Thitinan on rule by law and judicialization

16 12 2010

Thitinan Pongsudhirak has a most useful commentary in the internationally-influential Wall Street Journal. He takes aim at Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s repeated claims about the rule of law. He begins: “On the surface at least, Thailand has returned to the rule of law. After the government declared a state of emergency in April, the military subdued the “red shirt” protesters and restored order. And in the last three weeks, the Constitutional Court dismissed two cases against the ruling Democrat Party that could have seen the party banned from politics. However, in both cases the government’s wins came at the expense of its perceived legitimacy.”

He argues that the military and judiciary are “[p]ropping up the pro-establishment status quo” and that the “public’s suppressed aspirations for reform mean that Thailand’s period of tumult is not over…”.

Thitinan argues that the “courts are increasingly the final arbiter of the country’s political direction. But because the courts are perceived as biased, instead of achieving [political] reconciliation and a way forward, judicialization has exacerbated matters.” He goes on to describe the Constitutional Court’s work on the cases against the Democrat Party as “shocking because they were made on procedural grounds and in the face of strong precedents for holding the ruling party accountable.”

The “precedents” are the cases that dissolved the parties and banned some 200 politicians associated with elected governments and that were pro-Thaksin Shinawatra in moves that look to PPT like judicial coups. Nothing of that for the so-called Democrat Party as technicalities were used to save the party of the establishment. As Thitinan politely observes, those trials “were expeditious and the court delivered the verdicts rapidly.”

He also notes that the cases against the anointed Democrat Party “dragged on, [and] several judges of the nine-member court were filmed discussing how to exonerate the Democrats.” Red shirt claims of “injustice” and “double standards” have traction, and Thitinan believes that red shirt opposition will be galvanized.

Thitinan observes that “the establishment forces’ game plan is clear. Having put down Mr. Thaksin’s challenge and crushed the red shirts’ uprisings in April 2009 and earlier this year, the latter at a cost of 91 fatalities and 1,900 injuries, the army-backed government of Abhisit Vejjajiva is emboldened to soldier on with its own populist agenda of deficit spending on handouts and giveaways in preparation for the polls. The Democrats are unlikely to win an outright victory, but the establishment camp can ensure they remain in power. The army is poised to pressure smaller parties to join a Democrat-led coalition, leaving out the pro-Thaksin Puea Thai Party.” He predicts that there are “a series of confrontations down the road.”

PPT would add that the establishment’s game plan only involves elections that they can “win” one way or another. They want to be able to further crush any red shirt and anti-monarchy movement by pointing to such a victory, effectively legitimizing their long-standing repression of  opposition. The military, palace and establishment allies do not want a repeat of 2007, when they thought they had organized an election victory, only to have it snatched from them. Their on-going repression, purges of the bureaucracy, police and military, corruption of the judiciary, and their support for shady coalition partners are all meant to ensure a victory in the next election (that will only be held when victory is assured).

Further updated: Abhisit, al Qaeda and his US statements

25 09 2010

AFP reports on Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s talk at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. The report seems to indicate that the premier has lost none of his capacity for spin and continues to believe that foreign observers of Thailand are basically dullards and will believe him because he speaks English so very well as a pukka English lad.

As has been his monologue for some time, Abhisit claimed “that early elections could take place early in 2011 if the opposition Red Shirts prove they can remain peaceful.” If he was truthful, he’d add that this measure of “peaceful” is impossible to meet when it is the security forces that kill and injure in large numbers. Yes, there have been claimed instances of red shirt violence and by some who have an alleged link to red shirts. But, as far as PPT can tell, there has been no proven instance of red shirt violence that comes anywhere close to the state’s own grisly record.

Further, a truthful Abhisit might have added that an election that the parties of the establishment look likely to lose is unlikely to be countenanced. The Democrat Party and its puppet masters will simply not allow an election that they may lose, or if they miscalculate, as they did in 2007, they will simply find ways to chuck out the result, as they have done several times. Even another coup could not be ruled out.

