Sharp right turn

28 09 2020

About a week ago, PPT posted on an op-ed by rabid anti-Thaksinista and supporter of everything yellow, Veera Prateepchaikul where he seemed to have reached a political crossroads as he praised the behavior of activists and even boosted their causes and demands as reasonable.

But something changed. At the crossroads he turned sharp right. Veera’s latest op-ed is suddenly anti-student activist, declaring the 19-20 September rally “anything but a success.” Where he previously praised the protesters for compromising when handing over the petition, he now damns them as failures.

Conservative commentators are getting back into yellow formation to attack the students.

Veera now thinks that the rally was a measure of the regime’s power. It can ignore the protests: “The sudden twist in parliament … when government MPs joined senators to stall the vote on six proposed charter amendments … is a clear indication these legislators are not treating the protesters as seriously as they were before the rally.”

The rightist mantra now says the rally “was not as big as was predicted.” But, here’s the main point that is driving the rightist response and lie: “More important … most of the protesters were not students, but red-shirt followers — many of whom were said to have been mobilised by a political party.”

Red shirts did not make up the majority of protesters and there was no secret that the student leaders had called on red shirts to join the rally. For Veera and others, this raises the Thaksin Shinawatra threat. And away they go into rabid attacks.

This comes as the junta/regime is working hard to bribe and coax more Puea Thai Party MPs to its side or perhaps even the whole party.





King’s men II

28 09 2020

A couple of days ago, the Defense Ministry’s assistant spokesman Col Wanchana Sawasdee announced the outcomes of the Defense Council’s most recent meeting, chaired by Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha.

The Bangkok Post reports that there was apparently little that relates to the usual military missions. Col Wanchana “said the premier emphasised two issues at the meeting: the monarchy, and the mission of the armed forces.” There seems little to distinguish the two.

Thailand’s military is not a regular military force. Rather than focused on the defense of the countries borders and so on, this military is more concerned with the defense of the monarchy and the ruling class it personifies.

So, the big news provided was that the “armed forces plan to arrange a grand event to commemorate the passing of … King Bhumibol Adulyadej … on Oct 13.”

More taxpayer funds down the drain.

Gen Prayuth is reported to have “instructed the armed forces to also support activities organised by other units in promoting … the King’s work which benefits the country and reflects the long-standing bonds between the monarchy and the people.”

More taxpayer funds down the drain, spent for ideological gain.

Further, Gen Prayuth “urged government agencies to promote … the King’s royal projects, particularly the applied New Theory Agriculture based on agricultural concepts initiated by King Rama IX.”

As everyone knows, the “king’s projects” are almost entirely dependent on taxpayer funding.

With Wikipedia reporting that the military has 360,850 active duty and 200,000 reserve personnel and a budget of 227.67 billion baht, it is a powerful force for the monarchy and Thailand’s ruling class.





Punishment and pleasure

27 09 2020

Ever since the 2006 military coup, various rightist regimes have sought to lock up Thai Rak Thai/Puea Thai politician Watana Muangsook. Several failed attempts have accompanied numerous charges and several short stints in prison, a police cell or a re-education camp.

A couple of days ago the Bangkok Post reported that the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions has now “found him guilty over his role in irregularities in a low-cost housing project.” He was found guilty on “11 counts of corruption, which carry up to 99 years in prison.” In Thailand, that means 50 years as it is the legally maximum jail time.

Watana and Yingluck

The article is pretty opaque on exactly what he did that the court considered illegal, but “abusing power and demanding kickbacks” are mentioned for the time Watana was minister. “Abusing power” seems to mean anything the court wants it to mean. Demanding kickbacks is clearer, but no details are provided.

Several others considered close to Thaksin Shinawatra were also sentenced to jail time and fines. Anti-Thaksinism would seem to be a motivating factor as the original investigation after the 2006 coup, “initiated by the now-defunct Assets Scrutiny Committee…”. That seems to have gone nowhere for some time. It was later taken up by the post-2014 coup “National Anti-Corruption Commission which forwarded its findings to the Office of the Attorney-General in Nov 2016 after deciding to implicate [prosecute?] Watana for alleged violations of the Criminal Code.”

Watana made bail and he can appeal.

