Criticism = sedition

11 12 2017

Criticism = sedition if the critic is considered an “opponent,” meaning a red shirt, a Thaksinista or a member of the Puea Thai Party.

A few days ago we posted on Peau Thai Party one-time deputy spokeswoman Sunisa Lertpakawat making some basic criticisms of the military regime which were not all that different from criticisms in the mainstream media.

This led the prickly junta to file charges against her. It has singled out “opponents” in the past for special “legal” attention, including the crude use of lese majeste against Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa as one among several thousand who shared an accurate news story on King Vajiralongkorn.

The junta has now filed a sedition case against her and several more.

The Nation reports that she will report to the police to acknowledge “six charges … for allegedly committing sedition and violating the Computer Crime bill by uploading false information to her Facebook page.

The Dictator and his junta are a gaggle of spineless cowards, unwilling to accept criticism from political opponents. Indeed, in a sign of deepening repression, they are turning on allies in a campaign that cannot go well for Thailand.





Further updated: Pots and kettles I

11 12 2017

There’s an English saying about the “pot calling the kettle black.” It means something like people should not criticize someone else for a fault that they have themselves. In Thailand, when discussing current politics, it is sometimes difficult to determine which is a pot and which is a kettle, and the blackness seems equally deep and sooty.

So when we read the Bangkok Post: and discover one confirmed and frequent liar being called out by another of similar ilk we do get to wondering.

Government spokesman Lt. Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd and (anti)Democrat Party rich leader and Korn Chatikavanij have been going at each other.

According to this report, by Veera Prateepchaikul, a former editor of the Bangkok Post sides with Korn:

Lt Gen Sansern, who is also acting director-general of the Public Relations Department, accused former finance minister Korn Chatikavanij, without naming him, of being an opportunist craving media space with an intention to lead the public into believing the government has not been doing anything.

The publicity which appeared to upset the spokesman was just Mr Korn’s recommendations to the government on how it could help rice farmers shore up rice prices during the months of November and December when the main crops were to be harvested.

We can understand criticism of Korn on rice policy; after all, he’s never been assigned any work in a rural area, although he now claims “four years” of work on a rich kid botique rice marketing scheme (read about it here, which begins with an incorrect assertion about what Thais think of rice. We think he means his rich brethren).

What was more interesting, though, was Korn’s licking of the pot:

Korn said the government should be more open-minded and receptive to divergent opinions as several policies could help farmers.

He lectured the spokesman and urged him to distinguish friend from foe and not to sow the seed of conflict.

He also reminded the lieutenant-general that there are people outside the government who are loyal and have good intentions toward the country.

Korn is reminding the dictatorship to be nice to its political allies, which includes the coup-loving and coup-provoking Democrat Party.

Apparently Korn has “discovered” and recommended a variant on the long-standing rice pledging scheme that pays a guaranteed minimum price for rice (a plan implemented by others in the past).

Even if Korn is recycling policy, he’s also telling the junta to be gentle with friends.

Seemingly to emphasize this, former Democrat Party leader and former prime minister Chuan Leekpai has demanded that party members not be “persistent” in “asking the regime to lift its ban on political activities…”.

Chuan and “other party executives agreed party members should not keep demanding political restrictions be lifted.” He stressed that if there are delays, the junta should be blamed. But he is also wary of poking his bear-like friends in the junta.

Chuan, who supported to military coups and judicial activism to bring down elected governments then banged on about “democracy.” The “real obstacle” to “democracy” is “people who do not uphold democracy…”.

As far as we can tell, the Democrat Party is chock full of people who do not uphold democracy, including Chuan himself. The Democrat Party has a long history of supporting royalist anti-democracy. Indeed, that was the reason the party was formed.

Update 1: Interestingly, Chuan seems keen to advise the junta on its political base (shared with the Democrat Party). Worried about that base, Chuan “appealed to premier [General] Prayut Chan-o-cha to address falling household income in the South.” Chuan showed that under the junta, average incomes had fallen substantially in several southern provinces.

His advice has been taken up, at least according to the report: “Based on Mr Chuan’s petition, the government had announced a policy of boosting people’s income in a bid to pull the country out of the so-called middle-income trap.”

Chuan worries that the junta makes the Democrat Party look bad as they are seen as political allies.

Update 2: In another political reminder to the junta, anti-democrat leader and “former” Democrat Party deputy leader Suthep Thaugsuban has re-emerged to announced “that he would release a video clip showing the group’s fight during 2013-2014 ‘to commemorate the fight that we fought together’.”

