Another year of PPT

20 01 2020

Eleven years have passed for Political Prisoners in Thailand. We admit our disappointment that we remain active.

By this, we mean that PPT should have gone the way of the dinosaurs, being unnecessary as Thailand’s political prisoners, its military dictatorship and political repression would have been a thing of the past. But political dinosaurs flourish in Thailand’s fertile environment filled with fascists, royalists and feudalists. Sadly, the political climate in  the country is no better following last year’s March “election,” which was rigged to return a junta-based regime.

When we began PPT on 21 January 2009, we hoped it would be a temporary endeavor, publicizing a spike in lese majeste cases to an international audience. Instead, a decade later, we are still at it and dealing with the outcomes of royalist politics gone mad.

We now face the repressive reality of the continued dominance of a military dictatorship-turned-military-backed regime, initially brought to power by an illegal military coup in 2014. This regime is underpinned by a nonsensical royalism that protects an anti-democratic ruling class and efforts by the king to enhance his political and economic power, cheered on by the regime. This royalist state lavishes privilege, wealth and power on a few.

In “protecting” monarchy, regime and ruling class, the military junta and its “elected” spawn have used a politicized judiciary, a rigged constitution and blunt military and police repression to maintain power.

Last year we argued that the junta’s rigging of an “election” that would embed a military-royalist constitution and lead to a political nightmare, maintaining military political domination for years to come. Sadly, we were right.

A better, more representative and more democratic politics remains a dream.

When we sputtered into life it was as a collaborative effort to bring more international attention to the expanded use of the lese majeste and computer crimes laws by the then Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and his anti-democratic Democrat Party. That regime’s tenure saw scores die and thousands injured in political clashes and hundreds held as political prisoners.

The royalism and repression that gained political impetus from anti-democratic street demonstrations that paved the way for the 2006 military coup and then for the 2014 military coup have become the military state’s ideology. Those perceived as opponents of the military and the monarchy were whisked away into detention, faced threats and surveillance and some have died or been “disappeared” in mysterious circumstances.

This royalism and repression has also strengthened the monarchy. The junta supinely permitted King Vajiralongkorn to assemble greater economic and political power. It colluded with the palace in aggregating land for the monarch that was previously set aside for the public. It has colluded in destroying symbols of the 1932 revolution, emphasizing the rise of neo-feudal royalism that leaves democracy neutered.

On this anniversary, as in past years,  we want an end to political repression and gain the release of every political prisoner. Under the current regime – as military junta and then “elected” regime – hundreds of people have been jailed or detained, subjected to military courts and threatened by the military.

The 2006 and 2014 coups, both conducted in the name of the monarchy, have seen a precipitous slide into a new political dark age where the lese majeste law – Article 112 – has been a grotesque weapon of choice in a deepening political repression.

From 2006 to 2017, lese majeste cases grew exponentially. Worse, both military and civil courts have held secret trials and handed out unimaginably harsh sentences. And even worse than that,  the definition of what constitutes a crime under the lese majeste law has been extended. Thankfully, since 2017 we were unable to identify any new lese majeste cases and some in process were mysteriously dropped. There remain several persons held or charged with lese majeste and cries of lese majeste still emanate from royalists and ministers.

These days, other charges, including sedition, are used to repress political opponents.

As for PPT, we have now had more than 6.5 million page views at our two sites (one now closed). PPT isn’t in the big league of the blogging world, but the level of interest in Thailand’s politics has increased. We are pleased that there is far more attention to political repression and lese majeste than there was when we began and that the international reporting and understanding of these issues is far more critical than it was.

Tired after all these years, we did take a break in late 2019, but we are now back.

We want to thank our readers for sticking with us. We trust that we remain useful and relevant and we appreciate the emails we receive from readers.

As in the past we declare:

The lese majeste, sedition and computer crimes laws must be repealed.

Charges against all political activists must be dropped.

All political prisoners must be released.

Royalism and neo-feudalism must be opposed.





Royals bringing themselves undone

10 01 2020

As the “crisis” of the British monarchy hits the headlines and the actions of a couple of self-righteous twats are criticized, The Straits Times begins a story on social media criticism of members of the royal family saying, “No longer content to just whisper in private settings their views on the monarchy, Thais are now openly discussing, and at times criticising, the royal family despite harsh laws.”

