Dictatorship and royalty

23 04 2018

The military dictatorship has proven itself to have the right attitudes and ideology for dealing with other authoritarian regimes, especially the party dictatorships of China and Laos and the Hun Sen regime in Cambodia. Most especially, Thailand’s military regime has felt most comfortable in dealing with military leaders in those countries.

It has had some issues with Laos, where red shirt and republican dissidents reside having fled the royalist military dictatorship following the 2014 coup. The military dictatorship has kept the pressure on, and we can assume some collusion in the enforced disappearance of Ko Tee from his residence in Laos. He’s presumed dead.

Thailand has a long history of political interference in its smaller neighbor’s politics, and there have been many ups and downs. So it is to be expected that all Lao regimes develop the relationship with some caution.

The current Thai dictatorship has been especially agitated about republican dissidents in Laos and has been seeking a deal to get them jailed in Thailand or, if that fails, to have them silenced.

Speaking in Vientiane, Lt Gen Souvone Leuangbounmy, chief-of-staff of the Lao People’s Armed Forces has “played down Thai authorities’ concerns about political fugitives and those wanted under Section 112 of the Criminal Code…” in Laos.

He says that “Thai political fugitives in Laos will be kept under strict surveillance to prevent them from engaging in lese majeste activities…”. He added that “Laos would be vigilant in trying to stop any acts which could affect Thai people” and soothed the military junta: “Please rest assured. You can count on us…”.

He made these comments as Thai military leaders visited Laos. We assume that he was saying this because the Thai military visitors had raised the issue (again).

Perhaps Lt Gen Souvone’s position is a compromise by his regime, under pressure from the “big brothers.” Will they accept this?





We can, you can’t

21 04 2018

The term “populism” has a curious meaning these days, often used to mean any political leader or politician who seeks to curry favor with “the people.” In Thailand, this has been, at least since the word was first translated into Thai, just prior to Thaksin Shinawatra’s first election victory, a term of political abuse.

Indeed, the military junta that seized power in 2014 was heard to attack “populism” as evil and a scourge to be eliminated. Be that as it may, this has not prevented The Dictator, in his campaigning efforts to make him and his regime more popular, from  promising and even allocating billions of baht to various groups. His doling out of promises and funds has particularly targeted those who his political strategists think are pro-Thakin.

As it promised it would do soon after the military coup, the junta has had its legislative puppets draft a law to make populism illegal.

The Nation reports that the new “law prohibits Cabinet members from attempting to boost their support with budget spending that may damage the economy.”

One section of the State Financial and Fiscal Discipline Act (2018) seeks to have it so that:

in preparing annual state budgets, managing the country’s monetary and fiscal affairs, and creating public debt, Cabinet members have to carefully take into consideration such factors as the benefit to the country and the people, worthiness, financial burden, risks and possible damage to state finances.

The section states: “The Cabinet shall not run the state’s affairs with a goal of creating political popularity that may cause damage to the country’s economy and people in the long run…”.

It requires that there be “conformity with national development plans.” It does not say that the junta has put a 20-year plan in place.

The effect of the new legislation, the junta’s strictures and the constitutional mechanisms for “independent” bodies, all put in place by the junta, mean that parties can’t do much at all or offer much in election campaigning for fear of being in violation of this law.

Who will decide which policy is populist and which isn’t? Of course, junta minions and anti-democrats placed in “independent” agencies lie the Constitutional Court will use the legislation to limit elected governments and control the. If this fails, the aw can be used to rid themselves of “populist” regimes.

Initially, The Dictator will control a committee that “will decide what economic policy would be defined as ‘populist policy’ that could have a serious negative impact on government finances.”

In other words, it is another rigging of the system. If his “party” gains an “election” victory, he’ll do as he pleases. If an opponent wins, they’ll be hog-tied.





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).





(Still) not free

13 04 2018

Freedom House produces a yearly report on media and political freedom in the world. The ranking and definitions have some issues, but for Thailand it has been a reasonable assessment of where the country sits on these scores and which countries rank about the same as Thailand.

In the latest ranking, Thailand is considered “Not Free.” No surprise there as the country has had a similar standing since the 2014 military coup. Thailand’s dismal performance since 2001 is listed in the following table:

Year

Political Rights

Civil Liberties
2018               6             5
2015               6             5
2012               4             4
2007               7             4
2005               2             3
2001               2             3

The report for 2018 is summarized in the following clip from the Freedom House website:

As bad as this score and decline are, the ruling elite prefers it when Thais are not free.





The Dictator’s double standards

4 04 2018

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has complained about the recent appearance of Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra in Japan and other places.

He slammed them: “I don’t have any feeling about them. They should have been ashamed. They broke the law and they still dare to go out…”.

