Doubling down

10 02 2015

The quiet struggle between the Thaksin Shinawatra clan and its supporters and the military dictatorship is heavily weighted in favor of the latter. After all, the military junta has lots of armed soldiers, control of the police and has plenty of overcrowded prisons. In addition, it has the courts, the puppet assemblies and so on.

There has been talk of a “deal” being negotiated between Thaksin and the junta. Yellow-shirted ideologues see bombs, student demonstrations and anti-monarchy activism as being the weapons of Thaksin and his clan. They might also see the military dictatorship’s increasing screwing down of red shirts and others as and example of the junta responding.

We could believe this. After all, Thaksin has been a skilled negotiator. That said, each “deal” that has been said to have been done in the past has ended badly for Thaksin. Think of the “deal” undone by the amnesty debacle.

In this context, the continuing attacks on the Thaksin clan seems to us at PPT to be more likely to be an example of the military seeking to expunge that group – something it was accused of failing to do following the 2006 putsch.

Khaosod reports that the politicized National Anti-Corruption Commission has decided it “will prosecute former Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and his deputies [former Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, and ‘some more Cabinet members’] for authorizing a crackdown on Yellowshirt protesters in October 2008.”

On 7 October 2008 the Somchai government “ordered police to clear Yellowshirt [People’s Alliance for Democracy] protesters who were blocking the entrance to Parliament and calling on Somchai to resign. Two people were killed…”.

As far as PPT can recall, with the help of Wikipedia, only one protester died in the skirmishes between police and a violent PAD. The second “protester” blew himself up in a car bomb gone wrong. The “investigation” involved the use of GT200 magic wands by royalist forensic “scientist” Pornthip Rojanasunand, who simply decided that the woman killed was hit by a police tear gas canister.

But the point is to punish. A spokesperson for the NACC says that it has a ton of “evidence,” and “that the agency will prosecute Somchai and his deputies in the Supreme Court’s Division for Holders of Political Office,” charged with “abuse of power.”

The NACC is pushing this case “because the Office of Attorney-General declined to take the case…”.

The queen, when she was still politically active, attended the funeral of the victim and praised her.

What has the NACC done to investigate the murder of red shirts by the military in 2010?

In line with the doubling down on the Thaksin clan, The Bangkok Post reports that a request “by former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra to travel abroad will take a long time to process…”. More pressure is applied to her after the ridiculous “impeachment.”

The junta says it “must be careful when considering her travel requests, to avoid affecting legal proceedings…”. Of course, all they are doing is squeezing her and her clan.

The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, appears to be promoting the doubling down. He wants to expunge popular politicians, probably so that his men and women can win any future “election.”





Secretive monarchists

1 05 2014

The Ad Hoc Committee on Studying and Monitoring Problems Concerning Law Enforcement and Measures for the Protection of the Royal Institution, chaired by Gen Lertrit Wechsawarn, is apparently a new “committee” formed by what the Bangkok Post refers to as a “group of ultra-royalist senators.”

The report says that the mostly unelected senators have “agreed to use social networking to protect the monarchy.”

This remarkable breakthrough in the struggle to prevent the decline and fall of the Thai monarchy came from a secret, “closed-door seminar Tuesday to brainstorm tactics at Government House.” Of course, secrecy is important for royalists because truth is dangerous and has to be kept from the public.

General Lertrit told journalists the aim of his secret cabal was “to build up a strong network of pro-monarchists” that would “create measures to counter those offending the royal institution…”.

Deputy Senate Speaker Surachai Liengboonlertchai if citizens and the state performed their “duties well enough,” this would be a “starting point” to “ignite… the royal protection [movement]…”.

Reporters were thrown out after the opening speeches, “despite being invited, and given a handout about the group and its purposes.” That handout explained that:

the seminar was held because committee members had found that information and communication technology was being used improperly to insult the royal institution, and attempts were being made to link the monarchy to current political movements.

Perhaps they’ll close Princess Chulabhorn’s ludicrous Facebook page that has her supporting the anti-democrats.Chulabhorn

The unelected lot reckon that “a group of corrupt politicians has tried to discredit the royal institution.” It is clear they mean pro-Thaksin Shinawatra political parties that manage to win elections.

