“The constitution will pass the referendum”

11 02 2016

These are words attributed to senior junta member General Prawit Wongsuwan. Perhaps he already knows the result of the constitutional referendum. Maybe the military has all the ballots already prepared.

He declares his confidence “I believe (the constitution) will pass the referendum.  Why? There are not many flaws in it. It’s hard to get a constitution that can effectively prevent corruption…”. He refers only to “corruption” by elected politicians. Corruption by “good people” like royalists, members of the elite, the bureaucracy and military is okay, so long as it is done with “good intentions.”

For this constitutional draft can only pass if a couple of things happen. First, the military junta would have to change its own charter so that a “majority” would be more easily defined. And that’s exactly what they’ve just decided to do. Second, the dictators would need to mobilize all their troops, intelligence agents and all their supporters in universities, hospitals and government offices to promote and cajole a “yes” vote.

That said, we remain unconvinced that the junta and the current bosses want the referendum to pass. But, as a reader has pointed out, even if it does, the junta could find a workaround and stay in power.

The longevity of dictators

11 02 2016

We’ll keep this post short as one of the articles we point to is exceptionally long. Both articles are by quite regular commentators on Thailand’s affairs, one a journalist and the other a long-retired academic of the American variety that likes to flit between policy and academia. To the latter first.

In an op-ed at the New Straits Times, W. Scott Thompson describes himself as a professor emeritus of international politics, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. His article says that he is also states that he  is at “Dr Thitinan’s influential centre, smack in the middle of Bangkok at the royal university, Chulalongkorn.” He is fulsome in his praise of his host, Thitinan Pongsudhirak at the Institute of Security and International Studies, something he’s done previously.

The position he has at ISIS raises questions about the old-guard relationships between Thai royalists and Americans of the same ilk who also have security and policy backgrounds. Thompson has been a propagandist not so much for yellow shirts but certainly for the royalist elite which he sees as “his Thailand.”

His earlier op-ed commenting on the rise of General Prayuth Chan-ocha and succession is worth a read now.

In his NST op-ed, after a few odd comments, he states “the kingdom is in serious trouble.” Prayuth, he says, “has backed himself into his own corner.” The “corner” sounds more like a dictator’s happy place: “Prayuth backed himself into a corner with a tight schedule that now is impossible to meet, making it well-nigh inevitable that he will be leading a dictatorship for a long time to come.” He makes factual errors, but the observation on succession seems reasonably widely accepted: “Prayuth will be in place, after ‘the Long Goodbye’ to the beloved king, to ensure the safety and position of the now-Crown Prince onto the throne. He will be 10th of the dynasty, long foretold as the last.”

What’s curious is that Thompson seems confused and can really only repeat an analysis seen in Thitinan’s op-ed of a week or so ago. While he says he looks at all points of the political compass, like old royalists everywhere, Thompson seems to have lost his compass. 45 years of watching a king is one small point on a compass that is pointing south.

This view links to a Shawn Crispin’s exceptionally long piece at The Diplomat. As we have noted previously, Crispin is a master of conspiratorial revelations based on anonymous sources. He sees the military dictatorship as rabid:”Since seizing power, … Prayut[‘s] … junta has advanced reform rhetoric while simultaneously consolidating a strong and increasingly efficient police state bent on ferreting out and squashing dissent.” Like Thompson, he sees the junta as having a way to run: “it’s a military regime that will likely remain in power for the foreseeable future.”

When looking at the military’s succession is squashing dissent, as well as blunt tactics, Crispin refers to another “deal” done with Thaksin Shinawatra. (Remember the deal he claimed was done when Yingluck came to power? Later, that seemed to no longer hold.) The new “deal” is meant to protect Thaksin’s wealth and that of his family. Maybe, but think of this and then look at this. in the very same newspaper on the one day…. In any case, not all deals are real deals and some are imagined and many are deserted.

Crispin is right that the “vow to restore democratic governance and hold new elections is and remains a sop to Western governments…”. And he’s also right that:

Thai politics will more likely be steered by the military for the foreseeable future. Thailand has arguably already entered an end-of-reign new political order, where the military, rather than a democratic government, has begun to fill the inevitable power vacuum that will open at the end of the current king’s long and storied reign and the crowning of a new, inevitably less influential, heir.

