The junta’s lock

20 07 2018

The military dictatorship has now had more than four years to lock-in its rule and its rules. In establishing control over the military, it has had longer.

Around the time of the 2006 military coup, royalist elements in the military, aligned with the palace directly or through privy councilors Gen Prem Tinsulanonda and Gen Surayud Chulanont, marked certain military officers as untrustworthy due to their perceived alliance with Thaksin Shinawatra. These officers were sidelined, stymied and seen out of the military, mostly through the efforts of four generals: Sonthi Boonyaratglin, Anupong Paojinda, Prayuth Chan-ocha and Prawit Wongsuwan. Sonthi was soon discarded as too weak but the others remain, ran the 2014 coup and now plot and plan for the continuation of military guided “democracy” into the future.

That planning for the future involves something that Gen Prem did for years on behalf of the palace: managing succession in the armed forces so that loyalists are on top. In this context. loyalty means to the palace and to the junta and its regime.

It has been known for quite some time that the chosen successor for Gen Chalermchai Sitthisart as Army chief is Gen Apirat Kongsompong. Apirat is a ruthless rightist who has vowed support to The Dictator and taken a leading role in suppressing red shirts and other political opponents.

Last year, when the new King Vajiralongkorn approved the military promotion list, it was widely assumed that Gen Apirat had the king’s approval as Vajiralongkorn takes a strong interest in what happens within the armed forces. However, in May this year, there was an unconfirmed report that Apirat may have fallen foul of the erratic king. Within a couple of months, however, an announcement in the Royal Gazette saw Gen Apirat granted special special status as a member of the king’s personal security unit. If Apirat had fallen foul of the king, he must have completed his penance and/or service with flying colors, at least in the king’s eyes.

This has been followed by Gen Apirat getting plenty of media attention as the Defense Council is scheduled to meet on 25 July to discuss promotions and appointments, with the meeting chaired by Gen Prawit. Interestingly, most of the media stories are almost exactly the same, suggesting that this is a strategic leak by the junta, paving the way for Apirat and acknowledging that the king’s approval has been given.

Apirat, a graduate from Class 20 of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School, and in the military’s feudal system, “belongs to the Wongthewan clique and not the powerful Burapa Phayak circles of elite commanders — of which Gen Prayut and his deputy Gen Prawit are members — [yet] he is one of the regime’s most trusted lieutenants.” He has pledged allegiance to The Dictator. His loyalty has been earlier tested in 2010 and his bosses appreciate Apirat’s willingness to shoot down civilian opponents.

If the junta does decide to hold its rigged election next year, Gen Apirat will be expected to use his 200,000 + soldiers, the Internal Security Operations Command and various other resources of the state to deliver the votes needed for the “election” to appear to have been won by the junta’s parties.





“Elections” matter for the junta and its supporters

30 06 2018

Readers will be interested in a new op-ed by Pavin Chachavalpongpun. As the article is long and also likely to be able to be read in Thailand, we just highlight a couple of points.

Drawing on an observation by Italian Communist and Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci, Pavin observes that “[t]hese are the days when an old system refuses to die and a new system isn’t ready to be born.”

Reflecting on the current grim political situation, Pavin looks back to the rise of the People Alliance for Democracy (PAD) some 13 years ago. He argues that the “crux” of the political problem of the time was “apprehension among the royal political network concerning the rise of Thaksin [Shinawatra], who threatened to replace the old political order with his own.”

As the Shinawatras and their parties continued to triumph in elections after the 2006 coup, Pavin observes that this “coincided with the flagging power of the Thai monarchy.”

This characterization is a little off. The monarchy’s power wasn’t flagging but was being challenged by the rise of anti-monarchy sentiment associated with a political movement. That’s why the “royal political network sought to eliminate its enemies once more in a coup.”

Whether this had much to do with “manag[ing] the royal succession” remains debatable. But it is clear that crushing anti-monarchy sentiment and agitation was critical for both the military and palace as it was red shirts who constituted the existential challenge to monarchy and military. Pavin provides a neat potted history of the construction and maintenance of the military-monarchy nexus and its struggles with the rise of electoral politics.

Today, while it may appear that “the royal political network had won this political tussle,”Pavin isn’t so sure. He links this to the new reign and potential instability, where the “prospect of Thailand being ruled by a new unpopular king was daunting. While Bhumibol was able to safeguard the political benefits of the elitist class, his son, now King Vajiralongkorn, seemed unlikely to be able to guarantee the same” for that class.

We think that explaining the long political crisis by focusing on the succession has now been shown to have been overdone. In fact, there was no succession crisis. Rather, there was a crisis that emerged from the challenge to the military-monarchy nexus that came from the grassroots. It was that crisis that in part prompted the 2014 military coup.

