The patronage system

24 12 2016

The puppet National Legislative Assembly’s (NLA) has been allocated a series of tasks by the junta, all meant to uproot the so-called Thaksin regime, meaning all remnants of the electoralism of the period 2001 to 2006.

Anti-democrats and the military dictators believe that Thaksin Shinawatra established an extensive patronage network in business, politics and the civil and military bureaucracy that needs to be abolished if the royalist elite and “network monarchy” is to maintain its ascendancy. They often linked patronage and vote-buying.

We at PPT had not previously heard of what The Nation calls an NLA “ad-hoc committee on how to fight the deeply-entrenched patronage system,” led, of course, by one of the top brass, Admiral Saksit Cherdboonmuang.The committee was the Admiral’s idea and was established in February.

Apparently, it has been at work developing a “367-page report with detailed proposals on how to end the domination of the patronage system in Thailand’s bureaucracy.” PPT hasn’t seen the report, but the Admiral says the ” patronage system causes damage in various dimensions. For example, it discourages many talented people from working in the government sector…”. Patronage, he says, leads to corruption.

Saksit reckons “that when it came to the delivery of government services, people … will think they just can’t go through normal channels of service delivery. They will think they need to find personal connections to get good services…”.

Anyone who has dealt with the bureaucracy will recognize this. That said, quite a few departments were much better following changes that began with the 1997 constitution. For example, getting a passport became a standardized procedure without the need to pay extras or to know someone.

The Admiral also “lamented that patronage had long been a part of the bureaucracy, pushing civil servants to prioritise personal relationships over a merit-based system.” He added:

It encourages junior officials to kow-tow to senior officials, who in turn bow to political-office holders so as to maintain beneficial relationships. In this cycle, businesspeople have also lobbied government officials and political-office holders.

Again, everyone will recognize this pattern. Having many minions makes life comfortable and is a display of power. It is also well-known that senior bureaucrats, police and military become very wealthy by their positions and their control of bureaucratic knowledge, rules and hierarchy.

None of this is new, being described long into the past by historians who describe favoritism, nepotism and corruption.

It starts when they are young

It starts when they are young

Saksit said his committee had compiled guidelines on how to stop the patronage culture from damaging the bureaucracy. These include a “ban free gifts, feasts, and bribes.” Government officials will also be “advised to avoid playing golf with people who may pose a conflict of interest.”  Reportedly, the recommendations include advice that “senior officials should reduce the number of assistants, because close work relations can also foster patronage feelings.”

Like many things in Thailand today, under the military dictatorship, this is doublespeak. There’s good patronage and bad patronage. Bad patronage is associated with nasty elected politicians. Good patronage is unmentioned, because it is a system that is based in hierarchy, military and monarchism.

It continues for university students and military recruits

It continues for university students and military recruits

As one commentator observed:

The patronage system is deeply ingrained…. The government is the parent. The people are the children…. The parent naturally has a fascist tendency to demand that the child not do this, not to do that.

This brief description fits the military dictatorship like a glove.

The last person who criticized this system of “good” or royalist patronage in any detail was probably Jakrapob Penkair.

Jakrapob, a former spokesman for ousted Prime Minister Thaksin, made a speech at Bangkok’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) on 29 August 2007. Royalists declared the speech anti-monarchy and he had to resign as a minister in May 2008. Under pressure from the Abhisit Vejjajiva government, on 22 March 2010 the case was sent forward for consideration for prosecution. Jakrapob had fled Thailand a year earlier. While the lese majeste case was reportedly dropped, Jakrapob remains in exile.

And continues to the top

And continues to the top

In that speech [opens a PDF that may be considered lese majeste in Thailand], Jakrapob stated that the then (2007) political crisis represented a “clash between Democracy and Patronage system directly.” He added: “It’s a head on clash.” He traces the history of patronage in Thai history:

One of the noted examples was that Great Father Ramkamheang … proposed to have a bell hung in front of his palace and anybody with specific problems could come and ring that bell and he or his people would come out and handle the problems. That was one of the first lessons the Thai students learnt about Thai political regime that you have someone to depend upon.

When you have a problem turn to someone who can help you, so before we know it, we are led into the Patronage system because we asked about dependency before our own capability to do things.