At least the prime minister added: “We believe that six more months of continued stability… should be able to set the scene for a possible early election next year…”. That’s as close to truthful as he gets. March would be the earliest announcement of an election. Under the military’s 2007 Constitution, he has to have completed an election date by December 2011.

He adds: “If they would prove that they are interested in democratic movement, peaceful assembly and rejection of any illegal activity — and of course violent activity — then I think we should be on course to achieve a solution.”And, as has been his penchant for the whole period of his military and palace arranged premiership, he says: “I don’t believe in elections where there can be intimidation, threats or use of force…”.

That position has been repeatedly invoked when Abhisit knows that his party is so hated in some parts of the country that it could never  campaign without facing considerable opposition. Again, though, it is the government that maintains the emergency decree and which maintains a virtual monopoly on violent political action. At the same time, it is the government that engages in undemocratic attacks on personal liberties, engages in massive censorship and keeps an unknown number of political prisoners locked up.

Abhsit also makes the classic authoritarian leader’s claim: that “ordinary people are not affected” by the continuing emergency rule. This is not only an authoritarian justification of undemocratic and repressive politics, but his most blatant lie in this speech. As PPT has pointed out before (and here), Abhisit now has a long record of bald-faced lies, most notably when overseas.

And to make his shabby performance a touch absurd, Abhisit compares restrictions on his red shirt opponents (and others – see here) to the “war on terror.” He claims he is not “damaging media freedoms” because his regime only restricts media that “incite violence.” That’s another Abhisit lie, with any number of non-violent websites blocked, including PPT. His justification enters the absurd when he claims: “I’m not sure whether you’d allow any special station for Al-Qaeda here,” smugly believing he has penetrated the American mind by comparing red shirts to terrorists (the Abhisit regime’s political position). The comparison only makes sense in the minds of the yellow-shirted brigade in the Democrat Party.

Update 1: Abhisit has been getting a polite press while facing small demonstrations outside the venues where he is speaking. Some of the reports, with links provided by a loyal reader:

Forbes: The premier plays up the “good news, ” which is economic growth. But then Thailand is in the major world growth area. PPT suggests that the surprise is that the red shirt demonstrations didn’t have much economic impact. The bad economic news is that the Democrat Party and its backers seem determined to maintain the low-wage regime. We suspect that such an economic regime dovetails with the elite’s continued political control.

Press TV: a summary of the early elections nonsense presented above and also here.

Xinhua says the premier “would explain Thailand’s economic and political situation to world leaders during the 65th United Nations General Assembly in New York.” Why not? He’s tried to explain it in Thailand and seems to get no particularly positive response. Sounding like a throwback to the 1960s, he claims: “I believe there are many investors in the US planning to invest or expand their businesses here…”. It is mentioned that security is a worry back home, with more bombs in Bangkok and more talk there of increased security. Maybe they can do the same at military arsenals.

PPT enjoyed he Washington Post story that has Abhisit sounding positively schizophrenic as he called on Burma’s military junta to allow for a “more inclusive” political system, including “the participation of jailed opposition leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi, after … elections are held in November…”. He then whinged about the Human Rights Watch statement on his government’s own failures. He said he was “slightly disappointed” that the HRW statement “did not recognize what he described as continued dangers to the government.” PPT hadn’t ever thought that HRW was in the business of protecting a particular government….

Abhisit showed remarkable and shocking indifference to human rights in stating: “I wish they would recognize that in implementing this law we are simply trying to make sure there is stability and no violence…”. Doesn’t Abhisit understand that he stands on the same ground as military rulers and authoritarian leaders of the past? Probably not….

Sounding like he does on Thai elections, Abhisit believes that elections in Burma won’t change things much. But he then adds: “I think it should be seen as a first step.” But not for Thailand…. He also talks of reconciliation in Burma. Perhaps his recording is stuck.

Update 2: There are a series of 8 YouTube videos on Abhisit’s first New York speech (in Thai) on 22 September . Begin here.