At about the same time, the Bangkok Post editorialized that the junta’s Election Commission (EC) decision “to clear 31 political parties of illegal borrowings could cause further confusion regarding the organic law on political parties.” It pointed out the double standards involved when compared to the Constitutional Court’s dissolution of the Future Forward Party on similar charges.

The editorial says the “logic for this [decision] appears fuzzy when looked into in detail.” But “fuzzy” is the EC’s usual mode of operation and any notion of law and logic goes out the window.  The Post reckons the whole deal smells of rotting fish. The editorial has more, and the EC has responded, also reported by the Bangkok Post but it doesn’t satisfy the logic test.

As far as we can see, the vendetta continues, even if the Thaksin clan seems to be engaging in considerable royal posterior polishing as it seeks more control over Puea Thai.





King’s men I

26 09 2020

A few days ago, the Bangkok Post’s Wassana Nanuam had another of those posterior polishing articles on the new Army boss, Gen Narongphan Jitkaewtae.

Paul Chambers describes Gen Narongphan:

Narongphan’s elevation through the ranks has been extremely rapid since the beginning of the current reign. He is the former commander of the Royal Rachawallop 904 Special Military Task Force and considered extremely loyal to the current monarch. He is rumoured to be much more virulently reactionary than [Gen] Apirat [Kongsompong] and will serve as Army Chief for three years until he retires in 2023.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

As can be seen in the attached photo, Gen Narongphan wears his 904 haircut, red-rimmed t-shirt and proudly supports a chestful of royal symbols of “closeness,” including the 904 and Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti badges.

The Post’s story has Gen Narongphan heaping praise retiring generals – almost 270 of them – including Gen Apirat for having “dedicated their time and energy to fulfilling their duties to protect the nation’s sovereignty and the public interest and to maintain law and order.”

Most of these generals have probably been honing their golfing skills, collecting loot from the “sale” of their rank and influence, and shining the seats of their pants, but we acknowledge that some, like Apirat, were dead keen to take up arms against civilian protesters. “Law and order” means maintaining royalist-rightist regimes or as Gen Narongphan succinctly explains: “Protecting the monarchy with absolute loyalty and supporting the government to resolve national problems and working to advance the country are tasks for which [the generals] deserve the honour…”.

Worryingly for those who hope that there might be a more democratic Thailand, Gen Narongphan pledged to support the military-royalist “ideologies and perform our duties to the best of our ability, to ensure peace in society, foster national unity and support the country’s development…”. What does he mean by “peace”? Based on previous evidence, we suspect it means “defeating” civilian demonstrators, again and again.

Reading this puff piece, we were reminded of a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald, All the king’s strongmen.

It points out the obvious when it comes to the military and its government:

The seemingly endless cycle of military coups that interrupt democracy. A government plagued with allegations of corruption and nepotism. The former army chief with the suspiciously large luxury watch collection. The cabinet minister who was jailed in Sydney for conspiracy to traffic heroin. The lack of investigation into the disappearance and murder of dissidents. The king who would rather live in Germany.

The anti-government protests, it points out, have been heavy on symbolism. For last weekend, the “sites are significant; a campus massacre by the armed forces in 1976 left [at least] 45 people dead, hundreds injured and continues to haunt the country. More recently Sanam Luang has been subsumed into the giant and opaque Crown Property Bureau (CPB), and protesters have declared their intention to return it to the people.”

While the sudden appearance of naysayer conservatives (posing as liberals) have come out to lecture the students on how to rally and how to demand change, the SMH correctly observes that the “focus is squarely on Thailand’s political class and the powers that have long acted with impunity.”

As might be expected, the SMH points at “cabinet enforcer Thammanat Prompao, who … spent four years in a Sydney jail on a drugs conviction.” It goes on:

When Thammanat was sitting across from detectives making a statement in Parramatta jail on November 10, 1993, the first thing the young soldier put on the record was his connection to royalty.

After graduating from army cadet school in 1989 he “was commissioned as a bodyguard for the crown prince of Thailand” as a first lieutenant. “I worked in the crown prince’s household to the beginning of 1992,” he said, staying until deployed to help suppress a political conflict that culminated in an army-led massacre in Bangkok.

The crown prince is now King Vajiralongkorn, but the name landed like a thud: the judge made no mention of it when sentencing Thammanat over his part in moving 3.2 kilograms of heroin from Bangkok to Bondi.