In fact, though, it was the 2006 coup and the stupidity and arrogance of the palace’s political manipulators did the discrediting.





This is for the king IV

6 02 2014

From a story at the Sydney Morning Herald:

Thaksin levelled the electrifying accusation that senior counsellors to the  King of Thailand had been complicit in allowing the coup, drawing the monarch’s name into the fray. In a country where the king is revered, and where you can be jailed for 15 years for criticising him, this was extraordinary. It was also true.

Much evidence supports the claim. And this brings us to one of the overarching factors in explaining Thailand’s democratic dyslexia. The monarchy ”had at best a mixed record supporting democracy, and hasn’t allowed a fully democratic political system to emerge,” says David Streckfuss, an American researcher based in Cambodia….

”Thailand has largely accommodated military interventionism, especially by accepting the defence of the monarchy as a justification for toppling elected governments,” writes Nicholas Farrelly, an… ANU expert on Thailand.

”Thailand’s elite and, to some extent, the public as well have deeply internalised the ultimate acceptability of coups. The test of this arrangement may come with the end of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s reign and the potential realignment of military influence in Thai society.”

That test is drawing near. The king is 86 and ailing. It will be a threshold moment for Thailand.

In a real constitutional monarchy, where the palace is guided by the law, this wouldn’t even be a discussion. The anti-democrats draw great strength from their belief that the monarchy is with them.





Why Thaksin is wrong

24 10 2013

At the Bangkok Post there is an interview with Thaksin Shinawatra who is headlined as having “expressed his support for the controversial amnesty bill…”. We think he is wrong and needs to reconsider his position. To begin, however, we want to say where he is right.

Support for an amnesty is right. There was nothing wrong with the original proposition that amnesty would be for rank-and-file protesters. Thailand has long suffered from state authorities murdering citizens – deemed opponents – with complete impunity. Ending that situation requires that state officials, the military brass and leaders of political movements be held responsible for their illegal actions.

We also think Thaksin is right to believe that most Thais would be happy for more political stability than has been the case since the military’s last coup in 2006. He’s right to speak of justice, forgiveness and peace.

But the version of the amnesty Thaksin supports does none of this. More likely, it will foment more conflict and will do neither Thaksin nor the country much good. It will, amongst other things, reinforce the notion that the state and its senior officials can act illegally with impunity.

Thaksin is wrong to say that Thailand “needs ‘resetting back to zero’ for the sake of future generations.”

We can’t help but mention that it was supporters of the 2006 coup who repeatedly talked of that illegal military action as resetting Thailand. No doubt the looney yellow shirts will also point out that the Khmer Rouge wanted a new beginning from Year Zero.

Thaksin is wrong to “insist… the amnesty push is not for himself, but to allow the country to move forward from political conflict…”. He’s wrong to talk about “justice” and “rule of law” when the proposal he supports undermines both.

His linking of amnesty with “entering the AEC [Asean Economic Community]…” is wrong as the two issues are simply unrelated.

Thaksin is wrong to speak of forgiving. He should consider those who don’t seek revenge but who want justice as a way of breaking the cycle of impunity.

If he really does “have no problem staying in foreign lands for another 10 years…” then he should be comfortable with an amnesty that seeks real justice. Such an amnesty would be a real historical breakthrough, and not just a resetting that is simply another cycle of impunity.





An omen

12 10 2013

A couple of days ago PPT posted on the faith of the opposition in astrologers and their predictions of the imminent demise of the Yingluck Shinawatra government. Then we also noted that faith in such soothsayers was not limited to the opposition. Even so, we wonder about the meaning of video below, sent to us by a reader, and apparently recent. In it, the aged  2006 coup plotter Prasong Soonsiri, now a schemer for and backer of the opposition, has a chair collapse under him. That must be some kind of ill omen!





Is the Thai monarchy in danger?

11 10 2013

That’s the headline for a story by Florian Decludt at the International Affairs Review, a web-based magazine produced graduate students from the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University in Washington D.C.

