Junta building its party in northeast

23 07 2018

About a week ago PPT commented on The Dictator’s efforts to guarantee the victory he desires.

We noted the destabilizing of the Puea Thai Party, jailing opponents, using the “law” against them and building pro-junta parties. We added that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and his junta are unabashedly using the military, the bureaucracy and taxpayer’s funds in seeking to tip the “election” even more in the junta’s favor.

Much of that spending of taxpayer funds has been associated with high-profile “mobile cabinet meetings” in areas where Puea Thai has been strong since 2001.

The next candidate pilfering and big promises circus begins today in Ubol Ratchathani and Amnat Charoen.

Every single person in Thailand knows that the critical element of this trip is to support the Palang Pracharat Party as is seeks to “turn” Puea Thai politicians and even red shirts to the junta’s party.

That hasn’t prevented a week of lies by various junta people, denying the obvious. The junta seems to think the Thai electorate is stupid but continues with this silly lying. Perhaps they deny because this poaching is technically illegal. Yet the Election Commission is a junta lapdog, so there’s no chance of any law being enforced.

The denials have become less fervent as the week went on, with Gen Prawit Wongsuwan denying the cabinet-junta was seeking to meet former politicians:

[He] rejected any suggestion that the change is a move to avoid criticism. “We’re not avoiding it [meetings with politicians]. If they want or do not want to meet, so be it… It’s not about the agenda. Every time we met them because they had asked for it. But this time, I don’t know. But not that I know of.”

Deputy PM Wissanu Krea-ngam took the lawyers’ approach to lying stating that “no meetings with local leaders were listed in the agendas…”. We doubt that political poaching would ever appear on a cabinet agenda, so he’s probably correct, as far as he goes.

Later, the junta’s spokesman Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd dismissed the politics of Palang Pracharath recruiting, saying: “Don’t look at it as a political issue. Right now, the country must move forward with the cooperation of all involved…”.

That faux sentiment hasn’t prevented the repression of critics and threats made to students and academics in the region. That repression is brazen and conducted by the military, working for the junta and, apparently Palang Pracharath.

That repression is to allow the junta and its party an open field for its poaching.

In such circumstances, the junta/Palang Pracharath overtures to former Thaksinites and red shirts is likely to continue to produce results as the mantra becomes: There is no alternative to supporting the junta and The Dictator.

Lese majeste used by the junta to silence a witness

22 07 2018

When she was arrested, Nattatida Meewangpla was a 36 year-old volunteer nurse, accused by the military dictatorship of terrorism and lese majeste. She was abducted by the military on 17 March 2015 and held incommunicado for six days, then charged with “terrorism,” and was later with lese majeste.

Not so uncommon you might think. Especially since the 2014 coup, as the military wanted to crush all anti-monarchy speech and thought, lese majeste victims were usually dragged off by the junta’s uniformed thugs.

But the arrest and continued jailing of Nattathida was unusual. The lese majeste complaint was made by Internal Security Operation Command Col Wicharn Joddaeng, who claims Nattatida copied a text that insulted the monarchy from one Line chat room and posted it in two other chat groups.

Who knows if she did anything of the kind, but this charge was devised to have her jailed as quickly as possible as a threat to the military dictatorship. The threat she posed was as a witness to the murder of six individuals at Wat Pathum Wanaram Temple by soldiers during the crackdown on red shirts on 19 May 2010.

More than three years later, still in jail and never allowed bail, Nattathida’s trial has begun. On 20 July 2018, a “first witness hearing was held behind closed door[s]…”.

Secret trials are not unusual for lese majeste, where laws and constitutions are regularly ignored, but in this case, the military wants nothing said in court to be public for fear that it may incriminate them.

The Bangkok Post’s editorial on her cases is a useful effort to get some media attention to this case of cruel incarceration and the military junta’s efforts to suppress evidence of its murderous work in 2010 under the direction of then military-backed premier Abhisit Vejjajiva, his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban, Army boss Gen Anupong Paojinda and the commander of troops Gen Prayudh Chan-ocha.

The Post describes Nattathida as “a key witness in the deaths of six people killed during the military’s dispersal of red-shirt protests in 2010…”.

The Post seems to get the date of her 2015 lese majeste charging wrong, but these charges and their details are murky, and meant to be. It reports:

Ms Nathathida was in March 2015 charged as a suspect linked to the blast and had been held in prison until July 24 last year when she was finally granted bail. But the police filed a lese majeste charge, an offence under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, against her on the same day resulting in immediate custody without bail.

