Nothing much changes

25 01 2023

Under the monarchy-military regime nothing much changes, even as the arrangement of the regime’s deckchairs is changing. There are so many recent stories that fir the “here-we-go-again” scenario that has marked the years since 2006. Here’s a selection from the past few days, leaving out the myriad of what are now everyday corruption stories:

At the Bangkok Post: It is 13 Years since the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime permitted the Royal Thai Army, commanded by Gen Anupong Paojinda and Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, to murder red shirts. On Monday, former red shirt leaders “called on national police chief Pol Gen Damrongsak Kittiprapas to speed up investigations into the deaths of red-shirt protesters during their 2010 clashes with the military.”

“Speed up” is an interesting term given that since the 2014 military coup, there’s been no progress. We assume that Gen Prayuth’s administration has ordered that nothing be done.

At least 62 cases of remain unresolved. The regime has no interest in doing this as when cases were investigated, it was clear that the Army killed protesters.

From Thai Newsroom: Gen Prayuth has been urged to give up his free house currently provided by the Army:

Thai Liberal MP Napaporn Petjinda insisted that Prayut, who is seeking to retain power for two more years after the next general election, leave the army house in the premises of the First Infantry Regiment in Bangkok provided as free accommodation for him since the last several years.

Others who get taxpayer-funded housing on Army bases are Gen Anupong and Gen Prawit Wongsuwan. Why? Who knows.

The report adds: “Those who are contesting the general election including members of cabinet are legally prohibited from using government property or personnel during their electoral campaigns.” One of the tame “anti-corruption” agencies that never finds against the regime once declared this corrupt practice to be fine and dandy.

Good people can be as bad as they like.

From The Nation: Some of the unelected dolts in the Senate reckon the regime, in all its splintering parties, might need some “legal” vote-buying by suggesting that every voter be given 500 baht for voting. Of course, Thailand regularly has very high voter turnout, but these brainless dyed hairs probably reckon that the “voluntary” voters are not the right ones, so an incentive is needed.

We don’t think this proposal will go anywhere, but it reflects the growing anxiety about the election and demonstrates (again) the vacant craniums the are strewn around the regime’s house of parliament.

From Thai PBS: The great fear that opposition parties might win an election is rattling the Thai PBS news desk. They reckon “[m]any were surprised to see master powerbroker Thammanat Prompow kneeling on stage to present a garland to Palang Pracharath leader General Prawit Wongsuwan, in a symbolic apology and show of remorse.” We assume that by “many,” they mean the Thai PBS news desk because everyone knew this was about to happen. But their real story is the fear that Thaksin Shinawatra is coming back.

Ho hum. Every campaign leading up to coup and election since 2006 has run this line. It remains to be seen if this call to yellow arms will again rally the faithful anti-Thaksin crowd.

From Prachatai: Reader might recall the case of Tun Min Latt and others arrested on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering, and the “lucky” escape of one of the junta’s approved senators Upakit Pachariyangkun. This report is about a court case, but the “fun” is in the details about what seems like Thailand’s largest criminal organization, the Royal Thai Police:

On the same day of the arraignment, the Inside Thailand news show reported that Pol Maj Kritsanat Thanasuphanat, the officer in the Metropolitan Police who took charge of the arrest of Tun Min Latt and the others, was ordered to be reassigned from Bangkok to an equivalent position in the northeastern province of Chaiyaphum. The news show interpreted this as a form of retribution for his bold performance.

“Bold performance” means doing what the police are usually empowered to do. Not running scams, cooperating with criminals, organising wealth extraction, running all kinds of crime activities, torturing and murdering people, arranging escapes for the rich and powerful, and all the other stuff that is reported on a daily basis as the Royal Thai Police’s “normal work.”





Watching absolutism

25 08 2022

A Blog Post by Joshua Kurlantzick at the Council on Foreign Relations, “Debate about the Monarchy Continues to Roil Thailand,” is actually a link to an interview with him at 112 Watch.

