Army vs. red shirts

28 05 2016

Prachatai reports on two related cases in the Provincial Court of Udon Thani.

On Wednesday, the court issued an arrest warrant for Kwanchai Sarakham, a red shirt leader, who did not appear to hear a court decision in a case that goes back to 2008 where “Kwanchai and other red shirts were indicted for assaulting members of the pro-establishment yellow-shirts and attempting to demolish their stage in Udon Thani…”.

There’s a series of stories here on the events. Note that the claims of one death were later withdrawn (“PAD gives petition to UN rights agency,” Bangkok Post, 29 July 2008). PAD had been invading red shirt sites at various northeastern provincial capitals prior to this clash.

Meanwhile, the same court “dismissed charges against five soldiers and a member of the Territorial Defence Volunteer Corps (TDVC) accused of shooting of a local redshirt leader [Kwanchai]…. The six were indicted for allegedly shooting Kwanchai in front of his house in Udon Thani on 22 January 2014. He was severely injured from the shooting, but survived.”

Kwanchai was shot soon after warning the army that he would mobilize red shirts against a coup.

No proof the court said. Of course not, no evidence against the military can be countenanced when the military junta is in place and when the potential assassins worked in the military’s interests.





Updated: Ill queen surfaces

27 05 2016

Little has been heard of the ill and aged queen for almost a year. She’s been ill since late 2010, not that long after she had actively gone to bat for the People’s Alliance for Democracy. She is widely believed to have suffered a stroke in mid-2012.

Queen

2015

Since then she’s spent time in hospital – said to be in a suite near where the king is kept alive. Following their brief release from hospital, the queen returned to Siriraj Hospital in late May 2015.

Khaosod reports that the queen “has undergone medical tests at Chulalongkorn Hospital which found insufficient blood flow to her brain…”. This statement of “insufficient blood flow to her brain” is exactly as the Royal Household Bureau reported it in 2012.

As usual in cases associated with royal health, she seems well immediately! The “test found no new abnormalities, and a check up of other body systems by computer X-ray found no changes compared to 2015…”.

Her last bout of “insufficient blood flow to her brain” was apparently a stroke and she underwent considerable rehabilitation. Even so, she remains out of sight and is said to struggle with walking and talking.

Update: As usual when it comes to royal health, the queen is now reported to be well again. In another one of those weirdly worded palace reports, after “[d]octors had invited the Queen to Chulalongkorn Hospital to have tests done with specialised instruments on Wednesday,” she returned to Siriraj on Friday, apparently as good as she was before there were reasons to “invite” her for scans at Chulalongkorn. The swollen-kneed doctors say they “were satisfied with the results … [and only] found a trace of a previous illness resulting from insufficient blood in the brain found in 2012, but the latest checks found ‘no new abnormalities’.” Make of this what you will; two conflicting reports from the same palace sources.





Somyos and the law

26 05 2016
somyos

Somyos

Novelist and social and cultural critic Wad Rawee has an article reproduced at Prachatai on the case of Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, sentenced under the lese majeste law, and held in prison since 30 April 2011.

As far as we are aware, only one other political prisoner has been held longer, and that is Darunee Charnchoensilpakul, jailed since 22 July 2008 for a mammoth 15 years in prison for her political speeches.

Wad observes that Somyos was not a speaker or a writer of any of the “offending” words that the authorities considered constituted lese majeste. Rather, Somyos was an editor of a popular oppositional magazine. He was also a labor activist and organizer.

PPT interprets this background as one that made Somyos threatening to and dangerous for the royalist elite.

Wad explains the legal nonsense at the heart of this lese majeste conviction:

Throughout the hearings and investigation, no other evidence was presented other than that which proved that Somyot was the editor of the aforementioned magazine. In the demonstration of Somyot’s guilt, no other evidence was presented other than the opinions of witnesses after reading the two articles in question.

Wad

Wad

Wad concludes:

This case must go down in history as one in which the court ruled an editor to be guilty of a crime on the basis of the belief that this editor read the articles in question and then could only reach the same conclusion about them as one particular group of witnesses. This ruling was made without any evidence at all and without any law that specifies that an editor must take responsibility for any crimes that arise in the materials that he publishes.

Somyos, Darunee and many more are Thailand’s political prisoners. They are jailed for daring to go outside the narrow rules that protect the royalist elite, it wealth and its power.





Devil deals

26 05 2016

Readers will recall our post on The Dictator in Russia. We mean General Prayuth Chan-ocha, not Vlad the Putin. In that post we noted dictatorial Thailand’s desire to move authoritarian Russia closer to center stage. We added that with the dictatorship looking like it will stay on for years, the relationships with other authoritarian regimes will be important.

This linking with authoritarian regimes was apparently also a part of the summit in Moscow.

The official mouthpiece, the National News Bureau of Thailand reports that:

Minister of Commerce Apiradi Tantraporn has revealed that Thailand and Russia have agreed during the Thai Prime Minister’s official visit to Russia on the trade and investment cooperation that different trade models among both sides can support one another.