Pavin is right that the new political system is not yet in place. That is why the junta wants 20-year “plans” and to control the election after putting new political rules in place. If the current junta succeeds and puts Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha in place following the election heading a coalition of unimportant military boot-licking pseudo-parties, then it will have given birth to the “new” system.

All the stuff about the “new monarch is lacking in moral authority” and so on is quickly being replaced by a “new” conservative royalism that is backward looking, nationalist and military sponsored, not unlike the monarchism invented under Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat.

Pavin concludes by asking”: “So, where does Thailand go from here? Will the upcoming elections mean anything for the country?” Remarkably, he can only say: “Elections, if they are to happen, may not deliver a genuine democratic regime.”

May not? Seriously, this is a desperate grasping at straws. They not only cannot deliver a “genuine democratic regime” but are meant to deliver – and designed to deliver – military political dominance for years to come save the prospect of “political violence” that Pavin briefly considers.

Finally, Pavin returns to “palace politics” which he says is “complicated and unpredictable.” It has always been so because the palace remains the most opaque and secretive of institutions. Pavin is certainly right to observe: “Since the Thai monarchy cannot be separated from politics, developments within the walls of the palace matter greatly to Thais.” That is probably how the junta and palace prefers it. The alternative of the people mattering has been pretty much erased by the junta’s selective and targeted political repression.





2014 military coup: assessing and forgetting

21 05 2018

There’s currently a plethora of stories and op-eds that assess the results of the 2014 military coup.

Despite limited resources, Khaosod is usually a news outlet that is better than others at reporting the events of the day and in trying to be critical of military rule. However, one of its assessment stories is rather too forgetful.

Teeranai Charuvastra is the author and begins with the sad statistic that The Dictator Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has been directing the state since he seized it 1,641 days on Tuesday. In fact, he effectively seized power a couple of days earlier and the official coup announcement then followed.

That long four years is, Teeranai observes, “longer than any other coup leader since the Cold War.”

We are not exactly sure when the Cold War ended. Perhaps its late 1991 when the Soviet Union itself dissolved into its all those republics. Perhaps it is the fall of the Berlin Wall two years earlier. It matters only because if it is December 1991, then there’s only been two military coups in Thailand in that period, both involving roughly the same military crew as is in power now. If it is 1989, then add one more coup.

Two or three coups in Thailand’s long history of military seizures of the state doesn’t necessarily amount to establishing a pattern, although Teeranai’s thinks it does. The claim is that:

Every ‘successful’ military takeover of the last four decades has followed the same script: The generals who led the putsch quickly install a civilian prime minister, ostensibly to give the appearance of democratic rule, before retreating into the shadows. Typically, general elections have been organized within a year.

For one thing, that time period takes us back to about 1978, when Gen Kriangsak Chomanan was in the premier’s seat, having seized power in late 1977 from the ultra-royalist/ultra-rightist regime of civilian and palace favorite Thanin Kraivixien.

But back to Gen Prayuth, who is claimed to have gone off-script. Military junkie/journalist Wassana Nanuam is quoted in support of this claim: “He tore to pieces the rules of the coup.”

Back to the dates. Is there a script. In our view there is, but it isn’t the version proclaimed by Wasana. Rather, the script for the military is in seizing and holding power. When Gen Sarit Thanarat seized power in 1957, he put a civilian in place but in 1958 took power himself. He and his successors held power until 1973. When the military again seized power in 1976, it reluctantly accepted the king’s demand for Thanin to head a government. He failed and Kriangsak seized power in late 1977. Kriangsak held the premiership until 1980, when the military leadership convinced him to handover to palace favorite Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, who stayed until 1988.

Now there’s a pattern. We think its the pattern that Prayuth’s dictatorial junta has had in mind since they decided that the 2006 coup had failed to adequately expunge Thaksin Shinawatra’s appeal and corral the rise of electoral politics.

So Wassana’s triumphalism about The Dictator “breaking a mold” is simply wrong. The military regime is, like its predecessors in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, about embedding the military and throttling electoral politics.

Wassana’s other claim is that Prayuth’s coup and plan to hold power was risky. We think that’s wrong too.

In fact, after 2006 was declared a failure, Prayuth and his former bosses, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Gen Anupong Paojinda, had worked with various rightist and royalist agents to undermine the likely opponents of another military political victory: red shirts and politicians of the elected variety.

ISOC was an important part of that as it systematically destroyed red shirt operations and networks.

In addition, the courts and “independent” agencies had all been co-opted by the military and its royalist and anti-democrat allies.

There was never any chance that Prayuth would hand over to an appointee.