Where he departs to conjecture is on succession, believing that there are competing royalist and overlapping military factions, with the usual nod to General Prem Tinsulanonda, the aged head of the Privy Council.

His scenarios on where Thailand goes from here, while dependent on rumors and guesses recounted earlier in the piece, all suggest plenty more military dictatorship.

Warming and warning

10 02 2016

The festering corpse that is the draft constitution has been dead for some time, with forensic constitutionalists suggesting rigor mortis set in even before it was dead on arrival. The corpse has continued to be dismembered by the yellowed National Reform Steering Assembly. Others have pointed out its fundamental problems that make it a decidedly anti-democratic manifesto.

Criticism is permitted say the military dictatorship, so long as it is “respectful” and not on mainstream television and not, it seems, in academic venues. Meanwhile, the campaign for the constitution draft is being supported by heavy propaganda and by the military who plan to essentially oversee and pressure the voting at the referendum.

It seems that criticism of the junta’s draft charter is limited to the mainstream media, social media and conversations in private venues. But even social media has got the attention of chief charter drafter Meechai Ruchupan and his military bosses.Meechai and hat

According to a report at Prachatai, the well-rewarded pensioner “has threatened legal action to quell criticism of the new draft constitution.”

Meechai has called on the Constitution Drafting Committee to “meet to discuss possible legal action against people who distort facts to criticise the 2016 charter draft.” His anger seemed sparked by “an anti-junta Facebook page ‘Yut Datjarit Prathet Thai’ (Stop Fake Thailand),” which looks pretty tame, but Meechai is flustered because he says “a certain political party is behind the page.” He means Thaksin Shinawatra who called the draft “lousy,” and the Puea Thai Party.

Meechai declared “that the CDC proposal on possible legal measures against those distorting facts about the draft will be sent to the cabinet for consideration.” It seems a little political warmth in the cool season is just too much for Meechai’s old bones.

Meanwhile, the “administrators of the Facebook page posted a statement in response to Meechai, saying that they are not afraid and that they apologise if the infographic about the draft charter on the page disheartened the CDC.”

Torture routinized

9 02 2016

About a week ago, PPT posted on torture as a standard operating procedure for state authorities. In that post we linked to a Prachatai report on allegations of torture and ill-treatment in the South expanding under the military dictatorship. The allegations, reported by former detainees were of being “beaten or hit with hard objects, … put in a room kept at a low temperature, … suffocated, and … electrocuted.” Others said they were “pierced with needles, tortured with pliers, forced to drink their own urine, stripped naked, injected with unspecified chemicals, tortured in the genitals, and threatened with execution.”

A few days later, the Internal Security Operations Command claimed the report on the use of torture was a work “of imagination not based on reality…” and accused its authors as having “released the report of … to undermine the credibility of the Thai state in the eyes of the world.”

A second report alleging torture has been released. Khaosod reports that the new report is also based on “interviews with former detainees” in the south and was to be “released Wednesday by the Cross Cultural Foundation, Network of Human Rights Organizations in Pattani and Dua Jai Group…”. The 120-page report can be downloaded as a PDF, in Thai.

The report alleges systematic “[t]orture ranging from waterboarding and strangling to threats of violence and sexual assault are used systematically by the army and police to force confessions from suspected insurgents in the Deep South…”. It also notes the impunity enjoyed by criminal officials: “… no single security officer has even gone to jail during the past decade over cases involving torture.”

The response from ISOC is reported:

Col. Pramote Promin, spokesman for the Internal Security Operation Command, or ISOC, said they had not seen the report but dismissed it as yet another figment of its authors’ imaginations. He also accused one of its principal authors, foundation Director Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, of wanting to discredit the army and state.

Equally disturbingly, “human rights lawyer Somchai Hom-laor, another figure behind the report, said some torture techniques are now being adopted against ordinary Thais elsewhere in the kingdom who are believed to be threats to national security.” He might have mentioned deaths in custody in the south and in Bangkok’s political prisons.

