Controlling the local

8 05 2016

The junta has been showing its blunt determination to ensure its preferred result in the charter referendum. It has been arresting, intimidating and repressing.

It has also been campaigning for a Yes vote in rural areas, sending out the military and local authorities. But, for the junta, the local is not trustworthy, so it wants total control.

When it seized power almost two years ago, local elections were scrapped. Elections were replaced by provincial panels, headed by the governor of each province, that selected councilors. This is insufficient for the dictatorship. The Bangkok Post reports that not even governors can be trusted: “the [junta’s new] order was made to prevent any conflicts of interest among provincial governors…”.

In fact, the junta’s puppet permanent secretary of the Ministry of Interior has confirmed that the junta will now control the selection and appointment of members of local bodies.

The permanent secretary will appoint a committee “to pick the councillors of the local bodies…”. All appointments will be made by this Bangkok-based committee of senior bureaucrats. The rollback to a regime that existed long before the 1997 Constitution.

The military’s selected bureaucracy is back in charge because, as puppets, they can be expected to do their masters’ bidding.

While the puppet permanent secretary claims the junta “wants to make changes that comply with good governance practices.” Most observers recognize that the members of the junta could not spell “good governance,” and that they certainly favor nepotism and political subservience over anything that might reek of principles.

The permanent secretary’s disclaimer can be read as an admission: “This also has nothing to do with the preparations for the referendum…”. Of course, it has everything to do with the referendum and what follows that event.

Thaksin finds his voice

22 02 2016

Thaksin Shinawatra has belatedly made comments on current politics and the path to permanent authoritarianism paved by the military and its royalist and anti-democratic allies.

He has spoken with the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, describing the constitution and the “road map” as “crazy.”

Readers may recall that, a couple of days ago, PPT commented on the Puea Thai Party, stating that some in the party are putting all their political eggs in the election basket. However, election or not, the military foxes are not about to let the chickens run the hen house. We added that this was dumb. We said that whatever Puea Thai and Thaksin Shinawatra think about an election, the junta isn’t going anywhere.

In another post, journalist Shawn Crispin told us of yet another “deal” meant to protect Thaksin’s wealth and that of his family. Like all the other alleged deals, this one also seems to have melted back into thin air.

In the story at the FT, Thaksin, said to be in Singapore, described the “crazy” draft constitution as part of a “wider strategy to avoid a fair election it [the junta] fears it would lose.” We are not at all sure that the junta worries about losing an election, but this is a strategy to fix a result and we can only wonder why it has taken Thaksin so long to work this out and say this.

Thaksin reckons that internal polling is telling the “military and its civilian establishment allies” that they will be “defeated in an election by a party aligned with him [Puea Thai].”

We think the polling matters little and that the “establishment” is happy to remain in power whatever happens in referendum and any election (which will be rigged).

Thaksin does seem to agree with us on some things, as he “ridiculed constitutional proposals that critics say will neuter elected politicians and entrench authoritarianism.” His idea that he can advise the junta to “scrap them and consult with the public instead” is nonsensical.

On the constitution, he observes:

I can’t imagine that this kind of constitution can be written in this manner in the 21st century. It’s as if we are in the 18th century…. Instead of trying to write a crazy constitution, you had better have some discussion on what [people] would like to see.

Why would they consult? Okay, we understand that Thaksin and others are making a political point, but it really is dopey to think that The Dictator is going to listen. Perhaps there’s a thought that the “liberals” among the “establishment” will chuck him out. We don’t see it at the moment.

Thaksin has a different view and says: “I don’t [say] that this junta will not last long…. But any regime that [does] not respect the people will not last long. No one respects North Korea, namely.”

Well, the North Korean regime has considerable longevity….

Thaksin did agree that he “had been ‘quiet for too long’ and was speaking out now to counter ‘negative rumours’ about him. Thaksin said “he was not in any direct or indirect talks with the generals, despite rumours the two sides might strike a bargain to end the official pursuit of him and his family.”

Thaksin rather lamely called for “talks.” What kind of talks? Thaksin said: “I don’t set any kind of conditions for myself. I just want to see the country moving forward, to return democracy to the people.”

At the WSJ, Thaksin said the constitution is a “charade to show the world that Thailand is returning to democracy…”. He says: “There would be a prime minister, but the real power would be in some politburo above him and the economy would suffer. No other government would want to touch Thailand.” Maybe he should talk more with his Chinese friends. And, all the US wants is a civilian or civilianized premier.

