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.





Updated: More political prisoners

28 06 2020

Along with every other media outlet, Khaosod reports that, on Friday, the Supreme Court upheld rulings by lower courts against five leaders of a July 2007 protest that marched from Sanam Luang to the taxpayer-funded residence of the then president of the king’s Privy Council, Gen Prem Tinsulanonda. The rally accused Prem of fomenting the 2006 military coup.

Nattawut Saikua, Veerakarn (then Veera) Musikapong, Weng Tojirakarn, Nopparut Worachitwuthikul, and Wiputhalaeng Pattanaphumthai were sentenced to two years and eight months in prison for “illegal assembly and using violence to resist police orders.”

Fellow UDD leader Thida Tawornsate Tojirakarn observed that these men are political prisoners. The five were immediately taken from the court to prison.

While the reports refer to the five as red shirts, it needs to be noted that the wearing of the color hadn’t taken off at this time and the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship-led rally and march had most people wearing yellow shirts, which was a display of “loyalty” following the 2006 60th anniversary of Bhumibol’s reign.

Another UDD leader, Jatuporn Promphan, reflected on the double standards in the judicial system: “I once said to them that on our way of fighting, it’s either death or imprisonment…. Over the past decade, we took turns getting in and out of the prison.” Jatuporn is “also due to stand trial on the same offense…”.

The double standards refer to the efforts by several royalist regimes supported by the pliant judiciary to lock up red shirts and UDD leaders while those from the royalist People’s Alliance for Democracy and People’s Democratic Reform Committee who also occupied parts of Bangkok and several state properties for extended periods, with considerable violence, get off quite lightly.

Few of the reports said much about the rally at Gen Prem’s free lodgings, so PPT went back and looked at reports from the time.

Asia Sentinel had a perceptive report. It began by observing:

On Sunday night, UDD leaders caught police unaware by marching with thousands of supporters to the house of Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda, a former army chief and prime minister who is held in high respect by much of the Thai public due to his proximity to the king.

King, queen, Prem and military coup leaders

The protesters accused Prem, who was in the compound at the time, of acting as the puppet master behind the coup last September that ousted Premier Thaksin Shinawatra. They called on Prem to resign.

The UDD set up a makeshift stage in front of Prem’s house on Sunday afternoon and made speeches for five hours or so, according to witnesses and news reports. But in the evening, after the protesters vowed to permanently camp outside the residence, riot police attempted to break up the gathering and arrest the leaders, prompting demonstrators to hail rocks, chairs, sticks, water bottles and pieces of broken flower pots at the police, who eventually retreated.

Most reports put the UDD crowd at 5,000 to 10,000, with some counting up to 20,000. The police eventually mobilized about 2,000 officers. The police:

made two more attempts to arrest the protest leaders, charging at  demonstrators with clubs, pepper spray and tear gas. Each time the demonstrators fought back with fists, rocks, sticks, bottles and anything else they could find.

Weng said the protesters withdrew when threatened with the army, saying, “We didn’t want anybody killed from this event.”

The police claimed that 200 of their officers and about 70 protesters were injured. Six protesters were arrested and charged with “causing chaos, obstructing the work of authorities, and damage to state property…. Police were also seeking arrest warrants for eight or so other UDD leaders…”.

The report wonders about the police action, saying:

It’s unclear why authorities attempted to break up the protest this time as many similar
protests had occurred earlier without incident. Some observers said the army may have been spooked by UDD statements that the group would camp out in front of Prem’s house — an unacceptable scenario for generals who swear allegiance to the royal advisor.

It also notes Prem’s coup role:

Although Prem is supposed to be non-political as a privy councilor, coup opponents blast the 86-year-old for a series of speeches he gave a year ago in which he donned full military garb and said soldiers should be loyal to the king instead of the government. Many observers said the speeches set the stage for the coup.

The Irrawaddy (July 23, 2007) carried a report that royalists declared Thaksin behind the UDD. The then president of the Constitution Drafting Committee Prasong Soonsiri, cheered the arrests, saying: “He [Thaksin] is probably responsible for supporting the clash, and he won’t stop there…”. This was a widely held view among the military-installed regime led by former Privy Councillor Gen Surayud Chulanont.

Shortly after the event, the Union for Civil Liberty issued a statement:

Declaration concerning the avoidance of violence during a conflict of opinion

During a protest by the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DADD) at the home of Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda in the Thewes district of Bangkok, there occurred violent clashes between police and demonstrators. Alleging the part played by General Prem in organizing the military coup of 19th September 2006, protestors called for his resignation. As a result of the clashes which took place in the late evening of Sunday 22nd July, according to news media, 106 persons were injured.

The Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) maintains that the holding of non-violent protest to make known a political viewpoint is a civil right and a fundamental component of the democratic system. It is the duty of government to assure that the right of citizens to exercise this right is respected at all times, whether their action is against or in support of government, or to express other political opinion.

It is a matter of great regret that the protest on 22nd July last could not enjoy such a right to free expression due to the action of the police in blocking the protest march to the residence of General Prem in the Thewes district. The action angered some participants in the protest leading to the use of force and many casualties both among the protestors and the police.

To avoid the recurrence of such violence, perhaps on an even larger scale, the Union for Civil Liberty submits the following proposals:

1. Appoint a committee of persons acceptable to the public to investigate the events which occurred on the evening of the 22nd July for presentation to the Government and to the public.

2. Take court action against those who have acted illegally, whether the police or the protestors, in order that justice be done and human rights be protected.

