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.





He’s back!

9 04 2014

We find it a little difficult to believe, but we are very pleased to see that veteran democracy campaigner Chalard Worachat is back at it. Prachatai reports that 22 years after he put backbone into the movement to prevent the military consolidating power in 1992, Chalard is camping out near Parliament House and has been there since 22 March (another report says 21 March). That is the day the Constitutional Court nullified the 2 February election.

Back in 1992, it was Chamlong Srimuang, now a grinning leader of the rightist Dhamma Army and of the People’s Alliance for Democracy who got credit for his hunger strike that eventually led to demonstrations and a massacre of civilians (note this report where a little-known intervention by the king is reported, trying to get Chamlong to abandon his hunger strike). In fact, though, it was Chalard who, as a very lonely protester, began a hunger strike that forced usually spineless politicians like Chuan Leekpai of the Democrat Party to take notice.

Chalard

A Prachatai photo

Prachatai sates that:

Chalard’s very first hunger strike took place [in 1980]…. He protested against the right-wing Prime Minister Kriangsak Chamanan, who was installed after the 1977 military coup, for raising oil prices…. It caused Kriangsak to resign on the 36th hour of Chalard’s hunger strike.

In 1983, Chalard was back, protesting:

during the General Prem Tinasulanond government, the House tried to pass a bill allowing bureaucrats and military officers to become Prime Minister, in effect allowing Prem to extend his term. Chalard held a hunger strike for nine days before successfully stopping passage of the bill.

He was back again in 1992, and then “played an important role in pushing for the 1997 constitution…”. From 1965 to 1987, Chalard was a member of the now disgraced Democrat Party. He once represented the Party in parliament. However, he:

protested against his party leader by holding a hunger strike to call on Chuan to amend the 1992 constitution to be more democratic, but on the 49th day, he quit due to his deteriorating health. The Supreme Patriach asked him to ordain instead…. His strike however led to “Chalard’s Friends,” a committee which successfully pushed for political reform as its main social agenda, and later paved the way for the drafting of the 1997 constitution.

In the hours after the 2006 palace-military coup, Chalard was arrested for protesting against it.

As Prachatai puts it, he is now back at the spot:

… where this 71-year-old man held a 45-day long hunger strike in 1992 to protest against General Suchinda Kraprayoon, then Prime Minister who came from a coup he led in 1991. The protest led to Black May, a people’s uprising in Bangkok which toppled the military regime and paved the way to a more democratic government for Thailand.

And, he has much the “same demands — to abolish an undemocratic constitution and oppose an appointed Prime Minister, as well as a military coup.” He isn’t refusing food yet, “but he says he will, should a military coup happen.”

Today, Chalard said “the core problem of Thai politics is the 2007 constitution which allows independent agencies too much power over the government.” He says: “We must call for the abolition of the current seditious constitution, and bring back a more democratic one.” If this doesn’t happen, Chalard states that the “situation will lead to chaos, more violence and a military coup for sure…. What we need is a new election to be held as soon as possible. We need a Prime Minister who comes from elections.”

Asked about the failed Democrat Party, “Chalard said he first decided to join the party because it was against the military in the 1970s…. Now it changed from opposing dictatorship to supporting it…”. In fact, even in the 1970s, the party’s opposition to military government was tepid.

Chalard’s actions always spur reaction, so it will be interesting to see if this current lone protest has any impact.





Updated: Coup and reform

9 02 2014

While denying that the whistle-blowing farmer rallies are not [corrected] funded by him or backed by his legal teams and have nothing to do with the anti-democrats, Suthep Thaugsuban has again talked of “reform.”

A reasonable observer would have thought that the antidemocratic movement would have a plan or strategy for “reform” in place by now, but apparently not.

The Bangkok Post reports that on Saturday – yes, yesterday – “Suthep held a seminar with public health representatives to discuss national reform plans.”

With whiteboard, with all the expensive overseas education of his team, and with all the brains of trained medical professionals, here is what he came up with:

Ideas on national reform should be crystallised within 18 months. If it’s taking too long, the Yingluck government will still try to cling on to power….

After all these months of rallies and speeches, in 18 months, someone will have some idea of what “reform” is required…. And we think he means after getting rid of the current government.

Perhaps Suthep didn’t need to think when he hoped for the military coup “solution.” Now that a judicial coup looks the more likely option, what then? Just leave it to the old dolts who think they run the country? With the old codgers in place, then presumably Suthep’s thugs can get on with “cleansing.”

Update: The Nation reports that the meeting with doctors came up with these areas for reform: “political process, graft and corruption, decentralisation of government, social and economic inequity, and judicial reform.” We assume that Prawase Wasi is involved.

Of course, none of these areas were addressed by Suthep when he was in power, so welcome to the royalist reform agenda! Of course, they were there in 1992-97 when the 1997 constitution was debated under the royalist patriarchs. It is a pity that that basic law was ditched by the same lot demonstrating now when they supported the 2006 coup.

It is not as if these areas are apolitical or not likely to result in struggle for the royalists define these reforms in ways that protect them.





Updated: Busy day in Bangkok II: reform, rice, old kings, censorship and impunity

10 08 2013

As we noted in the first part of this post, it has been a busy few days in Bangkok, with more stories than PPT can possibly comment on, so we are now posting a second  combination of stories.

In another story that cites PPT, Asia Sentinel had a story a couple of days ago regarding the politics of amnesty. PPT is cited as an “NGO,” which is probably rather too much of a grand title for our small effort to shine a light on aspects of politics and political prisoners in Thailand. The story also seems to erroneously suggest that Thaksin Shinawatra put the 1997 constitution in place. Even so, it is true that: “Any time amnesty or constitutional reform looms, the protesters take to the streets. Pheu Thai leaders have been waiting for almost three years to attempt to push through a series of constitutional reforms…”. It would be even more accurate to notice that when the military junta’s 2007 constitution was put in place, all of the old conservatives said it could be changed by elected governments, and even made this an article of the constitution. Since then, this pledge has been shown to be a lie. In fact, then, elected governments have been waiting six years to make changes.

