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.





Updated: Reds for the junta

17 07 2018

When the military ran its coup in 2014 one of its immediate goals was, along with the Puea Thai Party, to neuter the red shirts. The red shirts were seen as an existential threat having established themselves throughout the country and especially in the Central, Northeast and Northern regions. The red shirt ideology was in support of electoral democracy and its supporters included groups considered willing to oppose the military’s violence with violence of their own.

More than any other group, the military identified the red shirts as political enemies and it put considerable efforts into de-fanging, disrupting and disorganizing them.

Recent media reports suggest that the junta may be congratulating itself on its anti-red shirt efforts and has caused the official red shirts to react.

The United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) “have slammed suspected efforts by the Sam Mitr Group (Three Allies) to poach their members to support Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha returning as premier after the next election.”

They were reacting to rumors, now confirmed, that Surin’s Theppanom Namlee, described as “a key member of the … Surin red-shirt group…”.

While Nattawut Saikua and other key UDD figures panned the Three Traitors and damned them for underhanded tactics, it does appear that the junta and its allies associated with the hastily manufactured Palang Pracharath Party, with massive state funds and human resources, are having some success in fracturing the coalition that has held through years of political repression and legal harassment.

If the junta is having this kind of (negative) success, no one should be too surprised. After all, the state is skilled at such tactics and has used them for decades to splinter opposition.

What is a fly in the political ointment is the junta’s realization that it can only “win” its own rigged election by allying with people it previously despised as republicans and Thaksinites.

Update: See more on this story here and read about the junta’s planned use of Puea Thai and red shirt defectors in campaigning here.





Rightists lined up

17 07 2018

For Thailand’s rightists, keeping The Dictator in place is bringing them together. The military junta’s rigging of Thailand’s future in ways that more or less align with the efforts of anti-democrats and they fear that anything other than a military-backed, more civilized region will see backsliding on electoral democracy and “reform.”

The junta’s rules, seen in the constitution and associated laws, mean that the anti-democrat agenda depends on a rigged election that produces MPs for a group of pro-junta parties in addition to the junta’s own Palang Pracharath Party.

As a report in the Bangkok Post observes, “the current Constitution setting out a new mechanism likely to hinder any single party from securing a parliamentary majority, but giving emerging parties such as the ACT [Action Coalition of Thailand] a chance to gain a scattering of MP seats.”

Suthep and friends

This is one reason why the rightist anti-democrats who have come together as ACT “is willing to join hands with ‘all parties with the same ideology’ ahead of the next general election…”. That’s anti-democrat leader and ACT co-founder Suthep Thaugsuban saying this.

This was never in doubt, but Suthep saying it amounts to a campaign promise.

Suthep said that the coalition of anti-democrat parties “… will give us the ability to reform the country and bring about full democracy.”

“Full democracy” mean no democracy at all but aligns with the military junta’s notion of “democracy” as a guided democracy, with rightists, royalists and military (all overlapping categories) doing the guiding.

Suthep is positioning ACT as “parties and politicians, most displaying support for the ruling junta, begin gathering voices with an eye to the election…”.

The report also notes that “ACT has said little about its policies or whom it would support as the next prime minister.” In one sense, under the junta’s rules, such things are no longer necessary. They weren’t necessary before the 1997 constitution changed political rules. Some parties made campaign promises but seldom did much about them.

That said, we can expect ACT to babble about “reform” and offer support to The Dictator as premier. That support will be conditional on ACT bosses getting cabinet slots. It is all so 1980s and 1990s.





More junta election campaigning

16 07 2018

The Dictator is campaigning hard. He seems to feel that he needs to hold an “election” sooner or later but knows he still can’t be guaranteed the victory he desires. Along with destabilizing the Puea Thai Party, jailing opponents, using the “law” against them and building pro-junta parties, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha is using the military, the bureaucracy and taxpayer’s funds in seeking to tip the “election” even more in his favor.

Much of that spending has come during high-profile “mobile cabinet meetings” in areas where Puea Thai has been strong since 2001. All funded by the public purse and taxpayer sweat.

The next cabinet circus is scheduled for 23-24 July in the northeast. Money is going to be promised in the provinces of Ubol Ratchathani and Amnat Charoen.

A big part of the campaign trip is to meet former MPs in the two provinces and convince and cajole them into signing up for for the Palang Pracharat Party, the junta’s party. The target in Ubol is said to be up to “seven former Pheu Thai MPs…”.

Some have already been turned and will provide the avenues through which the junta will make peace with former MPs. That’s not as easy as it may seem, for the junta and the military has been harassing them for years. But piles of loot and the promise of more to come soothes many losses of face and other insults.

Naturally enough, the junta’s spokespersons have lied and said that there’s nothing “political” in the visit, denying the main reason for the whole show.





