation of threats to liberty and property he claims are the base of his “constitutionalism.”

He then suggests a path forward for Thailand current political stand-off that has no basis in law or constitution.

PPT takes all of this a a sign that the royalists have been very confused and challenged by the Yingluck Shinawatra’s seeming ability to hold out against the old threat of military coup and the newer threat from judicial coup (at least for the moment). It seems that the old men who have always believed they have the answers for Thailand are flummoxed.


Updated: Bumbling academics

25 01 2014

PPT is continually amazed by the antics of academics associated with the anti-democrats. Sadly, many of their interventions reflect badly on them as academics.

We have seen them using foul and misogynist language, making stuff up and some of them, wig in place, leading blockades of various homes of ministers.

Nothing wrong in a democratic society with putting your wig on and blocking the premier’s house or getting so antsy with some foreign journalist that you say quite bizarre things, but it is the “academic” bit that is troubling.

Most of this lot simply are not academics in the usual sense of the word. Few of them contribute anything at all to the usual research debate that drives scientific and cultural knowledge. When they write it is opinion pieces that show scant knowledge of their subject. When they speak, it is propaganda.

PPT was set thinking about this when we read an op-ed by a Chulalongkorn University researcher who has published reasonable research articles in the past. Ukrist Pathmanand has written useful papers on Thaksin Shinawatra, telecommunications and the military.

Hence, we were surprised by his piece at the Bangkok Post: where he commented on the anti-democratic movement and international relations and seemed to us to demonstrate some remarkable academic blindness.

He tries to explain why China and the U.S. have “react[ed] differently to democracy in Thailand, and the political rallies led by the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).”

He puts this in terms of “specific national interest.” He says:

… the term “national interest” used here does not necessarily convey the cliched concept of a conspiracy theory, which has been used excessively to imply an attempt to lead a certain political ideology and /or to discredit a rival party.

To be honest, we don’t understand this idea of a “conspiracy.” Are we at PPT missing an important debate? We thought the term had a particular meaning and location in international relations writing, as briefly mentioned by Wikipedia:

The national interest … is a country’s goals and ambitions whether economic, military, or cultural. The concept is an important one in international relations where pursuit of the national interest is the foundation of the realist school.But even if a conspiracy theory is not the case here, what is certain is that each world superpower wants to secure its interests in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region.

He alerts us – if that was at all necessary – that Thailand has a “national interest,” and then turns to the “strikingly different reactions from the international community” to the anti-democrats.

So Ukrist wants us to understand different reactions by the U.S. and China. But then this:

The West and Asian giants like China clearly voiced their support for the democratically elected government. Of course, as diplomatic etiquette would dictate, it’s not likely any country would say otherwise _ showing support for the democratically elected is a principle they hold dear.

Readers might be surprised to learn that China “holds dear” the “principle” that it should “support for the democratically elected.” Readers might also find this claim for the U.S. made absurd by recent history.

Based on these false claims, Ukrist then explores “differences” that turn out to be not differences at all.

He babbles about China being a superpower, apparently unaware of the very large academic debates about this, and refers to “neoliberal” China’s “fast, active, or even aggressive policy regarding matters within the Southeast Asia region including Thailand.” He refers specifically to economic interests and FTAs, and decides: “It’s not likely China as a huge trading partner would give up those multi-billion transactions so easily,” and adds:

With opportunities for extra political and diplomatic negotiations arising from major trade, China certainly sees a democratically-elected government as a means by which to secure its position.

Again, readers may wonder what he’s on about. PPT thinks Ukrist is saying that the Chinese government must support the Yingluck Shinawatra government in order to protect its economic interests. Perhaps, but it doesn’t require an elected government to do that, as has been shown in many other places where China happily invests. He continues:

Chinese-language and English-language media have portrayed the situation as threatening and chaotic, without mentioning the positive sides of the protests, including the fact that they give various opinion groups a chance to voice their views _ an unlikely scenario for the Chinese government to endorse.

Yes, this yellow-shirted intellectual is confused by China’s response. Perhaps if he’d researched a bit, he’d have found that the Chinese regime has a penchant for supporting incumbent governments that maintain political and economic stability. We are unsure whether Ukrist thinks this is good and appropriate or not. He seems confused.

But the comments on the U.S. reveal perhaps a little more. He gets agitated that “the prototype for democracy worldwide has “revealed a paradoxical reaction towards the situation, fiercely supporting the government while turning a blind eye to the people’s movement and civil society whose protest is largely peaceful.”

Appealing for elections and peaceful resolution of a crisis “while [sending] strong signals … to warn the military against staging a coup” seems “paradoxical”? We are lost, but Ukrist “explains” his tortured logic:

The ideological framework and reaction of the US can be traced back to a biased attempt to undermine the notion of “Thai-style democracy”.

He doesn’t explain “Thai-style democracy” but tramples on:

What’s noteworthy is how the US and the Western media, who should have understood the development of democracy in Thailand, failed to grasp the reality that democracy has been prevalent in Thailand through past elections, during each of which the campaign for votes was widespread and regular.

And the point is? We are sure the previous sentences are garbled and he means something else, for he writes that:

Thailand’s democracy has unique complications similar to the development of democracy in other nations in Southeast Asia where traces of oligarchy remain influential, as well as local influences and power, and faith in an individual figure.