Readers get the tenor of the interview in the first response to a question on King Vajiralongkorn:

This king clearly has taken Thailand farther from being a constitutional monarchy, which it never truly was under Rama IX…. Instead, King Vajiralongkorn, with the support of some of his advisors and some arch-royalists, has moved the monarchy back in the direction of the absolute monarchy that existed before the revolution of 1932. His moves to directly intervene in an election, to take personal control of assets under the Crown Property Bureau, worth probably at least US$30 billion if not more [PPT: in fact, a lot more]…, to demand changes to the constitution and also full prostration, all suggest a slide toward absolute monarchy.

There’s some gobbledygook about the dead king, then the assessment of Vajiralongkorn continues:

I do not think Rama X can take Thailand all the way back to absolute monarchy, but he has moved the royal institution in that direction. Lacking such popular support, though, it is hard to tell whether Rama X, despite all the power he has amassed, might actually undermine the monarchy in the long-term….

Kurlantzick seems oddly enamored of the dead king. For example, when he says “There had been an undercurrent of anger at the monarchy since the transition…”, we assume he means succession, but he’s wrong, ignoring a longer period of anger about the monarchy that had its most recent incarnation from 2006, when the palace’s role in the military coup was clear.





Updated: Anti-112

1 11 2021

Readers will probably be aware of Sunday’s anti-112 protest. Prachatai has a useful recounting and some excellent photos. The Ratsadon protest group brought people together “at the Ratchaprasong Intersection to demand that the royal defamation [lese majeste] law be abolished and those held for violating it be freed.” They began collecting signatures for 112 reform.

Clipped from Prachatai

Protest speakers presented critiques of the Article 112. Among others, Supitcha Chailom, a student activist, spoke. She:

charged under Section 112, also gave a speech at Ratchaprasong Intersection. She said Section 112 is being used by the state to harass and stoke fear among the people to keep them from criticising the monarchy and calling for monarchy reform. In the recent past, people have been charged for questioning the Kingdom’s vaccination rollout, mocking the royal dog, and even reciting part of a poem.

At the end of the protest, stuent activist Panusaya Sitthijirawattanakul, who herself has been hit with multiple 112 charges, read a statement from the Ratsadon group:

“The ten demands to reform the monarchy proposed on 10 August 2020 were meant to fundamentally address political deadlocks in Thailand and raise questions about cults of personality. These demands were made to see Thailand become a constitutional monarchy, a characteristic of which is that the throne is under the law and subject to bonafide public scrutiny like any other institution in a democratic system…”

“We, the People’s Party (Khana Ratsadon) for the Repeal of #112, will work with all groups, all sectors, all organisations and all individuals in society to repeal the law and assure the right to bail for political prisoners. We have a dream that Thai society will be prosperous under a genuine democracy, under liberté, égalité, and fraternité,” the statement said.

After reading the statement, Panusaya “cut her wrist, making a wound of 112 figure and a cross line on it, underlining their demand for the law abolition.”

As expected, the regime’s poodles, the police, promised more charges against those who rallied.

Before the event at Ratchaprasong, a froup of people gathered at the “Uncle Nuamthong Pedestrian Bridge” on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road to remember Nuamthong Praiwan who committed suicide there.

Before his suicide, he had crashed his taxi into a military tank to protest the 2006 military coup.

Update: See these for accounts of the protest and one result:

 





2006 military coup

19 09 2021

The army’s real task: coups and repression

It’s the anniversary of the 2006 coup, the event that cast Thailand into a political crisis that continues until today.

The Bangkok Post felt it appropriate to interview Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the leader of the coup that gave Thailand the junta that named itself the Council for Democratic Reform under Democracy with the King as Head of State.

Sonthi was always dull with limited intellectual capacity. Some call him the coup “mastermind, but he could not have planned and conducted a military coup, but he was a useful tool for the military he commanded and for the palace.

He adds to this reputation as a dullard when he says: “if you ask me if it is a success or a failure … people were in a joyful mood and gave flowers to soldiers…”.

Sonthi and his shadows. Clipped from the Bangkok Post

To recall yet another disastrous military intervention, we went back to an academic article that summarized the outcome of the coup in 2008, and which is free to download. Here’s its assessment:

It is clear that a large proportion of the Bangkok-based middle class, the royalist elite, a swathe of political activists, some business people and large numbers in the south believed that the military conducted a ‘‘good coup’’ to rid the country of the Thaksin government and to rescue them from authoritarianism. Representative of such thinking was the renowned liberal and former liberal Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan (2006): ‘‘The Sep 19, 2006 coup in Thailand was necessary – a corrective measure – in that it saved the country from the clutches of authoritarianism.’’