NACC a sad joke

16 07 2018

Thailand has a bunch of agencies that the media repeatedly refers to as “independent.” Article 215 of junta’s constitution defines these as:

An Independent Organ is an organ established for the independent performance of duties in accordance with the Constitution and the laws.

The performance of duties and exercise of powers by an Independent Organ shall be honest, just, courageous, and without any partiality in exercising its discretion.

They are: the Election Commission, Ombudsmen, State Audit Commission, National Human Rights Commission and the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

As far as we can see, none of these agencies is in any way “independent” of the junta. Most of their actions are the stuff of puppets.

When it comes to the NACC, it has proven itself a weak, toady, puppet organization, incapable of fulfilling its legal duties.

We pick on the NACC because an anti-corruption NGO has “renewed its call … for the national anti-graft body to speed up its probes into a luxury watch scandal facing Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and the money-laundering allegations against a former national police chief [Somyos Pumpanmuang].” The Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand says it is three months since it published an “open letter asking the National Anti-Corruption Commission [NACC] about progress made in its probes…”.

It seems that the NACC only responded about a week ago, stating that the “two cases is that they still are in the fact-finding stage…”. Since then, zilch, nothing, silence. We might add that the “investigation” of Gen Prawit goes back to December 2017. Pol Gen Somyos was first revealed as being involved with the owner of the Victoria’s Secret Massage parlor back in January this year. Now boss of the Football Association of Thailand – where was he in the cave drama? – Somyos “borrowed” 300 million baht from the brothel boss.

ACT puts the obvious question: why [is] the NACC is taking so long to wrap up these two particular cases?” As we have said, ACT points out that these are not complicated cases.

In response, referring to the Prawit “investigation,” an anonymous “NACC source … revealed that a committee handling Gen Prawit’s case had finished questioning all witnesses, but the local dealers of those luxury watches had refused to provide the NACC with any information about the serial numbers of the watches in question.”

That might have something to do with tax evasion, but that’s only a guess. In any case, this is where the NACC was in May and sounds rather like an excuse for foot-dragging and the great cover-up for the Deputy Dictator.

There was silence on the case investigating Somyos and scores of others.

ACT rightly asks: “… how could the public trust the NACC to handle even more complicated cases in the future?” We haven’t trusted it for several years now as it became the political plaything of the junta, doing some of its dirty work, disrupting the Puea Thai Party and making life difficult for politicians and activists the junta finds oppositional. In other words, the NACC is a tool for political repression and displays not a skerrick of independence.





Making royal propaganda from the cave II

15 07 2018

While PPT refrained from commentary on the remarkably uplifting cave rescue, we have said a few things about its use for palace propaganda purposes (here, here and here). Our point has been to point out that the kind of royal propaganda is nothing new, but that this is an opportunity for the palace to boost the image of the new king in ways that are not all that different from his father. Royalism is so deeply embedded in the military and bureaucracy that there is a constant search for opportunities to make the monarch look good, kind, generous, loving of his people, etc.

The latest efforts have involved both a familiar pattern and one that strikes us as somewhat new. The familiar involves the promotion of the former Navy diver who died in the cave and providing a royally-sponsored funeral ceremony. If academic Serhat Unaldi referred to something called “working towards the monarchy,” this propaganda exercise kind of reverses the process, allowing the monarchy to gain credit from the death of someone considered popular, a hero or worthy in other ways. Such actions are not always simple and cynical efforts by the palace but invariably bestow considerable credit on the monarch.

Governor Narongsak

The less familiar involves something we noted in our first comment on the efforts in Chiang Rai. In that post we observed the dress of Governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn. Initially in the search, he appeared in a “loyalty” outfit. Appearing appropriately loyal is required in royalist Thailand under the military dictatorship. At the time, we thought he might be wearing a sky blue Snoopy cap,along with a yellow scarf.

In fact, the cap bears the king’s rather childlike cartoon figures which also recently appeared on shirts. He wasn’t the only one wearing the outfit in the early days of the cave drama. Narongsak seemed to ditch the outfit as the search became very serious and he handled himself commendably. So did others.

However, after the huge elation following the successful rescue of those in the cave, the blue caps and yellow scarves are back in big numbers. As hundreds showed up to volunteer to assist in the cave area clean-up, it seems that they were all provided with these symbols of loyalty. Remarkably, the regimented volunteers all managed to show up in very similar yellow shirts.

This “uniform” was also on show in some of the very early pictures that came from the boating tragedy in Phuket where 48 persons seem to have perished. It seems that the idea of associating monarchy with a tragedy saw the “uniform” ditched.

The Bangkok Post has a some pictures from Chiang Rai following the joyous outcome there. The “uniform” is de rigueur. We clipped one of those here.

Way off in the distance in the photo is the picture of the king that the volunteers are saluting, all lined up in their identical outfits. It is clear that there’s a palace propaganda effort underway. Yellow and sky blue are the kings chosen colors.