With several updates: Abhisit appears on BBC and CNN

27 04 2010

A press release from the BBC states that Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is to appear on HARDtalk today to discuss the current political crisis in Thailand.The scheduled broadcast times are: 1930 GMT Tuesday 27 April 2010 on BBC World News, repeated 0330 Wednesday 28th April, 0830 Wednesday 28th April and 15:30 Wednesday 28th April 2010. PPT stresses that we have yet to see the show. The press release has these interesting tidbits [Update: BBC currently has a 3-minute clip from the show available]:

“Zeinab Badawi: If you truly believed yourself that you were an obstacle to Thailand recovering and getting some kind of stability, would you step down?

Abhisit Vejjajiva: Of course. I’ve never put my interests above the country’s.”

PPT: Interesting response. Make of it what you will, but we think Abhisit believes he is the only one capable of saving the ruling class.

“We are in agreement at the moment that the problems we are seeing is not a purely political problem. There are security problems involved, there are terrorist problems involved. We need to tackle all those issues at the same time. When we talk about the stability everyone wants to achieve, not a short term stability waiting for the problem, the same problem to be repeated again and again. I think at the moment all sides need to take into account the views of the other sides and find a reasonable solution. That’s what I’m aiming for and I’m sure that’s what the majority of Thai people want us to do.”

PPT: Nothing new here.

“ZB: Thaksin Shinawatra removed in September 2006 by the miliatry…you are a direct beneficiary of that because you came to power without an election and people don’t like that.

AV: That’s not right, that’s not right. Thaksin was removed from power in fact he was only an acting Prime minster because the elections were going to be held and then after the coup they had a referendum on the new constitution. A referendum passed that constitution, we had fresh elections, it returned a parliament that was a hung parliament which actually arguably you could argue that Thaksin’s party actually took some of the minor parties who during the election campaigned, people who defected from that party.”

PPT: Can’t wait to see this response in video form. But it shows Abhisit is befuddled by his own rationalization of his rise to power. “Actually arguably you could argue that” Abhisit doesn’t know how his parliamentary system under the 2007 junta constitution works. A hung parliament is one in which no party has an overall majority and where  the government will not be able to win votes to pass laws without the support of members of other parties. However, in Thailand’s case in 2007, prior to parliament convening, a coalition government was formed, meaning that there was no “hung parliament.” As far as PPT can recall, no one defected from other parties to join the PPP. In fact, this kind of coalition government has been the standard form in Thailand, with only the parliaments convened following elections under the 1997 Constitution being different.

“ZB: But it doesn’t look like that, (referring to AV saying that they are doing their best to make sure there will be no clashes between the two groups) quoted on the Reuters news wire April the 25th Thailand’s top broker Kim Eng Securities said ‘escalated political violence could lead to civil war’. That’s a pretty strong statement there.

AV: It is and it’s the result of protestors trying to escalate the level of violence and tension and it has obviously met with a stronger reaction from the rest of the population from the public in general who do not want to tolerate illegal activities. What the government is trying to do now is telling the public that it is up to us officials and people who need to restore order to do our job. They can express their opinions but they should avoid any kind of confrontation. We are aiming to restore order as soon as possible but at the same time we have to be aware of the need to make sure that there will be minimum losses and to make sure that we comply with international standards and respect the basic rights of people including those of the protestors.”

PPT: Abhisit can do little more than blame the protesters for violence, for illegality and so on as he needs to whitewash his own culpability. We think the exaggeration of “stronger reaction” is wishful thinking or tunnel vision.

Update 1: Abhisit has been on an international media blitz. He’s also on CNN, with video. Christiane Amanpour’s full interview with Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva at 3 p.m. EST Tuesday (2100 CET) and 8 a.m. EST Wednesday (2 p.m. CET). It is not really comforting to know that the law and order conservative is trying “to enforce the law with minimum losses…”.

