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 His candidacy was withdrawn by an order of the Supreme Court’s Electoral Affairs Division on March 19 because he was a partner-manager of a company, Mars Engineering and Service, which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.





Updated: Disdain for parliament

4 06 2019

An Army engineer

Following five years of rolling back electoral politics and election rigging, not everything went the way the Army’s political engineers imagined. Yes, they came up with a less democratic constitution in 2017. Less democratic than the previous not so democratic one engineered after the 2006 military coup. Yes, they came up with a bunch of laws that connected to the undemocratic constitution that made it virtually impossible to prevent military political interference or even dominance for years to come.

Where this came unstuck was on 24 March when constituency voters chose parties that were anti-junta. It was only the puppet Election Commission, supported by the biased Constitutional Court that the junta even gained a hope of bargaining its way to a lower house majority by cobbling together up to 20 parties into a Palang Pracharath-led coalition. But not even that is in place, less than 24 hours before parliament selects a “new” prime minister.

The bloody hands of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha are set to grab premiership (again), thanks to the junta’s Army engineering that allows for a junta-picked and appointed Senate being likely to vote as a block for The Dictator, along with his Palang Pracharath Party. This despite various pleading for the Senate to not act as the junta’s puppets.

The Democrat Party and Bhum Jai Thai Party may come on board with the junta – as they are desperate to do – but only after all of the bargaining for cabinet posts has been completed. It is looking likely that the selection of the PM will go ahead with a government having been concocted by the junta and its puppet party.

This means that six weeks after the election, Thailand continues to be administered by the junta. It hardly has a “government” in place as so many of its ministers scurried off to Palang Pracharath and the Senate. For The Dictator, his face will be saved, but only momentarily.

Remarkably, but defining of the whole process of coup to election charade, this political theater of a joint parliamentary sitting choosing a PM will likely take place without Gen Prayuth even showing up, let alone saying something to parliament.

According to Khaosod, Deputy PM Wissanu Krea-ngam has stated that “there’s no need for junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha to show up tomorrow when parliament convenes to elect a new prime minister.”

We suspect that the prickly, arrogant premier-in-waiting is doing a Prem (again). He hardly ever showed up for parliament, treating it like a junior school where politicians squabbled and fought and he floated above it, buoyed by royal barami. Like Gen Prem, Gen Prayuth exhibits nothing but disdain for parliamentary politics.

With “lower house speaker Chuan Leekpai [having] promised on Monday to allow MPs ample time to debate the qualifications of PM candidates before going to the vote,” we are sure that Gen Prayuth sees this as several levels below his exalted status. He had hoped that parliament would be a bunch of yes-men and -woman and that he would be able to ignore them for a few years, leaving them to squabble and fight over the leftovers from the junta’s plate.

But the voters have thrown that plan into disarray, and Gen Prayuth, if he gets up tomorrow as expected, he can expect criticism. And that’s something that he has never learned to deal with.

And just in case you were wondering, “Deputy PM Wissanu also specified to the media Tuesday that Prayuth and the rest of the junta will remain in their positions until a new cabinet formally reports to its first day of work.”

So whatever happens tomorrow, it is Prayuth in the premier’s seat for the near term. If he gets his way tomorrow, we don’t expect that he will enjoy the medium term. Bookmakers are taking bets on the date of the next coup. He’ll hate the idea of parliament even more than he does now.

Update: According to a report in Post Today, about half of the Democrat Party’s more extreme MPs have decided to screw their party and bed down with the junta’s party. This is either a threat to the rest of the MPs to come on board with the junta and The Dictator or its another large nail in the coffin of this hopeless party.





Updated: Prem dead II

27 05 2019

As mentioned in our earlier post, buffalo manure is to be piled high for the deceased Gen Prem Tinsulanonda. That said, there are some interesting accounts emerging. We link to some of them here and comment briefly on some of them.

The Bangkok Post has a couple of stories and will probably have more. One of these is a listing of Prem’s “achievements” and refers to him by the kindly term “Pa Prem.” In fact, Prem’s career was of an ambitious right-wing military leader. A second item in the Post is an editorial. Like the previous king, Prem is said to be “revered.” It would be more accurate to say that some rightist, royalist Thais revere Prem for his “loyalty” and steadfast opposition to elected government. Indeed, many Thais hated Prem as an unelected politician and incessant political meddler.

The main error in this editorial is the mistaken view that Prem decided of his own volition to leave his unelected premiership in 1988. The editorial states:

Gen Prayut[h Chan-ocha] and the regime would do well not to forget Gen Prem’s wise decision to relinquish power before the tide turned against him. The regime has been accused of trying to hold on to power at any cost, which is at odds with the example set by Gen Prem.