It begins with the usual nonsense about the king having “served as the sole guarantor of the country’s stability.” You really would think that graduate students would be able to read a bit more widely and finally discern that this claim is nothing more than palace propaganda. Graduate students may not have much influence, yet there is enough in the article to warrant a critical assessment.

The story told is about an “old and ailing” king and the implications of succession for the political order. If the alleged stabilizer is dying, what happens to the alleged stability? All a bit tortured really, for it depends on this fake idea that the king has stabilized politics rather than supported coups and authoritarian leaders who have a notion of stability that revolves around crackdowns, jailing opponents and maintaining the royalist political order.

Leaving this false premise aside for the moment, the article says that “[e]nsuring stability means that the succession process proceeds smoothly and that prominent figures such as Thaksin Shinawatra do not interfere with the process.”

This is an odd claim, and mainly heard from yellow shirts in Thailand who think Thaksin is somehow close to the prince, with rumors circulating that Thaksin funds the prince or once did. So while it is clear in law that the Crown Prince will succeed his father, the article notes the “unpopularity of current Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn,” as if this matters. The article goes so far as to state: “It is clear, however, that Vajiralongkorn is not fit to become King because of his unpopularity.”King, prince

To make the point clear, the article states: “Vajiralongkorn, unlike his father, does not enjoy the same prestige due to allegations of adultery and ties to criminal organizations.” It is hardly a state secret that the prince isn’t seen in the same way as his father, who has been the subject of massive, state-funded propaganda campaigns. The rest is rumor and ignores the king’s long association with the military, also long associated with illegalities in trade, on borders and in terms of state murder.

At the same time, this observation also buys into the palace line that the king has to be popular, with the implication that popularity is somehow akin to a people’s mandate. Of course, no monarchy works that way, as blood is the only critical measure. And male blood, with an heir, in place matters more than female blood and no possibility of an heir. So ignoring law and royal “tradition” in Thailand – at least for the 19th and 20th centuries – and elsewhere, relying on palace propaganda and rumor, the article then claims:

The Thai monarchy could circumvent this block by having King Rama IX disinherit Vajiralongkorn and designate Princess Sirindhorn as the heiress to the throne. This would follow the recommendations made by three prominent Thai political figures: former Prime Ministers General Prem Tinsulanonda and Anand Panyarachun, and Air Chief Marshal Siddhi Savetsila.

So this puts the claim about Thaksin interfering in a different perspective. Drawing on a famous Wikileaks cable, it becomes clear that it is actually the courtiers, as “prominent figures,” who could “interfere with the process.” The claim, often heard in red shirt circles as much as amongst yellow shirts, is that Privy Council President Prem will manipulate succession. The red shirts claim that Prem is an old interferer while the yellows seem to be hoping that he does intervene to ensure the jolly Sirindhorn may save the monarchy from Vajiralongkorn and thus maintain their feudal royalism.

2006 royalist coup

The military in the king’s yellow in 2006

Prem’s recent political game-playing – actively participating in coup planning in 2006 – was a political disaster for the monarchy and destabilized it more than any other event since 1976, when the monarchy intervened on the side of vicious rightists causing remarkable political damage. In the latter case, the monarchy intervened to protect its interests and seemed prepared to accept the damage. In 2006, it thought it was on a political winner, only to be seriously disappointed.

The article then states the royalist argument for Prem’s interference:

If the Crown Prince keeps his title, it is certain that the royal family’s standing will be weakened by Rama IX’s passing. In this situation, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration will attempt to secure more executive power at the expense of the King, and ensure the return of her brother, Thaksin.

Constitutionally, the king is meant to have little political role and the idea of wrestling “executive power” away from him is misguided. What the author appears to mean is that succession may mean that the monarchy is less able to intervene in political matters. For many, that would be an excellent development and may be the one thing that actually works to stabilize Thailand’s democracy.

The article then gets confused and lost, prophesying a military coup “in favor of Vajiralongkorn” that would seek “to topple Yingluck,” leading to “internal support to overthrow the monarchy.” If the prince is close to Thaksin, this argument seems illogical. Even so, the article then states that the end of the monarchy in Thailand “would have disastrous consequences for Thailand as a whole.” Why? Well, circular logic is employed:

Without the royals, the country would lack the unifying force that guarantees a certain level of stability, which has allowed the country to prosper despite numerous coups. King Rama IX’s prestige and influence is the sole reason why Thailand did not descend into civil war following Thaksin’s ouster in 2006.