Undoubtedly, for millions more, largely from the north and north-east, this was a ‘‘bad coup,’’ for it removed from office the one government that had largely delivered on its electoral promises and provided them with a political voice….

The coup also led to a reprise of highly conservative and nationalist discourses regarding the nature of Thai democracy, of national forms of capitalism, and to new state-led education campaigns teaching people the ‘‘proper’’ exercise of citizenship. It also raised the volume of royalist propaganda to a level not seen since the absolute monarchy was overthrown in 1932.

Of course, things have become a lot worse, Following the military’s murder of scores of red shirts in 2010, the 2014 coup sought to roll back the political clock, rid the country of Thaksinism, cripple parliamentary representation, and make the monarchy paramount, using draconian lawfare. Thousands have been detained, threatened, jailed, beaten and disappeared. That’s the nature of Thailand’s military and its politics.





Constitutional conservatives

20 06 2021

Since World War 2, Thailand’s royalist, conservatives and rightists have long tried to use constitutions to prevent change and to maintain their political dominance. That’s why recent and current battles over the constitution are important.

Since the military re-established itself as chief constitution drafter with the 2006 coup, the two resulting constitutions have been written to ensure that military-backed regimes of royalists control things. The 2007 constitution wasn’t enough for that, so the 2014 coup and the resulting 2017 constitution were an effort to enforce the ruling elite’s preferred arrangements. This includes the 20 year “reform” period that seeks to fully embed military-backed authoritarianism.

The last time the opposition tried to amend the constitution was swiftly swatted away – as were efforts to amend the 2007 constitution. To do this, the Constitutional Court was required to rule that amendment should be made all but impossible. Where amendment was possible, it could essentially be by the regime, making things more comfortable for itself and its progeny.

The current attempts to amend the constitution are moving in the direction of giving the regime and its parties even more electoral advantage while rejecting the opposition’s efforts to  make the military junta’s constitution look a little fairer.

Emblematic of the resistance to change is the role of the junta’s appointed senate that made Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha premier. For some background on this, see Bunkueanun Paothong’s op-ed at Khaosod.

For more detail on the current efforts to amend the constitution, look at Prachatai’s Explainer. There’s also an effort at explaining at Thai PBS.

On the rejection of opposition suggestions, see here and here.

For the regime’s continued constitutional rigging , see here.





Military, dictators, and money

2 05 2021

There’s a story at something called the Atlas Institute for International Affairs which sounds very 1960s and argues that militaries kept “fed” with taxpayer funds don’t intervene politically. This long discredited notion is in part based on work on Thailand. The fact that coups in Thailand bear no relationship to that military’s ability to grab loot from the taxpayer should alert the authors. Think of “self-coups,” coups against military leaders and other rightists, and, most recently, the coup against Yingluck Shinawatra, when spending on the military increased.

That said, there’s no doubt that Thai military leaders love kit and money. One graph in the Atlas story demonstrates how the military has benefited by sucking the taxpayer of the people’s money.

Military spending

What is clear, is that following the 2006 and 2014 coups, the military has been rewarded and the taxpayer filched. We might also observe that military and military-backed regimes also shovel taxpayer funds to their ally, the monarchy.

The other group that does well following military political interventions is the Sino-Thai capitalist oligarchy and their conglomerates. They get to such at the taxpayer teat via the contracts and concessions doled out by the regimes that reward their loyalty to military and monarchy.

Several times already this group has come to the rescue of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s regime. And as Prayuth’s mafia coalition struggles with the virus, once again, Thailand’s top business groups “offered to join the government in a mass rollout of Covid-19 vaccination from June as the Southeast Asian nation grapples with its worst coronavirus outbreak since the pandemic began.”

Gen Prayuth’s faltering vaccine “strategy” has the support of “the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the Thai Bankers Association and the Tourism Council of Thailand,” with special mention made of “[b]illionaire Dhanin Chearavanont’s Charoen Pokphand Group and VGI Pcl…”. VGI is the profitable advertising arm of the Skytrain enterprise owned mostly by the Kanjanapas family.