The story is built around the recent activity criticizing shutdowns of shopping centers, whole islands and many streets in order to facilitate the Hello magazine-style lifestyle of the royals.

As the “authorities closely monitoring Facebook, more people in Thailand … are venting via tweets, while hiding behind fake names and photos…”.

From Wikipedia

The most recent incident was criticism of the king’s pampered and vain daughter Princess Sirivannavari’s new year jaunt with rich friends to the south for a bit of partying and sightseeing. Trouble was that no one else was permitted in the same areas – on land or sea – as “the authorities closed off parts of the popular southern islands…”. Even fisherman were ordered to go elsewhere or stay in harbor. The result was the “#IslandsShutdown hashtag was used about 382,000 times as of Jan 1 but has since been repeated more than a million times.”

An earlier hashtag “#RoyalMotorcade became the top trending hashtag on Twitter in October with over 250,000 retweets” as netizens piled on criticism over road and shopping center closures to satisfy the fabulously wealthy royals who seem oblivious to the extent of their privilege and the trouble this causes for hundreds of thousands of people.

The criticism is considered “unprecedented,” which is not quite accurate, but Soraj Hongladarom, a philosophy professor at Chulalongkorn University is quoted as saying this represents a “macro-level structural change of Thai society which has already been set in motion” as attitudes to the monarchy change under the grasping reign of King Vajiralongkorn.

In fact, though, the most recent bouts of outspoken criticism of the monarchy have their origins in King Bhumibol’s support of military dictatorship and especially of the 2006 coup and then the brutal crushing of the red shirt rebellion by royalist military leaders, most of whom have run the government since the 2014 military coup.

It looks very much like the current king’s own behavior is abominable as he jets about, using taxpayer money to spend most of his time away from Thailand. He has that in common with Prince Harry who also seems uncomfortable in his own country.





Erasing history and memory

7 01 2020

PPT is almost a month late in posting on Anna Lawattanatrakul’s Uprooting Democracy: The War of Memory and the Lost Legacy of the People’s Party, which appeared at Prachatai on 19 December 2019. We are posting now because we feel that this is an important article.

We won’t recount it all as readers should look at it in full. We’ll just highlight some basic points, all of them pointing to the efforts by the palace and state to erase the 1932 revolution from history and memories.

It is important to recognize that, from the day of the revolution on 24 June 1932, there most basic schism is Thailand’s politics was between royalists and those associated with the People’s Party that overthrew the monarchy all those years ago.

Because the royalists and the royal family were so incensed by being pushed aside and losing some of their privileges and power, generations of them have been struggling to scrub out the legacy and symbols of the revolution and the People’s Party.

As Anna’s article points out, this process has accelerated:

The war of memory has been more intense since the 2006 coup, through, for example, the demolition of the Supreme Court complex, the construction of the new parliament, the enclosure of Sanam Luang, the Rattanakosin Island conservation and development project and including the disappearance of the People’s Party plaque and the Constitution Defence Monument at Laksi.

That coup also saw the decline of King Bhumibhol and the rise of King Vajiralongkorn. This suggests two items of speculation. First, that there’s a feeling that the monarchy has been under threat from a new generation of republicans, and second, that Vajiralongkorn has inherited a mindset that demands a restoration of the monarchy’s political power and a rolling back of 1932.

The list of the destruction of symbols, including some fantastic modernist buildings, is long (and sad) but not comprehensive. For example, the zoo has been “given” to the king. This is not just a land grab, but is a part of the king erasing all symbols of 1932 from what he seems to think is rightly a “royal precinct” that he taking back (the parliament building, Suan Amphon, the Ananta Samakhom Hall, Royal Turf Club race track, Suan Sunandha, the Si Sao Thewes residence previously occupied by Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, and several large plots of land and bases formerly owned by the military). Interestingly, Sanam Luang, a public space since 1932, has now been fenced off.

Clipped from Prachatai

Then there’s the destruction, by theft and vandalism, of symbols and monuments related to 1932: the People’s Party plaque, The Lak Si monument and many provincial memorials dedicated to the constitutional regime.

Many of the provincial memorials were in the northeast. The region was a political stronghold of the People’s Party and is seen today as politically dangerous for the Bangkok-based ruling class.