Somchai is no ordinary commentator. He has been supportive of some yellow-shirted causes in the past and was a member of the Truth for Reconciliation Commission set up by the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime. At the same time, he has been a human rights lawyer for a very long time. These connections and history cause him to be careful in dealing with the junta: “We don’t want to condemn them or create hatred but want them to rectify the situation because it is undermining the state itself…”.

Torture by the state’s officers is routinized in Thailand, as a string of our posts indicate.

Getting tanked

9 02 2016

Exactly a month ago, PPT asked: What happened to those “cheap” tanks the Thai generals ordered from the Ukraine?

We can guess where the “commissions” went, but why are the current crop of generals now looking for tanks from other places?

Initially, the whole idea was poo-pooed by the junta’s spokesmen. No, they said, no Russian tanks. But that story has changed. (In other words, they were telling untruths last month.)

Today, the Bangkok Post states the “army changed stories … admitting it plans to buy new tanks, saying it is in the process of setting up a procurement committee.” Yep, they certainly were lying last time. One of those lying was Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan.

2006 coup

2006 coup, with US tanks used

Army spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvaree continued the lies, saying “the army’s procurement panel will consider all possible options before making a decision based on cost-effectiveness and transparency.” He meant to say that the decision will be made on who is going to take the “commissions” and allocate them to loyalists. (It seems like the lucky moneybags will be General Prawit.)

The Army has had to admit that it is considering “purchasing Russian-made tanks” because Prawit is off to Russia soon and “reportedly plans to inspect this model of tank.” He’s taking Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak with him. Of course, Somkid is the main finance and economics cabinet member, so his acquiescence will smooth the money flows. The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, is also scheduled to visit Russia in May.

As PPT posted earlier, “Prawit and army chief Gen Thirachai Nakwanich are proceeding carefully with the tank procurement plan following the delayed delivery of T-84 Oplot tanks from Ukraine…”. The generals blame “internal political turmoil as the reason for the hold-up.” That is, in the Ukraine, not Thailand.

Tanks are seldom used in Thailand, and sometimes roll out for a coup.

Only 10 of the ordered 50 T-84 Oplot tanks have been delivered. We can only wonder what deal is being done on this. Is money lost? Will “commissions” need to be repaid? Perhpas a new Chinese or Russian deal for their versions of the T-90 tank will square things up and be cause for celebration. Vodka is good when wanting to get tanked.

Dismembering the charter

8 02 2016

Is the military dictatorship serious about its second draft charter or is it all an elaborate and expensive ruse to convince average people that a return to an elected government is possible?

A report at the Bangkok Post suggests the latter.

It says there is a “fresh proposal for an appointed Senate…”. It can hardly be “new” because this proposal has been around since the 2006 coup. Since the 2014 coup it has been suggested and considered several times.

But that is beside the real point. The report states that the National Legislative Assembly has been highly critical of the Constitution Drafting Committee’s “proposal for the indirect election of the Senate…”.

That the draft charter was dead on arrival means that the NLA is now dismembering it, making it even more grotesque.

Several NLA members “spoke out against the proposal which calls for the indirect election of 200 senators elected from 20 professional groups, 10 from each group.” We agree that this kind of “functional constituency” is fundamentally flawed and unrepresentative.

Remarkably – well, perhaps not, as the NLA is populated by fascists and other anti-democrats – the members responded by suggesting an even less representative alternative: a fully appointed Senate.

The claim is that “appointed senators performed well in the past and they acted as a counterbalance to elected MPs.” They mean that unelected senators were warriors for anti-democrats.

The report then turns to what it says is a “hidden agenda” in this proposal. “A source” states that this proposal “would likely lead the public to vote down the draft charter in the referendum, which in turn would help the military government stay in power longer…”.

“The source” said the “strange move” is a “reminder of what happened before the now-defunct draft charter by the previous CDC led by Borwornsak Uwanno was rejected by the National Reform Council (NRC).”

The “plan” has seen accusations that this is to “prolong the military regime’s power…”. They seem reasonable accusations. If this is the junta’s plan, then it is one expensive ruse.

Lese majeste lies, nonsense and repression

7 02 2016

The lese majeste conviction train has been traveling at a speed that makes everything else the military junta does seem like extra-slow motion. We use this post to catch up on some recent lese majeste stories.