It seems that these groups plan to not only prop up the regime, but the king’s vaccine company as well:

Thai owners of malls, commercial real estate and industrial parks will provide spaces for vaccination camps once the country receives more vaccines from June, while other businesses will assist in distribution and logistics, communication with the public and procurement of more doses….

The Bangkok Post – which is interlinked with the conglomerates through directors and major shareholders – manages to come up with the outlandish claim that, like frontline health workers, the “men in suits turn saviours,” joining “medical heroes in trying to give [the regime’s] slow vaccination drive a shot in the arm…”. These are, it claims, “a crop of saviours stepping out of their boardrooms to rally behind vaccine procurement and national vaccination efforts…”.

Observing that the “country’s economic powerhouses are being seen as an emerging sturdy force that can help prop up the government…”, the Post doesn’t acknowledge that, so far, they haven’t actually done anything apart from prop up their regime.

Of course, more vaccination is also good for business, so the tycoons are in a win-win-win situation. And, propping up the Gen Prayuth and his limping regime of hucksters, criminals, and thugs, guarantees profits, concessions, and contracts.

Money greases a lot of wheels, but the benefits flow mostly to military, money, and monarchy.





The Dictator responds

28 10 2020

Controlled by a junta-birthed party and the junta’s demon seed Senate, The Dictator is using parliament to delay and defray demands for democratic reform.

His responses are hopeless and ignorant, showing how out of touch he is. We assume his babbling reflects a broader ruling class and yellow shirt perspective.

The essentially self-appointed premier stated that he rejected the idea of standing aside: “I refuse to comply with the proposals that do not represent the needs of the majority of the people, and will not run away from problems or abandon the country during crisis…”.

He blamed the opposition for the “crisis,” declaring: “Think about the children. Don’t use them to drive political movements.” He just doesn’t get it. He’s a military man through and through and simply cannot comprehend that the student-led movement is an organic outgrowth of the crisis his coup and the 2006 coup created.

On the “children” he believes – or so he says – said that “what is being seen today is a breakdown of the family institution, with children not respecting their parents and students not respecting their teachers. This is simply dopey. These kids are “good,” mostly middle-class kids from “good” families who are fed up with the overbearing ideological weight they bear and the military’s and junta’s erasing of their futures. Not respecting teachers? At the university level, this is certainly not true. In fact, many university lecturers have been supporting them. When it comes to schools, many students are, to repeat, fed up with the overbearing ideological weight they bear.

He went on to accuse the opposition and the students of allowing “foreign forces” to interfere in the country’s domestic affairs. He said: “Don’t open the door to foreign forces to interfere with our sovereignty. This is extremely dangerous…”. He could be listening to the alt-Right fabricators who seem to catch the eye of Thai rightists looking for conspiracies, but we think he means Germany. A moment of thought may have suggested to The Dictator that the person who has opened the door is none other than his boss, King Vajiralongkorn. In his preference for carousing in and “ruling” from Germany, he’s the one who has caused the German government to warn him.

The Dictator defended the monarchy, claiming a “third hand” at work, saying “there was a group of people masterminding the message of the protesters and sending out harmful messages about Thailand and the [monarchy]… to the world.”

Again, the king does a pretty good job of showing the world that he is egotistical, eccentric, erratic and dangerous. Think of the wives and concubines treated with disdain and hatred, the disowned kids, the fury of palace announcements, the deaths in custody, the jailing of associates, lese majeste, disappearances and deaths, the massive wealth and the huge cost to the taxpayer of his lifestyle. Need we go on?





Punishment and pleasure

27 09 2020

Ever since the 2006 military coup, various rightist regimes have sought to lock up Thai Rak Thai/Puea Thai politician Watana Muangsook. Several failed attempts have accompanied numerous charges and several short stints in prison, a police cell or a re-education camp.

A couple of days ago the Bangkok Post reported that the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions has now “found him guilty over his role in irregularities in a low-cost housing project.” He was found guilty on “11 counts of corruption, which carry up to 99 years in prison.” In Thailand, that means 50 years as it is the legally maximum jail time.