The lesson for today is that loyalty is paramount: “If you have loyalty to the King, unquestionable loyalty to the King, you would be protected, in order to show this protection more clearly, people who do otherwise must be punished.” Hence, under the military dictatorship of royalist generals, lese majeste is considered a more dire crime than premeditated murder.

Jakrapob talks of the modern era where the “[p]atronage system is problematic because it encourages unequality [inequality] among individuals. And that’s a direct conflict to Democracy. It encourages one person into thinking of depending on the other or others. It breeds endless number of slaves with a very limited number of masters. It prevents Thailand from coming out of age.”

That’s why Thailand has so many coups; the idea is to prevent the royalist patronage system being changed or overthrown.

We don’t think the Admiral is talking about this patronage system. After all, he and all his junta buddies and every single member of the military’s officer corps benefit greatly from royalist-preferred patronage.





Ditching parties

10 12 2016

The anti-democrats working for the military dictatorship to come up with its constitution are chosen because they hate electoral politics and can’t abide elected politicians. This is because such institutions and individuals provide the citizenry with an alternative notion of sovereignty that challenge the hierarchical regime of the “good” and the “great” who claim Thailand for themselves.

A series of articles have appeared in the Bangkok Post discussing the implications of the changes proposed by the anti-democrats working for the military junta.

The first is in the Saturday feature, About Politics. Usually critical, the column this week is pretty much uncritical. We wonder if it is by different journalist or if the regular journalist is self-censoring or under threat or warning.

The report says that the Constitution Drafting Committee’s (CDC) draft organic law on political parties “is wrapped up and almost ready for submission to the palace, with many fearing the contents will build an iron-clad cage around parties big and small.”

Reflecting the ideological beliefs of anti-democrats, one section seeks to rid parties of “puppet masters” claimed to be “lurking behind the scenes and pulling the strings.” This is how you say Thaksin Shinawatra without actually using his name. The idea that a “law” is designed to prevent one person from being politically influential is remarkable. Other individuals in the military and among the great and the “good” are permitted, of course.

The draft “law” allocates tremendous power to the politicized Constitutional Court, which will be able to dissolve parties more or less at any time the powers that be decide the court should do so. Again, Thaksin’s name is not mentioned but they mean him when parties are forbidden to allow “a non-member or a ‘prohibited person’ from directing its administration, however discreetly…”,

Of course, “good” people will be outside this “law.”

The “final version of the draft organic law demands greater accountability from political parties for their actions and their role in forging national reconciliation by tolerating and accepting different political opinions and helping to resolve political conflicts through peaceful means…”.

That means following the junta’s orders and those set out in the so-called 20-year road map. Failure means dissolution.

The law also prevents some persons – such as those convicted by the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions – from involvement with a party. Of course, this is another anti-Thaksin “law” and is aimed at the Puea Thai Party. Essentially, this “law” will be used to dissolve the party if it does well in any election the junta decides might be held. Thaksin has been made illegal.

Once the draft organic law comes into force, anything amounting to a “Thaksin factor” in a party’s affairs will be illegal, and the price for breaching the law will see the party cease to exist.

An earlier Bangkok Post report says that the “newly drafted bill on political parties may see the number slashed to 10 from the present 72 based on their records of financial support…”. That’s the word from anti-election election commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn.

The plan is to ditch parties 3-4 years because each party must “recruit 20,000 members and collect annual supporting fees of at least 2 million baht.” Somchai giggled that only 10 parties can do that.

Silly Somchai stated that the “draft organic law on political parties … was intended to encourage strong parties with the potential to produce quality work and become institutions.” Perhaps he forgets that this was the plan under the 1997 constitution, and that it was rather good at creating “strong parties.” Of course, one of those strong parties has been dissolved following the 2006 coup – Thai Rak Thai.

The requirement for all party members to contribute funds to the party every year will mean that the less well off members of the population will be excluded.

Yet another Bangkok Post report indicates many of the complaints of political parties, including the anti-democrat Democrat Party. That party babbled about vote-buying. That’s another anti-Thaksin line for the anti-democrats all believe – wrongly – that TRT and Thaksin bought all their votes.

The party might be better looking at why it never gets elected and why it is so keen to get in bed with the military and rabid rightists.

The “law” is meant to recreate political parties that are weak and dependent, as they were under General Prem Tinsulanonda’s military-backed “semi-democracy.”





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.”