Missing from the International NYT

1 12 2015

What was it that caused a huge blank space on the front page of the International New York Times in Thailand?


It was this story:

Thai Economy and Spirits Are Sagging

Do not be fooled by the throngs of Chinese tourists clogging the entrance to the gilded Grand Palace, the roads buzzing with traffic or the plastic smiles of hostesses greeting the business lunch crowd at luxury hotels.

Thailand is in a rut.

The economy is moribund and Thai households are among the most indebted in Asia.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the epoxy of a fractured nation who commands divine-like reverence and turns 88 next month, is ailing and has not been seen in public since September.

A military government that seized power last year is showing no haste in handing back power to politicians who have spent the past decade in often violent conflict.

Robberies and other property crimes have risen more than 60 percent this year.

“No one feels like smiling anymore,” said Sompetch Pimsri, a merchant at a fruit and vegetable market behind the Temple of Dawn, a tourist landmark along the Chao Phraya River. “Life is so stressful. I don’t know how to explain it, but it feels like nothing is working in Thailand anymore.”

Thailand was once the torchbearer of freedom and prosperity in Southeast Asia — a center of commerce for Indochina, a bastion of free expression and a home for refugees from neighboring countries, which for years Thais saw as war-ravaged basket cases.

But these days when Thais look to their neighbors, they feel envy, not pity.

To the west, there are signs of a blossoming democracy in Myanmar after the victory of the Nobel Peace laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi over the military establishment that oppressed her for years. To the east the economies of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam are showing signs of vigor and luring foreign investors away from Thailand.

“We are moving backward, and they are running ahead of us,” said Samorn Thurapan, a 51-year-old noodle seller who roams the streets of Bangkok on a motor scooter attached to a food cart.

A popular Thai radio host recently told his listeners that the only way to feel better about the country was to leave it. Take a vacation abroad, said Vera Theerapat, the host.

Mr. Vera said he sought “sage advice” about the country’s straits from the smartest people he knew. “They all shake their heads,” he said.

“I am not sure if I can take it any more,” he said on his program, adding that he was considering emigrating.

By no means is Thailand lifeless. The wealthy parts of Bangkok, including the main shopping and business districts, are still jammed, with Thais and tourists. The well-heeled and well-entrenched elites are insulated from the downturn and on some nights still fill restaurants with laughter and cheer. But gone is the notion of a Teflon Thailand, the country that could continue to prosper despite political dysfunction.

The deputy prime minister, a marketing specialist appointed by the junta in August as part of an effort to revive the economy, acknowledges the country’s sour mood.

“People feel dismal,” the minister, Somkid Jatusripitak, said at a conference this month. He compared the country to “a sick person standing in a cold wind.”

Thailand’s malaise set in after nearly a decade of political turmoil. In late 2013, a protest movement led by the country’s elites took to the streets to demand the suspension of electoral democracy. The military obliged, taking power from an elected government in May 2014.

Immediately after the coup, Thais of various political persuasions said they felt a sense of relief that months of protests and street violence were over.

But military rule now seems indefinite and the army seems mostly preoccupied by its critics, detaining professors, politicians, journalists and students and subjecting them to what the junta calls “attitude adjustment,” which often entails signing an agreement that allows the military to seize assets if the detainee criticizes the junta.

The leader of the junta, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, stunned many Thais when he said in a nationally televised address in October that he might be forced to “close the country.” He retracted the comment after an outcry by Thais and puzzlement by foreign businesses.

Around the same time, the Thai news media reported that the government had approved plans to route all Internet traffic in and out of the country through a “single gateway,” effectively giving the military government control over the flow. After another outcry, the junta played down the plan, but it has not rescinded it.

On social media, Thais lament that the country feels directionless. But privately they also report being fearful. At least three people arrested on the criminal charge of insulting the monarchy have died in custody since the junta came to power. The government has given only oblique accounts of these deaths, saying the men died from suicide or illness. In each case, the body was cremated before an inquest could take place.

Some of those who died had connections to Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, who is much less popular than his father, the ailing king. The mysterious deaths have only added to apprehensions about the looming succession.

Thais are also increasingly fearful of crime. Military rule has somewhat paradoxically coincided with a surge in thefts, burglaries and robberies. The national police recorded more than 75,557 thefts and other property crimes in the fiscal year that ended in September, 63 percent higher than the previous year.

Violent crime was up 17 percent during the same period.

Samorn Thurapan, the noodle seller, says the bad economy has made people more hot-tempered. “People are quick to start fights,” he said. “Buddhist teachings are not restraining them anymore. The bad economy has turned everything upside down.”

The economy more than perhaps anything else is a daily preoccupation, especially among the traders and unregistered workers, a group that economists call the “informal” sector and that makes up two-thirds of the work force. At the fruit and vegetable market, vendors say their customers are not in the mood to spend anymore.

