Updated: Generals, kings and isolation

6 07 2020

After some criticism of quarantine exemptions for a visiting US military delegation, a Thai general was quoted:

A delegation led by the US army chief of staff has been required to self-isolate before their arrival for 14 days for a two-day trip under a special arrangement, Gen Somsak Roongsita, secretary-general of the National Security Council (NSC) said yesterday [Sunday].

That seems pretty clear. The Thai general is further quoted:

US army chief of staff Gen James McConville will meet his Thai counterpart, Gen Apirat Kongsompong, and Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha on Thursday and Friday, Gen Somsak said.

But, then, as ever, things get a little murkier:

Gen Somsak said the delegation would fly from Singapore to Thailand on a private flight. “They won’t be flying directly from the US. It’s a small delegation and will be in Thailand for two days.”

They were tested and quarantined for 14 days in the US before the trip and would be tested again in Singapore and at the Military Air Terminal 2 at Don Mueang airport.

So in Singapore, they are not isolated.Just saying….

But what about in the USA? We found this official report:

REDSTONE, AL, UNITED STATES
07.02.2020
Photo by Kari Hawkins
U.S. Army Materiel Command

Gen. Ed Daly takes command of the Army Materiel Command as he returns the AMC flag to Command Sgt. Maj. Rodger Masker during a Passing of the Colors ceremony July 2. The Passing of the Colors was part of the change of command ceremony, and included previous AMC Commander Gen. Gus Perna and Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville.

Date Taken: 07.02.2020
Date Posted: 07.02.2020 16:46….

We did a count, and we don’t think 2-9 July equals 14 days. Is the Thai general concocting a lame story for local consumption? Does he think no one will bother doing a bit of online searching? We are sure another lame story will follow. Just saying….

And what of all those who are in contact? Are they isolating after the visit? Probably not. Just saying….

And then there’s the arrival this morning of yet another special Thai Airways reportedly carrying the king and queen back to Bangkok from Germany and Switzerland for another less than one day visit. It seems the bankrupt airline is still flying special flights for the royals. And, like the king’s one other visit to Thailand, there’s no isolation, presumably as the possibility of a royal virus is a blessing. Just saying….

Update: If you aren’t filthy rich and are without a royal or military connection, then you can be held in contempt compared to those with status and loot. Gen Prayuth has “expressed his concerns about the future resumption of international travel under the Travel Bubble scheme, stressing Thailand must implement a vigorous arrivals screening.” Unless you are rich, royal or connected.





All hail the rich!

5 07 2020

Bloomberg reports that the regime’s “plan to target high-spending foreigners to kick-start its travel sector,” as promoted by the CP tycoon, “has a green light after winning Cabinet approval and additional support from the nation’s aviation regulator.”

Now with an almost total ban on foreign travelers the “Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand added a clause to also allow those who have ‘special arrangements’ with the government.” We thought king and queen and any guest or the Army boss. But, no, this is for the filthy rich of the world.

Chula Sukmanop, director general of the CAAT, “explained”: “Many in the high-spending, high-income groups avoided direct impact from the pandemic, but couldn’t come here because of travel restrictions…”. Trust royalists to take advantage of the class nature of the virus crisis and make it explicit.

Chula added: “I’ve spoken with private aircraft operators who said they have plenty of potential customers looking to charter a plane to here.” And he sounds ecstatic about the prospect of the wealthiest landing in Thailand:

The “special arrangement” group widens the market for “big spenders,” whose applications could be treated on a “fast-track basis that requires case-by-case approval,” Chula said. The biggest proportion of visitors in the initial phase will qualify through one of the travel-bubble agreements Thailand makes with other nations, he said.

Somprawin Manprasert, chief economist at Bank of Ayudhya, observed: “This won’t do much to help the many small hotel operators in the country…”.

Despite Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s lame denials that his regime does favors for his favorite Sino-Thai tycoons, when it comes to the domestic super-rich, there’s a veritable smorgasbord of wealth enhancement projects in the works.

The Nation reports that the “Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry has announced plans to establish 3,000 foreign investment funds to support Thai farmers and deal with food shortages.” That’s shortages outside Thailand.