Abhisit’s repeated claims that his government is not illegitimate, by saying “We assumed office under the same means, under the same rules, by the same vote of parliament as the two previous administrations” elected after the coup tends to ignore quite a lot and assumes that viewers are gullible.

Update 2: With respect to minimum losses, mentioned in the previous update, this is in the context of the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation, preparing to disperse red shirt  protesters from the Rajaprasong area, authorizing the use of live bullets. This is no different from 10 April, but the announcement in advance is intimidating and demands a response from protesters (who will have assumed live rounds anyway). The details are a little different however:  “If an attacker comes within 100 metres, officials will fire tear gas first, but if he comes closer, within 30 metres, guns may be fired…”.

Update 3: In The Nation, Abhisit has declared his duty as “to protect the system and the country, not to fight over political issues…”. It is also stated that the police and military from upcountry on their way to Bangkok are “reinforcements.”

Updated: Caravan fallout

22 03 2010

Update: “Reconciliation” seemed to last only a few minutes. By the evening of Monday, the main state media outlets were attacking the red shirts quite vigorously. Thai Television included a long “news analysis” that would have been at home on ASTV. Indeed, it included several unattributed references to the ASTV’s publications attacking the red shirts.


It does seem that the enormous red shirt caravan and the support it achieved in Bangkok has had a considerable impact. It has been baffling and challenging to pro-government groups for all kinds of reasons – see the excellent Chang Noi column.

Immediately after the caravan, there were reports of bombing, and this could have been a sign of a darker force at work to undermine the red shirt leaderships’ determination to be non-violent. These threats could have come from a range of disgruntled or determined or wildly worried sources. There were some red shirt affiliates who wanted a more aggressive approach. It could have come from disgruntled military and intelligence types who have long employed these kinds of unsettling tactics. It could have been a government strategy. What seems clear at the moment is that there has been a stepping back from this strategy. It could easily return.

The military-backed government led by Abhisit Vejjajiva seemed determined to get tougher. Abhisit himself went on the offensive, attacking the red shirts as Thaksin Shinawatra-dominated and money dominated. He blanketed television. He was supported by a range of yellow-hued attacks o the red shirts. The determination to denigrate the rallies and caravan as the actions of the paid-off, duped and ignorant was seen amongst Democrat ideologues and was all over the ASTV/Manager and yellow-shirt twitters and blogs. That continues. On the English-language blogs, the determined yellow shirts returned in heavy posting, demeaning and damning the red shirts in tones almost identical with those used to damn rural voters when the People’s Alliance for Democracy wanted them effectively disenfranchised. Letters to the English-language press have been dominated by outrage against the red shirts from supposedly foreign readers.

However, the government and its backers seem to have gradually seen the message of the past days and week as representing a serious challenge. Increasingly, there seems to have been a lot of pressure for Abhisit and his backers to return to “reconciliation.” That term was originally the rhetoric of the 2006 coup leadership and the governments that followed, but the Abhisit government seemed happy enough to abandon it. This pressure began before the caravan on Saturday, but has since increased. Some of the Thai-language press has been gradually more willing to consider a red shirt view (see here and here).

The pressures included the rallying of Peua Thai parliamentarians and leader Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to the red shirt leadership. Initially, some Peua Thai leaders seemed reluctant to be openly associated with the red shirts, but as the movement has achieved successes, that reluctance has melted away. The pressure from parliamentarians for the government to seek a way out was also significant. So too was the pressure from coalition partners and the usually government-supporting groups.

Initially, Abhisit seemed intent on putting out “let’s talk” signals, but maintained conditions that the red shirt rally leadership rejected. The Nation (21 March 2010) reported that Abhisit held out the possibility of a general election this year. That was significant for the coalition still feels that it will lose, meaning that the strategy has long been to avoid an election for as long as possible. This year has problems. For one thing, this government and its supporters want to control the military reshuffle due in October to ensure the “right” people get control for the next few years. That would at least ensure that a pro-Thaksin government would not have much free reign.