Thailand plans to raise its trade value with Eurasian countries in 5 years starting from the Free Trade Area negotiations with Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, and Russia, with the aim to export more automobile parts, jewelry, canned foods, rice, rubber, and rubber products. Russia is more interested in purchasing fruit exports from Thailand.

Birds of a feather?
  • Belarus – ranked 127 on the 2015 Democracy Index (authoritarian) and at the 2016 Freedom Index, is ranked not free and gets the lowest score of 7 for political rights and 6 for civil liberties.
  • Kazakhstan – 140 (authoritarian); 6, 5, not free.
  • Kyrgyzstan –  93 (hybrid regime); 5, 5, partly free.
  • Armenia – 116 (hybrid); 5, 4, partly free.
  • Russia – 132 (authoritarian); 6, 6, not free.
  • Thailand – in a bizarre assessment, 98 (hybrid regime). In fact, Thailand is wholly authoritarian; 6, 5 (not free) and a more realistic assessment.

They do seem like an appropriate flock of authoritarian states and are unlikely to ever have to talk about human rights and political freedoms while trading and enriching oligarchs.





Never trust the military

25 05 2016

Social media has been in a bit of a buzz wondering if the military junta is mellowing. After all, the posts go, didn’t the junta allow the 22 May march to the Democracy Monument? Prachatai has a story surveying the questions raised. The Straits Times writes of “mixed signals” from the junta.

Our view is simple: Never trust the military.

Here’s some recent examples of why:

The junta … rejected calls for amendments to the referendum law and the easing of the ban on political party meetings in the run-up to the vote on the draft constitution.”

The police has searched the house of student activists campaigning for Deep South’s right to self-determination. The activists said they felt threatened by the authorities’ action.”

The junta-designed 20-year national strategy is required to promote the integrity of future national administrations…”.

A human rights lawyer has been charged for hosting ‘standing still’ activities demanding that the junta free detained critics.

A cleaning lady in Thailand is being charged by the government for posting the words “I see” on Facebook. She is accused of insulting the monarchy – a charge that can lead to jail sentences of up to 15 years.

Commander of the 42nd Military Circle to the President of Prince of Songkhla University: “Some personnel in your organization might not understand the construction process of the power plant and protest against it. Therefore, we (the military) would like to ask you (the President) to educate those personnel about the construction process of the power plant…”.

Junta leader has said that anyone blaming the government for the economic slump will be sued….

The Military Court has handed out a three-month jail term to an elderly teacher accused of sedition for giving a flower to an anti-junta activist.

A lawyer has reported to the public prosecutor in a case in which she was charged for providing legal assistance to 14 pro-democracy activists.

A military court refused bail applications by lese majeste “suspects” Harit Mahaton and Natthika Worathaiwich, who are also charged with sedition under Article 116 of the Criminal Code, for allegedly mocking The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

They are fascists and cannot be trusted.





Standing still a crime

25 05 2016

Just a couple of days ago, PPT posted on some of the military junta’s more bizarre bans as it went to extraordinary lengths to suppress anti-coup activists. We mentioned three-finger salutes, reading books in public places and the eating of sandwiches, all seen as threatening displays of disobedience by anti-coup activists. That ridiculousness reached the military court where a three month jail term was given to an elderly teacher accused of sedition for giving flower to an anti-junta activist.

Ever alert to such seditious acts, the balmy lot running Thailand (into the ground) have charged Arnon Nampa, “a human rights lawyer and a core leader of Resistant Citizen, an anti-junta activist group,” with arranging “standing still” activities that were a silent protest against the detention of critics.

Standing still

Standing still can land you in jail in Thailand

According to Prachatai, prosecutors have “charged him with hosting two standing still activities — one on 20 April to demand that the junta release Watana Muangsook, an embattled Pheu Thai politician who was then detained by the military, and another on 27 April to demand that the junta release eight abducted junta critics who were administrators of the Facebook page ‘We Love Gen Prayut,’ a satirical page mocking the Thai junta leader.”

As Prachatai explains, although several “people participated in the standing still activities, the prosecutor filed charges against [Arnon] only, reasoning that he was the coordinator of the activities…”. He could be fined up to 10,000 baht for each offense.





Footballing oligarchs II

24 05 2016

Less than a week ago, PPT posted on the penchant of oligarchs for football and snapping up teams that promote their interests and, if things work out, make them even more money.

As everyone in the world knows, Leicester City recently collected some silverware as outsiders made good. As we noted in that earlier post, the club has been owned by football-loving, polo-playing oligarch, monopolist and royalist Vichai Raksriaksorn (who has a royally-bestowed moniker, Srivaddhanaprabha). Vichai made oodles of money through his monopoly on duty free at Thailand’s airports, through his company King Power.King Power

Thailand’s airports have long been the property of the military. They are now part of a listed company, Airports of Thailand. Now the Ministry of Finance controls 70% of AOT’s stock but four of the 14-member Board of Directors continue to carry military ranks. As far as we can tell, only one of the directors of AOT is not a serving or retired official or worked for AOT. The senior executive of AOT continues to have quite a few military ranks listed.