Predictably, anti-democrats are agitated by Thaksin having found his voice. The Nation has an editorial which, to say the least, is bizarre. If we were generous, we say it is logically flawed. The editorial states that Thaksin should not be able to speak on the draft charter because he did not respect the 1997 constitution. The Nation’s writer seems to have lost an eye. Wasn’t it the military that threw out both the 1997 and 2007 constitutions?

Thaksin might be confused at times and he may have been arrogant and authoritarian in inclination, but it is not he who has the record of constitutional trashing. It is the military that holds the record for throwing out constitutions.

A year under the military boot I

22 05 2015

It is now a year since the elected Puea Thai Party government was overthrown by the military in its second coup in eight years. In a well-planned political intervention, it threw out the military’s 2007 constitution, repressed opponents and established top-down processes and puppet bodies to embed conservative politics.

iLaw has an excellent post that summarizes, in words and graphics, some of the impacts of the putsch:

After the coup, at least 751 individuals were summoned by the NCPO [they mean the military junta]. At least 424 were deprived of liberty…. Meanwhile, at least 163 individuals have been pressed with political charges. The NCPO has imposed Martial Law and then issued the NCPO Order no.3/2015 to ban political gatherings, restricting freedom of the press, and forcing civilians to be tried by Military Court. At least, 71 public activities were intervened or cancelled by the use of military force.

Of course, these data do not take account of wider impacts of political repression including widespread self-censorship, the end of representative politics at all levels and the shift of power to security forces that encourages, for example, primitive accumulation (for the latest example, see here).

On lese majeste, iLaw notes two trends under the military dictatorship. One is the arrest of “at least 30 individuals” who have been “pressed with cases regarding the violation of Article 112 simply because they were accused of claiming their royal connection for personal gain.” This refers to the cases against Prince Vajiralongkorn’s ousted third wife Srirasmi and her family and associates.

The second trend is a rise in lese majeste as a political charge: “at least 46 individuals have been charged for violation of Article 112 to stifle their freedom of expression. This is comparatively high considering that prior to the coup, there were only five remaining convicts on lèse majesté charge and five cases pending in the Court.”

As the military dictatorship has determined, its current intervention is meant to repress and chill so that the rule of the conservative, royalist elite can be maintained. Its draft constitution is reflective of this anti-democratic intent.

No comment permitted, no debate allowed

28 04 2015

There has been some debate regarding a referendum for the draft constitution – not something PPT makes much of – and there is now debate amongst the puppets and the drafters appointed by the military dictatorship.

For a way of really developing some participation and meaningful debate would have been to look to the processes that led to the 1997 constitution, but the anti-democrats and the junta are not interested in real participation or debate. Despite some nonsensical claims about “the people,” they are paternalists, as they have always been.

The Bangkok Post explains some of the nonsense in a report that has the draft constitution being sent to political parties for “review.” The catch is that these parties “are forbidden from meeting to debate the proposed charter.”

The National Reform Council completed a week-long debate on the draft Sunday, before writers sent the text to the cabinet, the Naitonal Council for Peace and Order, and political parties for their feedback.

The narrow Constitution Drafting Committee appointed by the junta and the junta itself want to limit debate to puppet assemblies.

General Lertrat Rattanvanich, a spokesman for the puppet CDC, “said there was no need for parties to meet as they had been airing their opinions on the constitution in the media.” Of course, this is nonsense too, but the dictatorship trades on nonsense.

Hired hands and the constitutional fix

29 03 2015

The military dictatorship’s propaganda machine is cranking up on the draft constitution, which seems anything but draft at present with Lt. Gen. Navin Damrigan, recently added [some of these links open PDFs] director of an advertising company, former military attache in Washington, former staffer at the Office of the National Security Council and now a member of the puppet Constitution Drafting Committee and puppet National Reform Council being given space in the Bangkok Post to promote the junta and anti-democrat perspective.

We suspect that the long op-ed in the Post is from the event mentioned below.

For all of his talk of democracy, equality, citizenship and rights – although we doubt he wrote the piece in the Post himself – Navin’s proclaimed task has been to dismantle the “Thaksin Shinawatra political network.”

The commentary under Navin’s name is a carefully crafted explanation for the junta’s constitution yet still includes all of its anti-democratic elements: a justification for martial law, the claim that inequality results from the actions of politicians and the people (!), functional constituencies for the Senate, a rejection of electoralism, blaming the people for “poor” electoral choices, the institutionalization of national security at all levels of politics allowing for military oversight, the weakening of elected representatives and the (re)creation of weak, divided and ineffectual party politics and coalition government, and so on.

The inequality stuff is simply bizarre in Navin’s account. While some of the data is correct, he blames those who suffer inequality for inequality.