Back in the 1930s, the “People’s Party representatives from the northeast played an outstanding role at the time and the population was politically very active.” At the time of the revolution, “in Udon Thani province … the people listened incessantly to the news on the radio…”. They knew that the king was “under the law, citizens had equal rights, government officials were the equivalent of being the employees of citizens with the duty to help relieve the sufferings and maintain the happiness of the people.” Northeasterners flocked to the government side against the royalist plotters led by Prince Boworadej in 1933.

Hence, the rubbing out of symbols and memories has been intense in the northeast: “At present there remain only 5 constitutional monuments in the northeast: in Maha Sarakham, Surin, Roi Et, Khon Kaen and Chaiyaphum.”

The military has been a willing accomplice in all of this:

As the legacy of the People’s Party was disappearing piece by piece, on 9 October 2019, Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha presided over the opening of the Si Sitthisongkhram Room and Boworadet Room in the Royal Thai Army Museum in Honour of His Majesty the King.  The two rooms are named after Prince Boworadet, leader of the Boworadet Rebellion, and Colonel Phraya Si SithiSongkram (Din Tharab), a core leader of the Boworadet Rebellion and the grandfather of Privy Councillor Gen Surayud Chulanont.

Other officials either willingly or out of fear support the great rub out:

In March 2019, the Dean of the College of Politics and Governance, Mahasarakham University, made a request to install a replica People’s Party plaque as a learning resource for students, but the University refused, giving as a reason that it was a symbolic expression and not within educational objectives.  It also feared that it would create division within the University.  Finally there was a compromise that the finished plaque would be placed on a shelf for display.

This process of enriching the palace’s land bank while rubbing out 1932 is likely to continue throughout 2020. Vajiralongkorn seems energetic in these efforts.





Asia Society shame

28 09 2019

The Asia Society surprised many by giving The Dictator Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha a stage in New York. Why have a “leader” who has had a hand in the murder of protesters, a military coup, more than five years of military dictatorship and a rigged and stolen election on your stage? As far as we can tell, this isn’t unusual for the Asia Society.

Readers might want to watch Gen Prayuth bumbling through the dictator-friendly discussion, which seems to have followed his speech (we can’t find a video of that). Gen Prayuth’s demeanor during the interview is of an uncomfortable person. He fidgets, bellows, points, gets prompts, forgets the microphone and fails to listen to the translation, wants to end the interview early and more. Unprofessional, incompetent, sometimes incoherent and appearing as a bozo. But that’s what he does in Thailand, with its muzzled press day in and day out.

In the discussion, he is seen claiming that while criminals evade the law – meaning Thaksin Shinawatra – he claims he himself has never transgressed the law. Short memory? Just one example: What about that unlawful 2014 coup? Oh, yes, that was made legal by the (in)justice system and by the junta itself after the event. Oddly, reflecting his irritation, Gen Prayuth makes the claim (again) that he had to stage the coup to stop the “conflict” – this time he refers to a pending “civil war.” He gets rather agitated. Finally, he babbles about Googling stuff.

And, during his speech there were silent protesters:

That the Asia Society expelled silent protesters should cause shame. Is that what now happens in the “land of free speech”? One protester does make some noise as she is bundled out by burly security guards.

Meanwhile, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights has pointed out how the junta hangs over Thailand like a lead weight. It begins:

The 19 September 2006 coup was a turning point for the expansion of powers of the armed forces over the democratically elected civilian government since the end of Cold War, in light of the reorganization of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC). The coup makers’ legislative branch passed a statutory law to restructure ISOC, giving rise to the formal and systematic expansion of the military power over civilian affairs.

The trend of such expansion of powers and duties of the armed forces/security authorities continued, even under democratically elected governments. From the 22 May 2014 coup until today, the military’s power reach has continued to increase. ISOC is legally permitted to take charge of so-called “internal security” matters in lieu of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), following its dissolution. Now the powers and duties of ISOC have been expanded even further.