At Prachatai: lese majeste lunacy is reported, yet it is unclear who is suffering mental illness. According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights “the military Judge Advocate General’s office has scheduled a hearing on 20 April 2016, when military prosecutors will decide whether to indict Sao (surname withheld due to privacy concerns) under Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law.

Sao, “who claims that he has telepathic powers to communicate with Thaksin Shinawatra,” was assessed by psychiatrists from the Galya Rajanagarindra Institute and they concluded that” Sao is fit to stand on trial in a military court…”.

It is bizarre that trained psychiatrists would come to such conclusions. Perhaps they suffer some kind of royalist psychosis.

In another story of lese majeste oddities, we note that Pavin Chachavalpongpun has a remarkable ability to get under the skin of the royalists who currently rule over Thailand. Almost everything he writes gets a high-level response and royalists are sometimes showing up when he speaks to provide usually crude responses to his views, if they don’t get to shout him down.

Usually for op-eds in foreign newspapers, Thailand’s ambassadors are tasked with responding with cliched royalisms, usually bending and breaking the truth. However, in responding to a recent Japan Times op-ed by Pavin, Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs does him the honor of having Sek Wannamethee, Director-General of its Department of Information respond.

Sek says he wants “to clarify some points” but actually muddies and muddles the royal waters.

His first attempt to alter history is to assert that “the monarchy has been and always remains above politics.” By now, almost everyone with even a smidgen of interest in Thailand knows this is a steaming pile of horse manure.

His second to alter history is to assert that “the main purpose of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [he means the junta] to take control of national administration were to provide a cooling-off period for all sides, and to prevent further violence, restore stability, as well as to put the country back on track toward full democracy.”

This is clearly nonsense and a lie that the junta and its flunkies trot out to in the face of facts that say something quite different.

To assert that there is no “association between the monarchy and the operation of the [junta] is completely misleading and totally out of context,” is to deny the junta’s own claims about its raison d’etre. It proclaims its loyalty, it capacity to “protect” the monarchy and Prem Tinsulanonda supports the junta for its loyalty. It is clear that the military is hoping to manage succession.

His next claim, that “the lese majeste law is part of Thailand’s Criminal Code, giving protection to the rights or reputations of the king, the queen, the heir apparent, or the regent in a similar way libel law does for commoners” is one repeatedly made. It is repeatedly denied by academics and activists. For a start, the law has been applied far more widely than the persons mentioned. That’s a fact. When was the last time that libel saw a person sentenced to 60 years in jail?

To argues that the law “is not aimed at curbing people’s rights to freedom of expression nor the legitimate exercise of academic freedom, including debates about the monarchy as an institution” is simply a lie.

In another lie, when he denies that “the current government has tightened up its measures against lese majeste charges as the cases become more politicized is an overstatement of the current situation.” Again, its a fact. Mammoth jail sentences, scores of cases and military courts say Sek’s a propagandist.

Some international bodies do recognize the arbitrariness and politicized nature of lese majeste. A Prachatai report tells us that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention “has requested that Thailand immediately release lèse-majesté detainee Pornthip Munkong aka Golf and award her compensation for the arbitrary detention she has been subjected to…”. Apparently, this opinion was adopted on 2 December 2015, arguing that Pornthip’s

… detention is arbitrary because it contravenes Articles 9 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Articles 9(3) and 19(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Thailand is a state party to the ICCPR. The referenced provisions guarantee the fundamental right to liberty, the right to a fair trial, and the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

PPT suggests that almost all lese majeste incarcerations fall into this category.

Dare we say it, but military prosecutors have shown some sense on lese majeste. For the first time, “have dismissed lèse majesté charges against three suspects accused of defaming the Thai monarchy on Facebook.”

The Judge Advocate General’s Office “decided not indict Jaruwan E., 26, Anon, 22, and Chat, 20, accused of using a Facebook page under the name of Jaruwan to defame the King.” Police had charged them with lese majeste  and computer crimes in mid-November 2014. They were imprisoned for almost three months.

Jaruwan denied all charges and claimed an unhappy suitor was responsible for the Facebook account. It seems the prosecutors have finally agreed.