That palace seems such a dysfunctional place that it is capable of bringing itself down. It was the palace’s intervention that led to the 2006 coup, which very nearly unraveled royalist power in Thailand.

Ignoring all of this, the article makes the following claim, which may well represent some of the parallel universe thinking that characterizes conservative elite thinking both in Thailand and the U.S.:

The only way to ensure the preservation of the status quo would be to coronate Princess Sirindhom. While it is likely that Vajiralongkorn will attempt to prevent this from happening, his widespread unpopularity will prevent him from taking the crown from his sister, forcing him to withdraw from political affairs. Princess Sirindhom’s relative popularity compared to her brother would also reduce the odds of the Yingluck administration’s attempts to secure more executive power. Such continuity in power is the best outcome for Thailand’s stability and therefore for US interests in the region.





Coups and their justification

11 07 2013

The Bangkok Post has an editorial that is about coups. This follows a recent op-ed that appeared to be a paean for a military coup. The editorial states: “Few nations have watched the Egyptian developments closer than Thailand.”

It adds that “… the overriding fact is that military force hovers over Thai politics and a coup always is possible within the next 24 hours.”

Noting the similarities between the recent Egyptian coup and that in Thailand in 2006, and observes:

One wishes Egypt well, but the truth is that the Thais who rooted on the coup forces of 2006 were as wrong as the military clique they lionised.

But then the Post seems to couch “wrong” in terms of the failure of the military junta in Thailand to manage the country rather than to condemn the military’s intervention. It says:

2006 coup

2006 royalist coup

The overthrow of the “Thaksin regime” was the easy part…. Within months, Gen Sonthi and accomplices proved they had no idea how to run and administer a country. While the government foundered at home and in foreign affairs, the junta hardened public opinion nationwide. Five years after the coup, and after dozens of Thais were killed in political violence, voters rejected the military and voted Thaksin allies back into power.

It is remarkable to PPT that the Post makes the following claim about Democrat Party leader and former premier Abhisit Vejjajiva who:

was quick off the mark to link the Egyptian army’s actions to Thailand. He came up with an impressive list of justifications for a military coup in this country _ government abuse of power, for example, or challenges to the judiciary.

It is, of course, expected that the military pawn should be outlining scenarios for yet another military coup, hoping that the military might again allow him to be prime minister. It is clear that this is not a democrat speaking.

The Post then declares: “A military coup never is legitimate.” Yet, again, this is couched in a kind of technocratic reasoning:

It [a coup] inevitably sinks the country economically, causes chaos to governance, and _ in the case of another coup in Thailand _ will bring both opprobrium and major economic and political sanctions from around the world.

We suggest that the Post should simply declare: A military coup never is legitimate and add a full stop and forget the justifications.





Knowing the obvious on the military

10 05 2013

At The Nation there’s a story that seems all too obvious to PPT and probably to anyone else who watches Thailand’s politics: the military is politicized, runs coups and rejects any modern notion of civilian control.

It seems that when an academic recites these truths, it is newsworthy, especially when a foreign academic, Professor Aurel Croissant, is making these points.

That “Thailand remains among those countries that have failed to institutionalise civilian control over the military,” is clear, despite efforts by  premiers as diverse  as Chuan Leekpai and Thaksin Shinawatra.

The professor says that “Thailand ranks fifth the world in terms of having the most number of military coups,” with 18 “successful” coups since 1932.

Nicholas Farrelly at New Mandala some time ago pointed out that counting coups is difficult:

Here on New Mandala we recently hosted a discussion about Thailand’s coup history where I suggested that counting the number of coups (attempted and successful) is a complicated business. Often, when somebody asks “how many coups have there been in Thailand?”, the final number that is cited is 18 but I fear that this may be a product of force of habit rather than hard number crunching.

He adds:

As it stands I have 11 “successful” and 9 “unsuccessful” coup efforts in the 20th century [sic. he adds 2006 in] for a total of 20.

