Anti-corruption lapdog

15 10 2021

In an editorial, the Bangkok Post chastises the completely hopeless National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) for being a regime lapdog. The sad thing is that this editorial could have been written years ago. The NACC is not worth the heat off buffalo manure.

In this case – only the most recent of a score of such cases – the Post focuses on the clearing  of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s brother, Gen Preecha, on charges of concealing assets.

On Monday, the NACC commissioners voted 8-1 to clear  against Gen Preecha Chan-o-cha, when just a few months ago “the NACC had a different view with all nine commissioners in June unanimously agreeing there were grounds to summon Gen Preecha for questioning.”

Gen Preecha, now appointed by his brother as a senator, “was accused of falsely declaring his assets and liabilities while serving with the National Legislative Assembly” that served the military junta.

Quite simply, Gen Preecha failed “to include his house in Phitsanulok and bank accounts belonging to his wife, Pongpuan, in the couple’s assets list.”

Very basic stuff. He’s either a stupid duffer or, more likely, a creep who thinks he has impunity to do what he wants.

The NACC seems to have decided he’s a stupid duffer, ruling this week that he “had no intention to hide his wealth, and did not gain any benefits from doing so.”

Clean hands?

The now allegedly stupid Gen Preecha had, says the NACC, “misunderstood the asset declaration rule simply because the house in question was under construction at that time.” He still owned it, but the NACC seems to think he just “forgot” it was an asset.

The Post urges the NACC to become “more transparent and, by way of example, it can answer some questions about what criteria it used in judging Gen Preecha’s intentions.” But, of course, the NACC seems likely to refuse to its “investigation.” That’s what it usually does when protecting the regime and its members.

And who can forget that the NACC has still refused to “comply with the Administrative Court’s order for it to release details about its probe into the luxury watches case involving Gen Prawit [Wongsuwan], with the NACC explaining that it cannot disclose details of witness accounts because it might prompt lawsuits.”

Or, it might have to conjure an unbelievable story to cover its tracks and those of regime bosses.

The Post says that: “By failing to be accountable, the commission will become part of the problem it’s trying to solve.” It has been a part of the “problem” for years. It is a joke permitting “good” people/crooks/creeps to feast on the taxpayer.

For that, presumably the commissioners have been or will be rewarded.





On 14 October 1973

14 10 2021

PPT was impressed by Thai Enquirer’s efforts on commemorating 6 October 1976. Its coverage of the events of 14 October 1973 is also to be commended. We suggest readers take a look. Here, we reproduce the video they put together, linking student protesters then with student protesters today.





Call for 112 repeal

14 10 2021

Prachatai has a long report on a 9 October rally by the gender equality activist group Feminist’s Liberation Front Thailand, continuing the wide-ranging calls for democracy and equality and “for the resignation of Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, constitutional amendments, and monarchy reform to create a democracy for all.”

We recommend reading the whole account. As readers would expect, we were particularly struck by the ongoing emphasis on lese majeste. Here’s some snips:

Clipped from Prachatai

Thanapat, a member of the activist group Thalufah, gave a speech on the repeal of Section 112, or the royal defamation law, while dressed in a red Thai Chitralada dress. He said that there is a right and freedom to dress as one chooses, and therefore the government has no right to dictate how people dress.

Thanapat said that many people are currently imprisoned on royal defamation charges, even though what they said was criticism of the monarchy, especially when it comes to using the national budget. He asked whether what these people said was wrong, since they spoke out because they want national budget to be used for the benefit of the people. He also said that he believes that if everyone joins in the fight, then Section 112 will be repealed in the future, not just amended.

“When you want to stay in this country, on the same land as the citizens, then you have to listen to the citizens’ voice, both those who dissent and those who love you. Don’t pick and choose. Don’t lock up just dissenters. I don’t see people who stage coups locked up too,” Thanapat said.

Thanapat noted that the late King Bhumibol once said that the monarchy can be criticized, but one has to point out where the monarchy went wrong, meaning that people should be able to criticize the monarchy since the King said so himself.* He added that those who criticize the monarchy are using information and facts, which is good for the monarchy. However, Section 112 has been used not only to silence critics, but has also been used by those with a personal conflict or who wish to bully someone else, such as the case where an older sibling filed charges against their own younger sibling.

Thanapat said that it has now become apparent that using royal defamation charges against critics does more harm than good, and the best way out is to repeal the law.