Oligarchs and faith in individuals? Has Ukrist never studied democratic politics anywhere else? But his point seems to be that “[d]emocracy comes in various forms … and it would be either ignorant or narrow-minded if the US and Western media fail to differentiate ‘anti-government’ from ‘anti-democracy’.” In fact, PPT reckons that is exactly what they are doing.

Ukrsit then lets his imagination outpace his already flawed logic. He says the while some “rally leaders [are] trying to court military involvement, the civic group that has been the backbone of the rally desires no coup.” Which civic group is this? The extremists “students”? The Democrat Party? Perhaps he means just the people who show up for the rallies? But is that a “civic group”? There have been plenty of signs at the rallies asking for a coup.

For some unknown reason he gets upset that “active political expression is undermined by the attempt of the Western media to brand the protest a festive carnival.” He seems to completely miss the point that such descriptions are not negative at all and are even read by many as supportive of the protesters.

So if you’ve been lost in this potpourri of “academic analysis,” this “academic” explains:

Of course, the US has been enjoying economic, political and military benefits in the Southeast Asia region, but it’s the political issue that’s perennially on top of Washington’s agenda, isn’t it?

And the whistles that have been blown to banish authoritarianism and corruption in Thailand are not different from the song of protests sung in North Africa, Turkey and Ukraine.

In other words, all of this is to explain that both China and the U.S. support the incumbent government, one for economic interests and the other for “political” or even ideological reasons.

Is it the political – and he means democracy – that always wins for Washington? Perhaps Ukrist could ask the Egyptian military? Ukrist doesn’t even consider the U.S.’s very substantial investments and capital stock in Thailand; these are well in excess of the Chinese.

Perhaps both China and the U.S. are tired of the ridiculous nature of Thailand’s politics? Perhaps they are reflecting their investors? Perhaps Ukrist could try doing a little research rather than being a propagandist.

Update: Voranai Vanijaka’s interventions in debates of late have been rather good and interesting. That’s a big compliment as we have been very critical of him previously. His op-ed today at the Bangkok Post reflects on some of the issues we raise above: “academics” not really being able to teach about the past. In our view, this is often because they don’t know it because they haven’t researched it. He asks:

The transitional period is something every society goes through, but with all the histories out there to learn from, we still manage to be in such a mess. This is simply because we are clueless about ourselves and the world around us.

How are we to shape the future, if we haven’t learned about our past? How are we to understand where we are today, if we don’t study the history that led to the present?

So often, both sides get it wrong. Voranai suggests this as one issue that needs to be studied: “How society copes in a land where feudalism, democracy and dictatorship are in such a tangled mess.”

Monarchy, economy, anti-democracy

12 01 2014

At The Globe and Mail there was a useful report a couple of days ago on the implications of the anti-democracy shutdown.

The basic point of the article was to point out that, for all Thailand’s political shenanigans since about 2005, economically, Thailand “appeared – until recently – an unstoppable powerhouse.” The anti-democracy lot will claim that the economic slowdown of late has been the doing of Yingluck Shinawatra and populist policies. Others will point out that the political shenanigans, throwing out elected governments, shooting down protesters and denouncing democracy may have something to do with economic performance.Wax king

In recent months, the demonstrators once again marshalling in the streets have sent money scurrying away. Tourist visits are down some 15 per cent. In November alone, foreign investors withdrew $3.7-billion from Thailand; in December, the country’s stock market marked a record 11 consecutive days of declines, a reminder that trouble in Thailand has much broader ramifications. At the same time, voices inside the country are warning that without some sort of change, Thailand is at risk of losing out to its economically ascendant neighbours.

But the article says that understanding the perennial political gridlock and “looking for fixes means diving into a mess decades in the making.” It points first to the monarchy:

One aspect is a Thai institution so sacred as to be beyond criticism. Thailand’s monarchy is among the vestiges of a place that prides itself on being the only south-east Asian country without a history of colonization. The current king has reigned since 1946. And while Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, the palace wields influence through what academics call a “network monarchy” whose sway has grown in the past half-century.

In fact, while the palace and its network do work very hard stifling criticism, the horse has bolted. Only draconian laws like lese majeste can manage a deluge of criticism, much of it well justified. Here’s some of it:

Street-level criticism: There is a veritable cottage industry in social media and even on the streets that is critical of the monarchy.The King Never Smiles

Journalistic criticism: the work of Zen Journalist says it all. Forbes is not particularly critical but reveals the monarchy’s previously hidden and massive wealth. The New York Times has also been critical.

Cultural criticism: Prachatai had a useful article on this a week or so ago.

Academic criticism: Duncan McCargo, Michael Connors, Paul Handley, Kevin Hewison, Thongchai Winichakul, and we could go on. It also includes Federico Ferrara, cited in the article, explaining the issue of the power of the monarchy to influence political events.

Federico Ferrara, in his book Thailand Unhinged, describes a “precipitous rise in royal power and prestige” that has “tilted the balance of power in favour of the palace” and its coterie of advisers, judges and military commanders.

Elected officials, as a result, have been unable to “place the military under civilian control, take charge of the machinery of government, and set national policy,” he wrote.King and junta

The claim that “Thailand’s king remains tremendously popular in a country festooned with his portraits,” is an untestable assertion, and the claim attributed to David Streckfuss, that the present king has “had at best a mixed record supporting democracy, and hasn’t allowed a fully democratic political system to emerge,” is deeply flawed. The king has never unequivocally supported “democracy,” except for a crippled version known as Thai-style democracy.


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