The army's real task: coups and repression

The army’s real task: coups and repression

Readers at that thread add several more.

Croissant tells us that “the risk of a putsch remains high,”another point widely discussed, even in the past few days.

Sadly, but not unexpectedly, “Croissant predicted it will be a long time before Thailand can achieve genuine civilian control over the military.”

Oddly, though, in the way he is reported, the professor seems to blame civilians for the problem.

It [civilian control] will depend on not just the military refraining from getting involved in politics but also on strong civilian support and consensus that civilians should have oversight of the military.

“There’s no consensus on that they will not pull the military into political conflicts,” said Croissant, who jointly conducted research on the topic over four years in which more than 180 people in the Kingdom were interviewed.

We guess it depends a bit on who you interview….

Croissant adds:

… the military’s power can be exerted not just through the staging of coups d’etat but also through influence over the government’s decision-making processes. The lack of coups doesn’t automatically mean that civilian oversight exists, he said. “The military can exercise control over policy because democracy is weak.”

And who do we blame for that?Certainly the military, but we will come back to this point below.

On the brighter side, the academic “sees the September 19, 2006 coup as a sign of the army’s ‘eroding military control’ over Thai politics and society.”

What is missing in this account -and, yes,we know it is only a news report – is any discussion of the forces that have institutionalized the military’s coup  mentality.

From 1932, the military became a “protector” of the state. By the late 1950s, the military was transformed – with considerable U.S. funding and advice – into a “protector” of the state with the monarchy as the central defining element. This latter role has demanded a military that was pretty much hopeless in terms of usual ideas about  warfare and was trained and armed for domestic warfare. This meant fighting communists, insurgents,and as required, civilian protesters, who have been murdered by the military in very large numbers.

Protecting the monarchy and state also meant support for and from the Sino-Thai tycoons who expanded their economic and,later, political power through this period. The military was rewarded, with awards, decorations and loot (especially in border zones and in “commissions”).

Of course, the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime represented a complete alliance of military power and civilian weakness. Abhisit was anointed by military and monarchy and was beholden to them.

The alliance of capitalists, monarchy and military is strongly in favor of military interventionism  to protect their interests, political and economic. Some saw Thaksin’s rise as a weakening of this alliance and 2006 was a way to put things right. Some predict this alliance will weaken again at succession.





Speculation on politics and succession

27 03 2013

Shawn Crispin at the Asia Times Online engages in some speculation regarding the future of the Yingluck Shinawatra government and succession. It is a long and rambling essay that packs almost every political event into its musings, with very few facts and plenty of guesses; yet it still worth a read.

He begins by noting that:

While both sides have appeared committed to avoid new rounds of confrontation in the autumn of King Bhumibol’s palace-proclaimed unifying reign and in light of Yingluck’s conciliatory tack, the criminally convicted Thaksin’s persistent push for a political amnesty is still viewed by many royalists as non-negotiable, including within the top ranks of the military led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

He adds that “Peua Thai efforts to table assorted amnesty bills in parliament and a parallel investigation by the quasi-independent National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) into alleged irregularities in Yingluck’s personal asset declaration made upon taking office that threatens to topple her from power.” Crispin notes that the NCCC’s investigation is seen by some “as a royalist counter to Peua Thai’s amnesty and constitutional amendment initiatives…”.

Crispin puts succession front and center, just as some claimed it was when the military ran its coup for the palace in 2006. He argues that politics is all about Thaksin and the monarchy, with royalists falsely declaring that any attempt to amend the constitution is “aimed to undermine the monarchy’s position and power ahead of a delicate and increasingly uncertain royal succession.”

While “Yingluck has worked to temper royalist fears that her Thaksin-influenced government represents an existential threat to the monarchy and associated institutions,” her government seems unable to use its massive electoral mandate against the unelected elite forces.