Abhisit somewhat foolishly suggested that two of the most anti-red shirt Democrats be negotiators – propaganda chief Sathit Wongnongtoey and Korbsak Sabhavasu. Abhisit seems to trust these men, but they have low ratings amongst red shirts. Abhisit soft-pedaled, saying these guys wanted to negotiate the terms of negotiation with the red shirts rather than to negotiate ways out of the “crisis.”

The red-shirt leaders insisted they would only talk directly to Abhisit about any truce prospects.” They added that dissolving parliament was the main demand.

Abhisit continued to reject this in a familiar statement that there would be a House dissolution only when the country is ready for a free and fair election so that the public will benefit from such a move.” He added: “we have to cut a deal that we would do it [house dissolution] for the public interest with no Thaksin issues involved…. This is seen by many red shirts as a return to a position of 2008, where after winning the 2007 election, the then People’s Power government was prevented from dealing with any constitutional or other issues that the PAD and its backers considered “Thaksin-related.” Abhisit is agenda-setting for a feared “pro-Thaksin” government.

Coalition partners Puea Pandin and Chart Thai Pattana were far more supportive of talks with the protesters. The Nation reported that “Watchara Kannikar of the Chart Thai Pattana Party said both the government and protesters should reduce their preconditions so that there could be a deal.

Now a cynical PPT would see much of this as an attempt to regain the political driving seat by a visibly disturbed government. Indeed, Abhisit was forced to call all of the coalition party leaders to his army base “government house” for an all channels live broadcast to redisplay coalition unity. It looked like a shaky strategy and ended remarkably abruptly. The point of the media event was to announce some stepping back. The Nation (22 March 2010 – reported that The coalition parties agreed negotiations should begin today with mediation by the National Human Rights Commission or senators…”. The meeting appointed “Education Minister Chinnaworn Boonyakiat [and] … Korbsak Sabhavasu as negotiators [to]… meet with red shirt leaders Dr Weng Tojirakarn and Jaran Ditthapichai today to set the terms of talks.” The red shirts quickly rejected Chinnaworn and opened the possibility of dealing direct with the smaller coalition parties.

Abhisit was also forced to agree that he might have to lead negotiations with the red shirt leaders. But positions remain quite a way apart. The red shirts know that the government could return to a strategy of waiting out the red shirt protest or worse.

Interestingly, the impact of the red shirt caravan has been sinking in for government supporters. The Nation has a Page 1 comment alters its political language to talk again of “reconciliation.” In a classic piece of Nation doublespeak, it is stated that politicians are the problem: “We can’t let those with political stakes exert a grip on our hearts and souls for their own interests. It’s as simple as that.” PPT observes that The Nation has been heavily involved in a strident campaign of political hate for several years so this is the equivalent of a racist calling for inter-racial harmony. The born-again reconciliationist as the Nation calls for a middle path: “An independent person must be able to loath Abhisit but love those who adore him at the same time. An independent person must be able to scrutinise Thaksin and understand why others think highly of the man.” The editorialist seems to think the way out may be in a slimy political deal.

Maybe it will be a slimy compromise in the end. Cynically, if the establishment already controls the judiciary and many of the so-called independent bodies, can maintain the 2007 Constitution, controls the military, has the senate in its pocket, and can set an agenda in advance for a pro-red shirt government, then as that government comes to office it is totally hamstrung. And then there is the threat of PAD or worse. More cynically, a darker outcome of destabilization and military intervention is possible. A darker 1976-like right-wing crackdown on opposition may have faded for the moment, but not the forces itching to crack heads.

A few things are clear: the red shirts and their innovative political tactics are something that might scared the blue bloods out of the morning latte and croissant with imported preserves and served by the red shirt maid (“Will she now be emboldened enough to murder me and loot the house?”) but they have been a raging success amongst those millions who understand double standards, inequality and the power of the amart. These things are sort of new and sort of old. Who would have thought that in a supposedly post-industrial world, a movement of peasants and workers would rise? Scary enough to get an elite deal perhaps? But also scary enough to prompt the darker forces also.