Meanwhile, at The Nation, junta hired hand and military-appointed Constitution Drafting Committee president Borwornsak Uwanno has been ordered in front of foreign diplomats to convince them of the need for the military dictatorship’s constitution.

Predictably, while working for the junta, Bowornsak has used his King Prajadhipok Institute’s links to speak before the 4th KPI International Club Activity event on “The Path to New Constitution of Thailand.”

Like Navin, Bowornsak bleated “that the country needed to draft its 20th constitution because politicians took advantage of the 1997 Constitution’s emphasis on stable government and strong political parties to forge authoritarian regimes.”

This is, of course, factually incorrect. No elected government became authoritarian during the recent past. Thaksin might have liked to move in that direction and might have tried to influence independent agencies, but neither his government nor the pro-Thaksin governments nor, for that matter, the Democrat Party administration of 2008-11 were authoritarian in the way that the military regimes of 2006-7 and the current junta have been. Borwornsak is simply mouthing the anti-democrat mantras of recent years. These mantras have been associated with fascist political ideas and demands for military and royal political intervention. Neither the military nor the royals are anything other than hierarchical and supportive of authoritarianism.

Only about 30, mostly low-level, diplomats showed up at the forum.

Refreshingly for this hired lawyer, Bowornsak actually does explain why the royalist elite has been so politically unhappy with elected regimes. He explains, “We [he means the royalist elite] thought in 1997 that we needed to empower strong government and political parties [but] we got governments that were too strong, who dictated [terms] to the Parliament and attempted to control watchdogs and independent agencies…”. The royalist elite that sought to control much of the development of the 1997 constitution wanted to end the constant cycling of coalition governments driven by the need to raise money for short-cycle elections.

The result was strong governments under Thaksin and his ilk, and royalist realizations that strong elected governments were likely to undermine the elite’s capacity to get what it wanted from politics. Or, in Bowornsak’s words: “As a result, the situation has changed, and there are reasons for change and we need to rethink.”

Oddly, he is not reported to have said anything about the 2007 constitution, which he also helped author, devised by a military regime following the 2006 putsch. In fact, this constitution also failed the elite because it allowed a pro-Thaksin party to be elected to government.

Borwornsak has been part of the hired help for elected politicians like Chatichai Choonhavan and Thaksin and for two military juntas, indicating his capacity for duplicity and his desire for influence, personal recognition and even a bit of loot. It is thus remarkable that this man has the audacity to tell the diplomats that “politicians have been notoriously untrustworthy, non-transparent, and seemingly lacking morality and ethics, and honesty.” Bowornsak might look in the mirror.

The idea that it is politicians – and he means elected politicians – are the ones who are corrupt ignores the massive corruption associated with the royal house and its hangers-on. It is deliberately blind to the capacity of business tycoons for corrupt deals with state agents, including involvement in slavery, the exploitation of workers, murder, extortion, land-grabbing, smuggling, the destruction of the environment, and much more. It ignores the self-disclosed corruption of his current bosses, almost all of whom are unusually wealthy, as have been almost all military bosses for several decades. It ignores the rampant nepotism of the Committee and Council that he is a part of.

Borwornsak joked that Thailand, with its 20th constitution in drafting, is not a record holder, mentioning the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Haiti had drafted more constitutions, neglecting to note that Thailand is the “record holder” for Asia or that the military and royalists have responsibility for the trashing of Thailand’s constitutions and most of the resulting constitution drafting exercises. They never seem to have been able to get it right, not even with Bowornsak as scribe.Evolution_of_Thai_constitutions_1932-06

Navin is quoted, saying that “the public” should “protect this [military-directed] constitution as if their life depended on it” because it promoted “citizen rights.” Interestingly, these “rights” are either congruent with the 1997 constitution or added in order to keep elected governments unstable (allowing the elite to rule). None of these “rights” allow for the mitigation of the inherent undemocratic and unrepresentative nature of the draft constitution (as explained by Navin in the op-ed mentioned above).

Unfortunately, the report ends with an epithet: “There were no critical questions from diplomats during a question and answer session.”

Rancid royalist politics

8 01 2015

In the recent past, when the elite has discussed its various constitutions, the sections dealing with the monarchy have been considered “controversial” in the sense that the notion of a constitutional monarchy is poorly developed in Thailand and the current reign has seen a determined effort to limit the constitutional constraints on the monarchy. If PPT’s collective memory is correct, the discussions of the sections dealing with the monarchy in the deliberation of the 1997 constitution were held in-camera.

When the military junta seized power in May 2014, it scrapped almost all of the 2007 constitution, with the significant exception of the sections on the monarchy.

