Authoritarianism for royalists, monarchy, tycoons, and military

7 09 2022

PPT has been reading some of the commentaries regarding Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s suspension as premier. We thought we better post something on these as Prayuth’s case could be (almost) decided by the politicized Constitutional Court as early as tomorrow.

Prawit and Prayuth: Generals both

At East Asia Forum, academic Paul Chambers summarizes and lists the pedigree and connections that have led to his former boss, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, to become (interim) premier.

A few days before that, Shawn Crispin at Asia Times wrote another piece based on his usual anonymous sources, that assesses the balance of forces. He thinks the Constitutional Court’s decision to suspend Gen Prayuth was a pyrrhic victory and writes of:

… a behind-the-scenes, pre-election move away from Prayut by the conservative establishment, comprised of the royal palace, traditional elites and top “five family” big businesses, he has cosseted both as a coup-maker and elected leader.

One source familiar with the situation says a group of traditional and influential Thai “yellow” elites including an ex-premier and foreign minister, after rounds of dinner talks, recently delivered a message to Prayut asking him to put the nation before himself and refrain from contesting the next general election to make way for a more electable, civilian candidate to champion the conservative cause.

It is clear that the conservative elite are worried about upcoming elections. Pushing Prayuth aside is thought to give the Palang Pracharath Party an electoral boost. Crispin reckons that the Privy Council beckons if Gen Prayuth does as asked. That’s a kind of consolation prize for Gen Prayuth having done his repressive duty for palace and ruling class.

But, as Crispin makes clear, the ruling class and the political elite is riven with conflicts. Indeed, one commentary considers the contest between Gen Prawit and Gen Prayuth.

It may be that Prayuth comes back. Recent leaks suggest that one faction still wants him in place, “protecting” the monarchy as the keystone to the whole corrupt system.  If Gen Prayuth returns to the premiership, where does that leave the ruling party and its mentors in the ruling class?

On the broader picture, an article by Michael Montesano at Fulcrum looks beyond personalities to the system that the 2014 military coup constructed:

The function of Thailand’s post-2014 authoritarian system is to channel and coordinate the overlapping interests of a range of conservative stakeholders: royalists and the monarchy, the military, much of the technocratic elite, a handful of immensely powerful domestic conglomerates, and the urban upper-middle class. This channelling or coordinating function is the system’s crucial defining feature. No individual or cabal of individuals gives orders or controls the system. Rather, collectively or individually, stakeholders or their representatives act to defend a shared illiberal and depoliticising vision with little need for explicit or direct instructions.

He adds:

Understanding these realities makes clear that Prayut’s premiership of eight long years — so far — has not been possible because of his leadership skills, the loyalty that he might command, or his indispensability. Rather, the remarkable longevity of his stultifying service as prime minister is due to the fact that someone needs to hold that office and he has proved adequate. His premiership satisfied the collective interests that Thailand’s post-2014 authoritarian system serves. For all of his manifest inadequacies, keeping him in place has, at least up to now, been deemed less costly than replacing him.

Has that cost risen so much that Gen Prayuth can be “sacrificed” for the royalist authoritarian system he constructed?





Another royalist

27 08 2022

Reuters reports on Acting Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, the Watchman.

Its main point is that Gen Prawit “represents little substantial change from suspended Prime Minister [Gen] Prayuth Chan-ocha…”.

Certainly, the military’s dominance of Thailand’s politics continues. In addition, the chair shuffling means a period of relative stability for the regime’s Palang Pracharat Party, “until the Constitutional Court decides whether Prayuth’s time as a military leader from 2014 to 2019 counts towards a constitutionally stipulated eight-year term limit…”.

Gen Prawit, who seems much older than his 77 years, “is a longtime ally of Prayuth and was part of the military junta that ruled Thailand for nearly five years following Prayuth’s 2014 coup ouster of an elected government…”.

Both generals are known for their “fierce loyalty to the monarchy .” It has been Gen Prawit who “has long been seen as a power-broker both within the Palang Pracharat party, which he co-founded, and among the wealthy elite that align themselves with Thailand’s royal family and the military.”