This view is mistaken as it ignores the long and intense political struggle that eventually forced Prem out. Indeed, that is what will be needed to force out out the Prem-ist junta and its illegitimate political child, the Palang Pracharath-manipulated coalition.

AP has a sound obituary that appropriately links Prem and Prayuth. It also makes a useful point via academic Kevin Hewison:

That coup [2006] was probably Prem’s last major political intervention, and it was one where he misjudged…. He expected elation and praise for his open role in getting rid of Thaksin. Instead, his intervention lit the fuse of a political polarization that continues to haunt Thailand’s elite.

The New York Times obituary is useful and forthright, with another academic, Duncan McCargo noting Prem’s long alliance with the last king:

The king trusted Prem absolutely … seeing him as an incorruptible figure who shared his soft and understated approach, but who was a skilled alliance-builder and wielder of patronage.

We are not quite sure how McCargo knows Bhumibol’s views, but his comment recalls his coining of the term “network monarchy” that describes Prem and the king’s manner of meddling in all manner of things in Thailand.

Reuters mentions Prem’s political meddling and the rewards he received from the conglomerates that benefited from his promotion of monarchy. Prem provided the links – the network – for Sino-Thai tycoons to connect with the palace and his politics provided considerable protection for the ruling class and its profits.

BBC News quotes its correspondent Jonathan Head on Prem’s role in making the monarchy more overtly political:

He will be remembered as an ardent royalist who helped to cement the monarchy’s place at the very top of modern Thailand’s power structure….

AFP has a measured account of Prem’s political meddling and the rise of the monarchy:

Hailed as a stabilising force by allies but loathed by critics as a conservative underminer of democracy in the kingdom, General Prem was a top aide to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and helped cement the unshakeable bond between the monarchy and the military.

It adds that “General Prem became a figure of revulsion in Thailand’s pro-democracy camp.”

Update: Bloomberg’s story on Prem’s death hits the nail on the head: “Royal Aide Accused of Plotting Thai Coup on Thaksin Dies at 98.”





Devils circle

17 03 2019

The junta’s devil party is Palang Pracharath. It was formed by the junta as a vehicle for The Dictator and the junta to continue in power beyond their rigged election.

With voting now on – overseas and advance domestic – other opportunistic rightist parties are lining up to ally with Palang Pracharath and its junta bosses.

Anutin Charnvirakul at the head of the Bhum Jai Thai Party has announced that his party is:

ready to work with parties that are loyal to … the monarchy, can make the country thrive and do not lead the country into conflict. If a party meets our conditions, we will support it and its prime ministerial candidate….

That should be no surprise. After all, the party was essentially created to represent the military’s electoral interests back at the time of the 2007 election. The party splashed loot about and did badly back then and was punished by pro-Thaksin voters for fielding turncoat candidates. It did poorly again in 2011 and now is only relevant as a mini-devil party supporting the junta.

More interesting is the Democrat Party and Abhisit Vejjajiva. He’s writhing and slithering like a wounded snake.

The headline for his interview with the Bangkok Post is as damning as it gets: “Abhisit OK working with military.” Of course, despite his denials, Abhisit has been with the military for years and supported both the 2006 and 2014 military interventions. For reminders, look here and here.

He groveled further to the junta, saying that he would only “join a no-confidence motion against a future [unelected] Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha if there were ‘good reasons’…”. So while saying he’d rather he was premier and would not support Gen Prayuth, Abhisit does not reject him as premier.

Abhisit also says that he “categorically rules out supporting any future coups,” which would be a huge change from his previous support for them as a means to remove elected governments.

And, he reaffirms that the Democrat Party is willing to join the devil parties: “he’s open to working with pro-military Palang Pracharath Party…”.

As for the anti-democratic, military-backed, appointed, senate, Abhisit can only waffle about maybe doing something or other about its undemocratic nature.

At this point, we at PPT would be willing to bet that the main devil parties will be Palang Pracharath, Bhum Jai Thai and the Democrat Party, and that this alliance, together with the senate, is very likely to deliver The Dictator as premier. Only a massive reaction against devil parties at the polls has a chance to prevent that.





Updated: A decade of PPT

21 01 2019

A decade has passed for Political Prisoners in Thailand. We admit our huge disappointment that we are still active after all these years.

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 neo-feudalists. Sadly, the political climate in  the country is regressing faster than most pundits could have predicted.

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, brought to power by an illegal military coup in 2014. This regime is underpinned by a nonsensical royalism that masks and protects an anti-democratic ruling class. Royalists have fought to maintain a royalist state that lavishes privilege, wealth and power on a few.

In “protecting” monarchy, regime and ruling class, the military junta has continued the politicization of the judiciary and is now rigging an “election” that may, one day, be held, if the king finally decides that he will allow an election. That “election,” embedded in a military-royalist constitution, will potentially be a political nightmare, maintaining military political domination for years to come.