While he did not explain who the “we” were, his latest move suggested to some commentators that he wanted to address the junta. His group supported the junta and allegedly invited them to take office during the months-long protests.

Observers “believe Suthep wanted to remind the junta of their fight and the purpose of their fight” and to oppose the junta’s plan to establish its own political party, which is said to “contradict the PDRC’s initial purpose.” He’s also worried that the junta is “losing” the south.





On Constitution Day

10 12 2017

Constitution Day remains a holiday, but most of the meaning of the event has been drained away by palace propaganda aided and abetted by decades of royalist governments.

Pravit Rojanaphruk at Khaosod asks: “what’s really left to really celebrate?” It is a good question.

Eight and a half decades after the 1932 revolt put the “constitutional” into constitutional monarchy, the kingdom has seen too many charters discarded. The current one is No. 20. Divide that by 85 years, you get an average lifespan for Thai constitutions of just slightly over four years.

An average car is more durable. A typical refrigerator is going to get more use.

He argues that almost no one in Thailand “a strong attachment to the Thai constitution.”

That’s only partly true. There are those who have an attachment to the first 1932 constitution. That is the one that represented the spirit of 1932 before the royalists began rolling it back and replacing people’s sovereignty with royalism.

Of course, there’s no reason to celebrate the junta’s 2017 Constitution. This document is the spirit of military despotism, paternalism and anti-democracy. We at PPT would celebrate this military charter cast into history’s dustbin, along with the aged flunkies who crafted it.

One Bangkok Post story that caught our attention for Constitution Day concerns a group of political activists who “will petition the Constitutional Court to lift one of the junta’s orders on the grounds that it is an outright violation of the constitution.”

Violating constitutions is pretty much stock-in-trade for the junta.

The Democracy Restoration Group of the New Democracy Movement, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights and “representatives of people affected by NCPO Order No.3/2558 announced the move at Thammasat University on Saturday.”

That order “bans freedom of assembly and empowers soldiers to summon any person to testify and to detain people for up to seven days, among others.”

The activists seem determined to keep the pressure on the junta for its illegal rule.

And then there was another Bangkok Post story – indeed, an editorial – that seemed to fit Constitution Day for its gentle push-back on the royal re-acquisition of the old zoo, consolidating royal property and privatizing it.

It begins with what seems like a justification for the new zoo which is expected to begin construction around 2019. But then it carefully changes tack, referring to “a few concerns about the new site.” Distance, entrance fees,  lack of public transport. It then gets really interesting:

One key question remains about the future of the old Dusit Zoo after the relocation is completed….

But the [zoo] agency should be aware that any decision on the future of the zoo should be based on the history of the place.

Acknowledging that history, the Post calls for the old zoo to become “a botanical garden or a park for public use.”

That’s a rare call in a neo-feudal military dictatorship.





Military and monarchy as Siamese twins

10 12 2017

The Asia Times has another long commentary on Thailand’s political predicament by Shawn Crispin. There’s some interesting bits and pieces.

For one thing, it is stated that in “the lead-up to the cremation of … King Bhumibol …, authorities rounded up 42 suspects at check points around the royal ceremony…”. Further,

Rights groups and diplomats monitoring the arrests say the detained suspects likely face prosecution on national security-related charges for threatening the ceremony, including under the penal code’s harsh lese majeste provision that shields the royal family from defamation, insult and threat.

It is interesting that Crispin credits The Dictator “for steering a smooth succession from Bhumibol to Vajiralongkorn, a delicate transition many feared could spark instability.” To be honest, we think the “delicate transition” was a bit of a beat up.

The next royal big deal, he says, is “Vajiralongkorn’s formal coronation, now seen as astrologically auspicious to be held in March…”.

Crispin asks “how stable is the transition from royal old to new, and how serious is the threat posed by anti-monarchists supposedly lurking in the shadows?”

He notes that Vajiralongkorn “has set a tone for his reign in moves that diplomats and analysts say shows his intent to shake-up royal institutions in terms of personnel, protocol and operations.”

That’s somewhat bland for what he’s doing, which is erasing all notion of popular sovereignty in favor of a monarchy that is independent of all checks and balances introduced after 1932.

Crispin says that the “Royal Household Bureau has also openly targeted those found to have abused their palace positions or association for personal gain.”