Titipol Phakdeewanich of Ubon Ratchathani University considers it likely that “Prawit will help stabilise the political situation and consolidate the ruling coalition and related business interests ahead of the election…”. Thitinan Pongsudhirak, at Chulalongkorn University, is not so sure: “Prawit will be embattled from day one…” and that he’s unpopular (not that that has been a political longevity problem for the Prayuth, who has long been unpopular).

The problem for the allied royalists is how to again manufacture another election victory.





Updated: Wissanu’s political onanism

23 08 2022

As we post this just before midnight GMT, its morning in Bangkok, on the 24th, the day that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha should constitutionally leave the prime ministership he took by force of arms in May 2014. We have no idea what he will do or what the royalist-military Constitutional Court may rule.

But we do know that the regime has been scheming. The legal plaything of the junta and its progeny, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, has said that if Gen Prayuth does step down as prime minister or is pushed out by the Court, he “may legally perform as defence minister, the post which he has concurrently assumed…”. The premiership would then fall to the corrupt, aged, and ill co-coup plotter Gen Prawit Wongsuwan.

Wissanu said:

Prayut may practically hold onto the defence portfolio and attend cabinet meetings at Government House while leaving the top post of government to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan to perform as a caretaker one if the Constitutional Court orders him to immediately stop performing as prime minister until a court ruling on his eight-year rule maximumly provided by law has been delivered, .

Given the fact that no law prohibits a prime minister from concurrently performing in other capacities, Prayut could continue to run the defence portfolio though he may be immediately stopped by court from running the country as premier….

However, Wissanu is not convinced the Constitutional Court will abandon its bosses and allies in the regime.

But this scheming does suggest some cracks in the regime and the ruling class about Prayuth’s position and that some judges and others may be thinking of the political consequences of yet another regime-friendly ruling. Regime schemers and ultra-royalists worry that Prayuth as a politically dead man walking may gift Puea Thai and the opposition an electoral landslide.

Update: Bangkok Post reports:

The Constitutional Court has voted 5-4 in ordering Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha suspended from duty.

The court’s order came after it ruled to accept the petition asking for a ruling on his eight-year tenure as prime minister.

We doubt the closeness of the vote is any cause for celebration given that the decision is only about suspending the general while the court takes its time considering a very straightforward case. Making the case anything other than straightforward is likely a measure of the Court seeking a way out constitutional requirements for Prayuth. Expect Wissanu’s above proposition to hold for the time that the Court is squirming.





Military, coup, capitalism

1 08 2022

PPT came across an academic article recently that deserves some attention.

Military Political Connection and Firm Value—Empirical Evidence from a Natural Experiment in Thailand” is by four scholars attached to Guangxi University, Jingjing Tang, Haijian Zeng, Fangying Pang, and Lanke Huanga. It is in the journal Emerging Markets Finance and Trade, Volume 58, Number 7, 2022.  The paper is behind a paywall at this quite highly-ranked journal. That said, the journal seems to have done little to improve the expression and the copy-editing seems to have been rudimentary. Even so, there are points made in the highly statistical article that deserve discussion.

In Thailand, they found 638 “military politically connected listed firms” or 24.7% of the total sample of 1,948 firms (p. 1903). “Military politically connected” means directors who had a military or police background. It was found that “the share prices of military and nonmilitary politically connected firms increase during the event window [post-2014 coup], but the performance of share prices of the former is better than that of the latter” (p. 1904).

“This empirical evidence suggests that the market has responded positively to the military coup and that the positive performance of the stock market is more concentrated in firms with military political connections than those without” (p. 1904). The paper adds that “When the civilian [government] are in power, the military political correlation effect is negative for the firms. The positive effect can be significantly reflected only when the military is in power” (p. 1906).

The authors state that “after the military coup in 2014, the intensity of military political connections and the size of the board of directors increases…. This situation shows that, when the military regains power, the firms will recruit personnel with military backgrounds in the board of directors” (p. 1908).

The military connection also “means military political connection firms add more funds to capital investment and R&D after military coup, so the firm’s value increase.”They conclude: “given that the military controls the political power, directors with military backgrounds can provide enterprises with ‘protective umbrellas’ in their operation and acquire the convenience of management and resource allocation, thereby increasing the firm value.”