The king, judicialization and “rule of law”

2 02 2010

The Nation (2 February 2010) reports a second speech by the king –still in hospital – to judges. The last one was on 25 January. Make no mistake, this is a powerful and significant political intervention.

The king was seen last night on television speaking to 168 assembled newly sworn-in Supreme Court judges. He initially spoke quite strongly but then became more rambling and incoherent. Despite that, the message was crystal clear: “strictly adhere to the principles of justice to maintain peace, happiness and orderliness in the country.

Since the successful use of the judiciary by the palace to get rid of the Thai Rak Thai Party and then to reverse the 2007 election result through judicial action, the power of a partisan judiciary has been further entrenched. The palace previously relied on a loyal military, but the failure of the 2006 coup to rid them of their enemies has demonstrated that it is the loyal judiciary that can maintain the current system and balance of power and wealth.

The king, who used to speak of order to the military, now speaks to judges: “Each and every one of you is really important in ensuring orderliness. You are the hope of the people, both good and bad. You can help increase the number of good people.

The king used to tell the military to protect the country from challenges from communists and the under-classes. Now he tells the judges: “You are a symbol of justice. And by performing your duty well, you can help the country survive. Everyone wants our country to survive. Even the bandits and villains feel they want peace. If you can have your compatriots believe in peace, happiness and justice, our country will work fine…. The identity of the “bandits” and villains” is clear.

Judicialization began with the 1997 Constitution and was made much more powerful by the military’s 2007 Constitution. The judiciary is now the palace’s main support in the short-term battle against Thaksin. The king’s meetings with judges in the lead-up to the Thaksin Shinwatra assets case is evidence enough of this. In the long-term it is clear that the palace wants a judiciary that maintains the current order against any future challenges. This is a task that is seen as more appropriate than the blunt instrument of the military coup. This is why Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva emphasizes “rule of law” when the movement is to rule by law.

This is the king’s most significant political intervention since the 2006 coup. But more than an intervention, this is a constitutional revolution that will have huge impacts in the future. It is a constitutional interventions seen most clearly in the 2007 Constitution. It is also unconstitutional in the sense that the king is relying on what his supporters call “baramee.” It is personal, ideological and extra-constitutional intervention to change the nature of politics, and hang what the people think.

Surayudh as peacemaker

21 12 2009

It is interesting that Privy Council deputy Surayud Chulanont would consider himself a likely peace maker for Thaksin Shinawatra and the Abhisit Vejjajiva government. Surely, as a privy councilor he is considered tainted by previous actions?

Surayud has been accused by red shirts and Thaksin of political interference prior to the 2006 coup, and some say he was involved in the planning of the coup. He then became the military’s appointed prime minister following the coup. His royalist government put the problematic 2007 constitution in place and did its very best to support those trying to prevent pro-Thaksin parties getting votes in the 2007 election. His government established all kinds of bodies that were meant to destroy the so-called Thaksin regime.

It’s no surprise, then, to see negative responses. Thaksin is said to have responded at his Twitter internet page (which PPT does not follow): “Having listened to what Gen Surayud said, I wonder whether it was his own idea or was he ordered to take that step.” This is from the Bangkok Post (21 December 2009: “Political peace talks remain elusive”). Thaksin set pre-conditions for talks: ” restoration of the 1997 constitution; a general election; a fair trial on all the cases against him, both those already judged and those pending; and … the return of his legally acquired assets currently frozen by the government.”

Prime Minister Abhisit said he’d talk, but only after Thaksin “first returns to face his two-year jail term for abuse of authority relating to the Ratchadapisek land deal – a condition that Thaksin has always rejected because he believes the judiciary applied a double-standard against him.”