Also worth reading is Robert Amsterdam’s post on the Wat Pathum inquest findings. This note caught our attention:

Without truth there is no justice. And without justice there can be no real workable amnesty. Some might argue a de facto legal amnesty already exists for the extremist anti-democratic People’s Alliance for Democracy and the groups aligned with them, including Abhisit’s Democrat Party. Abhisit and his former deputy PM, Suthep Thaugsuban, have both been charged with the murder of civilian protesters in 2010, yet arrogantly strut around, even dismissing the court’s bail conditions, assured of their own impunity.

Prachatai has a post regarding censorship of books – an unofficial removal from sale – at Asia books. Of course, the books relate to the monarchy. But not the current king. These two books relate to past kings and the royalist response to the 1932 revolution. Prachatai says: “The books concern the history of the 1932 revolution and the controversial relationship between King Rama VI and his palace servants.” So why the “ban”? Asia Books withdrew the two academic titles reportedly for reasons of “political sensitivity” but declined to comment further. The book by Dr. Nattaphol Chaiching studies the “counter-revolution led by the royalists” following the 1932 revolution. Readers without Thai skills can get an idea about the book through the author’s chapter in Saying the Unsayable. The book was published by Fa Diaw Kan as part of its “Monarchy Studies Series.” The second book by Chanun Yodhong is about “Gentlemen-in-waiting”, and deals with the relationship between the gay King Vajiravudh and his palace flunkies. Prachatai states that the book “poses questions about King Rama VI and his projects such as the Boy Scouts and Vajiravudh College, a private boys-only boarding school he founded in 1910.” It is published by Matichon.

While on censorship, we feel compelled to add to the outcry about the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology’s continuing stupidity regarding Facebook posts and its use of the draconian Computer Crimes Act. Minister Anudith Nakornthap has lost his marbles if he thinks social media users should be charged and locked up for “sharing and clicking ‘Like’ on social media posts, since they could be deemed as damaging to the country’s security.” His view that “postings that are political in nature or meant to stir up public confusion might be in breach of the Internal Security Act and Computer Crime Act” is utter nonsense but clearly neanderthals can use the law to censor and stifle. Interestingly, the cyber-cops have declared the warning as a successful scare tactic. Update: Asked if clicking “like” is now against the law, Police Maj Gen Pisit Pao-in, commander of the Technology Crime Suppression Division, says: “It will be if you ‘like’ a message deemed damaging to national security. If you press ‘like’, it means you are accepting that message, which is tantamount to supporting it. By doing so, you help increase the credibility of the message and hence you should also be held responsible.” Officials like this are appallingly dull and through their dullard actions, dangerous to Thais and their rights to free speech.

PPT also wants to draw attention to a couple of posts at Bangkok Pundit. The first is not that different from what PPT said on the story/retracted Bangkok Post story on Anand Panyarachun. The second explains what happened, and comes from a source that we also had, but since Pundit has it posted, there’s no need for us to do the same.

Finally, we want to give a few lines to a report in The Economist, which identifies the rice policy as an economic millstone for the government. We agree, but then the politics of reducing the guaranteed price saw farmers protesting just a few weeks ago. An economic millstone is becoming a political millstone, and the government’s policy wonks need to find a way out.





Back to 2005 royalism I

17 06 2013

With the royalists mounting yet another challenge to an elected government, the only thing that seems new for this lot is the use of the Guy Fawkes masks. Even these masks are a tired plagiarism of something done elsewhere.

Just to make everyone realize that absolutely nothing has changed for the royalists, the Thai Patriotic Front or Network has dredged up a ploy that was the strategy that marked the People’s Alliance for Democracy as a royalist instrument.

Yes, in a throwback move, the so-called Patriots have:

filed a petition seeking the Royal appointment of a new prime minister, citing what it described as failures by the current government on such issues as amnesty legislation, the rice-pledging policy and the Bt2-trillion infrastructure loans.

Chaiwat Sinsuwong and his small band anti-elected government ultra-royalists have submitted a “petition to the Royal Household Bureau seeking the Royal appointment of a new prime minister.”

We can only assume that this throwback action is a reference to Article 7 of the constitution. It states: “Whenever no provision under this Constitution is applicable to any case, it shall be decided in accordance with the constitutional convention in the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State.”PAD_King

Readers may recall that Article 7 of the then 1997 charter was also used by anti-Thaksin Shinawatra protesters in 2005 and 2006. PAD pushed the use of this article very strongly. As Michael Connors explained it in his well-known Journal of Contemporary Asia article, the call for royal intervention was persistent and became a plea for the king to sack Thaksin [Shinawatra], supported by PAD and the Democrat Party. He also notes that the Democrat Party was prepared to use Article 7 in other circumstances in 2006 (p. 158). They made another call for its use in 2012.

Article 7 was introduced to the 1997 constitution by conservative royalists just before it was promulgated, and after public hearing were completed (p. 150). Connors argues that “the effect of Article 7 was to limit the reach of all … new [democratic] claims by empowering a traditionalistic and royalist interpretation should one be so required” (pp. 150-1).

While the 2005 plea was rejected by the palace, it led to the king’s call on the judiciary to intervene following the abortive 2006 election, which eventually led to the 2006 military coup and the political struggles that have continued to this day as the royalists prefer the intervention of unelected and unrepresentative powers against elected and popular political regimes. Article 7 pits the elite against the people.








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