The editorial notes that her “trial for another case involving a 2015 bombing at the Criminal Court is also moving at a snail’s pace,” describing the slow pace as “questionable.” It thinks the deliberate foot-dragging suggests the charges are based on shaky grounds. It adds:

The cases yet again raise doubts about the legitimacy of the prosecution of many politically-driven cases in the post-2014 coup era, especially lese majeste cases.

Her lawyer Winyat Chartmontri has told the media that “many witnesses, who are government officials, in the blast case had postponed court hearings several times resulting in the case being delayed.”

As the editorial noted, these “two cases not only kept her in jail but may also have reduced the credibility of her as a witness in court over the six deaths at Wat Pathum Wanaram near Ratchaprasong intersection.” More though, they prevent her testimony being heard.

Why is the military so concerned? As the Post observes:

In 2012, she testified at the South Bangkok Criminal Court as a paramedic volunteer stationed at the temple, giving a vivid account of how she saw from close range gunshots being fired from the Skytrain tracks where soldiers were on guard. She did not hear gunshots fired back by protesters, she said.

The editorial makes the mistake of believing that “criminal prosecution requires solid proof of both motive and the scale of damage their act could have caused,” but that is never the case when it comes to lese majeste. And, under the military dictatorship, the courts have generally acted as a tool of the regime, often ignoring law.

The Post knows this, limply proclaiming that “[l]aw enforcement officers should not overlook … universal legal rules when handling cases that could send someone to prison.” Yet in “politically motivated” cases under the military junta, law and procedure goes out the window.

In concluding, the editorial also mentions “that tragic day at Wat Pathum Wanaram,” noting that the courts are “supposed to hold the perpetrators accountable.”

The problem with puppet law courts is that they work for the perpetrators.

NACC confirms foot-dragging on Prawit

21 07 2018

In the past couple of weeks PPT has asked several times about the National Anti-Corruption Commission painfully slow “investigation” into the luxury watches and jewelry case involving Gen Prawit Wongsuwan.

It appears that the NACC has been deliberately slow in “investigating” the junta’s No. 2 about his claims that he “borrowed” a couple of dozen hugely expensive watches from a man now deceased. If the NACC is not being deliberately slow, then it is a worthless agency (except for the junta).

After months of “investigating,” the case remains at the stage of “gathering evidence.”

The NACC now says “it is still seeking crucial information from companies abroad that sold the luxury watches worn by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon before it can conclude its investigation…”.

This confirms official foot-dragging. The public was told several times that the NACC was seeking information about the watches from local dealers. Now, having failed on that – if the agency actually did it – the NACC chairman Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit says his Dick Tracys are seeking information from international dealers.

Why they haven’t already done this is not explained but confirms that the NACC is not really keen to investigate Watcharapol’s former boss and colleague.

Despite earlier claims that local dealers refused to cooperate with the NACC, the story is now that “local dealers told the NACC that they didn’t have any information to provide as those particular watch models weren’t sold in Thailand.”

There’s a day’s investigation. What has the NACC been doing for the other 180++ days? Keeping its head down and covering up?

What this seems to mean is more foot-dragging. Watcharapol “explains”: “We have to admit that this will take time but the requested information is crucial to the investigation…”. He said he had no idea if the watch companies would provide any information.

Can we assume that the NACC has actually asked and if it did, asked the right people? Nah.

Where’s the tax invoices and data for imported watches?

The NACC is a disgraceful puppet agency.

One more corruption case

21 07 2018

Everyone know the Ministry of Transport is a cash cow for officials and their ministerial bosses. It has been that way for a very long time. Add on transport infrastructure and the whole area is awash with cash and corruption.

Who can forget the case of Supoj Saplom that came to light in late 2011. As floods bore down on Bangkok, Supoj worried that all of his ill-gotten gains might get water-logged, so he had all of his cash moved to an upper-level room in his house. When a gang of tipped-off burglars found the loot, there was so much cash they claimed they couldn’t carry it all away. One of the blue-collar crooks claimed the gang found 700 million to 1 billion baht in cash stuffed into bags.moneybags 1

The story of the white-collar crook’s loot was a sensation for a while and then faded. He was alleged to have accumulated the money as permanent secretary at the Ministry of Transport and chairman of the State Railways of Thailand. Earlier he was Director of the lucrative Highways Department.