Deputy Minister Prapat Pothasuthon said his “ministry is in talks with the Capital Trust Group and related private agencies on plans to establish 3,000 foreign funds to enhance agricultural businesses in Thailand and create food sustainability…. This move also aims to boost [Thai] farmers’ liquidity by creating channels that connect them with institutional investors worldwide managing total assets of US$40 trillion…”.

This won’t do much to help many small farmers in the country. Watch the financial whales breach and grasp the profits.

Then there’s the “megaprojects” being developed by the giant bag of loot also known as the Ministry of Transport: “eight motorway-railway projects linking economic zones with Thailand’s border regions…”. Minister Saksayam Chidchob added “double-track rail projects would be constructed to link the economic zones with border checkpoints around the country…”.

Buriram relatives  and party faithful must be rubbing their hands and the super-rich will be the contractors.





Further updated: It is still a military regime IX

4 07 2020

It seems amazing to PPT that so many commentators still lament the loss of democracy under the current regime. Are they bonkers? When was this regime ever interested in democracy? Since 2014, there has been no democracy. There’s only authoritarianism in a rigged political, constitutional and judicial system.

So it is that Khaosod reports that police have “summoned the crew behind a recent light spectacle marking the army’s 2010 crackdown on anti-government protests…. Pannika Wanich, the leader of The Progressive Movement, said the contractors involved in the stunt were instructed to report to a police station for questioning.” And to add to that threat, “security authorities visited their homes…”.

This is the group that “[i]n May, … projected the slogan #SeekTheTruth onto various landmarks across Bangkok, including the Ministry of Defense headquarters.”

Pannika said that this amounted to an infringement of free speech, adding that the authorities “are intimidating the artists.”

It is the Ministry of Defense that has lodged the police complaint.

Update 1: Related reports are of internet tracking by the regime. At New Mandala, “Internet providers are helping the Thai government track down dissidents” is a disturbing account. It includes some suggestions on how to skirt some of the tracking. In a similar vein, “Protect our web browsing history against snoopers” also has some suggestions on avoiding the snooping.

Update 2: Prachatai reports on the the police and the light works team. It makes it clear that the police are engaged in harassment, with “… Pol Maj Gen Methee Rakpan, Commander of the Metropolitan Police Bureau’s Division 6, [saying] that he could not tell whether the campaign had broken any law.”





Wanchalerm’s enforced disappearance

3 07 2020

Wanchalearm

Keeping the spotlight on the unexplained “disappearance” of Wanchalearm Satsaksit, the BBC has a long feature article detailing the events and background to the likely state abduction of the political activist, then living in exile in Cambodia.

As the report observes, he is “the ninth exiled critic of Thailand’s military and monarchy to become a victim of enforced disappearance in recent years.”

We feel it is worth reading in full. There’s not a lot that is new for those who have been following the case, but it is useful to have it brought together.

The report emphasizes that those who abducted Wanchalearm were armed and threatening to those who tried to intervene. The abductors used a black SUV, often a sign of state involvement.

His satirical political commentary “made fun continuously of the military junta. He made fun of Gen Prayuth [Chan-ocha] … he made fun of other generals.”According to human rights observer Sunai Phasuk, Wanchalearm’s social media interventions were to “show that a commoner can make fun of those in power. That seemed to be the way of getting even with the oppressors.”

It seems the oppressors came to hate him and to fear his wit and popularity in Thailand, especially in the northeast. They had been after him since the 2014 military coup and issued an “arrest warrant for Wanchalearm based on allegations he violated the Computer-Related Crime Act” in June 2018, with the authorities vowing to bring him back to Thailand. Now he’s gone.

Jakrapob

Jakrapob Penkair, also a political exile, says the junta/post-junta message is clear:

Let’s kill these folks. These are outsiders, these are people who are different from us and they should be killed in order to bring Thailand back to normalcy….

The reaction in Thailand to Wanchalearm’s disappearance has varied by political position, with regime supporters, royalists and yellow shirts cheering.

However, it has also “sparked protests in Bangkok, with demonstrators accusing the Thai government of involvement, while demanding the Cambodian government investigate the case fully.”

The enforced disappearance also caused the “hashtag ‘#abolish112’ was also written or retweeted more than 450,000 times.” The undertone is that the king is involved in these disappearances:

Many activists believe this abduction is linked to the palace, but the strict laws against any negative comment on the monarchy make this a dangerous link to explore or investigate.

Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, described as “a prominent activist who served seven years in jail on charges of lese majeste” explains that:

The objective of kidnapping is to kill him and to create the atmosphere of fear in Thailand and other countries where [Thai] people are active in criticising the monarchy….

Somyot is reported to be “in little doubt as to who was behind the disappearance”:

The government knows very well about this kidnap and disappearance. I can insist that the government are the ones behind this violation….

The regime says it knows nothing. No one believes it.





Demonstrating double standards

2 07 2020

Double standards have been a defining feature of the judiciary and the so-called independent agencies since the 2006 military coup. Confidence in the judiciary has declined and the “independent” agencies are a laughable.

Even so, they continue to coordinate on double standards. The reports of the last day or so shout DOUBLE STANDARDS!

The Constitutional Court ruled on 1 July that the ruling party’s Bangkok MP Sira Jenjaka had not abused his authority when in August 2019 he jetted off to Phuket to involve himself in case there and “attacked a police officer … for not providing him with an escort.” The loudmouthed Bangkok MP shouted at the hapless policeman, describing himself as a big shot who should have police escorts. The Palang Pracharath Party hack now plans to sue the 57 MPs who brought the complaint. It remains unclear why a Bangkok MP was involved in local affairs in Phuket.

Then there’s everyone’s favorite convicted criminal and deputy minister, Thammanat Prompao, also of the Palang Pracharath Party.  The Constitutional Court also rejected a petition against him. The Court had been asked “to rule on the eligibility of Thamanat … holding a seat in parliament due to his wife’s business dealings with The Port Authority of Thailand (PAT).” This wife, one of two, “holds shares in Klongtoey Market (2551) Co Ltd, and the company entered into a land lease contract with the … PAT.” He was claimed to be in breach of Article 184 of the constitution. While that article is straightforward and applies to spouses, “the court said it found the contract with PAT is not monopolistic. Therefore, there is no reason for Mr Thamanat to lose his status as an MP.” We have no idea why a monopoly matters in this case, except for the Court is slippery interpretation.

We suppose that ruling royalist party MPs getting off is par for the course these days and that the cases might sort of slip by as “normal” these days.

But then there is other news that makes it all reprehensible.

It is reported that:

Thailand’s National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has found that former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra abused her power, in violation of Section 157 of the Criminal Code, for her illegal removal, nine years ago, of Thawil Pliensri, from his post as secretary-general of the National Security Council and subsequent reassignment to the PM’s Office as an advisor.

NACC deputy secretary-general, Niwatchai Kasemmongkol, said today (Wednesday) that the NACC’s investigative panel found that  Thawil’s abrupt transfer was carried out with undue haste, taking just four days for the entire process to be completed.

Readers will recall that Yingluck was unanimously found at fault by the Constitutional Court and dismissed from office for the transfer of a top security officer, Thawil Pliensri, as National Security Council secretary-general in 2011.

That, following the 2014 coup, the junta summarily transferred hundreds of officials counts for nothing. It’s okay when the royalist thugs do it under conditions where only their “law” matters via retrospective edicts and so on.

Now the NACC “wants to bring another case against former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra in the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions.” The NACC “will ask that Ying­luck be indicted for malfeasance and abuse of power.”

These royalist minions to the junta/post-junta are a nasty lot, but this action seems oddly vindictive. Why are they doing it? It is our guess that the regime’s bosses (again) see Thaksin Shinawatra as “stirring up trouble,” so they hit the family again.

 





Authoritarians and technocrats aligned

1 07 2020

One of the outcomes of the virus crisis around the world has been the rise of technocrats. They need to be watched as closely as the authoritarians, especially when their expertise is politicized. This is not just in Thailand; it is a global phenomenon.

Two examples will keep this post short. First, as a Bangkok Post points out, the medicos have developed big heads:

The Medical Council yesterday gave people a rather unpleasant surprise with its announcement detailing the obligations of patients seeking medical services….

Most important of all, the Medical Council is a professional body whose main missions are to register and regulate medical practitioners and maintain medical standards in the country.