Having military “protectors” on company boards during the long periods of military and military-backed governments in Thailand is not new; in fact this has been a defining characteristic of Thailand’s capitalism. The other “protection,” perfected by the Sino-Thai tycoons, is sucking up to the monarchy with donations, supplication, and free advertising.





Updated: Thanapol arrested

30 06 2022

Thai Newsroom reports that on 29 June 2022, Technology Crime Suppression Division police arrested Fa Diaw Kan Publishing House editor Thanapol Eawsakul. He is charged with “disclosing documents and other material related to national security and violating the Computer Crime Act…”.

Clipped from Prachatai

The police took Thanapol to Technology Crime Suppression Division headquarters “without waiting for a lawyer to show up but a lawyer is now following up the case.”

In January 2022, “more than 30 policemen had brought a warrant to search the publishing house and in doing so went through the books and confiscated mobile devices and computers belonging to Thanapol.”

Later, on Facebook, Thanapol explained the situation (with apologies for hurried translation).

He explains that it has more or less been normal for the police to “visit” the offices of Fa Diaw Kan since the journal was established some two decades ago. Following the 2014 military coup, the “visits” increased, then dropped off around the time of the 2019 election, but then expanded again as the monarchy reform-democratization movement expanded. In this latter period, the police became interested in various books published by Fa Diaw Kan, most of them associated with aspects of the monarchy, historical and contemporary.

This heightened police “interest” meant that Thanapol was being closely monitored.

On 21 November 2020, Thanapol posted a message about a National Security Council document ordering to tracking down of a former ambassador. The police filed a complaint on 31 December 2020 and then went quiet.

On 20 January 2022, some 30 police and officers from the Technology Crime Suppression Division searched the publisher’s office, seizing including Arnon Nampa’s The Monarchy and Thai society (which is not a Fa Diew Kan book), computer equipment and Thanapol’s mobile phone. The officers presented two search warrants and an order granting access to computer data, issued by the Nonthaburi Provincial Court.

On 18 April 2022, the Technology Crime Suppression Division said the earlier document seized was classified and disseminated illegally. An arrest warrant was sought even though Thanapol had agreed to report to police. He says: “On June 23, 2022, I made an appointment to go to the TCSD on July 4, 2022 at 1 p.m., but during that time, on June 28, the TCSD requested the court’s approval to issue an arrest warrant….  As a result of issuing an arrest warrant, The police came to arrest me today, 29 June 2022, when I was taken to the police station and to the TCSD…”.

Lawyers from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights and efforts by Move Forward Party, MP Rangsiman Rome led to bail being granted.

So far, few details of the charges are available.

Update: Thai Enquirer has a story on the arrest and bail.





Hunger strikers

14 06 2022

For those who haven’t already seen it, a few days ago, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights posted on the long list of political prisoners who have used a hunger strike to push back against the regime and its jailing-happy judiciary: “Since the May 2014 coup, at least 18 activists and civilians have chosen “hunger strike” as a method of protest to call for justice …, especially with the purpose to demand the right to bail.”

The review argues that:

the “hunger strike” tactic first started in 2016 with Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa, the then activist of pro-democracy Dao Din group. After being arrested for handing out leaflets to campaign against the Meechai Ruchuphan’s proposed constitution draft, Jatupat — at the time detained at the Phu Khiao District Prison in Chaiyaphum province, northeastern Thailand — went on a hunger strike for the whole 12 days of his pre-trial detention to protest against the illegitimate referendum process and unlawful arrests of activists.





Further updated: The 2014 political disaster

22 05 2022

It is now 8 long years since Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Gen Anupong Paojinda colluded with rightists to seize power from an elected government.

The 2014 military coup was not unexpected. After all, the military brass had been planning it and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee had been demonstrating for months in support of a military intervention. The generals knew they had palace support.

Three army generals in 2019. Clipped from the Bangkok Post

Here we recall some of our posts at the time of the coup, with some editing, to recall yet another dark day in Thailand’s political history.

The story of how it happened, from the Bangkok Post is worth recalling:

At 2pm on Thursday, representatives of seven groups began the second day of peace talks hosted by army commander Prayuth Chan-ocha.

