2006 military coup remembered

19 09 2017

2006 seems a long time ago. So much has happened since the palace, led by General Prem Tinsulanonda, the military and a coterie of royalist anti-democrats (congealed as the People’s Alliance for Democracy) brought down Thaksin Shinawatra’s government on 19 September 2006.

Yet it is remembered as an important milestone in bringing down electoral democracy in Thailand and establishing the royalist-military authoritarianism that has deepened since the 2014 military coup that brought down Yingluck Shinawatra’s elected government.

Khaosod reports:

Pro-democracy activists are marking the 11th anniversary of the 2006 coup on Tuesday evening on the skywalk in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.

Representatives from the police and BTS Skytrain were ordering them to clear the area because it belongs to the rail operator.

The location, frequented by commuters and tourists in a highly visible location, has become a de facto location for protests since the 2014 coup.

“It’s unbelievable how far back we’ve gone for the past 11 years,” said Siriwit Seritiwat, the prominent activist known as Ja New. “The country doesn’t suck by itself, but it sucks because of the wicked cycle.”

The 2006 coup was no surprise given that Thaksin had faced determined opposition from PAD and from General Prem, who reflected palace and royal household dissatisfaction with Thaksin. The coup came after Thaksin had been re-elected in a landslide in February 2005 with about 60% of the vote.

Thaksin had many faults and made many mistakes often as a result of arrogance. The February 2005 election reflected Thaksin’s popularity and this posed a threat to the monstrous egos in the palace. Of course, they also worried about Thaksin’s combination of political and economic power and his efforts to control the military.

Thaksin’s reliance on votes and the fact that he accumulated them as never before was an existential threat to the powers that be. The elite feared for its control of political, economic and social power.

Behind the machinations to tame Thaksin lurked the real power holders in the military brass, the palace and the upper echelons of the bureaucracy who together comprised the royalist state. Some referred to this as the network monarchy and others identified a Deep State. They worried about their power and Thaksin’s efforts to transform Thailand. Others have said there were concerns about managing succession motivating coup masters.

We are sure that there were many motivations, fears and hallucinatory self-serving that led to the coup. Wikileaks has told part of the story of the machinations.

Coup soldiers wearing the king’s yellow, also PAD’s color

A way of observing the anniversary of the military-palace power grab on 19 September 2006 is to look again at Wikileaks cables that reflect most directly on that coup. Here they are:

There are more cables on the figures circling around the coup and the events immediately before and after the coup, giving a pretty good picture of how the royalist elite behaved and what they wanted the U.S. embassy to know.

The royalist elite came to believe that the 2006 coup failed as pro-Thaksin parties managed to continue to win elections. The result was the development of an anti-democracy ideology and movement that paved the way for the 2014 coup and the military dictatorship that is determined to uproot the “Thaksin regime” and to eventually make elections events that have no meaning for governing Thailand.





Military business is always corrupt

19 09 2017

With virtually all of the various corruption complaints made since the military came to power through its illegal coup in 2014 having been dismissed, perhaps it is no surprise that the military is now using its taxpayer-funded facilities in money-making ventures.

Of course, some of this has been seen in the past, with military property used by state enterprises in the past, including for airports. The corruption that dogs Thai Airways and the Airports Authority are, in part, a result of the military connection.

Of course, as absolutely everyone knows, under the military dictatorship, the National Anti-Corruption Commission is not concerning itself with military corruption. The NACC does not want to be bothered by anyone other than Shinawatras and certainly doesn’t want to get in trouble with its political bosses.

But, really, is no one officially interested in the already rewarded submariners in the Navy constructing “a new ferry terminal at Chuk Samet deep-sea port in Sattahip, part of the infrastructure development for the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC)”?

Why on earth is the Navy investing taxpayer money for the development of “a port serving cruises, cargo vessels and ferries linking Pattaya, Chon Buri and Rayong with other destinations, including Koh Chang in Trat and Hua Hin district across the Gulf in Prachuap Khiri Khan province”?

The land is also state land, paid for by taxpayers.

The investment space “will have souvenir shops, a food court, ticket counters and boarding areas…. It one of 13 projects with total estimated cost of 2 billion baht to be undertaken by the navy under the EEC blueprint.”

Now we know why so many business suits are Navy blue. But, seriously, this sounds like a recipe for more military corruption.





Challenging the courts on lese majeste

18 09 2017

One of the Stolen history 6, human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul (57) has challenged the courts on lese majeste.