In his op-ed cited above, anti-Thaksin commentator Veera Prateepchaikul cries crocadile tears about reconciliation and then attacks. He says that the “political temperature is bound to heat up with the Thaksin camp stepping up their campaign to destabilise the government with the objective of forcing a snap general election or the overthrow of the government. A two-pronged attack is anticipated with the Puea Thai Party mounting a censure debate against the government in the parliament, and the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship will simultaneously launch its street protests.” Veera thinks Thaksin will direct actions from Cambodia.

Veera’s peddling a line that PPT has commented on previously, when we pointed out that several journalists, including Veera, had taken up a PAD story and promoted it as a factual prognostication. Veera is beginning to sound like he should get a position as an op-ed writer at The Nation.

Learning authoritarianism

28 08 2009

Also available at ประชาธิปัตย์กำลังเรียนรู้ “การบ้าอำนาจ”.

It cannot be doubted that the oldest political party in Thailand is learning how to be authoritarian. The Democrat Party has never been full of political liberals, but it did, for a while, claim this political space as it developed from a narrowly royalist party to a party that was seen as an “inside” alternative to military authoritarianism.

The party is changing again. Having been moderately supportive of the palace-military coup in 2006, supportive of the military’s rigged constitution in 2008, having vociferously supported the People’s Alliance for Democracy’s street-based politics and having accepted government in a backroom deal brokered by the military and provincial godfather Newin Chidchob, the party has quickly become comfortable with authoritarian politics.

Over the time that the Democrat Party has led the current government, PPT has shown the descent into authoritarian patterns of political control. We won’t put in all the links here, and invite readers to use the search function. These include: the prime minister has been found to have bent the truth; the use of violent force against demonstrators; massive censorship of the media; the use of the monarchy for overt political gain (and the monarchy has been happy to go along), including the use of the draconian lese majeste law; the arrest of scores of political opponents; inciting fear; playing favorites in the bureaucracy (not something that is new, of course); corruption; ill-treatment of refugees; human rights violations in the south; and repeated failures to adequately deal with abuses by the police and military.

The list could be extended, and is beginning to look a little like the litany of complaints against a previous government. What is of concern now is that the Democrat Party seems to have found that massive security crackdowns against political opponents are useful, especially when they have the support of the tame and self-censoring media and the frightened middle class. Pattaya was a disaster for the Democrats, but cracking down on the Songkhran Uprising showed a way forward for the Democrats. The success they had with an astoundingly massive security operation in Phuket has now led to the massive crackdown in Bangkok that is currently in place.

The Bangkok Post (28 August 2009: “City goes into lockdown”) seems appropriate: lockdown thousands of troops and police deployed. This security lockdown is said to in anticipation of violence. But its use of the draconian internal security law means that it is much more than anticipation. It is actually to prevent what would have been legal demonstration. Dusit Palace, Government House and parliament are off limits and the streets there will be cleared of street protests and red shirts.

PPT believes that it is simply the government’s learned authoritarian response.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva chairs the Internal Security Operations Command and military committee that has approved this pre-emptive crackdown. Other areas were also likely to be declared off limits to protesters. The government and its supporters continue to use hackneyed allusions to a “third hand.” Such claims were often made when the military cracked down in previous decades. Abhisit hailed the ISA legislation’s effectiveness … at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Phuket last month.”

The police have been warning UDD leaders while proven illiberal minister Sathit Wongnongtoey told the broadcast media that “he would not ban the media from covering the rally but urged them to be careful with their reports and double-check the facts.” In other words, I am not banning you, but you are warned. The threat is clear.

Another report (Bangkok Post, 28 August 2009: “Suthep to command security operation”) tells of the formation of a so-called peace-keeping operation centre set up under the Internal Security Act and headed by Deputy PM Suthep Thaugsuban. All protestoers would be searched on arrival. In all of this, Suthep makes the remarkable claim that “the government force will strictly adhere to the principles of democracy and human rights.”

And, Abhisit doesn’t want to dissolve the parliament. He knows that his party is unlikely to win an election and hence he wants to avoid that option for as long as possible or until he and his backers can engineer a victory.

