The business of anti-democrat Suthep

30 03 2015

For an undisclosed reason, soon after the May 2014 military coup, anti-democrat protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban entered the monkhood. He’s stayed there ever since. Speculative comments have suggested that the military junta wanted him out of the way so as to demobilize his supporters. There were some suggestions that he had been threatened by the military as they demanded that all civilian politicians vacate the political filed, leaving it to the military.

As is well known, Suthep is one of the Democrat Party’s southern godfathers, with extensive business interests in the region. Indeed, he was recently listed as declaring about $6 million in landholdings. The anti-democrat movement in 2014 was anchored in Suthep’s businesses and patronage networks in the south.

Suthep has not been particularly quiet as a monk, traveling about and promoting himself, often with the support of anti-democrat/yellow shirt media, including social media. He’s also been in the news of late, fronting the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) last week regarding his role in the murderous crackdown on red shirts in 2010. Nothing new there, with Suthep blaming every death on “men in black” and giving the impression that Abhisit Vejjajiva was a sock puppet when he was meant to be premier.

It seems, however, that Suthep’s excursion into the monkhood has not clamed wither his political ambitions or “entrepreneurial” spirit. As can be seen in a recent video report by the Bangkok Post, he’s been promoting a book and grabbing money hand over fist (via proxies) for that.

What was revealed in the video, however, is that the “politician-turned-monk … [is] being guarded by two men carrying Tavor and Uzi assault rifles…”. Ironically, both appear to be in black….

Suthep’s brother Thani Thaugsuban, “said the two men with the firearms were not Phra Suthep’s personal bodyguards,” explaining that “Security officials in the area provided the bodyguards, Phra Suthep did not ask for them…”. It is claimed Suthep was in Pattani.

Guns, business and politics seem the norm for Suthep.





Hired hands and the constitutional fix

29 03 2015

The military dictatorship’s propaganda machine is cranking up on the draft constitution, which seems anything but draft at present with Lt. Gen. Navin Damrigan, recently added [some of these links open PDFs] director of an advertising company, former military attache in Washington, former staffer at the Office of the National Security Council and now a member of the puppet Constitution Drafting Committee and puppet National Reform Council being given space in the Bangkok Post to promote the junta and anti-democrat perspective.

We suspect that the long op-ed in the Post is from the event mentioned below.

For all of his talk of democracy, equality, citizenship and rights – although we doubt he wrote the piece in the Post himself – Navin’s proclaimed task has been to dismantle the “Thaksin Shinawatra political network.”

The commentary under Navin’s name is a carefully crafted explanation for the junta’s constitution yet still includes all of its anti-democratic elements: a justification for martial law, the claim that inequality results from the actions of politicians and the people (!), functional constituencies for the Senate, a rejection of electoralism, blaming the people for “poor” electoral choices, the institutionalization of national security at all levels of politics allowing for military oversight, the weakening of elected representatives and the (re)creation of weak, divided and ineffectual party politics and coalition government, and so on.

The inequality stuff is simply bizarre in Navin’s account. While some of the data is correct, he blames those who suffer inequality for inequality.

Meanwhile, at The Nation, junta hired hand and military-appointed Constitution Drafting Committee president Borwornsak Uwanno has been ordered in front of foreign diplomats to convince them of the need for the military dictatorship’s constitution.

Predictably, while working for the junta, Bowornsak has used his King Prajadhipok Institute’s links to speak before the 4th KPI International Club Activity event on “The Path to New Constitution of Thailand.”

Like Navin, Bowornsak bleated “that the country needed to draft its 20th constitution because politicians took advantage of the 1997 Constitution’s emphasis on stable government and strong political parties to forge authoritarian regimes.”

This is, of course, factually incorrect. No elected government became authoritarian during the recent past. Thaksin might have liked to move in that direction and might have tried to influence independent agencies, but neither his government nor the pro-Thaksin governments nor, for that matter, the Democrat Party administration of 2008-11 were authoritarian in the way that the military regimes of 2006-7 and the current junta have been. Borwornsak is simply mouthing the anti-democrat mantras of recent years. These mantras have been associated with fascist political ideas and demands for military and royal political intervention. Neither the military nor the royals are anything other than hierarchical and supportive of authoritarianism.