The report highlights five points:

  • Expansion of the definition of “internal security”
  • The composition of ISOC Regional and Provincial Committees now includes personnel from various public authorities including the police, public prosecutor and administrative organizations
  • The powers and duties of the Regional and Provincial ISOC increased from those of 2008
  • Secondary laws amended to require other public authorities to directly support the roles of ISOC
  • The internal reorganization of ISOC

The report concludes:

Military supremacy over civilians, as always

The overall expansion of ISOC’s roles and powers is inseparable from the attempt to proliferate the power of the armed forces, from the NCPO era until after the elections.  Investing such powers in ISOC stands contradictory to the principle of civilian supremacy, an essential benchmark of democracy; members of constitutional bodies should be elected. The public should have a role in managing resource distributions, public administration and the role of the military, not to mention military activities concerning internal security.

Under this principle, the armed forces and security agencies in a democratic society should be of equal status to other public authorities. A government chosen by free and fair elections should have the power to control these organizations, determine their budgets, and give them instructions, as well as to prevent them from getting involved with any civilian affairs, which should not be decided under a military mindset.

Under the incumbent ISOC, the military authorities will continue to have a dominant role over several civilian authorities and affairs. The democratization of the armed forces or security agencies is therefore urgently needed and can be done so only after an amendment of the Internal Security Act to reduce the powers and roles of ISOC.

We doubt the Asia Society is interested.





Recalling the 2006 military coup

20 09 2019

The army’s task: coups and repression

19 September was the anniversary of the 2006 military coup. This was the coup that set the path for Thailand’s decline into military-dominated authoritarianism based in ultra-royalist ideology.

Over the past couple of days we didn’t notice a lot of memorializing of the event that illegally removed then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his Thai Rak Thai Party, with tanks on the streets and soldiers decked out in royal yellow.

The military soon hoisted Privy Councilor Gen Surayud Chulanont into the prime ministership.

Anointing the 2006 coup

As we know, the coup did not succeed in its self-assigned task of rooting out the “Thaksin regime,” with Thaksin’s parties having been the most successful over the years that have followed and when the military permitted elections. This is why the 2014 coup was aimed at “putting things right,” through a more thorough political repression and a rigging of the political system for the ruling class. It also unleashed a rabid use of lese majeste to destroy that class’s political opponents.

One effort to recall the 2006 coup was by Ji Ungpakorn. He observes the:

forces behind the 19th September coup were anti-democratic groups in the military and civilian elite, disgruntled business leaders and neo-liberal intellectuals and politicians. The coup was also supported by the monarchy….

2006 coup

And adds:

Most NGOs and large sections of the middle classes also supported the coup. What all these groups had in common was contempt or hatred for the poor. For them, “too much democracy” gave “too much” power to the poor electorate and encouraged governments to “over-spend” on welfare. For them, Thailand is still divided between the “enlightened middle-classes who understand democracy” and the “ignorant rural and urban poor”. In fact, the reverse is the case. It is the poor who understand and are committed to democracy while the so-called middle classes are determined to hang on to their privileges by any means possible.

For a flavor of the times, see reports of the coup by the BBC and The Guardian. For early efforts to understand the 2006 coup, consider Ji’s A Coup for the Rich, Thailand Since the Coup, and Thailand and the “good coup.”

It’s been downhill since 2006: repression, military political domination and ultra-royalism, leading to a form of neo-feudalism in contemporary Thailand.





Shaky regime I

17 06 2019

Facing legal challenges that can only be pushed aside if remarkable double standards are applied in the judicial system, the junta-spawned government-to-be is in a spot of bother that could become a major threat to the regime the junta is trying to put in place.

Of course, legal double standards have been the norm for much of the time since the 2006 military coup, so nothing can be ruled out. However, if the 41 MPs currently being challenged for media shareholdings on which the Election Commission and Constitutional Court moved with lightening speed when Future Forward members were involved, are laundered by those institutions, then the junta’s regime-in-the-making will be in serious trouble (except with the rusted-on yellow shirts and other anti-democrats).

A point to note, as observed by the linked story is that these cases should not be compared with that of Future Forward’s Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit (except perhaps on the speed with which his case was processed). Rather, the comparison should be with disqualified candidate Phubet Henlod, a Future Forward candidate in Sakhon Nakhon’s Constituency 2. His candidacy was withdrawn by an order of the Supreme Court’s Electoral Affairs Division on March 19 because he was a partner-manager of a company, Mars Engineering and Service, which registered as perhaps, one day, having an interest in the media business.