The path to authoritarian rule is short and slippery, and the Democrat Party is on it, and seems remarkably comfortable.

Controlling the police

6 08 2009

As PPT readers know, there has been considerable political wheeling and dealing concerning Police chief Patcharawat Wongsuwan. Now Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has appointed a stand-in while Patcharawat is on leave. Well, maybe he’s on leave. He showed up for work even after a caretaker police chief had been appointed.

The Nation (5 August 2009: “PM names caretaker police chief”) reported that Police General Wichien Potposri has been appointed. The Nation reports that Wichien is seen as “relatively impartial in handling politically related events so there is a chance that he could be made national police chief once Patcharawat retires.”

The Bangkok Post (4 August 2009: “PM appoints acting police chief”) reported Abhisit as saying that he had appointed Wichien “based on his seniority and appreciable work record.”

A couple of points to make here. First, as Bangkok Pundit notes, Wichien was previously head of the Office of the Royal Court Security Police. Second, under the military-backed government of privy councilor-cum-prime minister Surayud Chulanond, Wichien was responsible for working with provincial governors to “curb possible violence throughout Thailand.” In other words, he worked with the junta – the Council for National Security – to crack down on potential demonstrations opposing the military-backed government, including limiting the freedom of movement of rural people. During the 2007 general election, he was “in charge of advance balloting.”

All of this means that the Democrat Party is appointing a trusted policeman. Why is this so important?

One answer is to look at PPT’s post on Chai-Anan Samudavanija, the PAD ideologue, who says that the “police are 100% for Thaksin and the red shirts.”

Another answer lies in the promotions and seniority problem Abhisit is trying to deal with. This is why the “prime minister … said a police reshuffle list under the new organisational structure of the Royal Thai Police Office would be put on hold. He would rather leave the list to be finalized by the next police chief. Pol Gen Patcharawat is due to retire at the end of September.” This is also why Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban has “ordered the Police Commission to a meeting soon to review the list, which involves high-level police officers. Mr Suthep denied a report that the reshuffle would be reviewed because some officers were not satisfied that they were excluded, saying it was only a rumour. He insisted that no politicians had interfered in the making of the list.”

That would seem highly unlikely, but Abhisit and Suthep need to avoid such allegations as such interference is unlawful.

Abhisit and Suthep are trying to prevent the rise of Police General “Prieopan Damapong, a deputy national police chief, who is the senior-most officer. However, Prieopan is the older brother of Pojaman, the ex-wife of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, and is current on assignment at provincial police units.”

In other words, impartiality has nothing to do with these actions. Rather, the aim is to appoint political allies and try to take control of the police.

This was tried before, when Seripisut Temiyavet (originally Seri Temiyavet) was appointed under the CNS, but who was not always politically reliable and got into trouble over lese majeste issues..

Preparing to win an election?

30 04 2009

In seemingly related reports, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (Bangkok Post, 30 April 2009: “PM won’t oppose House dissolution”)   states that “Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Thursday he would consider calling a general election after the 2007 constitution is amended.” Abhisit reckoned that the political situation might be right for an election in another six to seven months.

Meanwhile, according to a Bangkok Post editorial (30 April 2009: “Military opts for purge”) the military is  purging its ranks of officers considered to be close to  Thaksin Shinawatra. The editorial writer says: As head of the government, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva should have an explanation regarding the latest military reshuffle, at least for the sake of fairness and national reconciliation, to show that the whole exercise has not simply been a settling of scores against Thaksin and his followers in the military hierarchy.” That seems unlikely.

Maybe the Democrats think that they will be able to win the next election if they can purge the country, its bureaucracy, military and police of Thaksinites? The military failed at this task in 2006-7. Perhaps the Democrats feel they can be more successful this time? It certainly looks like the Democrats are engaged in such a process, including continuing to make deals with former Thaksin supporters.

Of course, should the Democrats eventually win,  they would deny that purges, crackdowns, secret deals with the military and censorship had anything to do with their victory as they proclaim their democratic credentials.

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