“I want to see Thailand able to criticize everyone in good faith, for everyone to have the same law to be able to protect themselves , not one person above others, because we are a democracy,” Thanapat said.

*PPT believes this is a misunderstanding of the dead king’s speech, which was a criticism of then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.





Thanathorn’s 112 charge

13 10 2021

Thai PBS reports that the “Nang Loeng police [has] submitted its case file, on a lèse majesté charge against Progressive Group leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, to the Office of the Attorney-General today [12 October 2021].” The Bangkok Post also reports it.

Lawyer Krisadang Nutcharat, said that the police decided to charge his client:

over his livestream lectures on the government’s vaccine [mis]management, which contained remarks allegedly deemed to offend the monarchy, as he was questioning the government’s AstraZeneca vaccine strategy, most of which produced by Thai firm Siam Bioscience, which is owned by a subsidiary of the Crown Property Bureau.

The 112 charge was initiated by Apiwat Khanthong, “chairman of the government-appointed committee investigating the spread of disinformation about the execution of the prime minister’s and cabinet ministers’ duties.”

Meanwhile, Thanathorn also “reported to Phahonyothin police station this morning to acknowledge a second lèse majesté charge, also in connection with his Facebook livestream lectures.”

Thanathorn described the charges against him and other activists as “unjust, urging the public to protect them and to condemn this injustice.”

In Thanathorn’s livestream, titled “Royal Vaccine: Who Benefits and Who Doesn’t?” he “urged the government and the firm to publicly reveal the vaccine-production agreement to prove the procurement was being done in a transparent manner.”

Siam Bioscience, still as opaque as ever, seems to have failed monumentally given that millions of AstraZeneca doses are being imported from other countries.

Lese majeste has seen some mad cases in this past, but this one seems to suggest that criticizing or questioning any royal company is now off limits. Bizarre.





Defeating and defending the young

12 10 2021

With the mainstream media becoming increasingly quiescent under the current regime, for English readers, Prachatai and Thai Enquirer are critical sources of reliable information on Thailand’s politics. In this post, PPT looks at two recent Thai Enquirer pieces. Each reflects on the current political crisis.

In the first article, Erich Parpart and Cod Satrusayang observe that:

General Prayut Chan-ocha and his military-backed government are jailing the country’s future leaders for their own benefit. There is no use denying it anymore. But in doing so they are jeopardizing our country’s future while protecting themselves from criticism.

The government has now detained at least 20 pro-democracy protest leaders and activists. Most have been charged with lese-majeste and denied bail or have had their bail revoked while waiting for trial.

In fact, we’d argue that while there is clearly benefit to the regime, the real benefit is to the monarchy and the monarch. It is the military scratching the king’s back for the protection his position provides to a broad ruling elite. So when the regime claims attacks on the monarchy are a threat to national security, they mean to their security and that of the business-monarchy-military ruling elite.

That’s what they imply when they say: “Keep in mind, these jail sentences and arrests aren’t done to protect the public good…”, but protect a rotten regime, populated by those who should be in jail and some who have.

The article notes that many of those jailed are among Thailand’s best and brightest; indeed the country’s future. But now it is they who are rotting in jail.

The authors yell: “Free them, free the shackles that bind our thinking, it’s the only option.”

If Erich and Cod look at the leaders of the future, Caleb Quinley looks at the Thalugas protests, emphasizing the economic interests that drive them.

Firecrackers and ping pong bombs versus armed police, “dressed head to toe in black body armor carrying nonlethal firearms…. The sound of their boots echoed through the narrow halls of Din Daeng’s slum community…”.

Violence escalating: “It’s dangerous now…. But how else are they [the government] going to hear us?”

The young demonstrators have set fires to glittering massive portraits of the Thai King scattered throughout the city,  targeted police bunkers, and fired large fireworks into the dark.  In response, police have implemented a zero tolerance policy for unrest, unleashing rubber bullets, water cannons, and tear gas, detaining hundreds since September.

Caleb states: “The economic fallout from Covid is at the heart of the anger.” It is Thalugas “doing whatever it takes for the government to hear them.” Some want “respect” from the regime; to be heeded. They feel “they have been neglected for far too long.”

There are “increasing arrests and police brutality,” but this “group of young men are still raging on.” Many of them are “facing extreme economic difficulty [and] say they have nowhere else to turn. It’s ultimately all about raising the pressure to help their communities.”

Communities are always split, but for many locals, “these young men are white knights taking on an unfathomably powerful enemy.”





