Junta shenanigans II

21 11 2018

The Dictator is pulling the nation’s collective leg. Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha claims to be still looking for the right party to come along and make the right offer for him to continue as prime minister without being troubled by an election, even a rigged one.

Of course, the Palang Pracharath Party was set up by the junta for The Dictator.

Gen Prayuth mumbled that “he has not been approached by any party to stand as their candidate, so it would be pointless to speak about it in the media.”

He’s a clown and a dope who seems to think everyone in the country is as thick as he is. No one believes this drivel.

Meanwhile, Gen Prayuth poured more money into election campaigning. The junta announced another “63 billion baht into cash handout packages aimed at assisting low-income earners, the elderly and retired officers…”.

The Dictator immediately denied that his regime was engaging in “a populist move aimed at shoring up support ahead of the election.”

No one believes such claims.

While the poor deserve assistance, this is mostly helicopter cash that has no monetary policy embedded; it is simply meant to push the poor away from pro-Thaksin Shinawatra parties and vote for pro-junta devil parties.

The helicopter cash is “a 500-baht cash handout that will be given as a New Year’s gift to almost 15 million people worth a total of 7.25 billion baht.” When’s the “election” being rigged?

Yes, the cash will boost the economy, but given that growth has stalled, the junta knows it needs an economic boost if it wants too “win” the “election” without having to steal it outright.

If anyone doubted that this is a bid to buy votes, consider that the “Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong said the measure is being presented as a New Year’s gift.”

Yep, a gift.

Other “gifts” meant to buy votes included measures doling out cash that will only be in place for from one to nine months. There’s no policy involved. There’s no notion of a welfare or safety net. This is naked vote buying.

The junta has doled out hundreds of billions of baht seeking to bolster its support. This is just more taxpayer funding for the junta’s “election” campaign.





Junta shenanigans I

21 11 2018

A Bangkok Post editorial chastises the military dictatorship for what it does best: limiting freedom of expression. In this case, the Post is concerned about the rigged election:

Three months away from a possible election, the ban on political activities and basic freedoms is truly a mystery. There seems no logical reason to continue the bans. They were imposed by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) in the wake of the May 22, 2014, coup. They were regularised by formal edict early in 2015. The army-controlled junta continues to state it will not lift the bans “yet” and refuses to state an ending date.

The logic the Post searches for is that of military authoritarianism and the junta’s desire to extend it on and on and on. Everyone knows this and the only really interesting question is whether there’s any chance that this rigging can be overcome.

But when the Post states that the “bans apply to everyone,” this is a distortion of the facts (as it later shows). In fact, the restrictions have been selectively – one might say strategically – applied. As far as we can tell, most parties the junta favors have been campaigning in various ways. Most restricted is the Puea Thai Party. Even some of the new anti-junta parties have fond ways to get out among voters.

So the junta intimates all, but some more than others.

The Post knows this. And, it knows that the main pressure the junta is applying is to “restrict what people, newspapers, broadcasters and internet users can say and write.”

This restriction is to allow the military – via ISOC – the bureaucracy (now junta compliant) and pro-junta political groups access to voters particularly in rural areas and places known to be strongly pro-Puea Thai, while restricting that party.

The Post also points out that there’s still “no election date.” That’s also part of the election rigging. No date, hence no lifting of restrictions.

In the editorial, the Post does recognize double standards in a broader political context:

Arguably worse than the bans of free speech, free assembly and free press has been the highly selective prosecution of alleged violators. It is safe to say no supporter of the coup, the government, the junta or the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) has faced censure for their activities.

It is certainly true that the “public has the right to hear all political facts and opinions from politicians and the media,” but the junta needs restrictions until it feels it can “win”/steal an election with impunity.





Setting the rigging II

20 11 2018

When the Army chief defends the use of Article 44 by the military junta it does little more than confirm the worst fears many have about efforts to rig election boundaries. When the puppet Election Commission babbles incoherently about the reasons for the delay/extension/non-delay, the fears appear justified.

Gen Apirat Kongsompong is reported to have somewhat angrily “affirmed that the regime’s latest order allowing the Election Commission (EC) to make changes to constituency boundaries until Dec 11 will not affect the proposed Feb 24 poll date.”

What the general didn’t do was explain why the order was necessary when “a few days before it was issued, the EC said it had already completed the redrawing and was preparing to announce the new boundaries.”

Gen Apirat insisted “that the order is intended to give the EC enough time to come up with an electoral boundary map which suits both voters and parties.”

What the general didn’t do was explain why the order reportedly eliminated public and party consultation on the proposed boundaries.