Only about 30, mostly low-level, diplomats showed up at the forum.

Refreshingly for this hired lawyer, Bowornsak actually does explain why the royalist elite has been so politically unhappy with elected regimes. He explains, “We [he means the royalist elite] thought in 1997 that we needed to empower strong government and political parties [but] we got governments that were too strong, who dictated [terms] to the Parliament and attempted to control watchdogs and independent agencies…”. The royalist elite that sought to control much of the development of the 1997 constitution wanted to end the constant cycling of coalition governments driven by the need to raise money for short-cycle elections.

The result was strong governments under Thaksin and his ilk, and royalist realizations that strong elected governments were likely to undermine the elite’s capacity to get what it wanted from politics. Or, in Bowornsak’s words: “As a result, the situation has changed, and there are reasons for change and we need to rethink.”

Oddly, he is not reported to have said anything about the 2007 constitution, which he also helped author, devised by a military regime following the 2006 putsch. In fact, this constitution also failed the elite because it allowed a pro-Thaksin party to be elected to government.

Borwornsak has been part of the hired help for elected politicians like Chatichai Choonhavan and Thaksin and for two military juntas, indicating his capacity for duplicity and his desire for influence, personal recognition and even a bit of loot. It is thus remarkable that this man has the audacity to tell the diplomats that “politicians have been notoriously untrustworthy, non-transparent, and seemingly lacking morality and ethics, and honesty.” Bowornsak might look in the mirror.

The idea that it is politicians – and he means elected politicians – are the ones who are corrupt ignores the massive corruption associated with the royal house and its hangers-on. It is deliberately blind to the capacity of business tycoons for corrupt deals with state agents, including involvement in slavery, the exploitation of workers, murder, extortion, land-grabbing, smuggling, the destruction of the environment, and much more. It ignores the self-disclosed corruption of his current bosses, almost all of whom are unusually wealthy, as have been almost all military bosses for several decades. It ignores the rampant nepotism of the Committee and Council that he is a part of.

Borwornsak joked that Thailand, with its 20th constitution in drafting, is not a record holder, mentioning the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Haiti had drafted more constitutions, neglecting to note that Thailand is the “record holder” for Asia or that the military and royalists have responsibility for the trashing of Thailand’s constitutions and most of the resulting constitution drafting exercises. They never seem to have been able to get it right, not even with Bowornsak as scribe.Evolution_of_Thai_constitutions_1932-06

Navin is quoted, saying that “the public” should “protect this [military-directed] constitution as if their life depended on it” because it promoted “citizen rights.” Interestingly, these “rights” are either congruent with the 1997 constitution or added in order to keep elected governments unstable (allowing the elite to rule). None of these “rights” allow for the mitigation of the inherent undemocratic and unrepresentative nature of the draft constitution (as explained by Navin in the op-ed mentioned above).

Unfortunately, the report ends with an epithet: “There were no critical questions from diplomats during a question and answer session.”





Updated: Land, wealth and influence

28 03 2015

One of the recent “debates” in the puppet National Legislative Assembly had to do with land tax. This issue has been around for decades, and neither elected governments nor authoritarian and military regimes have wanted to touch it. The puppets seemed to drop it pretty quickly, not least because self-appointed prime minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha intervened.

The reason land tax is a hot potato is that Thailand’s elite invests heavily in land, often speculatively, with the idea that it avoids scrutiny and tax, and land thus provides essentially tax-free wealth parking.

In a report at the Bangkok Post and widely reported in other media, the NGO Local Action Links (LocalAct) claims that 530 (then-)elected politicians owned land worth a total of 18.1 billion baht and buildings worth another 6.4 billion baht. The NGO said these holdings indicated “why they are opposed to a proposed land and buildings tax…”.

The error here is that none of these politicians is in the puppet Assembly. All of these politicians were ditched by the 2014 coup. The bigger point is correct: politicians, like others in the broad elite, like to buy properties for the reasons mentioned above.