Watana and Yingluck

The article is pretty opaque on exactly what he did that the court considered illegal, but “abusing power and demanding kickbacks” are mentioned for the time Watana was minister. “Abusing power” seems to mean anything the court wants it to mean. Demanding kickbacks is clearer, but no details are provided.

Several others considered close to Thaksin Shinawatra were also sentenced to jail time and fines. Anti-Thaksinism would seem to be a motivating factor as the original investigation after the 2006 coup, “initiated by the now-defunct Assets Scrutiny Committee…”. That seems to have gone nowhere for some time. It was later taken up by the post-2014 coup “National Anti-Corruption Commission which forwarded its findings to the Office of the Attorney-General in Nov 2016 after deciding to implicate [prosecute?] Watana for alleged violations of the Criminal Code.”

Watana made bail and he can appeal.

At about the same time, the Bangkok Post editorialized that the junta’s Election Commission (EC) decision “to clear 31 political parties of illegal borrowings could cause further confusion regarding the organic law on political parties.” It pointed out the double standards involved when compared to the Constitutional Court’s dissolution of the Future Forward Party on similar charges.

The editorial says the “logic for this [decision] appears fuzzy when looked into in detail.” But “fuzzy” is the EC’s usual mode of operation and any notion of law and logic goes out the window.  The Post reckons the whole deal smells of rotting fish. The editorial has more, and the EC has responded, also reported by the Bangkok Post but it doesn’t satisfy the logic test.

As far as we can see, the vendetta continues, even if the Thaksin clan seems to be engaging in considerable royal posterior polishing as it seeks more control over Puea Thai.





Targeting monarchy and regime

10 09 2020

With continuing reports that rights/police/military are continuing to dampen support for anti-monarchists, students from the United Front of Thammasat have made it clear that they will continue to “discuss” the monarchy at their rallies, including the one planned for 19 September. The date coincides with the date of the 2006 military coup.

That rally will begin at the downtown Thammasat University campus. In a pointed reference to the king’s seizing of properties in the area, the protesters say they will “seize Sanam Luang back for the people,” camp there overnight, and then will “march to Government House on the following day and submit a petition to PM [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha’s administration…”.

After decades of being a public place, officially under the control of the Bangkoj City administration, Sanam Luang has been closed to the public and fenced since the cremation of the late king.

Activist Parit Chiwarak “confirmed the monarchy will definitely be the subject of discussion at the rally.” He reportedly stated:

For Thammasat, we have been clear about freedom. We will talk about every issue.  We will touch on the Institution (Monarchy). We broke the ceiling on August 10th to open it to the sky.  We will not allow anyone to close it again. The ten proposals (for the reform of the Monarchy) are nothing new.  They have been around for a decade.  I believe the people will agree with us.  The masses will decide victory this time….

Khaosod says that Penguin was criticizing “a comment by an ex-leader of the Redshirt movement, Jatuporn Prompan, who warned the students not to ‘break the ceiling’ by touching the monarchy. Jatuporn said doing so might end up paving a way for another military coup.”

With more than a week to pass before the rally, expect some further political maneuvering.





Updated: Amnesty? Why now? II

21 07 2020

We had an earlier note on a new proposal for political amnesty, this time from the yellow-shirted side. Since then, there’s been considerable discussion and speculation regarding the “real” source of the proposal.

The Bangkok Post summarizes some of this discussion. It is worth reading. Some will remark on the “fate” of People’s Alliance for Democracy leaders:

On Feb 13 last year, the court upheld eight-month prison sentences for six former PAD co-leaders for their role in the seizure of Government House during 2008 street protests.

Five of them were later granted a royal pardon on the occasion of … the King’s coronation.

It is also worth noting that it was only last month that Supreme Court upheld rulings by lower courts against five leaders of a United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship protest in July 2007 that marched from Sanam Luang to the taxpayer-funded residence of the then president of the king’s Privy Council, Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, accused of fomenting the 2006 military coup.

Given that cases from more than a decade ago continue to drag on, perhaps there’s motivation for some. Maybe something else is going on behind closed doors. We still can’t determine the source of this new amnesty proposal, but it does appear to have high-level support.

Update: Interestingly, amnesty proposer Kamnoon Sidhisamarn is also urging a light touch with student demonstrators. Clearly, something has changed, at least for Kamnoon.








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