More confusing is the claim by the junta that the use of Article 44 was “a response to growing criticism that the redrawing of constituencies has failed to take public input into account.”

As all of this was going on, EC president Ittiporn Boonpracong was forced to admit that “the EC had earlier issued a regulation on redrawing constituency boundaries, requiring it to announce the new constituencies in the Royal Gazette by Nov 10.” He also “admitted that the EC had, in fact, finished redrawing the constituency boundaries on Nov, 5.”

So what happened?

Unconvincingly, the EC President has been reported as claiming Article 44 was needed as his EC suddenly got derailed because he “had to have an eye surgery…”. He added: “Therefore, the announcement had to be delayed…”.

What the EC President did not explain was why his personal problem became an unsolvable national political problem. He’s not the only person in the EC. It is a bureaucratic agency based on a hierarchy, with some very senior people working there. There’s more below on this.

If it all smells fishy based on his “explanation,” it gets worse.

After conjuring up this unconvincing “explanation,” Ittiporn added: “We’ll comply with related laws and will finish the job by the deadline [Dec 11]. After all, the NCPO’s new order explicitly says the EC has to do the job by the criteria defined in the law.”

He must have forgotten that he’d already said the EC had “finished redrawing the constituency boundaries on Nov, 5.”

Getting in on this charade, “Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said … the NCPO’s new order was issued to protect the EC from accusations of malfeasance surrounding the delay.”

What Wissanu fails to explain is why more time is needed if the EC President is being truthful when he says the agency had “finished redrawing the constituency boundaries on Nov, 5.”

Ittiporn more or less confirmed the assumptions that the junta is fiddling with boundaries when he “declined to answer whether the nearly-finished constituency map had to be redone or to comment on the NCPO order…”.

The whole thing gets about as clear as mud when Wissanu admits that not all was well in the EC: “the EC president was not well and other commissioners had different opinions on the redrawn map, further delaying the process…”. Further delaying? But the EC had “finished redrawing the constituency boundaries on Nov, 5.” But what of “different opinions”? What’s going on there if the EC had “finished redrawing the constituency boundaries on Nov, 5.”

Just adding to this mix of contradictory babble, The Dictator claims that he “used his special powers to issue the order on Friday, giving the EC the mandate to do what is necessary, including ruling on complaints arising from public hearings, to make sure the redrawing of all 350 constituencies is done before Dec 11.”

What Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha doesn’t explain is when there will be public hearings. As we understand it, the EC can now decide the boundaries without public hearings.

Things are likely to get even more confused as the junta seeks to muddy the waters as much as possible as it rigs its “election.”





Madam Secretary criticism affirms Thailand’s feudalism

19 11 2018

A couple of days ago we posted on the episode of Madam Secretary that includes commentary on Thailand’s monarchy and the feudal lese majeste law. Most controversial is the part of the episode that includes a call for the monarchy to be brought down. The episode is available here.

The episode opens with comments on Thailand from the main character, the US Secretary of State, who emphasizes the feudalism of the monarchy and a statement that “Thailand is a country where free speech does not exist.”

A religious studies professor who was born in Thailand has a monologue – a speech in Bangkok – that goes like this:

Thailand is a land of contradictions. A Buddhist nation that worships its own king as semi-divine…. This … country imposed on its people the worship of a man nowhere recognized in its Buddhist faith….

Where does it [Buddhist faith] say that one man and his family should be worth over $30 billion while many of his people starve and beg in the streets?

… I call for an end to this family’s rule over Thailand. Let the monarchy die when our king passes from this world and let the people of Thailand choose their own leaders, not false gods.”

She’s arrested for lese majesty and threatened with decades in jail while her friend seeks a pardon from a king portrayed as an angry and unsmiling old man.

While all this is fiction and the episode is not always accurate – it is a fictional TV show – the attention to the monarchy and lese majeste is pretty much as it was used, particularly after the 2014 military coup. And, parts of the episode were made in Thailand.

As expected, the regime has had to respond.

The Bangkok Post reports but cannot repeat any of the main material of the episode because Thailand is indeed a country where free speech does not exist. It also gets some things wrong, stating, for example that the episode “makes no mention of Thai reaction” when it explicitly does so and has a scene where Madam Secretary says the US has to prepare a response to the Thai reaction.

In real life, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is reported to have “asked the Thai embassy in Washington to ‘convey our concern and disappointment to CBS’ over the Nov 4 episode.”