Crispin includes considerable speculation regarding rifts in the government and between the government and red shirts, but the real story revolves around the subterranean battle between royalists-palace and Thaksin-red shirts, with the latter lacking influence over the courts:

Significantly, the MoJ lacks power over top level courts, including appointments to the Administrative, Appeals, Constitutional, and Supreme Courts. All four courts are widely viewed as royalist power centers, due in part to a series of rulings that have gone against Thaksin since the 2006 military coup that toppled his elected government. Since, Bhumibol has at royal audiences repeatedly called on freshly appointed top judges to rule with independence and righteousness.

Of course, for the palace, “independence and righteousness” means ruling in their interests.

Crispin ruminates on the “changed power dynamics in the palace in the wake of Queen Sirikit’s recent illness” and the king’s extended hospitalization. He refers to some who see “Thaksin as resigned to bide his time outside of the country and appeal for a royal pardon after rather than before the royal succession.” He repeats the usual speculation that “Thaksin may receive more sympathetic royal treatment under heir apparent Crown Prince Vaijralongkorn, due in part to their known past personal ties.”

However, he then speculates on succession shenanigans: “While many analysts and diplomats believe that the royal succession plan from Bhumibol to Vajiralongkorn is immutable, others have interpreted differently recent royal household signals and events.”

Sirikit, who “suffered from an ischemic stroke last July,” is out of sight and may be impaired physically and mentally. The king has been chirpier in recent times, but regularly falls back into illness and incoherence. All of this – PPT’s speculation – leads:

Some diplomats and political analysts now wonder if the long-held succession plan could be altered if the highly influential 80-year-old Sirikit, known to be her son’s top backer for the throne, were to pass ahead of Bhumibol. In line with the royal tradition known as wang na, Vajiralongkorn is renovating his Bangkok-based Amporn palace, as well as for less clear reasons facilities maintained at Don Muang airport, in advance of the anticipated transition.

Crispin then cites:

… “[p]alace insiders who spoke to Asia Times Online suggest that Vajiralongkorn’s first daughter, Princess Bajraktiyabha, could instead play a bridging role in a potential compromise scenario between royal camps vying alternately between Vajiralongkorn and Princess Sirindhorn to assume the throne. That face-saving scenario would see Bajraktiyabha take on a regency role while Vajiralongkorn’s youngest son, Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, is groomed for the throne.

Frankly, these rumors have been around for several years and suggest royalist hope rather than anything more. Yet there is always the chance that succession can spin out of control, especially if the old duffers at the Privy Council get involved or the military decides to fiddle things. But as one of PPT’s unnamed sources speculated, it is expected that the king can go on for another 10 years, and the longer he does, the less royalist and middle-class opposition there may be to a shorter Vajiralongkorn reign.





Abortive Abhisit

18 12 2012

Back in 2007, as the military promoted its referendum on the constitution designed to rollback reforms hard won following the bloody events of 1992, Democrat Party leader and, at the time, premier presumptive, Abhisit Vejjajiva was all for it (“Abhisit says Democrats [sic] will clean up politics,” Bangkok Post, 22 July 2007).

Bowling over democracy

Bowling over democracy (a Nation photo)

He was strongly supportive of a process that academic Pasuk Phongpaichit (“Pasuk takes aim at the perils of draft charter,” Bangkok Post, 27 July 2007) said would lead to “the country will be controlled by soldiers, the elite and officials, she warned. Thailand will have a ‘managed democracy,’ where soldiers and the elite rule the country.”

It may not have worked out exactly like that, but the elite continues to need this undemocratic constitution that legitimized the 2006 coup. For an accounting of the military and elite efforts to prevent a no vote in 2007, Asia Sentinel is a good place to begin.

Hence it is no surprise that Abhisit is now campaigning against a proposed referendum to change the undemocratic charter. More than that, he and his (un)Democrat(ic) Party are encouraging voters to avoid and abort the referendum. One Party legal adviser says:

eligible voters who oppose the government’s move to rewrite the charter have the right to stage “civil disobedience” by not going to vote, as well as simply voting against it. He said that unlike a general election, when eligible voters have a duty to vote, people have the right to choose whether to vote in a referendum.

Because Abhisit’s abort call may be illegal, he now says: “I did not mean the referendum should be blocked…”. The basic point of Abhisit’s undemocratic position has been clear since 2006: accept coup, repression, military in order to establish elite rule. He has been consistent.