Statement issued on 23rd July 2007
Union for Civil Liberty

So, for seeking to exercise their freedom of expression, these men are jailed. The regime that went after them was a junta-appointed administration that was vehemently royalist and anti-Thaksin. The double standards are as clear as they ever were.

Update: For another take on double standards, especially in comparing red shirts and yellow shirts, read this op-ed.





Wealthy judge

13 06 2020

We noticed a short report in the Bangkok Post on the “National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) yesterday released a list of assets and liabilities of two former Constitutional Court judges and three new ones.”

It caught our attention that former judge Jaran (sometimes Jarun) Pukditanakul was the wealthiest of the five.” The report states that:

Jarun

Jaran and his spouse [Teepsurang Pukditanakul] have assets worth 206.1 million baht and debts of 22 million baht. Their assets include land plots in Songkhla’s Hat Yai worth 93 million baht while the debts include 14.9 million baht in loans from a woman identified as Jinda Sunthornpan.

The other judges, including a former president of the Constitutional Court, declared wealth much lower than this. We wondered why one judge and former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice was so much wealthier than his colleagues. We suppose there could be family reasons for this or he might have won the lottery. But it set us thinking.

Jarun came to his position at the Ministry of Justice following the 2006 military coup and was renowned not so much for his legal qualifications but for being anti-Thaksin Shinawatra. When it came to becoming a judge, a 2008 Asia Sentinel article had this:

In selecting the first four of the court’s nine judges, the Supreme Court this week chose Jarun Pukditanakul. He became permanent secretary of the Justice Ministry after the coup and was instrumental in drafting the military’s 2007 constitution that he will be tasked to uphold.

Jarun was involved in several cases that did the amart’s work on Thaksin and his parties, causing much conflict with the pro-Thaksin groups, including the Puea Thai Party. Jarun wasn’t in the court at the time of the dissolution of Thai Rak Thai, but he was one of those who publicly justified the application of a new law retrospectively. On justifying that at a briefing for the diplomatic corps, a US cable explained:

Ministry of Justice Permanent Secretary Jaran Pakdithanakul, who also serves as deputy  chair of the Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC), followed [Ministry of Foreign Affairs … Permanent Secretary Virasak Futrakul] by offering a detailed defense of the court case. Jaran explained that the Constitutional Tribunal was widely viewed as impartial and professional. No outside pressure or intervention influenced the judges’ decision. The charges against both TRT and the Democrat party were filed before the September 2006 coup. According to Jaran, the judges were unanimous in their finding of the facts of the case: that TRT leaders violated election law.

… Jaran acknowledged debate within the legal community–and the Tribunal–over TRT’s punishment. While election laws under the 1997 constitution provided for the dissolution of a political party guilty of legal violations, the revocation of certain political rights (voting, running for office) from 111 members of TRT’s executive board was established after the coup by the military leadership. Jaran admitted that this was a retroactive application of the law, but argued that, since this was not a criminal legal issue, it did not violate international legal norms.

This feeble “explanation,” justifying the unjustifiable, set in motion the double standards that have come to define Thailand’s judiciary.

This reminded us of the allegations of corruption at the court involving Jarun, money, relatives, commissions, covering-up and more, some of it caught on video and posted to YouTube. We won’t go back over it all, but we have added several links for those who are interested.

Of course, we wouldn’t dare say that all of this might be linked and that a pliant and supportive official-cum-judge might have been rewarded. Just saying that the links are interesting.





Don’t trust them

26 02 2020

Khaosod’s Pravit Rojanaphruk has an op-ed on military “reform” that warns:

Reforming the Thai army is much easier said than done. After all, the current army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong himself called the Royal Thai Army a “sacred” organization, setting the tone of whatever debate the society may have.

Gen. Apirat. Clipped from Khaosod

When someone wants an organization to be treated as sacred, it’s often because they want it to be above criticism, accepting neither scrutiny nor accountability….

Most significant in discussions of “reform” is that current “investigations” are internal to the Army. There’s no question that, following the Korat massacre, there will be any kind of independent scrutiny of the Army. In normal countries, there is usually some serious parliamentary oversight of the military. Not in Thailand.

Then there’s the sense of entitlement and real impunity that protects the perquisites, corruption and crimes of senior officers. This “culture” means that “reform” is all but impossible. The flow of funds to the top are unlikely to stop. As Pravit points out, “the sense of military entitlement is indeed so deep-rooted that it bypasses political divisions.”

Chaiyaphoom

Since the 2006 coup and especially since the 2014 coup, these attitudes have been further embedded. Think of the way that the military gets away with murder, literally. The case of Chaiyapoom Pasae where the military has withheld evidence, lied and more.

More recently, as outlined in The Thaiger, anti-military/pro-democracy activist Sirawith Seritiwat was attacked several times, once beaten senseless with baseball bats, in broad daylight. Police were assigned to “investigate.” Result? Nothing.

As the report observes, “Bangkok police have abruptly suspended their investigation into the brutal attack on a political activist and pro-democracy leader in June of last year.”

Sirawith posted on Facebook that police wrote to him, stating:

Sirawith. Clipped from VOA News

The investigation into the case has already been completed and the probe report was forwarded to public prosecutors, who recommended that “the investigation should be halted” on the grounds that evidence gathered could not identify who was involved.

In our view, it is unlikely that the police will uncover evidence against the attackers, most likely because the attackers are associated with the military, regime and/or police. The attackers were warning Sirawith, silencing him. It’s an old tactic. Sirawith “wondered police might be involved.”

If a “sacred” institution can run coups, murder, and engage in multiple other crimes and massive corruption, internal investigations are going nowhere.








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