As expected, Ministry spokesperson Busadee Santipitaks complained that the “episode … presented the Kingdom of Thailand and the Thai monarchy in a misleading manner, leading to grave concern and dismay from many Thais who have seen it…”. We have no idea if the latter claim is true or not, but the portrayal of a lack of freedom of expression, the feudal and hugely wealthy monarchy and the draconian lese majeste law are not misleading.

And here’s where the Ministry and royalists dig themselves into a monarchist hole. In responding, the Ministry confirms the episode’s portrayal of the monarchy.





Puppet Election Commission criticized

18 11 2018

In a follow-up to our most recent post on election rigging,, the Bangkok Post reports that the Open Forum for Democracy Foundation (P-NET) “is calling on the Election Commission (EC) to exercise independence in redrawing the election constituencies, saying it is a first step towards a free and fair election.”

P-NET is “urging the poll agency to be independent in doing its job and take into account factors such as demographic changes, public participation and voter convenience, in demarcating the boundaries of constituencies.”

In fact, these are all things that were “promised,” but the military junta’s use of Article 44 now makes the whole process opaque, secretive and manipulable.

P-NET calls the junta’s intervention “outright interference,” noting that the dictatorship’s intervention “comes after the EC completed the job and was about to publish it in the Royal Gazette.”

It adds that the junta’s intervention “may lead to the unfair carving out of electoral boundaries in the favour of certain parties, especially pro-military ones…”. The use of the word “may” is rather too weak; it seems clear that this is what the military junta is doing.

One important quibble is with the notion that boundary setting is “a first step towards a free and fair election.” As we have repeatedly pointed out, the military junta has engaged in massive election rigging. The first step in that was the 2014 coup itself, with the major effort being the rule-setting that began with the junta’s 2016 constitution, which led to a cascade of rules meant to rig the election. That makes electoral boundary interference only the most recent step.





Setting the rigging I

18 11 2018

The Bangkok Post has yet another politically timid story on the military junta’s elections. Indeed, the Post seems to move ever closer to the military tyrants.

In this story, it mentions that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha “has signed an order granting the Election Commission (EC) the authority to do what is necessary to resolve disputes so that the redrawing of all 350 constituencies are done by the Dec 10 deadline.”

That order invokes Article 44 of the 2014 interim charter, that remains in force to allow The Dictator to do anything he wants.

The story then “explains” that the use of dictatorial power results from “complaints by several parties about the constituency map proposed by the EC and inadequate and incomprehensive [sic.] hearings on them.”

So The Dictator has decided that his puppet EC can do as it wants (or as it is ordered) in the event of complaints and screw the process. It also absolves the EC from legal responsibilities: “The EC’s decisions or actions shall be considered legitimate, constitutional and final…”.

This order trashes an earlier junta order “requiring public hearings on the new map before the EC approves it.” We can only guess that this now clears the way for junta boundary rigging should The Dictator decide this is necessary for his parties to triumph.

Thai PBS has a different take. It reports a junta spokesman as saying the order will “give more time for the Election Commission to demarcate constituency boundaries…”.

In fact, if there are no hearings and no scrutiny of the puppet agency, then “more time” makes no sense at all. With hearings gone, the process should require less time. If the EC is taking more time and dumping scrutiny and hearings then the conclusion is that  the junta wants more time to seek benefit for its parties.

This is confirmed when that spokesman “insisted that there was no hidden agenda behind the order…”. When the junta says such things, you can be pretty certain it is up to no good.





State enterprises milked

17 11 2018

Bloomberg has a useful report on what looks like the military junta’s use of “state-run enterprises to support economic expansion by speeding up investment, as risks loom from fizzling exports and tourism.” This use will support the junta’s “election” efforts.

The junta is pressuring these state enterprises to spend big by the end of the year: “Outlays by state enterprises jumped almost by half to 310.9 billion baht ($9.4 billion) in January through September, government data shows.” Profits have fallen at the same time. And, they have steadily declined since 2013. As an indication of the junta’s milking, “an index of listed government firms compiled by Bloomberg fell over the past five years while the wider stock market climbed.”

Prapas Kong-led, director-general of the Finance Ministry’s State Enterprise Policy Office, said: “These are huge companies that can drive the economy…. We’re trying to boost investment by state enterprises for the rest of 2018.”

2019 is an election year, maybe. One of the problems for the junta is that growth is easing.

State firms are big, with assets of “14.3 trillion baht last year. That’s almost equivalent to the value of Thai annual gross domestic product.”

The report states that “[c]riticism of the military administration’s policies and project choices is intensifying…”. Perhaps, but attention needs to be given to state firms in the junta’s election campaigning.