The average for each of these politicians is about 47 million baht or $1.44 million, the price of a luxury condominium or a modern and well-appointed house and land in Bangkok. Averages don’t mean a great deal in terms of distribution of wealth, for as one of the tables reproduced in the Post shows, land wealth varies greatly. (We always worry about out computational skills when dealing with billions, so hopefully we have got it right.)Land 1 What is interesting in the report is the focus on elected politicians, many of whom have businesses when they enter politics, and that data are what is revealed in their self-declarations of ownership.

Why politicians? Why not the wealth of the military leaders and their puppet politicians?

Sure, the figures aren’t directly comparable, but the land and buildings declared by elected politicians is, on average, less than the average declared total assets of the military and police members of the puppet National Legislative Assembly. In an earlier post we provided these details: If a general in the armed forces, your assets average about 78 million baht, If you managed to become an admiral in the navy, you sail away with average assets of about 109 million baht. The top money secretes to the top police. The average for the police is a whopping 258 million baht.

And then what isn’t emphasized is that these politicians are tiddlers when compared with the whales of land ownership. The study showed that 14 then-MPs held land covering more than 1,000 rai while 25 had more than 500 rai and 126 held more than 100 rai. When the second table is examined, the really big landowners are Thailand’s wealthiest.

Land 2The report in the Post states: “Politicians, however, are not the largest group of landlords, according to Lands Department data.” PPT has posted on this previously.

Some of that data is presented above showing the control by Sino-Thai tycoons, with the top 10 landholders owning almost 1 million rai. That the Sirivadhanabhakdi family owns land the equivalent size to about 1,000 square kilometres, which is about the area of Hong Kong and larger than Singapore (by about 25%) might be a surprise, when it has long been thought the Crown Property Bureau was the largest landowner in the country. It would be interesting to compare values, for the CPB’s land – much of it in high-priced areas of central Bangkok – was valued at about $30 billion about a decade ago.

The Chearavanont family, with about 200,000 rai, is the family that controls the CP group, the agro-industry giant, while United Palm Oil Industry, with some 44,400 rai, is a company that has its main owners in Singapore, and tightly inter-connected and family-owned structures that include, for example, Lam Soon (Thailand).

The Forbes list of Thailand’s richest, excluding the royal family are: (1) Sirivadhanabhakdi family, $12.9 billion, (2) Chirathivat family, $12.1b, and (3) Dhanin Chearavanont, $11.5b.

The royal connections of the Sirivadhanabhakdi and Chearavanont empires are well-known. Such connections are unavoidable, but not so the links to The Dictator, the broad anti-democrat alliance and the Democrat Party.

Update: Interestingly, in a revised report, the Bangkok Post – which maintains the original story too – refers to ex-politicians, removes the table showing the Crown Property Bureau and does not mention the CPB when writing of big land owners.





Lurking at home, with intent

27 03 2015

Readers will have noted PPT’s increased exasperation with the military dictatorship. Thick, dull and fascist, it is a system of repression that is becoming increasingly authoritarian and its leaders unhinged.

The notion, reported at Khaosod, that police “preemptively arrested an anti-coup activist at his home … hours before he planned to set out on a protest march to a martial [military] court in Bangkok.” Pansak Srithep was arrested “after midnight and brought him to Chanasongkram Police Station in Bangkok for interrogation.”

Fascist authorities seem to prefer raids in the dead of night.

A military court had approved an arrest warrant based “on his first one-man protest march from his home to a police station in Bangkok” that began on 14 March. While he was arrested and released without charge, the military’s court “approved an arrest warrant on Pansak for ‘inciting unrest,’ defying the junta’s ban on protests, and violating the Computer Crime Act.”

Pansak is a part of the anti-coup group, Resistant Citizens, and “became an prominent progressive activist after his 17-year-old son Samapan Srithep was shot dead during the military crackdown on Redshirt protesters in May 2010.”

Prayuth will be gloating, thinking he has carried out another political masterstroke. His minions will stroke his ego. He will boil when others take up Pansak’s banner. Increasingly, Prayuth is alienating many by his troglodyte actions.