The general began by asking all sides what they could do about the five issues he had asked them to consider on the previous day, a source at the closed-door meeting told Matichon Online.

Armed soldiers stand guard during a coup at the Army Club where the army chief held a meeting with all rival factions in central Bangkok on May 22. (Reuters photo)

Wan Muhamad Nor Matha of the Pheu Thai Party said the best his party could do was to ask ministers to take leave of absence or vacation.

Chaikasem Nitisiri of the caretaker government insisted cabinet members would be breaking the law and could be sued later if they resigned.

Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democrat Party disagreed, citing as a precedent Visanu Krue-ngam, who had previously resigned as acting deputy prime minister, but Mr Chaikasem stood his ground.

Veerakarn Musikapong of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) said this debate was useless and a person would need a mattress and a pillow if they were to continue with it.

This was like discussing a religious faith in which everyone was firm in his belief. The army chief had a lot on his shoulders now because he came when the water was already waist-high.

If he continued, Mr Veerakarn said, he would be drowned. The army chief should walk away and announced there would be election. That way, his name would be untarnished.

At this point, Gen Prayuth snapped back: “Stop it. Religious issues I don’t know much about. What I do know is I’ll hunt down each and every one of those ‘infidels’. Don’t worry about me drowning. I’m a good swimmer and I’ve studied the situation for three years.

“Back in 2010, I didn’t have absolute power. So don’t fight me. I was accused of accepting six billion baht in exchange of doing nothing. I insist I didn’t get even one baht.”

At this point, Jatuporn Prompan of the UDD appeared more appeasing, saying since an election could not be held now anyway, the best solution was to hold a referendum on whether national reform should come before or after the next election.

The debate went on for a while before Suthep Thaugsuban of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee said political parties were not involved in this.

“This was a problem between the UDD and the PDRC,” he declared.

He proposed the two groups meet in a separate session.

Mr Abhisit said the government should also join in, but Mr Suthep insisted on only the people’s groups.

Gen Prayuth allowed the two groups to meet separately.

In the meantime, Mr Abhisit suggested other participants should go home now that the two sides were in talks, but Gen Prayuth insisted on everyone staying where they were until a conclusion was reached.

The UDD and PDRC sides talked for 30 minutes.

After that, Gen Prayuth led them back to the meeting, saying he would announce the results of the talks.

At that point, Mr Suthep asked for a minute and walked over to say something with Gen Prayuth, with Mr Jatuporn present.

When they were done, Gen Prayuth said: “It’s nothing. We talked about how the restrooms are not in order.”

After that, the army chief asked the government side whether it insisted on not resigning.

Mr Chaikasem said:” We won’t resign”.

Gen Prayuth then declared: “If that’s the case, the Election Commission need not talk about the polls and the Senate need not talk about Section 7.”

He then stood up and spoke in a loud voice: “I’m sorry. I have to seize the ruling power.”

It was 4.32pm.

At that point some of the attendees still thought he was joking.

They changed their minds when the general walked to the exit and turned back to tell them in a stern voice: “You all stay here. Don’t go anywhere.”

He then left the room.

After that armed soldiers came to detain the participants in groups. Notably, Prompong Nopparit who came in the government’s quota was detained with the UDD group in a separate room.

Mr Veerakarn had a smile on his face and forgot his cane.

Mr Abhisit told Varathep Rattanakorn and Chadchart Sittipunt of the government: “I told you so”.

A pale-faced Chadchart snapped:”So what? What’s the point of saying it now?”

The military put the Democrat and Pheu Thai parties in the same room while the rest were put in different rooms.

The senators and election commissioners were let out first.

The rest is history.

The mainstream media essentially welcomed the coup. We observed that the controlled media dutifully announced the junta’s work – arresting people, grabbing control of even more of the media, implementing a curfew and the usual things these military leaders do when they take over.

Supreme Commander Gen Thanasak Pratimaprakorn, Air Force chief ACM Prajin Juntong, Navy chef Adm Narong Pipattanasai, Police chief Pol Gen Adul Saengsingkaew became Prayuth’s deputies in the junta, but it was the Army that was in control.