Prawet is one of six persons detained on 29 April 2017 for alleged lese majeste for apparently sharing a Facebook post by Somsak Jeamteerasakul on the theft of the 1932 revolution plaque on about 5 April 2017. The junta has “blacklisted” the exiled Somsak and considered the post to favor republicanism. Other charges thrown at Prawet included computer crimes and sedition.

He has been in custody since the military grabbed him.

While little is known of the fate of the other five, Prawet, who has been critical of the military dictatorship and the lese majeste law and has defended lese majeste victims, faces a total of somewhere 171 years in jail, depending on the charges finally brought (although maximum sentencing in Thailand is 50 years).

According to the Bangkok Post, Prawet “has told the court [on 18 September] he did not accept the Thai judicial system and forfeited his right to examine witnesses and evidence against him.” Prawet said that as he did not accept the judicial system on lese majeste, then he “did not wish to examine witnesses and evidence against him.”

Prachatai states that Prawet’s challenge is to the court’s “impartiality … in his case, as it is related to the monarchy.” It reports that he prepared a statement on this lack of impartiality:

“Thai courts do not have the legitimacy to try the case. Therefore, I declare that I do not accept the judicial process in the case,” Prawais wrote, adding that he will not participate in the case nor grant authority to any lawyer to represent him.

Facing 50 years in prison, he believes that it will not make any difference whether he pleads guilty or innocent because he will not be able tell the truth anyhow.

The court, seemingly flummoxed, fell back on its usual approach on recalcitrant lese majeste victims and decided to drag things out and punish-torture Prawet. His next scheduled hearing will be on 8 May 2018.  Presumably, the court hopes that having him jailed will change his mind and he will plead guilty. If not, the court seeks to silence his criticism.

Prawet’s stand is brave and he’s undoubtedly correct. As far as we can recall, he is the first to challenge the courts in this way.





Sky Dragon “investigation” 8 years late

18 09 2017

The Bangkok Post reports that “Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiropas has vowed to scrutinise the army’s controversial 340-million-baht aerial patrol project, which included the purchase of a rarely-used airship.”

The Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) will “step in to conduct a review of the project…”. This “review” is to “assess” Sky Dragon’s “past performance … to find out whether it was worth spending national funds to buy it in the first place, and if something irregular is detected, various organisations will be contacted to investigate further…”.

Under the military junta and when investigating anything military or associated with the junta, the OAG is notorious for announcing “investigations” and then burying them in silence or quickly saying every thing is above board. Will this “review” be any different? Probably not, unless General Anupong Paojinda, the military commander when the blimp was purchased, has fallen out of favor.

But, really, why now? The problems and issues with the deflating dirigible go back to its purchase in 2009 under the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime. Where has the OAG then and every year since?

PPT’s first post on Sky Dragon was in February 2010. Let’s reproduce some of that. It begins by mentioning the price (that the persons involved and the junta spokesman are now trying to fiddle down):

The airship was purchased from the US company, Arial International Cooperation. [Bangkok Post reporter] Wassana [Nanuam] explains that the “airship is the brainchild of Gen Anupong and his second-in-command, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha. They envision the airship as a sky-based surveillance and command station.” Leaving aside obvious questions about this assumption, the problem is that the airship can’t do what it is meant to, and there has even been trouble getting it into the air. The airship has seepage holes and it initially costs 2.8 million baht to inflate and then 280,000 baht a month to top-up. There has been considerable criticism…. [Prayuth later said that such leaks were “normal.”]

General Anupong had reportedly agreed to purchase three airships for the army. Wassana asks: “is it a bigger sham than the GT200?” Maybe she meant “scam”?

At Bangkok Pundit on 6 February 2010, a comment [the link no longer works] was added by “Reg, encouraging Bangkok Pundit to look into the zeppelin case. “Reg” stated: ”Why this machine and not drones as used almost everywhere else for this kind of recon work? What’s the track record of this model? What’s the price paid elsewhere? Have you seen dirigibles used in other insurgency situations? … Seems like there’s a smell there as soon as it is wheeled out. A quick Google seems to suggest that this is a Thailand first (a manned airship for counter-insurgency).”

Correspondent “Reg” then turns to the company involved and its website [The website still sort of operates with a different URL]. He says: “Note its last stock trade was 1 cent. Have a look through the site and see if you have doubts about the company founded in mid-2008 and with 12 employees. How on earth did the RTA [Royal Thai Army] even know about them? It seems that one of the principals had previous experience with the RTA. According to their press releases, the RTA is their only client. It also seems that they are agents for the real manufacturers .”