If, as Wan Noor claims, the junta’s regime is in trouble, what might happen. Readers will know that PPT doesn’t engage much in crystal-balling, but there is another story that offers some things to consider.

Gen Apirat

It will come as no surprise that a source said to be close to Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha states that The Dictator will “rely on the unity of the armed forces, which have done a good job over the past five years in backing him.” If Gen Prayuth does become Defense Minister, then he will work closely with rabid royalist and anti-Thaksin Shinawatra Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong.

The anonymous source, reckons that Gen Prayuth “is highly unlikely to face any coups.” Not only has Gen Apirat been a member of the junta, but his  “allegiance and support for Gen Prayut” has been strong. The source also mentions that “internal structural changes — in which key units for coup-making are transferred — [mean] any military intervention is almost ruled out.”

For PPT, that last point is unlikel;y to prevent a coup if the Army commander ordered it. But all of this seems beside the point. What is more likely is a coup in support of Gen Prayuth if his government is unstable and unable to work as if it is a junta.

The story continues and observes that Prayuth’s “civilian” government “will depend on the army’s Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc), which has the resources and the Internal Security Act to enable it to continue the kind of repression that has gone on over the past five years. The source added that “military tactics will be deployed to make the Prayut administration stay in power as long as possible and help him prepare for the next round of elections.”

We are already seeing that thuggishness used against opponents.

To keep his government in place via parliament, “[c]abinet reshuffles, money and lawsuits are also on the table.” Don’t rule out military threats; these have been used extensively in the past, including during Gen Prem Tinsulanonda’s government, when senior politicians like Kukrit Pramoj were intimidated.

What’s missing in this discussion – of course! – is any consideration of the palace. Gen Prayuth must work especially hard to satisfy and satiate King Vajiralongkorn. If he fails in this, he’s dead and so is his government (if he ever forms it).





A game of chance

16 06 2019

Readers may have noticed that some 10 days ago, Thaksin Shinawatra was sentenced to two years in prison “over his handling of a state lottery scheme he launched while in office more than a decade ago.”

It was in 2008 that a body of post-2006 coup, army-appointed “graftbusters filed … charges against Thaksin, accusing him and 46 cabinet ministers and other top officials of illegal use of funds from a state lottery, wrongly approving and operating the lottery from 2003 to 2006.”

In sentencing Thaksin, the court stated:

government lotteries were aimed at generating income for the country and the digit lotteries put the country at risk.

Despite opposition, Thaksin ordered a then deputy finance minister and director of the Government Lottery Office to launch the two- and three-digit lotteries without a law supporting it or measure to prevent financial risks of the state as the GLO [Government Lottery Office] usually did.

While the lottery scheme brought 123.34 billion baht to state coffers, not all draws were profitable, with seven incurring losses totalling 1.67 billion baht, according to the ruling….

Despite the large flow of funds to the state, Patanapong Chanpetpul, director of the NACC’s Bureau of Legal Affairs, said [that]… by law the Finance Ministry, which supervised the GLO, could demand compensation for the damage.” Work that one out.

Fast forward to the 2014 coup. When Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha used Article 44 to put now Army commander Apirat Kongsompong in charge of the GLO. His task was “to solve chronic problems of overpriced tickets.”This move was seen as a quick-win move that would “return happiness to the people”, as the junta had promised. A Bangkok Post report continues:

The board fixed the price of lottery ticket pairs at 80 baht apiece, revised quotas for vendor groups, banned bundled sales by popular numbers and increased printing of tickets to 90 million each fortnight from 37 million in 2014.

Five years on, lottery tickets are still selling at 90-100 baht, just as they did before the coup, and tickets are still bundled to fetch higher prices.

So Gen Apirat failed on that, with no return of happiness to the people, and overpricing remains a problem.He left the GLO to become an appointed member of the Senate.

Gen Apirat, now the army chief, stepped down from the GLO last month to join the Senate.

In his term, he probably kept the junta happy for it is reported that “the GLO has emerged as the largest contributor to state coffers, bringing in 40.8 billion baht in fiscal 2018, up from 15.3 billion in fiscal 2014.” We think “largest contributor” means from state organizations. After all, VAT brings in far, far more. Even so, you see that Gen Apirat has done a job for the junta. Thaksin got two years in jail for raising that kind of revenue for the state.