Weng

The establishment Bangkok Post published two op-eds supportive of military intervention. One was by Voranai Vanijaka, who congratulated the generals:

Voranai

The other op-ed was by a died-in-the-wool anti-democrat at the Post who declared felling safer:

Dopey shit

Following these two cheering op-eds for the military and its form of fascism, the Bangkok Post managed an  editorial that polished Prayuth’s ego and posterior and justified military intentions. It concluded with this: “The sad thing is it’s the very act of a military takeover that is likely to stir up stiff resistance, provoke acts of violence and possibly cause more loss of life. This coup is not the solution.” Well, of course it is not the solution, but the Post has been part of the problem, failing to clearly stand for democratic process.

Kasit Piromya, former foreign minister under a fully anti-democratic Democrat Party, propagandized and defended the coup at the BBC. He noted the anti-democrat call for the military to intervene “for quite some time.” He lied that the caches of arms found “amongst the red shirts” meant there was going to be great violence. It has to be said that the Army suddenly finding caches of weapons is a propaganda device they have regularly used in the past. He was fully on board with the military.

His comment on the “problem” of democracy is that his side can’t win, and the majority always win. That’s our interpretation of his anti-democrat tripe. He reckons this is the military resetting democracy. He sounds like he’s still in the yellow of 2006; it was the same story then.

Some of these commentators took years to learn that the military intervention was a huge disaster. Others continue to support military, monarchy and fascism. But really, looking back, no one could possibly have thought that this set of military dinosaurs was going to be interested in anyone other than themselves and the monarchy.

The past 8 years are lost years. For us, the only positive is the widespread questioning of the monarchy and its political, economic and social role.

Update 1: The massive Bangkok electoral victory by former Puea Thai minister Chadchart Sittipunt, with a 60% turnout, Chadchart receiving 1,386,215 votes, ahead of the Democrat Party’s Suchatvee Suwansawat with a paltry 240,884 votes. Some of the early commentary refers to the lost years since the 2014 coup – see here and here. It seems clear that the Chadchart landslide marks a rejection of Gen Prayuth and his regime. It is also a rejection of yellow-hued rightists, no more so than the abject failure of the PAD/PDRC eccentric and toxic Rosana Tositrakul with a minuscule 78,919 votes. Sadly, we might predict that the radical royalists and their military allies will interpret the results as a prompt for more vote rigging and even coup planning.

Update 2: Chadchart’s election was no fluke. As Thai PBS reports, the Bangkok assembly election delivered an emphatic vote for the Puea Thai (19 seats) and Move Forward (14 seats) parties. The hopelessly flawed Democrat Party got 9, while the regime’s fracturing Palang Pracharath won just 2 seats. That’s a landslide for the opposition.





Cinema, politics, censorship

12 01 2022

We thought readers might be interested in The New Yorker’s piece on director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. It is a beautiful story about beautiful cinema, and which is only tangentially about politics. Here’s some clips on politics:

Apichatpong, from Wikipedia

“Uncle Boonmee,” like all of Weerasethakul’s films before “Memoria,” was shot in rural Isaan, in northeastern Thailand, the director’s childhood home. Although he was born in Bangkok, in 1970, he grew up in the provincial northern city of Khon Kaen, where his parents, Aroon and Suwat, both ethnically Chinese, worked as doctors. The area, as the scholar Lawrence Chua observes, is “a historically obstreperous place . . . the site of several anti-state rebellions,” which is still rebellious “due largely to its historical isolation, poverty, and lack of infrastructure.”

“I am from this region that is very looked down on from the center,” Weerasethakul told me. “So there is this feeling of—how do you call it?—that you’re like a second-class citizen or something.”

… Weerasethakul had been hitting a wall in Thailand for some time by then. In 2007, in a brilliant essay titled “The Folly and Future of Thai Cinema Under Military Dictatorship,” the director described how he had taken part in a seminar with members of the Ministry of Culture and other groups to discuss the content of Thailand’s new Film and Video Act, which would replace one that had been passed in 1930. Weerasethakul, who had just been told by the censorship board that he needed to cut four scenes from “Syndromes and a Century,” was, he wrote, “enthusiastic to read the draft of the new law, which was supposed to represent our new hope for freedom of artistic expression.” But that hope was soon dashed. Reading the new Film Act, Weerasethakul said, he came across “a number of issues” that disturbed him, including the stipulation that “filmmakers must not make films that undermine social order or moral decency, or that might have an impact on the security and pride of the nation.”

