Helping friends and supporters

19 04 2019

The military junta has managed to stare down efforts to investigate its corruption. It has been able to do this by intimidation and because it has made puppets of all the state and “independent” agencies that are meant to investigate corruption. And, of course, the friends, supporters and companies that benefit are happy to pocket the gains.

So it is quite something to see that a private sector peak body has “slammed the government for giving Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT) latitude in handling the controversial duty-free shop bidding, demanding accountability for a process that would damage the country.”

For a decade, duty free has been a monopoly, commanded by the King Power group (search out tag for additional posts), massively enriching the late Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and his family and provided additional sustenance for associated political, military and royal “partners.”

This huge value of duty free stores is why there is now great competition to get hands on the goose and its golden eggs. And, it is why there’s some voice being heard about the shenanigans over the bidding (both open and behind closed doors).

It is why Worawoot Ounjai, president of the Thai Retailers Association, has slammed “the latest ruling on the bidding process for the duty-free shop concession [that] will allow the AoT to arrange the bidding by itself.” Worawoot states: “As this [junta’s] administration comes to an end, we’ve witnessed much news about its decisions that benefit several business groups,…”.

He mentions a range of recent junta decisions and wheeling and dealing, “from high-speed trains and telecom to duty-free shop concessions,” and he pointedly says that “Thais have to ask this government if it will be responsible for future actions that bring damage to the country…”.

When business groups start demanding “accuracy and transparency,” you know that shady deals are being done. Worwoot declares:

We’ve seen poor results from this type of bidding before and called on the government for accuracy and transparency. But the answer comes as expected. We have to get over it because this is the state of our country.

If the election tinkering goes as expected and Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and the junta’s Palang Pracharath Party control government, bet on this situation worsening.





Parliament homeless and broke

19 04 2019

The junta held its “election,” but didn’t manufacture the result it wanted. That means all kinds of opaque wheeling, dealing and cheating, involving the Election Commission, Constitutional Court and a gaggle of small parties.

Of course, as far as luring and maintaining the fungible loyalty of small parties is not limited to the junta and Palang Pracharath. Some of this tinkering and bidding is probably behind the odd sight of New Economics Party MP candidates seeking to have their own party dissolved. This party is one of those that can swing the balance in the lower house.

We might think that all of this maneuvering is to come up with a majority coalition government before the convening a parliament shortly after official 95% results are confirmed on 9 May.

As Khaosod reports, the convening of parliament is problematic, and not just because of the confused election and its results. This is because parliament is homeless and broke.

As regular readers will know, a grasping king has “taken back” the land that housed parliament since 1974. He’s also retaken the building and land that was the home of parliament from 1932 to 1974.

No one has revealed what the king is doing with all the land he has appropriated.

Because the new parliament building has not been completed, for at least six months, parliament “will have to hold sessions in an auditorium north of Bangkok.”

But even that depends on the Parliament, as an administrative unit, getting some funds to rent the TOT auditorium.

As the report explains, parliament needs to “ask the cabinet for emergency funds to rent the auditorium because the parliament is currently running low on cash. Renting the auditorium, owned by telecom firm TOT, will cost taxpayers about 11 million baht each month.” At present, Parliament is down to its last 19  million baht.

In addition the TOT auditorium needs modifications to accommodate all parliamentarians.

This predicament is Thailand in miniature. That parliament is homeless and broke shows that parliament doesn’t matter much and the king is paramount. (There’s plenty of money for taxpayer funding of elaborate royal events including coronation.)





Updated: On stealing the election IX

18 04 2019

Our series on stealing the election began with a post on Future Forward’s Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and the military junta’s rabid attack, concocting a sedition charge.

Our ninth post in the series is about the other rabid effort to alter the election outcome. That is, charging Future Forward’s Piyabutr Saengkanokkul with computer crimes and contempt of court, the latter meaning the puppet Constitutional Court.

The charges relate to “a video clip of him reading a party statement on the Constitutional Court’s decision to dissolve the Thai Raksa Chart Party in March.”

His appearance was observed by Angkana Neelapaiji of the National Human Rights Commission and two representatives of the UN Human Rights Office.

Piyabutr has rejected the charges and has been given until 25 April to submit a written statement.

Interestingly, both Piyabutr and Thanathorn have expressed confidence in the legal system.

This may seem to be asking for trouble, but it throws the charges back at the prosecutors and courts. Pushing false charges will do huge damage to the junta, its election and the prosecutors and courts.

Update: There’s more on Piyabutr’s appearance at Prachatai.





On the EC’s failures

18 04 2019

The Election Commission is a festering sore on the junta’s “election.” It has failed to convince no one that it is independent. Worse, it has not shown any capacity for administering a competent election process, even an election rigged by the junta.

There have been several actions taken to protest the EC’s failures. One of the most eye-catching has been that by “student activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, who arranged dozens of pairs of shoes outside the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, spelling out the Thai initials of the Election Commission.” The association of the EC with feet is damning of the agency.