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“This is the topic we discuss every morning — how things are so bad,” said Rasami Sidamat, 49, who sells green papaya salad and grilled chicken. “It’s terrible, terrible, terrible.”

Loan sharks charging interest rates of 20 percent a month walk through the market each morning to collect debts.

Yet even the loan sharks are complaining. One, who gave his name as K. Singh, said the poor economy meant people borrow and cannot pay back.

“They close their shops and say bye-bye,” he said. “And we are never able to find them.”

In a wholesale clothing district of Bangkok, many shops are for sale or going out of business, says Thongyoy Phaesuwan, 29, the owner of a clothing business. Her buyers have become cautious and frugal.

“It’s as if people are swarming to eat the tiny bits of meat left on a fish bone,” she said. “It used to be a big fish, but today there are only scraps left.”

The military has been focused on bringing order to a famously disordered society. But Ms. Thongyoy faults the junta for its management of the economy.

“I am not dreaming about an ideal government,” she said. “We just want to survive.”

Prawit’s week

1 12 2015

It really is Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan’s day for remarkable commentary. We wonder why The Dictator has been replaced in recent days?

It began yesterday for Prawit with his threats and “advice” to the US Ambassador and by seemingly nonsensical claims about the crimes of a man already in prison.

Today, as reported by the Bangkok Post, Prawit has “explained” the arrest of red shirt leaders who planned to visit “Rajabhakti Park in Prachuap Khiri Khan province to prevent confrontation…”. We recall that this was the excuse for both the 2006 and 2014 coups.

Prawit reckons there “were people of opposing views” gathering for a potential clash. This resulted in the “military’s ‘invitation’ to both [red shirt] leaders [Jatuporn Promphan and Nattawut Saikua] to prevent any confrontation.”

The only problem with this claim is that there is no evidence for it.

Both men were said to have been “released after they were persuaded to stop their activities because they were not helping the nation…”.

Prawit is taking responsibility for the cover-up over military corruption at the park. Hence he claims that “[c]onfrontation at Rajabhakti Park would return the country to the situation that existed before May 22, 2014, (the coup date) and security authorities would not let that happen.”

This is nonsense. So is the claim that “confrontation” would jeopardize “recovery” that comes from the “economic stimulus and the restoration of the international community’s confidence in Thailand…”.

Prawit and his junta colleagues live in a fantasy world populated by fairies at the end of the garden.


6 years for political activism

1 12 2015

Prachatai reports the 1 December 2015 conviction of 60 year-old Charnvit J. by the Criminal Court in Nonthaburi. He was sentenced to six years in prison for distributing political leaflets at a demonstration on 25 November 2007, alleged to constitute lese majeste.

Charnvit is said to be a “self-proclaimed leftist” who “defamed” the “King, Queen, the Crown Prince and the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn … with the leaflets.” Sirindhorn is not covered by Article 112, but that does not seem to stop the courts using the law in this way.

During a hearing on 16 September 2015, in contrast with most others accused of this “crime” in recent months, Charnvit did not plead guilty. He “admitted that he distributed the leaflets, but disagreed that the leaflets defame the Thai monarchy.” He stated that “he produced the leaflets because he wanted the ‘spirit’ of the People’s Party, … who ended the absolute monarchy in 1932, to come true wherein the country would be ruled by ‘the monarchy under a democratic constitution’ not a country with the ‘democratic system of governance with the monarchy as the head of state’.”

Charnvit added that “stated that he produced the leaflets to honestly express his thoughts about the ‘transition’ of the country concerning the Thai monarchy, adding that the Thai monarchy would be more ‘stable’ if the institution resembles the Japanese monarchy.”

In royalist Thailand, this is provocative to the courts and other monarchist institutions, even if accurate. His defiance continued: “Distributing leaflets is a kind of political actions. My purpose is only to examine the ‘transition’ [in Thai society]. I’m a citizen, so I need to introduce some new ideas to the society. [I] can’t just sit down passively…”.

Charnvit was arrested in 2008 and released on bail. The case came up again when Charnvit was “alleged as one one of the suspects of Ratchada Criminal Court bombing on 7 March 2015.” He has been in jail since then.

Tongues tied up

30 11 2015

It seems like it is Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan’s day for remarkable commentary. The general has already featured in dumb, dumber and stupid. The Bangkok Post reports that he has also has advice for US Ambassador Glyn Davies.

PPT has no problem with the dumpy general responding to the ambassador’s critical statements on lese majeste and freedom of expression.We wouldn’t even be particularly taken aback if Prawit had decided to admonish the ambassador with the usual don’t interfere in the domestic affairs of Thailand guff. Prawit

But then Prawit went quite a bit further into the realms of threat and balmy make believe.

He directed the ambassador “to think carefully before speaking after his remark on the Thai military rule.” That sounds like a threat.