Following the 2014 military coup,

Disturbed by his government’s shaky situation, Weerasethakul felt that he needed to get away. When we met in Chicago, he told me that he was eager for a new challenge. “Partly because I’m getting older, coupled with the fact that Thailand has become a dictatorship,” he explained. “There’s many things I want to do in Thailand, but, at the same time, they won’t let me. Maybe it’s time to go somewhere.”…

“I can’t help but think that the gentleness and the smile is an evolution to survive under the oppressive regimes,” he told me. “Thailand always promotes itself as a sole country in the region that has never been colonized. But to me the people [have] been operating with fear, in full awareness of the power from above, central government, and even from the invisible forces like ghosts and karma. Living here is a complex compromise. Sometimes you don’t even notice that you do [a] particular action out of fear. You sometimes feel free[d] by the spell, the propaganda, and you are actually happy. But when you ask what you cannot do in this country, the list can be long. Sometimes I feel like I am an obedient dog.”

He’s back in Thailand.





Tenure trouble

4 01 2022

Bubbling away in the background of recent politics has been the very large question mark hanging over the regime’s plan to keep Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha in the premier’s seat for another 4 years following the next “election,” which the military-backed rulers think is already in the bag.

Yesterday the Bangkok Post had an editorial on the matter, observing that “a legal team [sic] from the House of Representatives claimed that he is entitled to serve as premier until 2027.”

That team reckons “Gen Prayut’s term technically began when his premiership received royal endorsement under the 2017 constitution on June 9, 2019.” They say this means his constitutionally-limited term could run another 4 years. How convenient!

This bunch “rejected the views of those who argue that Gen Prayut’s tenure began in 2014, when he took over in a coup as the head of the National Council for Peace and Order. Under this interpretation, his term would end in August this year.”

The 2017 constitution bars an individual from remaining in office for more than eight years: “The Prime Minister shall not hold office for more than eight years in total, whether or not holding consecutive term., regardless of whether the four-year terms are served back-to-back or not.”

The 2007 constitution simply stated: “The Prime Minister shall not serve in office more than eight years.”

There’s considerable guff in the editorial for it is perfectly clear that both constitutions limit the premiership to 8 years.

It seems likely that the question will go to the partisan Constitutional Court. Based on its previous capacity for fudging the constitution and supporting the regime, we can expect the coup master to be around until 2027.





Rolling back democracy from its birth III

15 12 2021

James Lovelock of UCA News also comments on Chuan Leekpai’s recent Constitution Day comments. While the headline “Thailand’s parlous state of democracy” – Thailand is no democracy – the article is worth considering.

He begins:

A call by a former prime minister of Thailand on his fellow citizens to have faith in the country’s democratic system has been met with ridicule among young Thais who have been demanding democratic reforms. And rightly so.

“Tell that to the military, courts and your PDRC-supporting friends and their earlier incarnations,” one commenter aptly noted, referring to the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, a rightist anti-democratic movement that staged raucous street protests in 2014 against a democratically elected government, precipitating a coup by the military the same year….

“The military dictatorship rammed through the current anti-democratic constitution by making it illegal to campaign against it,” one commenter pointed out apropos Chuan’s speech on Constitution Day. “Unelected Senate appointments by the military. Courts routinely disband any reform-minded party. What ‘democracy’ is he talking about?”

Other commentators have been equally sharp, noting that:

…. the current rulers of Thailand, a powerful group of army generals and business tycoons, have created a deeply undemocratic system, which makes it virtually impossible for liberal parties to gain power through elections.

For all of this military-backed regime’s failures, corruption and manipulation, most commentators think that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha will continue on to become Thailand’s longest-serving prime minister. That royalist posterior polishers can float to the top proves that Thailand is no democracy.








%d bloggers like this: