The Dictator on the campaign trail

23 08 2017

When the military junta ordered the media to do more to promote the junta-cabinet, it was seen as an effort to manipulate the media. We said it was a neutering of the media.

What we neglected was that The Dictator was moving back into campaign mode and seeking to promote his premiership both now and into the future. We also neglected the regime’s desire to outshine Yingluck Shinawatra; it’s no accident that The Dictator and friends were in the northeast in the same week that Yingluck gets a “verdict.”

As a report in The Nation points out, General Prayuth Chan-ocha is not only copying ideas – mobile cabinet meetings – from two former prime ministers who were hugely popular, Chatichai Choonhavan and Thaksin Shinawatra, but he is promoting an anti-politics populism.

He’s also taken on a style of political campaigning that draws on Thaksin’s At Samart trip in 2006, featuring villagers, local transport, laughing old ladies close to him, along with various farm animals. The pictures here tell some of the story.

Certainly, The Dictator, Thailand’s anti-politics politician and the only politician permitted to campaign, is campaigning like there’s no tomorrow.

He declared:

“I’m not like those corrupt politicians. I’m not a politician. I’m only here to help end a political stalemate.” This is what Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha always says, trying to differentiate himself from the political class.

As The Nation notes: “However, like ‘those politicians’ that Prayut looks down on, the premier always manages to turn the spotlight on himself wherever he goes.”

But he also threatened – he is a dictator – saying that his term as premier would, eventually end, maybe: “If I can go, I will. Just don’t shoo me away. The more you do, the more I’ll stay on…”.

Like Thaksin in 2006, Prayuth was the “common man” and a man of the people as he “filled … his roller-coaster talks full of jokes, sarcasm, flattery and no-nonsense utterances.”

And, out-populist-ing Thaksin and Yingluck, “[self-appointed and unelected] Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha [The Dictator] and his govern­ment [military junta] have approved a hefty 68-billion-baht infrastructure package to rev up the Northeast’s economy…”.

It is a kind of you-love-Yingluck-but-we-can-be-generous-too move. It says, Yingluck may be gone, but the military dictatorship loves the northeasterners despite all the repression. It says, be good children and we, the military paternalists, will give you projects.

When The Dictator wanted to promote his team for an “election,” he decided to rewrite history; others might say he lied. “Who wants an election, put your hands up,” he demanded.

Silence.

The Dictator told them how they should vote: “we have got only bad people [from elections] so far because good people didn’t go to vote…. [D]on’t go back to the wrong guys again.”

Clearly he thinks northeasterners are dopes. They have always voted in large numbers, usually with far higher turnouts than in Bangkok. In other words, he’s a liar, trying (again) to tell people who to vote for. (He did this in 2011, too, and the electorate spurned him.)

The Nation also reports that The Dictator had more “advice.”

With a huge mobilization of troops and other junta thugs, Prayuth warned against “unrest.”It seems only the regime that is unsettled.

Officials have been “deployed to suppress red-shirt activists in the provinces from travelling to the Supreme Court…”.

Fear of “unrest” means quite unprecedented restrictions on freedoms of speech and movement. “Target” villages have been flooded with soldiers to prevent people from traveling to Bangkok.

Meanwhile, some red shirts worry that a “third party” might instigate violence so that red shirts are blamed, further enhancing The Dictator’s campaign for his premiership.





When the military is on top X

22 08 2017

We haven’t highlighted the normalization of military rule in Thailand for a while. Our last post on this was in early July and in addition to all the repression going on, which is now standard practice, we notice three stories worthy of attention as showing what to expect when military regimes are in place.

First, it is reported that yet another army recruit has dies in suspicious circumstances. The military, which usually “investigates” itself and compliant cops walk along with them, says, “no foul play.” His family says something different:

The soldier’s family found him unconscious in his bedroom and bleeding from the nose and mouth, according to his mother, Malaiporn. He was rushed to Surat Thani Hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

Ms Malaiporn said her son had returned home with two other conscripts on Saturday night, and had complained he was feeling tired. She said the two other conscripts had told her daughter that Pvt Noppadol had been physically disciplined in the camp.

This is not the first instance. We reproduce a Bangkok Post graphic here. When the military is on top, justice goes missing.

Second, and related, military officers become more or less untouchable when the military is on top:

National police chief Chakthip Chaijinda has been asked to speed up an investigation into the disappearance of a senior education official in Si Sa Ket after two new findings: suspicious activity on the woman’s Facebook account and a report that a female corpse has been found near the Thai-Lao border.

The mother of the missing official, Juthaporn Oun-on, 37, lodged a petition Monday with Pol Gen Chakthip at the Royal Thai Police Office asking for better progress in the case, which has already been going on for over a month.

Because a prime suspect is an army officer, “we’re afraid we’ll not receive fair treatment,” Ms Juthaporn’s mother Laem said, referring to the potential for a cover-up.

Third, when the military is on top, dictators become king-like/god-like in being “skilled” in almost everything. In Korat, The Dictator is claimed to have made decisions about railway design:

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has decided the Chira-Khon Kaen double track railway will be partially elevated when it passes through downtown Nakhon Ratchasima, ending local people’s worries the city would be divided by a giant wall according to the original plan….

The original design of the section, which would cut through roads in Muang district in 15 places, was due to be fenced by 2-metre walls….

“The premier’s order will result in changing the design, with a new round of construction bidding due to open,” he said.

”The budget will be increased by 2.2-2.6 billion baht,” he added, adding this will be on the agenda of the mobile cabinet meeting in Nakhon Ratchasima today.

The change might cause delays to the project of about 12 months, he said.

General Prayuth as populist rail designer? That’s what you get when the military is on top.





Junta repression deepens VI

22 08 2017

Thailand’s military dictatorship seems to be in a panic. As we recently posted, some of this seems to be caused by Yingluck Shinawatra’s upcoming verdict. But there’s more going on.

The Criminal Court has “sentenced Watana Muangsook, a key Pheu Thai Party figure and former commerce minister, to one month in prison, suspended for one year, and fined him 500 baht for contempt of court after broadcasting via Facebook Live at the court.” He was also ordered to “delete the clip from his Facebook page.”

The report at the Bangkok Post states that the “sentence was handed down while he was waiting for the court’s decision on whether to detain him on charges of inciting public chaos, breaching Section 116 of the Criminal Code.” It adds that that “charge is in connection with a case involving the removal of a memorial plaque commemorating the 1932 Siamese Revolution.”

A charge related to the plaque is quite bizarre given that the state has not acknowledged that the plaque was stolen or officially removed. Yet complaining about this historical vandalism is considered sedition. That the removal coincided with the royalist ceremonies associated with the junta’s faux constitution is evidence of official efforts to blot out anything not royalist or military in political life and memory.

Watana points out that:

…[T]he Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) on Monday submitted a request to detain the politician from Aug 21-Sept 1. Mr Watana was awaiting the ruling on that matter when he started filming in the court.

Earlier at the police station, Mr Watana acknowledged the charge of importing false information into a computer system in violation of the Computer Crime Act after he posted content relating to the plaque’s replacement on his Facebook page.

He was temporarily released on 200,000-baht bail for both charges.

He said it was not common for TCSD investigators to summon someone again after the person has already acknowledged the charges again him.

Mr Watana also said the detention request is intended to hinder him from giving moral support to former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra at the Supreme Court this Friday.

Then there are those academics and others who attended and organized the International Conference on Thai Studies at Chiang Mai University. They have reported to police and been fingerprinted while denying charges brought against them.

Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, director of the Regional Centre for Social Science and Sustainable Development at Chiang Mai University, met Chang Phuak police with Pakawadee Veerapatpong, Chaipong Samnieng, Nontawat Machai and Thiramon Bua-ngam after the summons had been issued for them on Aug 11, almost a month after the four-day 13th International Conference on Thai Studies at Chiang Mai University ended on July 18.

They face charges of assembling of more than four for political activities, which is prohibited by the National Council for Peace and Order.

As with the fit-ups of Pravit Rojanaphruk and Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, Chayan is being fitted up. He had nothing much to do with those protesting the military’s surveillance of conference attendees. The other four are also being fitted up as there were others who held the signs and appeared in photos, and these persons have not been summoned by the police.





Junta repression deepens V

22 08 2017

Thailand’s military dictatorship seems to be in a panic.

As we recently posted, some of this seems to be caused by Yingluck Shinawatra’s upcoming verdict. In that post, it was reported that police were to block entry to the government complex where the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions will convene.

We also reported statements that the police are about to set up road blocks nationwide (well, where they think the oppositional red shirts are located) to prevent people traveling to Bangkok for that verdict. As it turns out, it is military thugs who are setting up check points.

The Bangkok Post reports that troops began “setting up checkpoints on all key roads leading to Bangkok Monday to screen people heading to the capital…”.

The report adds that “[c]heckpoints are also being constructed in provincial areas and plainclothes police dispatched to provide security outside the capital…”.

Checkpoints are threatening for many, not least because troops can be trigger happy. Recall that no investigation has been completed regarding the apparent extrajudicial murder of Chaiyapoom Pasae, gunned down by troops months ago at a checkpoint.

In addition, “[o]utside Bangkok, officers are tasked with looking for potential ‘troublemakers’ among Ms Yingluck’s supporters.” In red shirt areas, the repressive actions are deepening: “… a 700-strong security force made mostly of soldiers was recently dispatched to Udon Thani…”.

At the court itself, the “Metropolitan Police Bureau (MPB) has decided to increase the number of officers in and around the court on Friday from 2,500 to 4,000. They will be supported by three helicopters, 20 riot-control vehicles and four ambulances…”.





Junta repression deepens IV

21 08 2017

The military junta’s fears for 25 August have reached the stage where it is going to set up nationwide roadblocks to prevent persons its thugs believe to be Yingluck Shinawatra supporters getting to Bangkok.

The Nation reports that police “plan to set up checkpoints at every gate of the Chaeng Wattana government complex, with only the main gate near the administrative court open.” In addition, “security checkpoints would be set up in various areas across the country starting on Wednesday.”

The police state that “[a]ny suspicious movement would be blocked and the people involved could be detained.”

This is a threat but also one that is likely to be carried out. The junta seems desperate.





Nepotism, face and boredom

21 08 2017

The Bangkok Post reports that the nephew of General Prayuth Chan-ocha and son of General Preecha Chan-ocha “has resigned from military service following criticism of nepotism over his appointment to an officer position…”.

Readers might recall that (the briefly, but forever holding the title) Sub Lt Patipat Chan-ocha was appointed to the “3rd Army’s Civil Affairs Division in Phitsanulok in April last year.”

The now former officer took “advantage of the high-profile position of his father, who was then permanent secretary for defence, to land the job.” He got some criticism until the powerful brothers denied any problems or issues.

There was also support for this nepotism, with some suggesting that the ‘position was natural given his upbringing in a military family.” These dopes seemed to suggest that being a military thug or a general’s son was somehow in his genes.

Patipat complained that he “had to remove many hostile comments posted on his Facebook page, block people who were not his friends and eventually had to deactivate his Facebook account.”

The person who revealed this also “added that Sub Lt Patipat was not personally interested in pursuing a military career but that his parents wanted to see him follow in his father’s footsteps.” Apparently he didn’t like the work and wasn’t very good at it.

That hasn’t stopped others. Indeed, many senior military officers aren’t very good at their jobs either, but they take the loot, make the connections, polish posteriors and do very nicely.

So there was nepotism – his parent’s pushed him – then the two generals had to save face, and now Patipat has become bored and discontented. That’s kind of definitional of Thailand’s military.





Neutering media

21 08 2017

The military dictatorship has generally been able to neuter the media. It got rid of most of the red shirt media soon after the 2014 military coup. It has then managed and manipulated the media. Initially, this did not require much effort as the mainstream media cheered the coup.

As the regime has gone on and on, some elements of the media have become just a little more critical of the junta’s nepotism, corruption, political repression and so on. The Dictator has shouted orders at journalists on those many occasions where he has felt the media should be doing more for his regime.

Most recently, as widely reported, the regime has been doing a little more to direct the media:

The government has ordered all television channels to promote the work of its ministers in an effort the head of its public relations division said was meant to take the focus off the prime minister.

Lt. Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, the government spokesman who heads its Public Relations Department, said Thursday that he ordered each channel assigned to different ministers because he did not want the coverage to focus only on the prime minister.

“I didn’t force them. I let them choose freely but each channel must do differently,” he said after word got out and the effort was slammed as state-mandated propaganda. “Some channels even asked me to choose for them, but I didn’t because I know each channel has a different interest.”

It should be no surprise that most media enthusiastically signed up.

Dissent in the media is difficult under a military regime. One example of rare but consistent dissent by a journalist has seen Pravit Rojanaphruk who is now being punished by the military junta. He says:

It never occurred to me that what I write could be seditious.

Under military rule, criticizing the junta on social media can be construed as an act of sedition, however.

I learned this the hard way when police rang me up at the end of last month, informing me that I had been charged with sedition for a number of my Facebook postings.

That this is yet another fit-up. Each of Pravit’s posts was critical of the military junta. Yes, criticizing the junta constitutes sedition in totalitarian Thailand.

Pravit comments on the junta’s charges:

… no one really knows what constitutes sedition under military rule makes this a chilling effect and ensures greater self-censorship of anything critical of the junta in social media, however. The hazier the boundaries of what constitutes sedition, the more effective they become in instilling fear.

It may also be baffling that people who criticize the military junta, which usurped and continues to usurp power from the people, are the ones being charged with sedition. Control is more effective when fear is induced by logic-defying situations because one suspends disbelief of the illogical and absurd in Juntaland Thailand any longer. When right is wrong, wrong is right and might is right, rationality no longer gives guidance. We live not under the rule of law but under rule by arbitrary law of the junta. And logic is not necessary. Just obey. In fact, to obey without logically asking why or questioning the legitimacy, or lack thereof, of the military regime, makes control effective. Just obey. Don’t ask what’s wrong with the order imposed upon us.

On the future and on dissent, he declares:

It’s a privilege and an honor to defend freedom of expression on social media during the past three years. It is also an honor to be singled out among the select few Thais who have stood up and effectively disturbed the make-believe world of Juntaland Thailand.

We cannot defend freedom of expression if we are not willing to pay the price. The price is worth paying when one takes the long-term benefits of society to heart.