The Leader and despotic paternalism

7 07 2014

There’s an “unofficial translation” of another weekly speech-cum-announcement by military junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha available: National Broadcast By Head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). We look for the “models” being used by the junta, and we thought of 1959.

Prayuth began with a warning to the already junta compliant media warning of the need for total compliance while also asserting the legality of his military dictatorship:

I would like to firstly touch on the issue of the mass media and other types of media. The NCPO does not wish for any more conflicts and misunderstandings between the media – be they television, satellite television, radio, social media, or print – and the NCPO or officials who are legally performing their duties.

Today the country is not in normal times. Therefore it has been necessary to request the media to curtail presentation of information that could intensify tensions, including unverified news.

Of course, the legality of the regime is based on nothing but the regime’s own orders and the king’s acceptance of the coup. The next constitution, which will be drawn up by the military’s flunkey lawyers and academics, will absolve them of their illegalities.

The justification of censorship and repression is “abnormality.” That abnormal political situation owes much to the military’s mutiny against elected governments over several years and its support for the anti-democratic movements.

The Leader continues:

As we have seen in the period before 22 May, Thai people have consumed information from all forms of media. We must recognise that some media have chosen sides and some are neutral. The society and the general public became confused and filled with hostility, as each group chose only to listen to their own set of information. This included criticisms posted and shared in social media which attempted to cajole others to take sides.

He conveniently forgets that the media he prefers is biased, not neutral and has chosen the side of the royalist elite. When he claims that there is “print media that is making Thai society more decadent, such as explicit pornographic material,” he could be speaking of earlier eras. For pornography, the print media is an outdated media. When he says there are “publications that defamed the highest institution in the country which is illegally sold in many areas,” he gets to his real point. He only wants compliant, royalist rags. As he states later in his issuance of orders on order:

I have been informed that certain community radio stations do not broadcast the Thai national anthem or Thai Royal Anthem. I have instructed relevant agencies to monitor and investigate on this matter. I ask that they do not repeat such violations as the radio stations may be suspended from broadcasting for not respecting social norms.

In other words, the conservative hierarchicalism of the junta demands compliance with royalist norms.

In the best of Orwellian traditions, shutting down all of the red shirt media and other media considered “suspect” by the dictatorship is somehow defined, as: “We have not interfered or violated the freedom of the media.”

The Leader recognizes that controlling the media is more difficult now, and seems to promise more internet censorship:

In a world with fewer borders, news and information can be spread rapidly. When incorrect or inappropriate information and hate speeches are used, this could elicit pillory of Thailand in the eyes of foreigners. It may also have domestic impact in which conflicts are never-ending. This can negatively affect the mind of our youth – the future of this country.

If we let this go on, social rifts will deepen. Instances of younger people disrespecting their elders and rival groups pitting offensive remarks against each other will make society lose trust and confidence in each other on all levels…. Good people who were vilified are disheartened in performing their duties.

A conservative society where the old men are respected is necessary.

Violating the dictatorship’s rules means trouble: “Should any media continue to provide false information or information that is damaging to the country, then you will have to be accountable for the media under your responsibility.”

Bizarrely, and in the worst traditions of dictatorships everywhere, The Leader declares: “The NCPO has no intention of using its power to restrict rights or freedoms of the media.”

Prayuth cannot bear criticism of any kind. He states:

The NCPO is tackling most of the issues head-on while others are in the process. As for the 3-stage roadmap, I have referred to it many times before. Still, there are comments and criticisms from analysts, writers and academics about whether the roadmap will be achieved. Sometimes I feel a bit slighted. I am not sure whether you have heard me or listened to the information that we have sent out. However, we are aware of your concerns and good intentions for the country. We ask that you hear us out as we try to inform you of our work progress. We had already clarified a lot. If you make comments without taking into account our clarifications, then it will fail to be constructive. Instead, it would be destructive even though we have not done anything yet or the work is still ongoing. So I appeal to you again.

In other words, shut up and accept what we say and do.

On the economy, again the junta sounds like (and is) a throwback regime, emphasizing growth rates as a measure of “success”: “Today we have stimulated the economy. The Bank of Thailand has assessed that Thailand’s economy will grow by 1.5% this year. However, we will push for a growth rate of over 2% with the following measures.”