Meanwhile, at New Mandala, legal scholar Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang of the Faculty of Law at Chulalongkorn University concludes that “Thailand’s 2019 general election is a spectacular disaster.” He adds that “the integrity of this election is irreparably damaged,” and heaps blame on the EC. In doing this, Khemthong looks at the EC’s history of anti-democratic behavior.

On the current EC, he observes:

The fifth and current Election Commission (2018–present) was installed by the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA). Its appointment history underpinned suspicions prior to the 2019 election that the body would collude with the NCPO. Those suspicions were confirmed when the Commission refused to investigate a campaign finance scandal involving the NCPO’s proxy, the Phalang Pracharath Party, but swiftly dissolved Thai Raksa Chart, one of Thaksin [Shinawatra]’s proxies.

Khemthong states that “there is broad consensus that the Election Commission is unfit to fulfil its assignment.” But for all of its failures, this EC remains largely unaccountable – except to its puppet masters in the junta.





Expanding monarchism

17 04 2019

While most people were on holiday, the king has been at “work.” Khaosod reports that a new was enacted, ordered by the king, “requiring civil servants to follow a strict code of conduct…”.

The law’s “preamble says King Vajiralongkorn enacted the law with advice from the interim parliament after he issued a royal decree calling for legislation to govern ethical standards.”

The “Ethics Standard Act places nearly every state agency under a review committee headed by the prime minister.” That committee must ensure that “officials behave in accordance with the principles set by the law.”

The law requires all civil servants adhere to these new “ethical standards”:

  • Commitment to the nation, religion, monarchy and democratic regime with the King as head of state
  • Honesty, good spirits and responsibility to duties
  • Courage to decide and act on what is righteous
  • An ability to prioritize the greater good over personal interests
  • Dedication to the success of one’s works
  • Fair and impartial performance of duties
  • Preservation of the bureaucracy’s good image

The law “covers all ministries, departments, local administrations and state enterprises. Exceptions include the parliament’s office, the courts and agencies that operate independently of the government.”

The law also requires that a 12-person committee, chaired by the incumbent prime minister, must “review state agencies for compliance…”.

The law includes no statement regarding penalties that might apply for non-compliance.

One imagines that prime ministers have little to do other than serve the king. The requirements, if seriously implemented, will require huge additional workloads.

The newspaper observes that this is yet another step by the king “to encourage order and respect for royal traditions among civil servants and the armed forces.” The aim seems to be to bring those arms of government under the monarch.

Of course, his father also rambled about such matters, but we can’t recall a law. Rather there was a reliance on moral imperatives. Without the same personal respect, Vajiralongkorn seems keen to rely on rather more blunt measures. In his lifetime, he’s not been a beacon of ethical behavior.





Election crisis

17 04 2019

PPT recently posted on the resurrection of the notion of a “national government.” The interesting thing about this hackneyed nonsense was the admission that Thailand faced a political crisis.

An opinion piece at The Nation is disparaging:

Moves to engineer a pseudo-deadlock to justify ‘neutral’ rule ignore the will of voters….

A so-called national unity government has always been a favourite gambit for Thai politicians who lose elections. By utilising this benign-sounding concept they can sweep aside the voters’ verdict and prevent opposing factions from taking power.

It points out that:

It was sad though predictable, then, to see the Democrats’ Thepthai Senapong float the idea again, after his party suffered a huge setback in the March 24 election. Exploiting the Election Commission (EC)’s apparent inability to produce a clear result, Thepthai has sought to convince the public that a national unity Cabinet is badly needed.

His idea immediately fails the test of credibility with his proposal that former prime minister and Democrat [Party] patriarch Chuan Leekpai lead the “unity” government. No neutral observer believes that Chuan is non-partisan.

While the opinion writer still has some faith that an election result will emerge that is not concocted by the junta, it is stated:

The election was far from perfect, but the elite, military and notably the junta must accept the outcome of a situation that they themselves created. The junta should now allow its opponents the chance to form a government to run the country, as mandated by the people.

Using underhanded legal tactics and other dirty tricks to retain power is not acceptable. The people delivered their verdict via an election by whose rules all parties agreed to abide. That process and its outcome are the only effective solution to the deep and lasting political problems in this country.

That would be a breakthrough as the elite, military and anti-democrats have never accepted election results that don’t give power to them.

But, as veteran Puea Thai Party politician Phumtham Wechayachai points out,  the junta’s “Constitution and the legal framework had indeed been designed to cause complications and difficulties that would draw the nation down the path to undemocratic rule.” He added: “The political situation is on a course that shows we are going toward a dead end…”.

The dead end is manufactured crisis and continuing authoritarianism.





Discussing the “election”

16 04 2019

In a recently released video, Thai and Australian scholars discuss the uncertain aftermath of Thailand’s 2019 election. Clicking this link goes to the New Mandala Facebook page and the video of about 1.10 hrs.

It was recorded at the “Entrenched Illiberalism in Mainland Southeast Asia” conference held at ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs on 8–9 April 2019.