As the military dictatorship considers its new constitution, the puppet Constitution Drafting Committee has so far said little about the monarchy. It has considered proposals about a number of changes to the political system, although the outcomes of these are anything but clear.

Yet, if a report at Khaosod is a good indication, rabid royalists are determined to have an even more powerful monarch, less constrained by the new constitution.

Retired commander of the Thai armed forces General Saiyud Kerdphol, long a buddy to the great political meddler and Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda, “has urged drafters of the new constitution to allow … the King to intervene directly in politics…“.

The king has long intervened, and to give them their due, Khaosod points this out.

So this call is not for the standard intervention of the palace-monarchy conservative coalition, but for something more significant.

Saiyud wants the new constitution to define the “channels for the King to intervene” on the basis that he should “solve any political crisis in the country…”.

In fact, most political crises in the country, at least in the past few decades have been as a result of actions by the military, palace and royalists. Sure, there have been others, such as the red shirt risings of 2009 and 2010, but these have been responses to the interventions of these other groups of perennial meddlers. After all, it is the military, always with palace support or acquiescence, that conducted illegal coups in 1991, 2006 and 2014.

In the pickled world of old farts, political zombies, military jackasses and lumbering dinosaurs that Saiyud inhabits, his claim that he wants the king to be politically interventionist “in order to prevent further coups in Thailand” would make sense. However, no moderately sane person possessed of a few brain cells could possibly by this nonsense.old-farts-and-jackasses

According to this mad monarchist,

… the King should have the constitutional authority to exercise power “through the military, or the Statesman that he has appointed.” In Thailand, the honorary title of “Statesman” is currently held by Gen. Prem Tinsulanonda, the former unelected Prime Minister who is now serving as a top adviser to King Bhumibol.

There’s his elder military brother popping up in a role that Saiyud has promoted for Prem previously.

In Saiyud’s world, this “will help prevent more military coups in Thailand by allowing [the king] to solve political crises as soon they arise, thereby freeing the Thai military from ‘needing’ to intervene.”

The nonsense is that coups result when the palace wants to sort out its political problems and resolve its political fears. This would amount to a return to an absolute monarchy in all but name and would require that the king have control over all aspects of the coercive elements of the state.

Saiyud seems to not understand that monarchies went the way of the dodo because blood is not a trustworthy mechanism for choosing a political leader.

Capturing the constitution

1 11 2014

PPT has periods where we get a bit behind and have a backlog of stories we think worthy of posting. We will try to work through that today.

A couple of days ago, the Bangkok Post had a revealing story. Long-time Thaksin Shinawatra opponent Paiboon Nititawan, a former unelected senator, has been selected by the military dictatorship as a charter writer appointed by the junta’s puppet National Reform Council. He got this gig as a reward for his long support for royalist anti-Thaksinism, support for the People’s Alliance for Democracy and every other anti-democratic and ultra-nationalist movement over the past decade.

It should not be a shock, then, to learn that this anti-democrat says that neither the 1997 nor the military’s 2007 “charters will not be used as models in the drafting of the next constitution…”.

He reckons the new rules for politics  will be written “from scratch” to “reflect the reforms under way, except for chapters on the constitutional monarchy.” Of course, king-fearing yellow shirts can’t be seen to be changing anything to do with the monarchy, although we do expect some changes to be made.

The changes he expects to be “drastic” will be to the things Paiboon abhors: “the election systems involving MPs and senators and the formation of a cabinet…”. Reflecting his anti-democratism, Paiboon “said the powers of political parties should be reduced while the public should be allowed to take a more active role in politics…”. He wants “the party-list system be abolished to reduce parties’ powers.” To be elected in provincial constituencies, Paiboon expects an MP to garner at least 80% of the vote.

There’s no secret in his demands and plans. The reason for crushing political parties and changing elections is because “political parties are to blame for the conflicts that have troubled the nation for years.” He’s wrong for his lot have been making plenty of “trouble” too, but the point is, he hates popular political parties that propose change.

Keeping on this anti-democrat line, Paiboon barks that “the prime minister and cabinet ministers should not be MPs while the prime minister should be nominated and endorsed by parliament.” We imagine that Prem Tinsulanonda might like one last shot at the top job. If not him, then some other “good” royalist. Perhaps one of those uniformed “public servants” who have demonstrated remarkable entrepreneurial skills by becoming millionaires on low salaries?

Paiboon reckons that the “prime minister should not have the power to dissolve the House of Representatives, and parliament should not have the power to remove the premier from office.” Only one of the royalist allied courts could remove a prime minister.

If Paiboon has his way, Thailand may be less than the semi-democracy most anti-democrats think will solve the “problem” of people voting for parties they like.