Since the scandal broke last year, Thammanat not only kept his post but was named among [Gen] Prawit [Wongsuwan]’s deputies within the ruling Palang Pracharat party.

Prawit and the convicted heroin smuggler

The article also points out why the monarchy is a critical target: “As military figures loom large in political circles, they are also pervasive in Vajiralongkorn’s business dealings.”

His personal private secretary is an air chief marshal who is the chairman of two listed companies, a director of a bank, chairs the board of eight other companies and is the director-general of the Crown Property Bureau.

The CPB’s assets are estimated at anywhere between $40 and $70 billion, and were made Vajiralongkorn’s personal property in mid-2018.

Protesters want this returned to the state [PPT: not really; they ask for state oversight], along with greater control and oversight over the taxpayer money spent on the royal family.

Also on the CPB board is General Apirat Kongsompong, the army chief set for mandatory retirement this month who has been at the centre of coup rumours. The son of one of the men who led the coup in 1992, Apirat is known for his ultra-royalist views and is set to take up a senior position within the royal household on leaving the army.

At the CPB, 8 of the 11 directors now carry military or police rank.

All the king’s men.





Lese majeste-like arrests continue

25 09 2020

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reports that on 21 September, Narin (surname withheld) “was arrested on suspicion of violating the Computer Crime Act…”.

The 31-year-old has been accused of “publishing 4 posts on a Facebook page ‘GuKult’ in August 2019, satirising and attacking the monarchy.”

Eight officers raided his home  seizing phones, computers and other electronic devices. Narin was taken to a police station and was detained for two nights before being released on bail, which the police opposed.

Narin denied all charges. Under the Computer Crimes law, Narin faces up to 5 years in prison on each charge in addition to fines.





Moving the country towards a dead end

25 09 2020

The king has come and gone and about the only notable thing seems to have been a meeting between the king, queen and Pojaman na Pombhejara (formerly Shinawatra), at least according to social media.

While the king and queen were doing their “duties,” constitutional change was front-and-center elsewhere.

A few demonstrators conducted an exorcism in front of the Army headquarters on Wednesday “to rid the country of senators chosen by the junta.” This was followed yesterday with a  mass rally outside outside parliament. The “pro-democracy group says the current charter was put in place by a military junta and is undemocratic. They are calling for amendments specifically to clauses which allow the military-appointed senate to vote for the prime minister.”

Inside parliament, the junta selected and appointed senators, “many of them generals and military officials, escaped from parliament on Thursday by boat and the back-exit rather than face angry pro-democracy demonstrators after they voted to postpone amending the constitution.”

The junta’s party, coalition and senators combined to vote 432 to 255 “to set up exploratory committees to study potential amendments to the military-drafted constitution instead of amending the charter on Thursday night.”

The opposition parties walked out of parliament “in protest with the leader of the Move Forward Party, Pita Limjaroenrat, calling the vote ‘a way to stall for time’ and said that parliament’s decision on Thursday was moving the country towards a dead end.”

In fact, the dead end was the junta and its constitution.

Getting out of that means more pressure: “Anon Numpha, a key protest leader, told reporters and protesters that now was the time to step up protests and called for more rallies in October.”





Updated: Another day in Bangkok

24 09 2020

As we write, another special and taxpayer-funded Thai Airways flight is approaching Bangkok, bringing King Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida from Zurich. This is the king’s third short visit to Thailand since the virus crisis began.

Vajiralongkorn took one of his taxpayer-funded 737s from Munich to Zurich and he and the queen boarded TG971, which departed for Bangkok just before 6pm.

He’s apparently returning for Mahidol Day, usually “celebrated” at Siriraj Hospital (last year), and is meant to reinforce the hugely inflated claim that the king’s grandfather made “contributions to the development of medical education in Thailand and his selfless devotion to the well-being of Thai people.”

Of course, following the weekend’s rally and protesters rallying at parliament today, it is an interesting time to be in Bangkok. Yet the king seems unconcerned; he’s flying back to Zurich later in the day.

At his Facebook page, Andrew MacGregor Marshall, states that Vajiralongkorn is scheduled to “return again around October 9 and stay for several weeks.”

Update:  TG970 departed Bangkok at about 3am om 25 September, bound for Zurich. Hooray for the Thai taxpayer!