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, and continue to do so in recent months.

This royalism and repression has also strengthened the monarchy and the new monarch. The junta has supinely permitted King Vajiralongkorn to assemble greater economic and political power. It has colluded with the palace in aggregating land for the monarch that was previously set aside for the public. It has colluded in destroying several 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, hundreds of people have been jailed or detained, subjected to military courts and threatened by the military. The military regime is not only illegal but is the most repressive since the royally-appointed regime under Thanin Kraivixien in the mid-1970s.

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, in 2017 we were unable to identify any new lese majeste cases and some in process were mysteriously dropped. We don’t know why. It could be that the military’s widespread crackdown has successfully quieted anti-monarchism or it might be that the king wants no more cases to get public airings and “damage” his “reputation.”

The last information available suggest that there are at least 18 suspects accused of violating Article112 whose cases have reached final verdicts and who remain in prison.

As for PPT, despite heavy censorship and blocking in Thailand, we have now had more than 6 million page views at our two sites. The blocking in Thailand has been more extensive in 2018 than in past years. This is our 7,999th post.

PPT isn’t in the big league of the blogging world, but the level of interest in Thailand’s politics and the use of lese majeste 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.

We want to thank our readers for sticking with us through all the attempts by the Thai censors to block 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 and computer crimes laws must be repealed.

Charges against political activists must be dropped.

All political prisoners must be released.

The military dictatorship must be opposed.

Update: We completely botched the number of views at PPT. We have amended above to 6 million, not 3 million as we originally had.





Lese majeste in 2018

16 01 2019

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights have a useful analysis of the use of lese majeste in 2018.

They begin with the background:

Since late 2016, in the aftermath of the passing of King Rama IX and the accession of King Rama X, prosecutions of lèse majesté cases or the violation of the Penal Codes Section 112 spiked sharply. The witch huntor vigilante actions taken against people who hold different views led to prosecution of dozens of lèse majesté cases.

In fact, since the 2006 military coup, there have been several “spikes.” After that coup, during the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and then since the 2014 coup.

For 2018, there’s not just been a precipitous decline in cases, there’s been none:

The year 2018 saw a number of changes to the enforcement of Section 112. No new cases invoking Section 112 have been prosecuted in 2018 (as far as we know). Meanwhile, several ongoing lèse majesté cases have been dismissed, particularly cases under the review of civilian courts, though this does not necessarily indicate more freedom to exercise the right to free expression in Thailand. Even though the authorities are now reluctant to press lèse majesté charges, charges invoking other laws including the Computer Crime Act or “sedition” per Section 116 continue to be an important tool to restrict freedom of expression and purge dissenters.

TLHR see the cause of this decline as being in the palace:

These changes can be directly attributed to the royal succession. It has not stemmed from the authorities or personnel in the justice process realizing the many protracted problems caused by the enforcement of Section 112. It has also not stemmed from more respect for human rights in Thailand.

Remember all those royalists who used to make excuses for that nice old man, good King Bhumibol, lamenting that he really disliked 112, but those nasty politicians and military types just wouldn’t listen? King Vajiralongkorn has shown how much buffalo manure that propaganda line was.

Sulak Sivaraksa wrote that Vajiralongkorn “instructed the Chief Justice and the Attorney General to bring to an end to prosecutions invoking Section 112 and to not allow it to be used as a political tool.” It seems that on this point, Vajiralongkorn has more sense than his father. That’snot to say that there weren’t dozens of lese majeste cases directly related to Vajiralongkorn such as the spate around his separation from his consort in late 2014 and early 2015.

One result of Vajiralongkorn’s intervention is outlined:

The Attorney General’s directive dated 21 February 2018, addressed to high-ranking officials of all levels in the Attorney General’s Office, instructs all units of the public prosecutor’s department to receive and review immediately investigation reports filed by inquiry officials regarding Section 112 cases. The public prosecutors are then instructed also to furnish the Office of the Attorney General a copy of the police investigation report in each case and not to make any decisions about these cases. They are informed that it is the Attorney General who will decide as to whether the cases will be filed in Court or not. Now the rank-and-file public prosecutors no longer have the power to order prosecution of 112 cases.

The other impact that this change from the top has brought has been that several cases have been dropped, even when those accused have entered a guilty plea. Sometimes the defendants have been convicted of other offenses or were already serving long jail terms.

TLHR conclude:

Amidst changes in the status, role and content of the laws concerning the monarchy in 2018, any expression of thought in public, including any criticisms based on factual information, could be construed as a sensitive comment and could be deemed “crossing the line” in Thailand.

Change seems to have taken place in ‘form’, though the ‘substance’ of the law remains the same.