Teeranai’s piece also asks; “So how did Prayuth’s National Council for Peace and Order, or NCPO, manage to stay this long?”

The response is: “The reasons are many, … [that] range from the junta’s use of brute force to Prayuth’s personal influence.” But a “common thread has to do with what the junta is not. The regime’s success, according to most people interviewed, lies in convincing people it is a better alternative to the color-coded feuds and churning upheaval that have plagued the nation.”

We think this is only true for some people and certainly not all. And the people who were convinced are the anti-democrats. Those interviewed are mostly yellow shirts who define “the people” as people like them.

When Suriyasai Katasila says that “The people felt there was only instability… So people accept the NCPO’s [junta] intervention, even though it cost them certain rights,” he speaks for some of Bangkok’s middle class and the anti-democrats.

Other anti-democrats are cited: “people don’t see the point of calling for elections, because they think things will just be the same after the election. People are sick and tired.” Again, these are words for the anti-democrats and by the anti-democrats.

If elections were rejected, one would expect low turnouts for them. If we look just at 2011 and 2007, we see voter turnout in excess of 80%. The anti-democrats propagandize against elections and speak of “the people” but represent a minority.

We’ve said enough. The aims of the current military junta are clear. And the anti-democrats are self-serving and frightened that the people may be empowered by the ballot box. That’s why the junta is rigging any future vote.





Stealing an “election” V

24 04 2018

A reader pointed out a recent op-ed at East Asia Forum on rigging the “election” in Thailand.

Academic Kevin Hewison points to the many “delays” to an “election” and writes that these:

delays are one element of a set of processes devised by the junta to prevent the election to government of any party associated with exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. For the junta and its supporters, ‘reform’ means neutering the Shinawatra clan’s Pheu Thai Party. The junta’s determination to crush Pheu Thai and the related red-shirt movement draws lessons from the military’s failure to defeat its opponents following the 2006 coup.

Another element of the strategy is the military boot:

Repression has been an important instrument. Immediately after the 2014 coup, the military showed that it had been assiduously acquiring intelligence on the vast red-shirt network by arresting and intimidating its leaders across the country. Several hundred red-shirts went into exile while local networks were penetrated and disrupted. The regime gave particular attention to anti-monarchists and lodged dozens of lese majeste charges. In one case, a red shirt leader was pursued internationally and ‘disappeared’…. At the same time, the regime prosecuted and incarcerated Pheu Thai leaders.

The junta has also:

plagiarised several Thaksin-era policies and launched concerted efforts to win the allegiance of those who voted for pro-Shinawatra parties. Like its yellow-shirted supporters, the junta believes that the provincial citizens who repeatedly voted these parties into government were duped or bought, or are simply ignorant. It assumes that these voters were insincere in their support for Thaksin parties and can be made ‘less stupid’ and weaned from Pheu Thai.

Hewison notes that the “regime and military intelligence is encouraging the establishment of small parties that, while nationally insignificant, may diminish Pheu Thai support in local constituencies” and has restructured the electoral, oversight and political system “to prevent any elected government from actually governing.”

He sees this as a kind of throwback to the 1980s when Gen Prem Tinsulanonda was an “outsider” prime minister, never elected. Prem “mostly ignored parliament” as it was “an unimportant place” where politicians argued and Prem ruled, with the “locus of political power was in the bureaucracy and the military.”

He views the rise of new and self-proclaimed “progressive” parties, as well as the junta-loving parties as “a measure of junta success.” Why?:

Small parties and a fragmented party system mean the military can maintain its political dominance in a Prem-style quasi-democracy that is better thought of as a stifling, semi-authoritarian political system.

This actually leads beyond “elections.” The arrangements put in place will indeed be stifling until, somehow, some way, the military is depoliticized and its repressive ménage à trois with monarchy and super-rich is unpicked.





Elbowing Abhisit

15 04 2018

The Democrat Party has been in trouble for years. We could go back to its founding as a royalist party founded by an alliance of disgruntled, restorationist princes determined to undo the political reforms of the People’s Party. But let’s just look at its time under current leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Abhisit, a scion of an elite royalist family, became leader of the party in 2005, following two crushing losses to Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai Party. The party hierarchy believed the ambitious Abhisit could bring the party some better election results. There were elections in 2006, 2011 and 2014, with Abhisit losing badly in 2011 and boycotting elections in the other two years. In both boycotts, Abhisit aligned his party with radically royalist street movements. Despite never winning an election, Abhisit became prime minister in late 2008. He managed this with the help of the military and judiciary, which engineered the ouster of an elected government and its replacement by a hastily cobbled together Democrat Party-led coalition. In addition, Abhisit supported two coups against elected governments in 2006 and 2014.