That’s somewhat bland for what somewhat bland for what’s happened. Rather, the new king has been purging the palace and appointing his trusted allies.

One interesting observation is that “[c]hampions of the new reign say the housecleaning is overdue and that ill-deeds grew in the latter years of Bhumibol’s reign when he was hospitalized for ill-health.”

That’s what might be expected, but it is one of the first statements of the fact that the new reign is embedding in a manner that is essentially neo-feudal and that shifts political and economic power to the palace.

The notion that the new palace will “challenge the big business families that have long leveraged royal connections to corner sectors of the economy, a commercial domination that has grown since the 2014 coup” seems to come out of nowhere, but it is known that the king maintains relations with several Sino-Thai tycoons.

It isn’t clear to us that Vajiralongkorn taking “full control of the Crown Property Bureau …[and] the board of the palace’s Royal Project Foundation,” seems like him establishing his dominance and lining his pockets rather than a challenge to the big tycoons.

Crispin is correct to note that the military junta has “unquestioningly” done the palace’s bidding, but adds a note:

Thailand’s military and monarchy have long had a symbiotic relationship, with the former sworn to the protection of the latter, but the new emerging balance between the two powerful institutions is still being determined under Vajiralongkorn’s young new reign.

Both General Prayuth Chan-ocha and the king are self-centered and erratic, leading to concerns that the two may clash.

Crispin is also on the money when he notes that the king is asserting authority of Bangkok-based military units, He refers to the “absorption of military combat units, including the First Region Command’s First Infantry Division, a top-fighting force, into the king’s personal guard.”

That division “was recently moved from the military’s main command in Bangkok to Vajiralongkorn’s secondary Tawee Wattana palace on the capital’s outskirts, with certain soldiers transferred upcountry.”

On the transition to an “elected” government, Crispin observes the junta’s reluctance and suggests that “anti-monarchy elements remain bent on undermining the royal institution…” may be a “reason” for further “election” delays. at a still uncertain juncture of the succession.

He reckons that there are 1,000 lese majeste complaints “still under police investigation…”. That’s a whole lot of anti-monarchists and a whole lot of justification for ongoing military repression.

For the moment, the junta and the king remain joined as Siamese twins in neo-feudal repression.





More secret palace deals

9 12 2017

In a secret consideration, the junta’s puppet National Legislative Assembly (NLA) has approved “adjustments to the law that manages the safety and security of … the [k]ing and members of the [r]oyal [f]amily.”

After the event, it is reported that the NLA “voted unanimously to approve an amendment to the 2014 Law of Royal Safety in line with the 2017 Constitution, as well as a new law concerning the Royal household.”

The amendment to the 2014 law reportedly “authorises the Principal Private Secretary to … the [k]ing to provide security services to the monarchy rather than a committee chaired by Chief of Aide de Camp General to … the [k]ing, as stipulated in the old law…”.

The previous committee “included military commanders and other relevant officials…”. Whether there will be a new committee is apparently up to the Principal Private Secretary. That person:

… will also be in charge of security and safety services for … the [k]ing and members of the [r]oyal [f]amily whenever they travel abroad…. The old law commissioned the Aide de Camp Department [of the military] and the Foreign Ministry to take care of their safety. Under the new law, the Principal Private Secretary … will plan and command safety measures for … the [k]ing….

The 2014 Law on Royal Safety also “authorised the prime minister to be involved in the approval of safety plans for … the [k]ing and members of the [r]oyal [f]amily.” That role is now gone.

It is reported that the “amendment will be promulgated in the Royal Gazette later,” and that the “content of the new amendment was not available to the public during the NLA debate.”

This is another move consolidating palace affairs in the king’s hands and a process of removing all vestiges of civilian control of the monarchy and palace that were put in place in 1932 and after.

Earlier, the NLA had approved the transfer of the Royal Household Bureau, Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary, Royal Aide-De-Camp Department, Office of Royal Court Security Police and Royal Security Command, formerly under control of the Ministry of Defense, the Prime Minister’s Office and the police, to the king.

He’s continuing the process of making the monarchy independent of any notion of civilian and parliamentary control. The previous justification for the move was that issues related to the king and his family could not be served by the state bureaucracy.

Not that long ago, the arrangements for control of the fabulously wealthy Crown Property Bureau were passed to the king in another secret set of dealings.





Cowardly and prickly

8 12 2017

Peau Thai Party deputy spokeswoman Sunisa Lertpakawat has made some basic and obvious criticisms of the military regime.