The burglars were all jailed. Supoj was convicted of something and jailed for 10 months, but presumably was bailed awaiting an appeal. We can’t find anything else in the media records post-2017.

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

What causes all this reminiscing about corruption? It is a Kyodo News Agency report in the Bangkok Post about Japanese executives being charged over bribes to a Thai official of the Ministry of Transport.

The report states that the “Yokohama-based Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Ltd was exempted from prosecution, three former executives were indicted without arrest on allegations of bribing a Thai public servant” over a power plant project.

The Japanese “allegedly paid 11 million baht in February 2015 to an unnamed official of the Transport Ministry in Thailand to speed up clearance of cargo related to a local power plant project…”.

It might have been more as the report states the “three accused executives had placed an order for a fictitious local construction project to raise off-the-books funds to pay the 20 million baht requested by the ministry official…”.

No bribe and the official would have delayed clearance of the goods for ages and the company would have lost millions.

Will we hear more about this? Probably there will be a bit of huffing and puffing from the junta and then things will likely fade away like the Rolls Royce and other cases under the junta.

What happened to that other case of “borrowed” luxury watches?


The junta’s lock

20 07 2018

The military dictatorship has now had more than four years to lock-in its rule and its rules. In establishing control over the military, it has had longer.

Around the time of the 2006 military coup, royalist elements in the military, aligned with the palace directly or through privy councilors Gen Prem Tinsulanonda and Gen Surayud Chulanont, marked certain military officers as untrustworthy due to their perceived alliance with Thaksin Shinawatra. These officers were sidelined, stymied and seen out of the military, mostly through the efforts of four generals: Sonthi Boonyaratglin, Anupong Paojinda, Prayuth Chan-ocha and Prawit Wongsuwan. Sonthi was soon discarded as too weak but the others remain, ran the 2014 coup and now plot and plan for the continuation of military guided “democracy” into the future.

That planning for the future involves something that Gen Prem did for years on behalf of the palace: managing succession in the armed forces so that loyalists are on top. In this context. loyalty means to the palace and to the junta and its regime.

It has been known for quite some time that the chosen successor for Gen Chalermchai Sitthisart as Army chief is Gen Apirat Kongsompong. Apirat is a ruthless rightist who has vowed support to The Dictator and taken a leading role in suppressing red shirts and other political opponents.

Last year, when the new King Vajiralongkorn approved the military promotion list, it was widely assumed that Gen Apirat had the king’s approval as Vajiralongkorn takes a strong interest in what happens within the armed forces. However, in May this year, there was an unconfirmed report that Apirat may have fallen foul of the erratic king. Within a couple of months, however, an announcement in the Royal Gazette saw Gen Apirat granted special special status as a member of the king’s personal security unit. If Apirat had fallen foul of the king, he must have completed his penance and/or service with flying colors, at least in the king’s eyes.

This has been followed by Gen Apirat getting plenty of media attention as the Defense Council is scheduled to meet on 25 July to discuss promotions and appointments, with the meeting chaired by Gen Prawit. Interestingly, most of the media stories are almost exactly the same, suggesting that this is a strategic leak by the junta, paving the way for Apirat and acknowledging that the king’s approval has been given.

Apirat, a graduate from Class 20 of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School, and in the military’s feudal system, “belongs to the Wongthewan clique and not the powerful Burapa Phayak circles of elite commanders — of which Gen Prayut and his deputy Gen Prawit are members — [yet] he is one of the regime’s most trusted lieutenants.” He has pledged allegiance to The Dictator. His loyalty has been earlier tested in 2010 and his bosses appreciate Apirat’s willingness to shoot down civilian opponents.

If the junta does decide to hold its rigged election next year, Gen Apirat will be expected to use his 200,000 + soldiers, the Internal Security Operations Command and various other resources of the state to deliver the votes needed for the “election” to appear to have been won by the junta’s parties.

That plaque

19 07 2018

We won’t repeat the story of how the plaque commemorating the 1932 Revolution, people’s sovereignty and the end of the absolute monarchy disappeared.

No one has officially claimed responsibility for that act of political vandalism and the plaque being replaced by one extolling the wonders of royalism.

Interestingly, in a story at Prachatai, there’s an official clue as to the status of the thieves and vandals. (We must add that we are pleased that the English version of Prachatai has suddenly made a comeback after a hiatus over the past months or so.)