Dense dictators II

27 03 2015

General Prayuth Chan-ocha and his junta minions have had what they must think is a bright idea.

As the United Nations, human rights organizations and a few brave protesters have focused on martial law, the military dictatorship’s collective mind has lumbered into “think” mode and decided to replace martial law with a law that is not called martial law but which has all of the same powers. Brilliant!

The Nation reports that states that “he was thinking [sic.] of replacing martial law with other laws including giving himself ‘absolute power’.” He made the point by pointing at his head, suggesting that he really does believe he thinks.

But this is a serious report. The Nation reports that the dictatorial clique want to replace martial law “with either Emergency decree, the Internal Security Act, including Article 44 of the Provisional Constitution, which gives the NCPO head ‘absolute power’.”

Prayuth stated that whatever measure he chooses, the “new law would be equal to martial law…”. Mostly unremarked by human rights organizations, “Article 44 gives the NCPO leader [Prayuth] ‘absolute power’ to issue any order ‘for the sake of reforms in any field, the promotion of unity and harmony amongst the people of the nation, or the prevention, abatement or suppression of any act detrimental to national order or security, royal throne, national economy or public administration, whether the act occurs inside or outside the Kingdom.” That same constitution makes every Order by the military dictatorship “lawful, constitutional and final.”

Deputy Prime Minister and General and member of the junta Prawit Wongsuwan let the cat out of the bag, explaining: “We are trying to reduce pressure. The United Nations asked us to [find a new law].” We would be surprised if the UN did give such advice, but understand that the dullards of the military dictatorship interpret advice that way.





Dense dictators I

26 03 2015

The Dictator and his minion dictators, who seem stuck to him like ticks, are rapidly showing themselves to be ignorant, dense, mindless, dull-witted and slow. Unfortunately, these traits, quite common amongst the military brass, where such characteristics are rewarded as evidence of loyalty, are making Thailand a laughing stock.

A recent story at Khaosod shows how doltish this lot are. Most readers will understand that PPT has little time for Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission. While led by Chairperson Amara Pongsapich, the NHRC has shown itself to be politically compromised.

When one of the NHRC commissioners – Niran Pithakwatchara – turned up at the Bangkok Remand Prison to visit with four men who say they were tortured by military officers, he was turned away. One of the suspects claims he was electrocuted on his legs because he refused to confess.

Niran had forensic experts from the Ministry of Justice with him and apparently wanted to consider the torture claims. He was given short shrift and the warders told him to beat it as he didn’t have permission to visit. He responded: “I am here as a director of the NHRC…. I am a state official. I am not an NGO.”

Niran has sometimes sought to do what he thinks is right in his position. However, he seems to have forgotten that Thailand is a military dictatorship that has no conception of much other than power and hierarchy. Human rights simply do not compute for the military brass that hold the country by its collective throat.

The Dictator and his minions are so thick that they do not understand that turning away a commissioner from their own NHRC amounts to a confession of guilt on the torture allegations. Or maybe they simply don’t care that their standard operating procedures include torture, forced disappearance and murder.





Updated: Media madness

26 03 2015

Thailand’s media under the military dictatorship is, at best, supine. But that isn’t good enough for The Dictator. As we posted yesterday, General Prayuth Chan-ocha reckons Thailand under the junta is a 99% democracy. It seems the missing 1% is the media. If he could get them totally compliant then 100% (Thai-style) “democracy” would seem complete.

In two Khaosod reports, the remaining 1% gets a spray of vitriol from the self-appointed prime minister.

In the first report, Thailand’s military boss has gotten rather testy and then exploded when he referred to media reports about slavery on Thailand’s fishing boats. This is not a new story. Allegations and proof of slave-like working conditions in fisheries have been available for more than two decades.

Rather than address the issue seriously, The Dictator attempts to cover it up and, well, dictate.

He demanded that the media “not to report on human trafficking without considering how the news will affect the country’s seafood industry and reputation abroad.”

Protecting Sino-Thai tycoons is bread and butter (Mercedes and Patek Philippe) for the military; they have been protecting and promoting them for five decades or so.