“Reg” concludes: “I remain suspicious, but maybe that’s just because everything the military buys involves commissions etc. But, hey, you might want to congratulate the RTA for a 10 million dollar gamble that might show the world of counter-insurgency the way forward via a penny company.”

We are not sure if the company is Arial or Aria. If it is Aria (and what’s left at the website fits the deal with the RTA), it seems that if it still exists, its shares are down considerably from when it was a penny company. It usually trades at 0.0005 cents.

You would think that a competent Office of the Attorney General might have been a little interested back in 2010.





Sorting out corruption, deaths, theft

17 09 2017

PPT was pleased to note a Bangkok Post editorial on the case of the young Lahu activist Chaiyapoom Pasae who was killed by soldiers about six months ago. The Post refers to this as an “extra-judicial killing in broad daylight…”.

The events of the killing have been muddied by the authorities, with “some cabinet ministers [having] made an attempt to defend the soldier who gunned down Chaiyapoom.” The “evidence” the junta’s officials and the military claimed is hidden, unavailable or concocted. The “footage from CCTV that captured the moment when the shooting took place” has not been released.

Junta boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha ordered “a probe.” Like many such “investigations” under the junta, “to date [it] has seen no progress with the case seeming to disappear into thin air.” The handling of the case has been secretive, even furtive. The state has also sought to implicate Chaiyapoom’s relatives and have threatened locals in order to further muddy the waters.

The case is now in the courts. They are so opaque, politicized and in the pocket of the junta that there is little chance that the state’s “obligation to bring justice to Chaiyapoom and his family” will be fulfilled.

On corruption, Suphawatchara Malanond who is Dean of the Law Faculty at the Prince of Songkla University, has an opinion piece at the Bangkok Post that raises many issues regarding state enterprises.

Among these, corruption scandals is worthy of consideration, not just for the traditional state enterprises but for corporations where the state maintains investments.

The 11 “key corporatised state enterprises” are: “PTT Plc, TOT, CAT Telecom, MCOT Plc, Thai Airways International Plc, Airports of Thailand Plc, the Transport Co, Dhanarak Asset Development Co (a state enterprise under the Treasury Department), Thailand Post Co, the Syndicate of Thai Hotels & Tourists Enterprises Ltd and Bangkok Dock Co.”

That reminds us: What happened to all those “investigations” into Rolls Royce engines at Thai Airways and PTT’s commissions?

The failure of “investigations” under the junta is definitional of the regime.

That’s probably why the Bangkok Post reports that Interior Minister General Anupong “welcomes” an “investigation” into the deflated blimp.

At the same time, the general and “the army have defended the worthiness and performance of the army’s controversial 340-million-baht aerial patrol project, including an airship, which has been decommissioned only after eight years in service.”

As the general explains, “its performance was effective or not must be assessed by the army,” suggesting that any “investigation” is likely to be fudged. After all, loyalty is usually valued in the military.

General Anupong set the tone by undervaluing the airship by seeking to value the blimp as a balloon rather than as an equipped machine.That’s the start of the fudge.

But, again, Anupong feels under some pressure. It remains to be seen how far The Dictator is prepared to go in protecting his former boss. Loyalty?





Red Bull in reverse

16 09 2017

We have to admit some surprise that the Red Bull-affiliated Khon Kaen land grab has been wound back so quickly. (While locals have opposed the land grant since 2012, it was only last week that the deal became big news.)

The Bangkok Post reports that “KTD Property Development Co had terminated the contract to use the plot at Huay Mek in tambon Ban Dong in Ubonrat district … [on] Friday…”.

Interior Minister General Anupong Paojinda and local and provincial authorities came under heavy pressure on what was clearly a contract issued to the privileged in contravention of laws.

Anupong has also come under pressure on his blimp deal from several years ago.

Despite claims within the local, provincial and central administration that the deal was all legal and followed the correct processes, including local consultation, local residents “stood firm on their contention that they had not signed any letter to show their support for the lease of 31 rai of public land.”

General Anupong had earlier said there would be an inquiry “into the role of ministry officials involved in granting the permit to KTD Property Development.”

Let’s see if that “investigation” goes anywhere. No investigation of junta misdeeds have ever found errors or crimes.

We get the feeling that the junta and Anupong feel the need to avoid multiple accusations against him and links being made to the Red Bull fugitive. The other consideration is that junta’s campaigning.





Monarchy and lese majeste

16 09 2017

Some recent stories on lese majeste and the monarchy deserve to be highlighted even if they have been widely read.