Military media

11 10 2021

A chilling report at Prachatai suggests that in October 2021 the military’s media is revamping itself for ultra-royalist, extreme rightist agitation, much as it did in 1975-76.

The military’s TV Channel 5 is hiring “four ultra-royalist hosts from Top News … [to] host 7 hours a day … from 3 January 2022.”

The hosts, Kanok Ratwongsakul, Teera Tanyapaibul, Santisuk Marongsri, and Sathaporn Kuasakul, claim they will be “delivering impartial and accurate reports.” That seems unlikely.

Channel 5 or the Royal Thai Army Radio and Television Station is a free-to-air television network owned by the Royal Thai Army, and was launched on 25 January 1958. It is not a particularly popular broadcaster, ranking about 18th in ratings, and one motivation for this rightist move is to increase the broadcaster’s popularity. Becoming bellicosely ultra-royalist is seen as a way to do this.

Lt Gen Rangsi Kitiyanasap, Managing Director of Channel 5, says that the new programming “will provide information that will end the public division and help Thailand out of the economic and health crisis caused by the spread of Covid-19…”. That is code for supporting regime and monarchy.

Lt Gen Rangsi babbled, channeling Fox News:

The goal of presenting news on Channel 5 will emphasize news which is the truth in all aspects, with in-depth detail, and importantly, which does not create division in society, and does not add fuel, but pulls firewood out of the fire. We will be a mainstream media outlet which will not judge who is wrong or right, but presents comprehensive information and lets the people decide….

The general claimed the new contract was with “GMC, with Chaiwat Techapaitoon as Chair of the Executive Board, [and] was a different legal entity from Top News Digital Media Co Ltd, which has Sonthiyan Chuenruthainaitham as its founder.” As Prachatai explains: “Sonthiyan was a right-wing activist and a media entrepreneur whose support helped lead to the killing of red shirt protesters in 2010, the military coup in 2014, and the violent crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters in 2020-2021.”

Military and military-backed media were notorious in the 1970s for their agitation against students and democracy advocates. Sound familiar? Back then, that media promoted the forces who assassinated activists and massacred students at Thammasat University.





Artist faces another 112 charge

10 10 2021

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, “Chiang Mai University student and performance artist Withaya Khlangnin is facing another royal defamation charge [they mean lese majeste] for staging a performance in front of the university on 1 May 2021 to demand the release of detained activists.”

At this rally, Withaya poured red paint over himself, and climbed onto a Chiang Mai University sign that featured the near compulsory photo of King Vajiralongkorn.

Clipped from Prachatai

TLHR reports that police have decided that Withaya’s performance contravenes Article 112. This is because it allegedly:

involved climbing onto the university sign, above which was a portrait of the King and a sign saying “Long live the King.” Withaya also poured red paint all over himself, which the police said was unsightly, and spilled paint over the university sign and the image of the King. The police also said that the gestures Withaya used during the performance, such as standing with a paint bucket over his head, and lying down with one foot pointing up at the portrait of the king, was disrespectful.

Withaya heard the charge at Phuping Rajanivej Police Station on 5 October 2021, “dressed as Luffy from the Japanese manga One Piece, and staged a short performance before going to meet the inquiry officer.”

He “was released after his meeting with the inquiry officer. He has to report to the police again in 12 days, and has to submit further testimony in 20 days.”

According to Prachatai, Withaya is already facing two Article 112 charges.





Another student on 112 charge

9 10 2021

Prachatai reports that “[s]tudent activist Benja Apan was arrested [on] … 7 October … on a lèse majesté charge in connection with the 10 August 2021 protest and has been denied bail.”

During that protest:

Benja read out the 2nd United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration Declaration, stating that the 2014 coup led by Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has led to a regime which benefited only the elite. The statement also criticised the government’s mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic and called for the government properly handle the pandemic, revitalise the economy, repeal the 2017 Constitution which allows the junta government to prolong its stay in power, push forward reforms in state structures and the monarchy, and also return to the people their dignity.

Clipped from Khaosod

She met police at the Lumpini Police Station on Thursday afternoon “to hear a charge of violating the Emergency Decree for participating in the 3 September protest at the Ratchaprasong intersection.” However, the police “found” an outstanding Article 112 arrest warrant along with charges for violations of the Emergency Decree and the Communicable Diseases Act, for participating in the 10 August 2021 rally.