On the necessity for hierarchy, Prayuth naturally stresses leaders and says: “My principle is that superiors have to look after their subordinates, not the opposite.” Recall that the anti-democrat mantra included an attack on nepotism. But, as Prayuth points out, there is good nepotism and bad nepotism. When his side does it, it is, by force of arms, good.

Prayuth only understands hierarchical forms of organization: “The operation of all agencies and organisations must be integrated according to a chain of command, involving commanding officers, colleagues and subordinates.” Society and its organization is to be a military-like structure. He wants a “strong bureaucratic system and personnel so that they are good civil servants of His Majesty the King.” Again, this is a regime determined to return Thailand to a previous era.

If there is a “model,” it seems to be a return to the “despotic paternalism” of an earlier royalist regime: “My principle is for the state to look after people of all ages – be they children, youths, adolescents, adults, and elderly people, in an equal and comprehensive manner.” Despotic paternalism involves:

We need to formulate plans and preparations, create a systematic thought process, be rational, putting the country before ourselves, create a sense of conscience and ideology of nationalism. Youths should be taught lessons in Thai history, customs and tradition. We could move forward in line with the contemporary world without destroying our rich past.

Despotic paternalism is also about father knowing best, and this means Prayuth knows best, even giving advice on proper parenting for the creation of conservative and compliant hierarchy. He talks like the former dictator Sarit Thanarat in establishing responsibilities to the nation.

On rooting out the “Thaksin regime”: Prayuth knows that the anti-democrat desire, based on the so-called failures of the 2006 coup, requires purges. He refers to the “transfer of top level civil servants was done under the authority of the NCPO, as we do not yet have a Cabinet. This is according to suitability…”. He gets out of shape in describing the double standards: “In reassigning officials, it is not the intention of the NCPO to carry on power or shift interest groups.” But, of course, this is nonsense, as he himself knows and states: “… it is difficult to find individuals who were not involved in any way in working with previous administrations.” Later, referring to state enterprises, where the military is hogging all the posts, and states: “It is difficult finding people who had not worked under past administrations.”

On the control and limits to civil society: The military dictatorship does not trust civil society organizations and wants them to be more aligned to the model adopted in other authoritarian states, where they are broadly supportive of the regime. So it is that Prayuth says they “will be encouraged to support reconciliation at community level together with the Village Health Volunteers, Social Development and Human Security Volunteers, volunteer teachers, etc.” All of these “volunteers” are essentially state functionaries. Control will be extended as, just like the days of fighting the communists, the “Governor and representative of ministries in each province will be urged to establish people networks on the level of district and sub-district to integrate with reconciliation network founded by the NCPO.” Civil society is not an independent sphere, but a part of the all-embracing fascist regime.

On international criticism: Same nonsense repeated: “The military has taken control over national administration to end violence. There was a trend towards chaos, conflicting groups were using war-grade weapons in many areas…”. The interpretation of arbitrary detentions is that the armed military, wearing full battle gear and armor, dragging anti-coup protesters off is “inviting individuals with conflicting views and involved in the conflict to report themselves” to the junta. That they face up to two years in jail for not “accepting the invitation” is conveniently forgotten.

Again the Orwellian-Saritian mix is invoked:

The NCPO and all Thai citizens uphold and have faith in democratic system with His Majesty the King as Head of the State. NCPO fully realizes that the military intervention may be perceived by the West as a threat to democratic system and against the liberty of the people. However, this military intervention is inevitable, in order to uphold national security and to strengthen democracy.

You can tell that the military is strengthening democracy by how much they limit it.




2 responses

16 08 2014
Prem’s economic model | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] once, the implicit political model for the current military dictatorship draws on the periods when General Sarit Thanarat was dictator and then a period when General Prem Tinsulanonda was unelected prime minister and palace favorite. […]

16 08 2014
Prem’s economic model | Political Prisoners of Thailand

[…] once, the implicit political model for the current military dictatorship draws on the periods when General Sarit Thanarat was dictator and then a period when General Prem Tinsulanonda was unelected prime minister and palace favorite. […]

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