First, the brave Akechai Hongkangwarn has come up with a proposal for abolishing Article 112 of the criminal code. The idea of abolishing the lese majeste is a proposal we heartily support, although the mechanism he proposes strikes us as a tad flawed.

Prachatai reports that Akechai cites a statement by The Dictator in positioning his proposal General Prayuth Chan-ocha use the dictatorial Article 44 to dump the lese majeste law:

He said that after Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, also known as Pai Dao Din, pleaded guilty of lèse majesté last month, the junta head indicated that the King actually does not want any individual to be prosecuted for lèse majesté.

Some might suggest that getting rid of the law by any means is okay, but we tend to think the idea of using a draconian power to nix the draconian law is contradictory. More significantly, we think it important to look at what The Dictator actually said.

At the time, The Nation reported that General Prayuth stated: “The monarch never wants to see people being punished because of this matter…”. He added: “The monarchy institution always has mercy, always grants pardons and even amnesty…”.

In fact, The Dictator was not expressing the new monarch’s personal position on lese majeste, but protecting the monarchy’s public image.

Prayuth stated that the “protection of the institution of the monarchy is one of the key security strategies of the government.” He “explained”:

“It is not the institution of the monarchy that issues and enforces such laws, it is the government’s duty to enforce the law to protect the institution…. Please understand that HM the King cannot enforce the law. The monarchy gives the power [to the government] to run the country, so we have to protect the institution.”

It is clear that Prayuth is distancing the monarchy from the political use of the law and that he speaking of the monarchy as an institution and not an individual monarch.

He claimed to be bemused that “people know very well that defamation of the monarchy is a crime in Thailand, [but] some just want to violate the law…. I don’t really understand why they just want to disobey the law.”

Prayuth’s position is congruent with the royalist propaganda on the law and is repeating tales we have heard several times over the decades and most especially since the 2006 military coup.

We should add that it is also false. There are several cases listed in our files that show the palace’s direct involvement with cases. One example is Bundith Arniya’s case.

Second, we wonder about a story at Khaosod. The Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, completed in 1915, is a Renaissance revival-style meeting hall, sometimes erroneously described as a “palace.” It is being closed to the public “indefinitely,” from 30 September, the same day that “people to pay their respects to the late King Bhumibol.”

A magnificent structure and lavish interiors have attracted tourists. Described as housing “some of Thailand’s national treasures,” this seems to mean royal stuff collected by fabulously kings, queens and other royals.

Officials state that there “is no date when the throne hall will reopen…”.

We may be all too conspiratorial, but the Hall is across the road from the purloined 1932 plaque. The Hall also has an important position in the 1932 revolution. As Wkipedia explains it:

During the four days of the 1932 Revolution (24–27 June), the Khana Ratsadon (or the People’s Party) used the throne hall as its headquarters. The party also imprisoned several princes and royal ministers as hostages inside the hall as it carried out its coup [they mean “revolution”].

Following that, the Hall was used as Thailand’s first parliament, and remained the parliament until 1974. It was then given back to the monarchy as part of  the Dusit Palace.

This return to the monarchy was a part of a long process of the royal family clawing back all that had been lost after 1932. That process restored and enhanced the monarchy’s (how) huge wealth and its political influence.

It seems no coincidence that this move is a part of a larger process undertaken under King Vajiralongkorn to further expunge the memory of 1932 and the period of anti-royalism.

Third, the Khmer Times reports on political refugee Neti Wichiansaen and a screening of his documentary “Democracy After Death” in Cambodia.

The report explains that Neti “is part of a small Thai community in Phnom Penh living in exile because of the Thai junta’s harsh enforcement of the loosely worded lese majeste laws, which punishes anyone who criticises the monarchy with up to 15 years in prison.”

Neti says: “If I went back now I would go straight to jail, even though I have no weapons. I am just a filmmaker…”.

PPT has posted on “Democracy After Death” previously, and the link to the film still seems active.

Neti was also one of the brave few who signed up for the Article 112 Awareness Campaign in 2011.

On the monarchy in Thailand’s politics, Neti says: “Many people after [the coup], realised that the monarchy is the mother mind of the coup. After that, Thai people think it’s unfair that the monarchy takes sides…”. Of course, the monarchy has always taken sides.

It is revealing that Neti does not claim to be a republican, preferring a European-style constitutional monarchy – that is, the 1932 model. He explained that: “Most Thai people don’t want to destroy the monarchy, they want it to go together with the new democracy…”.

Reforming the monarchy seems a pipe dream. Like the lese majeste law, abolition seems a better approach.