The police said they would take Benja to the Thong Lo Police Station, but she refused. Despite further exhortations, she was eventually grabbed and carried by two women police officers who carried her to a police vehicle which took her to the Thong Lo Police Station.

She was denied bail and detained at Thong Lo Police Station overnight. She was taken to court on Friday morning for a temporary detention hearing. Judge Netdao Manotamkij “denied Benja bail on the grounds that the offense carries a serious penalty, and that she has previously committed the same offense. The inquiry officer also opposed bail.”

Benja has been taken to Central Women Correctional Prison. She is facing 6 charges under Article 112.





The monarch’s wealth

8 10 2021

In a very long post at Secret Siam, Andrew MacGregor Marshall has discussed the monarchy’s wealth and its drain on the taxpayer. He puts together an account that draws on multiple sources to assess both aspects.

It is behind a paywall, but if readers can get to it, it is well worth some time going through it.

Some excerpts:

According to an excellent analysis by Prachatai, at least 35.76 billion baht of taxpayer money — well over a billion US dollars — was allocated to the palace in the 2021/22 fiscal year. This represents 1.15 percent of the entire state budget, an extraordinarily vast sum for a country to spend on a supposedly purely symbolic monarchy in the 21st century.

What makes it even more obscene is that the Thai monarchy is already among the wealthiest royal families on the planet, but continues to guzzle taxpayer funds that are desperately needed by ordinary people struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic.

The palace has never been honest about the extent of its wealth, and most media have done an extremely poor job of finding out the facts, so most reporting about the size of the Thai royal fortune is inaccurate and incomplete.

Marshall sets the record straight – or as best as it can be with still limited data. He seems to conclude this on wealth:

Kevin Hewison, one of the foremost experts on the political economy of Thailand, estimated royal wealth at a minimum of $70 billion in his article “Crazy Rich Thais” published in the Journal of Contemporary Asia earlier this year:

Between 2006 and 2019, the ten wealthiest families/groups saw their wealth grow by more than seven times. If that figure is applied to Porphant [Ouyyanont]’s 2005 estimate, the CPB’s wealth in 2018 might have been more than $310 billion. However, because of the CPB’s focus on land and its conservative investment strategies, this is likely to be an overestimate. Using Porphant’s calculations of assets and applying a low 3 percent per year increase for land prices the figure for the CPB in 2019 might be more conservatively put at around $70 billion.

By way of conclusion, Marshall states:

There is no prospect that Vajiralongkorn will agree to reform of the monarchy and greater parliamentary oversight of palace finances. He is implacably opposed to making any concessions. He wants to use the royal fortune however he chooses, and nobody in the regime dares to try to stop him.

But with Thailand facing years of economic pain before it recovers from the damage caused by the coronavirus, and most Thais now aware of Vajiralongkorn’s egregious profligacy, the explosive issue of royal wealth has the potential to bring down the monarchy.





1976 in the news

7 10 2021

The Bangkok Post reported on the memorial rally, but little more. On that memorial event it noted:

Little has changed in the 45 years since students and activists were massacred by the military and rightwing radicals at Thammasat University….

This point was made by speakers when activists and members of the victims’ families gathered on Wednesday at the memorial at Thammasat University….

The Thalufah group said in a statement posted on its Facebook page that they would never forget the events of Oct 6 1976, and said violent means were unacceptable nowdays.

Red-shirt leader Nattawut Saikuar said students continued to fight for democracy 45 years later, with the country still divided with no political solution to the problem.

Despite the efforts of the state and especially the bureaucracy, military and monarchy, the events of 1976 have never been forgotten. The state’s success has been in preventing any meaningful investigation, covering up the events, and in providing impunity for the murderers who stalked the students at Thammasat and for several years after. Yet another effort is being made to rectify this, although the International Criminal Court is a high hurdle.

Kudos to Thai Examiner for its several reports on 6 October 1976. It did much better than most of the mainstream media. We are especially grateful for their interview with Sutham Saengprathum who was Secretary-General of the National Student Center of Thailand in 1976. As we recall it – correct us if our collective memory is faulty – Sutham was jailed as a political prisoner for a long period, and there was an international campaign for his release.

We especially like hearing from other students of the period as much of the “heavy lifting” on 1976 has been done in English by Thongchai Winichakul. See recent efforts here and here. Without other voices in English accounts, 1976 risks becoming Thongchai’s 1976. His major contribution is Moments of Silence: The Unforgetting of the October 6, 1976, Massacre in Bangkok, available from Library Genesis.

 








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