According to the Bangkok Post, she has “posted several messages on her Facebook page, criticising the junta on several issues.” After more than three years of absolute control, the junta finds any kind of criticism challenging. In fact, the generals find it demeaning, believing that because they are top dogs, no one can be permitted to criticize them. The critics are but dust under their military boots.

Sunisa made comments about the string of deaths of soldiers and cadets usually beaten and kicked by officers. In another post she lambasted the junta for taking charitable donations for hospitals rather than funding them from the state’s budget. Sunisa also criticized The Dictator for his denigration of rubber farmers in the south.

These are all stories that have had considerable media attention, but the generals, behaving like princelings, can’t abide anything they see as criticism from the Pueau Thai Party.

The prickly junta has now filed a case against her.

Burin Thongprapai, an army staff judge advocate, on Wednesday lodged a complaint against Lt Sunisa at the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD), accusing her of importing false information into a computer system in violation of the Computer Crime Act and the Criminal Code.

Col Burin acted on behalf of the NCPO, which issued an order on the same day to press charges against her.

Sunisa responded appropriately to the junta’s childish bullying:

“If Gen Prayut orders his subordinate to file charges against me because I made too harsh criticisms against them, it means Gen Prayut is not suitable to be the prime minister — he is too cowardly to listen to other people’s opinions.”

These generals consider themselves above the rest of the population. They are despots demanding order and submission.





Updated: A corrupt general and his bling

7 12 2017

Just yesterday we noted that when the new cabinet convened for a group photo in front of Government House a social media storm erupted over Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan wearing a watch worth more than four times his annual salary.

It is not uncommon for generals are often obsessed by expensive watches. They are also attached to bling, with, for example, Prawit often seen wearing expensive diamond rings that cost a small fortune and he wears heavy gold chains and amulets.

Khaosod reported that versions of the Rolex watch worn by Prawit can sell for up to 24 million baht, with even the lowest priced models in this range go for 11-12 million baht.

Caught out, the “second in command of the ruling junta said … he’s willing to discuss his taste for luxury wristwatches with an anti-corruption agency, but not the public – and certainly not reporters.”

Of course not! We might add that dozens of cases involving this regime have gone to the National Anti-Corruption Commission but none have resulted in any action. Dozens more cases of unusually rich members of the junta and its puppet legislators have never been investigated.

When pushed, Prawit refused to “specify if he obtained the watch before or after taking office.” He responded:

“Don’t know. I won’t answer. I will answer to the NACC. I don’t know why I should answer to you people. If I answered, the media will elaborate on it,” Prawit said, insisting he has not been involved in any corruption.

The media soon revealed that the seemingly pricey watch (we doubt he’d wear a fake) was not included in the Deputy Dictator’s 2014 asset declaration. This led the junta’s NACC to state that it “plans to launch an investigation into … Prawit Wongsuwan’s possession of what appears to be an extravagantly luxurious watch, which has not been declared in his assets.” Previous experience suggests a whitewash is likely.

The Bangkok Post did more digging on social media and online and added that the diamond ring worn by Prawit (he’s been wearing it for months) was worth about 4 million baht. In other words, in the group photo, Prawit was wearing bling worth from 16 to 30 million baht.

The Post also compared Prawit’s 2008 and 2014 asset declarations. In 2008, he reported assets of almost 57 million baht and salary/income of about 830,000 baht. In 2014, his assets grew to about 87 million baht and his income rose to 874,000 baht. Almost all the change in assets was in cash in the bank, which increased by about 28 million baht over the six years. The NACC didn’t see reason to ask how that increase happened.

We will not be holding our breath waiting for the NACC to come up with an “explanation” for Prawit’s expensive trinkets.

Update: While it is widely known, the Bangkok Post actually reported that NACC president Police General Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit was not just appointed under the junta (which only appoints the “trustworthy”) but a “a close aide of Pol Gen Patcharawat Wongsuwon, younger brother of Gen Prawit, when Pol Gen Patcharawat served as the police chief.” It adds:

After the May 2014 coup, Pol Gen Watcharapol was appointed secretary-general handling political affairs for Gen Prawit who became deputy prime minister. After being selected later as NACC president, Pol Gen Watcharapol assured the public that the NACC would be independent and transparent under his presidency, saying the NACC welcomed any attempt by the media to hold it accountable.

That’s how military dictatorship rolls.