In issuing the order, the council relied on the Medical Profession Act of 1982 which empowered it to “promote the studies, research, and professional practices in medicine” and “to assist, to advise, to disseminate and to educate the public and other organisations in matters concerning medicine and public health”.

The law does not seem to allow the council to “regulate” the public when it comes to medical services, however. That means the announcement’s status is questionable. Its content is also unclear and impractical.

The second case involves the authoritarian state and technocrats:

… all passengers boarding Bangkok’s MRT and BTS must check in and out via the Thailand Wins system. The new rule comes on the same day social distancing measures will be dropped and all seats made available.

In addition to recording their travel with the tracking app, commuters are asked to refrain from talking while riding the rails, the operators of both systems announced early this evening. The State Railway of Thailand has yet to announce that it will require the same aboard its Airport Rail Link system.

This means the regime can now track all of its Bangkok-based opponents more effectively, while hiding behind “medical advice.” The slippery slope is well lubricated and it is steep and deep.





Poverty, emergency rule and the military-backed regime

1 07 2020

No one really needs “critics” to explain the reasons for the regime has further extended its “virus crisis” emergency rule by another month.

As the military powerbrokers who have run the regime since the 2014 coup exert control over their party, they also prepare for sharing the spoils of their control of the state.

Think how much wealthier the local dark influences like convicted heroin smuggler and minister Thammanat Prompao can become as they keep the generals safe in power. Emergency rule provides the cover for the deals being done.

How’s that working out for the rest of the country? Not so well it seems, with the World Bank forecasting “it will take Thailand at least two years to resume its pre-Covid real growth level…”. But, that was “already one of the lowest in the region at 2.8% in 2019…”.

The World Bank has said the economy will contract by at least 5% this year. The Asian Development Bank  and International Monetary Fund (IMF) reckon it will be a 6.5% contraction. But the “Bank of Thailand (BOT) is more pessimistic … revis[ing] its gross domestic product (GDP) estimate downwards to a 8.1% contraction, worse than the 7.6% contraction of 1997…”.

What really matters is the impact on average people. The World Bank says the “number of those living on less than US$5.5 per day (the World Bank’s definition of ‘economically insecure’) in the kingdom has more than doubled from 4.7 million in the first quarter of 2020 to 9.7 million in the second quarter.”

Over the period of the junta, Thailand’s the poverty rate had already expanded from 7.2%  to 9.9%. Since the virus crisis lockdown, poverty has expanded from the agricultural sector. According to the World Bank, it “is now reaching to the traditional economically secure or middle-class households in services and manufacturing.”

Some estimates are that a quarter of people lost jobs or were laid-off during the shutdown.

While the regime put a number of relief programs in place, many of these support the already wealthy – even the super rich – and others are overly bureaucratic and miss many of the most vulnerable people.

It seems the regime knows that the suffering is widespread. Its response is consolidation and probably more repression.





Thanet’s long trial

30 06 2020

A few days ago, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reported on the long-running set of cases against Thanet Anantawong. A couple of news outlets picked up the story, including The Thaiger.

A photo from The Straits Times of a damaged statue at Rajabhakti Park

Thanet’s case goes back to 2015 and protests against the Army’s huge posterior polish of the monarchy when it opened its tacky Rajabhakti Park of giant bronzes of selected kings. The Army was accused of corruption and students and activists demonstrated. Thanet supported them.

This sent Army thugs in search of reasons to jail Thanet, a red shirt. A military court soon issued a warrant for the arrest of the working class 25 year-old on charges of lese majeste, inciting disorder and computer crimes, accused of having shared an infographic detailing the corruption, criticized Privy Council President Gen Prem Tinsulanonda and commented on the death in custody of then then Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn’s soothsayer,  Suriyan Sujaritpalawong in five Facebook posts.

The lese majeste charge was quietly dropped soon after he was arrested but the other charges remained, alleging that Thanet’s posts “caused people to dislike the government, leading to protests to topple it.”

When arrested, Thanet was dragged from a hospital bed, and eventually spent 3 years and 10 months in jail awaiting some of the charges to be heard.