A second part of a report on a seminar that assessed the 1932 Revolution reports the presentation by former lese majeste prisoner and longtime activist Somyos Prueksakasemsuk:

Somyot stated that today he came [to the seminar] with a police car leading him. He considered it was a great honour for the police officers show respect to him by asking him for details and asking about certain matters that are inappropriate to be speaking about.

We would have guessed that the police wanted to silence him on lese majeste, the monarchy or his case. But no: “The issue they asked him to not talk about was the disappearance of the Khana Ratsadon plaque.

That suggests to us that the junta must have authorized the plaque’s removal or is officially covering-up for the real culprit. (Many assume that King Vajiralongkorn ordered its removal.)

Somyos went on to explain that:

… the disappearance of the plaque is nothing new because there have always been attempts to destroy the symbols of the 1932 revolution all the time, including the misrepresentation of the history of 1932 as premature where the revolution went ahead even though King Rama VII was getting ready to bestow democracy. The … date of the national day has been changed and Khana Ratsadon architecture such as the Supreme Court building, has been destroyed.

Ever a political optimist, Somyos explained:

As for the missing plaque, … its disappearance today is alright. When one day we have democracy, and a government, we can install a new one. At least it can be an ideological symbol of democracy and Khana Ratsadon.

We can only hope he’s right and support those who favor electoral democracy of military dictatorship.

Worth reading

18 07 2018

Over recent months we have neglected suggesting some of the more academic works on Thailand that some readers might find of interest.

We were reminded of this omission when we saw an excellent account of the 6 October massacre and associated events in a story at the Los Angeles Review of Books by Suchada Chakpisuth and translated by Tyrell Haberkorn. As ever, when it comes to anything on Thailand’s politics, there are likely to be negative responses. In this case, so far, there is only one such comment. All we can say is that what one reader finds sentimental and sophomoric, we found enlightening, sobering and a painful reminder of the ways in which ultra-nationalism and ultra-royalism can spin out of control or be made to become demonic and murderous.

Back to recent articles that may be of interest:

There’s a Commentary behind a paywall at Critical Asian Studies by Kasian Tejapira: “The Sino-Thais’ right turn towards China.” Also at CAS, there are pay-for-view commentaries reflecting on Thailand: “Thailand’s urbanized villagers and political polarization” by Duncan McCargo and “Modern day slavery in Thai fisheries: academic critique, practical action” by Peter Vandergeest, Olivia Tran & Melissa Marschke.

At the Journal of Contemporary Asia, there are several pay-for-view articles and book reviews: Owners of the Map. Motorcycle Taxi Drivers, Mobility, and Politics in Bangkok is reviewed by
Kevin Hewison who also reviews Working Towards the Monarchy: The Politics of Space in Downtown Bangkok, while A History of Ayutthaya: Siam in the Early Modern Period is reviewed by Robert H. Taylor. Björn Dressel & Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang author “Coloured Judgements? The Work of the Thai Constitutional Court, 1998–2016.” The most recent issue includes two Thailand articles: “Anti-Royalism in Thailand Since 2006: Ideological Shifts and Resistance” by an anonymous author (which was, for a time free for download, but not now) and “Politics and the Price of Rice in Thailand: Public Choice, Institutional Change and Rural Subsidies” by Jacob Ricks.

Pacific Affairs has a pay-for-view article by Aim Simpeng, “Participatory Inequality in the Online and Offline Political Engagement in Thailand.” and free book reviews of Thai Politics: Between Democracy and Its Discontents reviewed by Kevin Hewison, Siege of the Spirits: Community and Polity in Bangkok reviewed by Charles Keyes, The Lost Territories: Thailand’s History of National Humiliation reviewed by Søren Ivarsson.

Contemporary Southeast Asia has a free book review of Thai Politics: Between Democracy and Its Discontents reviewed by Aim Simpeng, Khaki Capital: The Political Economy of the Military in Southeast Asia reviewed by John Blaxland and Thailand: Shifting Ground between the US and a Rising China, reviewed by Pongphisoot Busbarat. It has a pay-for-view article by Duncan McCargo, Saowanee T Alexander and Petra Desatova, “Ordering Peace: Thailand’s 2016 Constitutional Referendum.”

The Journal of Southeast Asian Studies has “Mae Fah Luang: Thailand’s Princess Mother and the Border Patrol Police during the Cold War” by Sinae Hyun and available for free download. It also has several book reviews of general Thailand interest, some for free download.

If an article is behind a paywall, we recommend searching by title as authors and their universities sometimes make them available in a pre-print format.