In other words, gaining a monopoly on duty free requires high-level political support and close relations with the senior brass. Exactly how Vichai managed this in the beginning has never been made clear. He went from unknown to billionaire in a relatively short time. King Power began in 1989, with a license granted for Thailand’s first downtown duty free shop at Mahatun Plaza. How it was that King Power got the Chatichai Choonhavan government to award the license isn’t easily seen, but as Chatichai opened to the former enemies across the border, King Power got a license in Phnom Penh soon after. By 1993, King Power had Don Muang airport under its wing. All of this during a period of civilian versus military political tussling.

In a story linked to below, The Nation states:

In addition to the ruling junta, the wealthy businessman has managed to build good ties with both politicians and military figures in powerful posts. And thanks to these cosy relationships, his company has managed to win coveted deals from influential people at key times, including a concession to operate duty-free shops at major airports that has grown into a Bt68-billion-a-year business.

Now that he and his kids – the Sino-Thai tycoon model of family business – are on top of the world, what does this mean for Vichai and Thailand’s politics. Some measure of this comes from recent press reports on Leicester City in Thailand.

An AFP report states that the “Premier League champions Leicester City received a royal seal of approval … at Bangkok’s Grand Palace, with the Thai-owned team presenting its trophy to a portrait of the king before a bus parade through the capital.”

Leicester 2

To most people in the world, this sentence will seem very odd. How does one present a trophy to a portrait and how does a portrait provide “a royal seal of approval”? Why would they present a trophy to a king of another land be he real or a portrait?

In royalist Thailand, however, most things associated with the monarchy are very odd. It has become normalized for sports champions to “present” their medals or trophies to the king as a sign of loyalty. Not doing so becomes disloyalty. At the same time, the businessmen and businesswomen who manage and profit from big sports (and gambling on sport) in Thailand get the reflected royal aura. That’s good for business.

So when Leicester City “present” the silverware to the king’s portrait, “[l]ocal television showed billionaire club-owner Vichai …, alongside his son Aiyawatt and manager Claudio Ranieri, presenting the trophy to a portrait of the king as they and the team then took a deep bow.” In fact, they got on their knees, another “tradition” reintroduced in this reign.

Leicester 1

The team later went on an open-top bus parade through Bangkok. More on that below.

And, oh yes, Vichai’s King Power brand was everywhere. The parade “wound its way from a King Power-owned shopping and hotel complex through Bangkok’s downtown commercial district.” Continuing the royalist theme, “[d]uring their title celebrations at the King Power stadium, a portrait of Bhumibol was held aloft as players…”.

For the company King Power, the seal of approval is also coveted. According to Chulchit Bunyaketu, listed at the company website as a “Counselor,”The fact that the company was awarded the Royal Decree and is under the patronage of His Majesty the King clearly reflects on the integrity, capability, and honesty of our company and staff members.”

The Mail Online has more on the parade, noting Vichai’s commercialization and use of pliable monks: “Vichai is a regular devotee of Phra Prommangkalachan … and took the monk to Britain to bless the stadium and the team.” So the players trooped of to the royal Emerald Buddha temple.

It is The Sun that made most of the “thousands of Thais [who] were paid to pose as Leicester City fans for the club’s Premier League victory parade in Thailand…”.

Many of those dressed in club colors were there having “responded to a social media advert offering to pay people for a ‘Leicester parade job’. They were to get 500 baht…. They were asked to meet at the Bangkok HQ of the King Power company … [and] were also given free club T-shirts and urged to clap and chant during the celebration.” King Power employees were also mobilized.

All of this is obviously good for business, but thetre is also political speculation. The Nation explains some of this. It says that Leicester City’s “well-connected billionaire owner, Vichai … has … been linked to an alliance with political friends and the ruling generals that could result in a new political party…”.

It says that “his massive wealth and strong connections” mean that “Vichai is seen by some as having the potential to be the ‘last piece in the jigsaw’ needed for the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the junta] to retain power via a new political party.”

Prawit, Suthep and King Power

Prawit, Suthep and King Power

Vichai is said to have good relations with “many key figures’ in the military junta, naming “Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, one of the most influential figures in the ruling junta.”

The story goes on, saying Vichai is close to “Bhum Jai Thai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul and Newin Chidchob, the former Cabinet minister and political broker who owns Thailand’s leading football club Buriram United.”

Anutin is rumored to have close links with the palace, and it was his father Chavarat who worked with Newin and the generals in 2008 to make Abhisit Vejjajiva prime minister and Bhum Jai Thai the military’s party as it went to the 2011 election. The military and the party failed spectacularly as Yingluck Shinawatra and the Puea Thai Party won in a landslide.Newin and King Power

This time around it is stated that an “alliance between Vichai, Newin and Anutin, plus support from Prawit -in the background, would be a coalition between a financial group and a power clique set for the new political landscape…”.

Newin and Vichai have a mutual interest in football and politics and blue pervades Buriram as much as it does Leicester, not to mention a group of blue-shirted thugs organized by Newin and Suthep Thaugsuban in 2009 to oppose red shirts.

Vast stocks of cash, royalism, political savvy and skills in the “dark arts” of vote-buying and great influence are just what a military party will need (if an election is ever permitted).








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