General Prayuth stated:

The media should consider the impact the news will have on the country…. It may cause problems, and affect national security…. If this news gets widely published, [it could raise] problems of human trafficking and IUU [Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing].”

Gen. Prayuth warned that if any news reports cause Thailand’s seafood industry to loses customers, “the people who published the news will have to be held responsible.”

Ah, that’s what “national security” is: protecting slavery and profits. You can bet that generals are involved in the industry through wives, siblings and corruption cash.

Prayuth went on to say that his military junta is going to “summon the Channel 3 journalist,  Thapanee Ietsrichai, who has been reporting on the plight of Thai men languishing on the slave ships.” He declared: “Let me tell you now, Thapanee will have to come see  officials…”.

That will ensure 100% democracy!

In the second report, the newspaper reproduces a transcript of Prayuth flying off the handle:

Reporter: There has been a talk about a possible shift in the Cabinet, especially the team working on economic issues.

Gen. Prayuth: … Join hands together, because today there is a good opportunity now that this government has entered [the scene]. Unite people to solve problems, unite all of the sides. Don’t end up criticizing everything, as though this is a normal government. Don’t you understand that?

You want freedom, I gave you freedom. Everything. I never forbid anything [see above]. No one else gave it to you like this. I will wait a little while and see, about the working of the media…. The media makes society divided…. The reason why I am talking now is not because I want to remind you of your debt of gratitude. All the things I have done are for the Thai people. If anyone doesn’t understand, they are not Thais. That’s all. The media has to help. From now on, I will keep my eyes on all media [agencies] and, if necessary, I will use my power on everyone. I am not saying you cannot criticize me. You can criticize me, but you have to have some understanding. Today there are still the orders from the NCPO. Have you forgotten that? Have you? It’s been too relaxing for you, maybe?

Reporter: If the media reports divisive news, will any action be taken against them?

Gen. Prayuth: … Let’s see whether that damn media agency causes divisions. If you criticize generally, I don’t mind that. A little of criticism, I can accept that. But if you say every day that I am a failure, how the hell can I be a failure? The previous things were even worse than a failure. Now that I am here to fix it, things will get better from that failure, of course. Learn to think like that.

Reporter: So will you shut down the media?

Gen. Prayuth: Don’t pick a fight with me, don’t make me go to war with the media.

Reporter: So what will be the punishment?

Gen. Prayuth: Execution, maybe? You ask silly questions. Just don’t do actions [that warrant punishment]. Be cautious…. I will use a dog-headed execution device. I will deal with the media. But I still love them. Please, help me out. Don’t make excuses for me, please just help me build love and unity. Now that we are here, let’s change a crisis into an opportunity. Don’t make a crisis into another crisis.

Reporter: Why don’t you see these criticisms as suggestions?

Gen. Prayuth: Well, go look at all this criticism from the media. Is it constructive? …

Gen. Prayuth: If I arrive late, I will inform His Majesty the Sultan that it is because of all of you. I am not angry today. I’m just in bad mood.

Prayuth then decided to criticize Matichon and Manager.

Gen. Prayuth: Where’s the reporter from Matichon group? Go take a look. Write your news well. Don’t write news that supports the other side too much. Let me tell you, in the previous government Matichon sold really well in the Ministry of Interior Affairs. Dig it up. It’s because the Ministry of Interior Affairs ordered people to buy only Matichon, so it hurt the businesses of other papers….

Gen. Prayuth: Why make a big fuss? I don’t understand. They want this. They want that. Especially Manager. I can’t read a single page they write. Are they all mad? They write about nonsensical things every day. What do they want, huh? They are so intelligent. Come on, meung [Thai insult], come administer the country. Come serve as MP. Damn [ไอ้] Chatchawarn, damn Sophon [Manager columnists]. These people. This government says this, like this, if they want to criticize me, go ahead. I can take it. But I am a human. I’m not a Prime Minister who is not a human. I also have feelings. I have a life and feelings.

100% democracy is The Dictator’s fascism.

Update: This is the self-appointed leader of Thailand in action, displaying qualities that would be certifiable and simply unacceptable anywhere but a dictatorship. If readers make it to the execution remark, at about 12 minutes, there’s no smile.








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