Conspiracists (denied)

23 09 2020

With the royalist Thai Pakdee claiming to have 130,000 signatures from people opposing any changes to the junta’s 2017 constitution and delivering these to parliament, we are reminded of their conspiracy claims by royalists.

They don’t deserve repeating as they are mad, but we note that a collection of them has recently been published by a long-serving journalist at the Asia Times Online. Exactly how many plots and “theories” can be squeezed into one longish article is mind-boggling. Thankfully, Thai Enquirer gives these claims little time and ridicules several of them.





Thinking 112

23 09 2020

Royalist and other conservatives are pressing back against the demonstrators demanding reforms to the monarchy.

In the face of the unprecedented demands, an unusually even-tempered regime seems have caused great concern for some of the “protectors” of the monarchy.

According to Thai Enquirer, they are now “stepp[ing] up a pressure campaign to force the Prayut Chan-ocha government to take action against student protesters…”.

One of the first to file police complaints was the old yellow shirt/no colour/etc. royalist Tul Sitthisomwong, accusing the protesters of “defaming the monarchy.”

The report states that Tul’s is “likely to be the first of many charges filed against the rally organizers…”. Other royalists are pressuring the government to take action. One government MP is cited:

There are many in these groups and official organizations that feel that a line has been crossed and the government cannot stand idly by and watch a sacred institution be desecrated… There are people who are very respected in society who have asked us to take action….

These royalists want lese majeste to be used to shut the protesters down, arguing that “other criminal charges … of sedition and computer crimes laws” have not worked.

Another royalist, former Action Coalition for Thailand Party politician Sonthiya Sawasdee, has filed a police complaint against actress Intira “Sai” Charoenpura, who has funded aspects of the rallies.

In the latest legal backlash against those who organized the Sanam Luang protest, veteran actress  was targeted for allegedly fundraising donations and providing food at the rally site.

A police spokesman has said “the authorities will press all the relevant charges against the leaders and supporters of last weekend’s protest, including the lese majeste offense…”.

A return to the use of Article 112 is likely to raise the political temperature quite considerably.





A tale of two demolitions

22 09 2020

The Crown Property Bureau’s voracious appetite for land isn the so-called royal precinct has finally gobbled up the Si Sao Thewes residence, which had belonged to the Royal Thai Army.

The Bangkok Post reports that the residence is now demolished. This follows the death of Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, the former prime minister, president of the Privy Council, and incessant interfering old man who lived there, on the taxpayers’ account, from 1979 to 2019.

The army is reported to have “returned the historical residence and grounds to the Crown Property Bureau in 2019…”. This is a bit like how the national zoo was “returned” to the king in 2018. This grasping is so the king can build an enormous palace. Given that he resides in Germany, this is just an erection to show how superior he is. But perhaps he’ll move back when the new palace is completed. He’ll be well into his 70s then.

Indicating that the Army was “pushed” into giving up the land, the report states there had been a “plan to turn a building situated on one side of the grounds and used as the army club into a museum of valuable woods.” As army chief, “Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha … presided over the laying of a foundation stone for a new army club there.” Soon after, that plan was shelved and the lad was gulped up by the CPB.

(We should correct the Post story. It states that Prem left the premier’s position “[a]fter eight years … refusing to stay on for another term, saying ‘I have had enough’.” True, he did say this, but the real truth is that many in the political class wanted him gone. Ignoring the conflict to make Prem “revered” is a nonsense.)

Related, as they protested the monarchy’s land grabs, the demonstrators on the weekend declared Sanam Luang to be Sanam Ratsadorn and planted a people’s plaque.

Clipped from Khaosod

Within hours, the plaque was gone. It is reported: “The plaque appeared to be removed some time after 10pm, when Sanam Luang was closed off from the public, and before 5am, when the gates reopened.”

Clipped from Khaosod

Police had already stated that “they considered the plaque illegal, since it was placed there without permission from the authorities.”

On cue, Fine Arts Department director Sataporn Thiengtham jumped about spluttering that “the group behind the plaque … broke the laws that protect historic sites.” When asked if he wasn’t babbling double standards, he denied this.

As the report points out, stooge Sataporn’s “department took no action when several key monuments associated with the 1932 revolution that toppled the absolute monarchy disappeared in recent years.” This included the “commemorative plaque on the Royal Plaza…”.

All of this is about the king’s neo-absolutism and his need for wealth and land.