The make believe involves a claim that the military dictatorship – that is, the world’s only country ruled by a military junta – has “provided more freedom than other juntas and was developing sustainable democracy in the country.”

Both claims are patently false and defy any normal definition of logic.

General Prawit “asserted Monday that the government attached much importance to human rights and provided much freedom, including freedom of the press, and no other juntas had done the same.” As the Post points out, this claim “was made in the face after numerous incidents where the junta has summoned and detained journalists critical of its rule, threatened to close down publications and regularly lambasted reporters for asking probing questions.”

The junta has detained almost 800 people (that we know about), it has charged or convicted dozens under the lese majeste and computer crimes laws. It has prevented hundreds, perhaps thousands, of persons meeting, holding seminars and more. It has seen dozens flee into exile. It marched into power on the deaths of many opponents in 2010.

In other words, Prawit is lying.

He goes on:

We are trying our best for the future of the nation and permanent democracy but it must take some times. We are building strong foundations for democracy in the future. We are not solving problems on a day-by-day basis….

This is as disingenuous as it is balmy. All the junta is doing is building the foundations for the continued and unobstructed rule by a royalist elite.

Dumb, dumber and stupid

30 11 2015

Sorry folks, but we are having trouble taking any pronouncement from Thailand’s ruling body, headed by its  most senior military leaders and supported by many in the middle class, the palace, mad monarchists and the powerful Sino-Thai tycoons. We can even see that the grand old man General Prem Tinsulnonda supports the military junta.

But, really, is this the stupidest government of all time? And, we do realize that stupidity does not eliminate the fact that it is an unpredictable nasty, vindictive and repressive government.

All of this is to preface the response from these dullards to the warrant they had issued for Thanakrit Thongngernperm, a suspect in the “terrorism plot,” claimed to be “on the run,” who has actually been incarcerated in a Khon Kaen jail since mid-2014.

So here we go, with the response to this revelation of Thanakrit’s incarceration from Deputy Prime Minister, coup maker, former current Defense Minister and loyal General, Prawit Wongsuwan. Based on what is currently known, his response is so deliciously dumb that we are amused and, at the same time, terrified for Thailand under this boot of this bunch.

General Prawit said that “although Thanakrit was in prison he must have done something against the law, otherwise the court would not have approved the warrant for his arrest.”

“He might have been in some communication (with outsiders). Ask him. He must have done something wrong. The court must have gone through all the requested warrants individually before approving them. A warrant can’t simply be issued without legal backing…“.

There are possibilities that Prawit could be right. After all, the judicial system and the Corrections Department are riddled with corruption, so Thanakrit might have been out on visits to friends.

In fact, though, Prawit is responding as the corrupt and arrogant thugs in the military have responded for years. They think that because they are powerful and armed, they can say any stupid thing they like and the gullible and frightened must believe them.

We can’t wait for the next story saying that they have discovered that Thanakit was, in fact, free.

Dumb and dumber

29 11 2015

We know almost all of our readers will have seen the latest and widely circulated stories on the “Khon Kaen Model Plot.” Even so, we feel we must post on the military’s most recent demonstration of its stupidity and disdain for the Thai people, if only as a matter of record.

Yes, we refer to the suspect, claimed to be “on the run,” who has been incarcerated in a Khon Kaen jail since mid-2014.

It was the junta – the so-called National Council for Peace and Order – that filed the complaints that led to the police warrants for Thanakrit Thongngernperm and eight others. They were accused of “terrorism,”  lese majeste and computer crimes.

None of the original Khon Kaen 26 has yet been convicted and many remain in jail. PPT thought the military concocted that “plot.”

We can now be sure that they have concocted the most recent “plot.”

The military dictatorship is full of such dunces, brought up to operate on unquestioned hierarchical obedience, its leaders are unable to concoct a believable lie. That’s obviously good for those who oppose them because the regime is composed of thugs rather than “thinking thugs,” who are infinitely more dangerous.

At the same time, this episode of political nastiness also displays how the military regime considers every single Thai to be stupid or gullible.


Recalling Thaksin’s early politics

29 11 2015

Busy with “plots,” lese majeste and myriad other fictitious and real problems, the police are apparently facing complaints about Bangkok’s traffic and internal strife and competition.

In the Bangkok Post, it was recently reported that “Acting Metropolitan Police chief Sanit Mahathavorn has been given three months to solve Bangkok’s traffic gridlock otherwise he could face the music, police chief Chakthip Chaijinda said.”

We were reminded on reading this demand that complaints about Bangkok’s traffic go back to the introduction of traffic. More recently, though, we were reminded of Thaksin Shinawatra’s early days in the political scene. As an academic description has it:Thaksin trafficThaksin failed so we can guess that Acting Metropolitan Police chief Sanit Mahathavorn will be heading for the door, the south or some inactive post.


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