If that record isn’t bad enough, while resisting calls for elections in 2009 and 2010, Abhisit was premier when the military fired on demonstrators from the red shirts, killing dozens and injuring thousands. Because he was the military’s loyal ally in this murderous politics, he has not been held responsible.

That record makes Abhisit politically toxic for many Thais who prefer to vote in elections for the government they prefer.

The Nation reports that aged former party leader and former prime minister Chuan Leekpai has revealed that “there is an attempt within the party to replace current leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and that he and Supachai Panichpakdi were being considered” as replacements.

Chuan, who is about to turn 80, has led two governments. The first followed the 13 September 1992 election where the Democrat Party won 79 of the 360 seats and led a coalition. The second time in power came from an election defeat but the fall of a government beset by  economic crisis. Backroom deals saw Chuan becomes premier leading a hastily cobbled together Democrat Party-led coalition.

Supachai Panitchpakdi is almost 72. He has limited political experience, having been appointed as Deputy Minister of Finance in 1986-88, before becoming president of the Thai Military Bank. He briefly returned to politics in 1992 and became Deputy Prime Minister until 1995. In November 1997 he became Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce, implementing IMF policies that were widely despised. He then went off to become head of the WTO and the of UNCTAD. In both positions, despite his claims to the contrary, he was more or less inactive and invisible.

So the Democrat Party looks to has-beens for a new leader in an upcoming (?) “election” where the big issue is how to get The Dictator back in the premier’s chair. We do not doubt that any of these three quislings can cooperate with the military. However, Abhisit is seen as both an electoral liability and too ambitious for the premier’s seat.

Chuan says the party needs “to pave the way for new people.” The problem for the party in “election” terms is that the “new blood” is anti-democratic and military supporting. Such an electoral profile is also likely to further stain the party.

Once the military junta’s ban on the activities of established political parties is lifted, “Chuan said that the party had to vote for a new leader following the new rules imposed by the [junta’s] new organic laws.”

As usual, the Democrat Party is in a political mess and will be as opportunistic as ever. An alliance with the military seems most likely (again).





Brotherly military “advice”

24 02 2018

2006 coup leader Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin has, according to the Bangkok Post, “jumped on the election bandwagon, calling on the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the military junta] to stick to its poll roadmap.”

Gen Sonthi says “he was alarmed by the NLA’s rejection of all seven candidates and believes it is a sign of the political roadmap being pushed back [again].” he added the “regime should pay heed to the people’s demands.”

Gen Sonthi has never been the sharpest tool in the shed, so we suspect he’s reflecting the views of others.

Back in 2012, now deceased Maj-Gen Sanan Kachornprasart, and then retiring as “de facto leader of the Chart Thai Pattana Party,” asked a very direct question of Gen Sonthi. According to The Nation, he asked:

Were Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanond and the bureaucratic elites behind Sonthi and the coup, as had been alleged by red shirts?… Who was behind the coup?

… Was it you or did you not have any personal motivation? Please speak the truth, or else the public will continue to doubt. Before we can reconcile you must speak the truth and clear the doubt.

What was Sonthi’s response? According to the report,

He began by saying no one should ever doubt his loyalty to His Majesty the King, and then added: “I don’t think I can answer. For some questions, you can’t answer even if you are dead. When the time comes it will reveal itself.”

We doubt he’ll say who is behind his current advice.





Ultra-royalism means ultra-stupidity

10 02 2018

The ultra-royalism that has infected Thailand since about the time of the 2006 coup has resulted in bizarre lese majeste cases and equally outlandish behavior by royalists as they manage their “loyalty.”

The latest royalist peculiarity involves Chanthaburi governor Withurat Srinam who has offered his resignation for his misuse of a “royal” word.

The governor has “come under fire after putting the royal term in two of his orders to officials in preparation to receive ministers during a mobile cabinet visit in Chanthaburi on Monday and Tuesday.” He is reported to have used the word rab sadet, meaning to receive, for The Dictator and his junta cabinet.

In most constitutional monarchies there is no “royal language.” But Thailand is an oddity. And the politicization of the monarchy both by ultra-royalists and opponents of the military and monarchical state has made things royal more important and “sacred” than they have been for more than a century. Ultra-royalists patrol the narrow boundaries of “loyalty.”

So in this strange world of ultra-royalism and neo-feudalism, we now find Interior Ministry permanent secretary Chatchai Promlert having to decide whether to “approve the resignation…”.

That decision also puts him in the firing line. Ultra-royalists may detect insufficient loyalty should he make a sensible decision and tell the governor to get back to work.

That senior officials should even have to deal with such antediluvian buffalo manure is a measure of how far Thailand has fallen into a royalist abyss.