TLHR report that Thanet has now “been acquitted of national security and computer crime charges…”. Showing the good sense that is so often missing from the royalist judiciary, the court ruled “that while Thanet may have had different views from those in power at the time, he acted constitutionally:

The court believes his expression of opinions was not intended to stir up sedition or disobedience among people to the extent it could cause unrest in the kingdom or law violations. It was legitimate free speech. Since the witnesses and evidence of the plaintiff do not carry sufficient weight to warrant a guilty verdict, we’ve dismissed the charges.

The notion of “legitimate free speech” is something the courts should be held to in future.





The tycoons and the regime

29 06 2020

In what looks like one of its regular paid adverts masquerading as news and called “PR story,” the Bangkok Post has an account of Chia Tai, a CP family company. It “reports” a recent “volunteering activity under its ‘Chia Tai Volunteer Project’ corporate social responsibility initiative whereby its staff join forces to make a difference in the community during the crisis.”

We guess this is yet another PR activity associated with Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s call to the country’s billionaires for support in responding to the enormous economic downturn associated with the virus crisis. CP has been doing pretty well during the crisis. So have others in the ranks of the giant conglomerates, so the PR seems like a political strategy.

This CP PR exercise involves the distribution of food boxes in communities surrounding Chia Tai Headquarters on Sukhumvit 60. Interestingly, it is said to be “supported by Phrakhanong District Office and Internal Security Operation Command (ISOC)…”.

As part of the embedding of the military in society, ISOC seems to be everywhere.

We can’t say for sure how far the mutual back-scratching between company, military and regime goes, but CP has done pretty darn well, soaking up state funds and helping itself. And there’s probably much more to come.

For example, the Bangkok Post recently reported that the “Industry Ministry is planning 1.9 billion baht in spending to help farmers and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as part of a 10-billion-baht pandemic relief proposal submitted to the National Economic and Social Development Council.”

Farmers, right? Well, not really. Industry Minister Suriya Juangroongruangkit said his ministry wants to “develop the whole agricultural industry from upstream to downstream production…”. The biggest beneficiary is likely to be CP’s Chearavanont family, one of the country’s largest landowners and long pushing for a more industrial-style agriculture.

The latter is being taken up by the regime in yet another virus crisis spend: “projects to cultivate sustainable growth include a 16.05-billion-baht project to develop five million rai covering 5,450 large-scale farms. The aim is to implement more machinery on large-sized farms to increase the value of production by about 11 billion baht a year.” And this is packaged among a bunch of state splurges said to be about promoting the dead king’s trite “New Theory”-cum-sufficiency economy, in the “agriculture sector which will cover a total of 240,000 rai.”

The mantra for sufficiency economy is as meaningless as it has ever been, but it polishes the royal family posterior and allows the regime to trumpet its “loyalty.” The importsant thing seems to be that the tycoons rub the regime’s tummy and the regime scratches the tycoons’ collective back. And, the taxpayer coughs up the loot.





Further updated: It is still a military regime VIII

28 06 2020

Perhaps the most concerning story we have seen for a while was in the Bangkok Post today.

Wassana Nanuam produced yet another of her regular propaganda pieces for the military. In among all the buffalo manure about what a great job the military has been doing (sans creating Thailand’s largest virus cluster, a mass shooting in Korat, trying to jail whistleblowers, destroying historical monuments, overthrowing elected governments, murdering civilians, etc.), there’s a note that Deputy Defence Minister Gen Chaichan Changmongkol has declared the ongoing need “for the military to assist the government in containing the spread of the novel coronavirus…”. That there’s essentially no local virus transmission seems not to be an issue in deciding that the the military should be in control. The general was meeting with the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) and the armed forces.

Clipped from Straits Times

Really worrying, though, is the decision to have military personnel “provide support to schools when they reopen on Wednesday, in ensuring social distancing and disease control measures laid down by the Public Health Ministry are observed.” The idea of soldiers being embedded in schools is just another step in establishing the dominance of the military over all of society.

Update 1: Not on schools, but on the military-backed regime’s repression, we were interested to read that the regime’s thugs continue to stalk political opponents. Such measures are threats. When the threats are considered to have failed, the regime’s next step has tended to be to have the thugs bash the opponent.

Update 2: Continuing the military thugs’ stalking of political opponents, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reports on Nattathida Meewangpla. The story they tell is remarkably similar to that in Update 1. It seems that the military thugs have not left her alone – that is, unthreatened – since she was finally bailed out of prison in 2018.