Double standards? You bet. After all, if the military junta hadn’t exonerated itself with retrospective “law,” The Dictator himself would be in trouble. When it comes to breaking the law, overthrowing a legal government is seditious, treason and mutiny. Grinding a constitution under his boot is also illegal.

And then there’s the murder of dozens of civilians in 2010 by troops commanded by Gen Prayuth.

He should be ashamed and imprisoned.





Updated: A catch-up II

28 03 2018

Continuing our catch-up:

Khaosod reports on the prosecution of red shirt leaders: Nothing unusual about that. After all, one of the central tasks of the military dictatorship has been to break up and disburse the red shirt movement, jailing leaders and repressing the movement since the 2014 military coup. The unusual bit is that this prosecution refers to events in 2009. Prosecutors accuse red shirt leaders “group of inciting unrest and an open rebellion against the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva in a April 2009 protest, which saw parts of Bangkok occupied for several days.” Political advantage is being maintained.

Reuters reports on new political blood: It says that Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit sees little prospect of winning a junta “election.” He says: “Election laws are unfavourable to us, timing is unfavourable to us, the attitude of the government is unfavourable to us…. The chance is very slim. But a little hope is better than no hope at all.” Joshua Kurlantzick is quoted: “Political success in Thailand depends on being able to placate the military and royalist elite…”.

Andrew MacGregor Marshall has a new article available: Entertaining Ananda is the “story of Britain’s bumbling efforts to win the loyalty of Thailand’s young king [Ananda Mahidol] in the last months of his life.” PPT hasn’t read it yet – it is rather long – but it looks very interesting, based on documents from British archives.

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that the 10 United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship leaders have all entered not guilty pleas in the case mentioned above. The court “set May 28 for the examination of evidence and witness lists submitted by both the accused and prosecutors. Witness testimonies are to begin in August.” The charges are “illegal assembly and stirring up unrest from Jan 31 until April 4 of that year [2009] by organising rallies at several important government offices…. They are also accused of being involved in two more serious incidents — the torching of a public bus and the hijacking of a petrol tanker that was later found abandoned during a violent street protest.” (Some aspects of the report are historically inaccurate.)





Updated: Watching some and not others

26 03 2018

Key words for the military dictatorship: watching and watches. The Dictator “has ordered security forces to closely monitor political groups which are currently launching campaigns to unseat the …[military junta].” The so-called Democracy Restoration Group (DRG) and Start Up People are being watched as “anti-military activists who have stated that they will stage a prolonged rally in May to oust the regime ahead of the fourth anniversary of the May 22, 2014 coup.”

Via a mouthpiece, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha warned people to be watchful of political groups fomenting political unrest, “encouraging everyone to think twice about what they should and shouldn’t do to keep the country moving forward…”. By “forward,” he means backward in political time.

He warned that the “election” – still no date – could be delayed, saying: “So, if the unrest continues to rage, is it likely an election can proceed smoothly?” By “rage” he seems to mean something else. We see no protest raging under a military dictatorship that has worked hard and blunt to squash all expressions of dissent. He’s making up stories in an effort to strike fear into the ever-frightened middle class, the class that usually supports the junta.

But who is watching the watchman? No one. The National Anti-Corruption Commission has again gone quiet on Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, the Deputy Dictator and his luxury watches. The NACC will be looking at the political tea leaves and genuflecting to big powers that might trample them if they do something unexpected.

No one should be surprised as corruption under military regimes is normal. It was only last December that The Dictator had a bunch of people dress in yellow for his declaration of “zero tolerance” of corruption. The result is 50/50 tolerance. Intolerance for the corruption of opponents and 100% tolerance for corruption by junta, its minions, relatives and associated officials. One of the things about a military coup and the reinforcement of “officials” in politics is that officials, civil and military, engage in a corruption buffet. They are given license to be corrupt and even to get away with murder.

These issues are ignored by the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand, a private sector group, when it claims corruption is still reduced under the junta. It works on perceptions, not facts. Under a military regime, while officials are empowered to be corrupt, whistle blowers are disempowered. Precious few complain about corruption under the junta for fear of being branded an opponent and threatened by the military’s thugs. It is only now, with opposition to the junta rising, that corruption cases – dozens of them – are coming to the fore. And still there are dozens more that have been buried.

The extent of corruption under the junta will only become clear once Thailand is junta-free and the military is under civilian authority.

Update: The NACC committee “investigating” Prawit’s watches is now reported to be about ready to “present its findings to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC)” later this week. NACC secretary-general Worawit Sukboon said Prawit had made “a 38-page written explanation of the 39.5-million-baht [watch] collection…”. It will be the NACC that will decide whether to further trouble the Deputy Dictator by having him “appear in person to make a statement…”.