Madam Secretary criticism affirms Thailand’s feudalism

19 11 2018

A couple of days ago we posted on the episode of Madam Secretary that includes commentary on Thailand’s monarchy and the feudal lese majeste law. Most controversial is the part of the episode that includes a call for the monarchy to be brought down. The episode is available here.

The episode opens with comments on Thailand from the main character, the US Secretary of State, who emphasizes the feudalism of the monarchy and a statement that “Thailand is a country where free speech does not exist.”

A religious studies professor who was born in Thailand has a monologue – a speech in Bangkok – that goes like this:

Thailand is a land of contradictions. A Buddhist nation that worships its own king as semi-divine…. This … country imposed on its people the worship of a man nowhere recognized in its Buddhist faith….

Where does it [Buddhist faith] say that one man and his family should be worth over $30 billion while many of his people starve and beg in the streets?

… I call for an end to this family’s rule over Thailand. Let the monarchy die when our king passes from this world and let the people of Thailand choose their own leaders, not false gods.”

She’s arrested for lese majesty and threatened with decades in jail while her friend seeks a pardon from a king portrayed as an angry and unsmiling old man.

While all this is fiction and the episode is not always accurate – it is a fictional TV show – the attention to the monarchy and lese majeste is pretty much as it was used, particularly after the 2014 military coup. And, parts of the episode were made in Thailand.

As expected, the regime has had to respond.

The Bangkok Post reports but cannot repeat any of the main material of the episode because Thailand is indeed a country where free speech does not exist. It also gets some things wrong, stating, for example that the episode “makes no mention of Thai reaction” when it explicitly does so and has a scene where Madam Secretary says the US has to prepare a response to the Thai reaction.

In real life, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is reported to have “asked the Thai embassy in Washington to ‘convey our concern and disappointment to CBS’ over the Nov 4 episode.”

As expected, Ministry spokesperson Busadee Santipitaks complained that the “episode … presented the Kingdom of Thailand and the Thai monarchy in a misleading manner, leading to grave concern and dismay from many Thais who have seen it…”. We have no idea if the latter claim is true or not, but the portrayal of a lack of freedom of expression, the feudal and hugely wealthy monarchy and the draconian lese majeste law are not misleading.

And here’s where the Ministry and royalists dig themselves into a monarchist hole. In responding, the Ministry confirms the episode’s portrayal of the monarchy.

Puppet Election Commission criticized

18 11 2018

In a follow-up to our most recent post on election rigging,, the Bangkok Post reports that the Open Forum for Democracy Foundation (P-NET) “is calling on the Election Commission (EC) to exercise independence in redrawing the election constituencies, saying it is a first step towards a free and fair election.”

P-NET is “urging the poll agency to be independent in doing its job and take into account factors such as demographic changes, public participation and voter convenience, in demarcating the boundaries of constituencies.”

In fact, these are all things that were “promised,” but the military junta’s use of Article 44 now makes the whole process opaque, secretive and manipulable.

P-NET calls the junta’s intervention “outright interference,” noting that the dictatorship’s intervention “comes after the EC completed the job and was about to publish it in the Royal Gazette.”

It adds that the junta’s intervention “may lead to the unfair carving out of electoral boundaries in the favour of certain parties, especially pro-military ones…”. The use of the word “may” is rather too weak; it seems clear that this is what the military junta is doing.

One important quibble is with the notion that boundary setting is “a first step towards a free and fair election.” As we have repeatedly pointed out, the military junta has engaged in massive election rigging. The first step in that was the 2014 coup itself, with the major effort being the rule-setting that began with the junta’s 2016 constitution, which led to a cascade of rules meant to rig the election. That makes electoral boundary interference only the most recent step.

All used up

8 11 2018

When the royalist establishment deemed it crucial that it oppose elected governments, it supported the creation of “movements” with allegedly “charismatic” leaders, using “civil society” to bring down those governments. Backing them were royalists from business, including the giant conglomerates, and the military.

First there was Sondhi Limthongkul and the People’s Alliance for Democracy. It drew on considerable middle class discontent with Thaksin Shinawatra and his regime but was driven by royalist ideology.

After a series of false starts, the second great “movement” was the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, led by the royalist anti-democrats of the Democrat Party and fronted by Suthep Thaugsuban.

Of course, neither movement was able to bring down the elected governments. That required military coups in 2006 and 2014.

When they had done their work, the fact of their invention by the royalist strategists of the military, business and palace was seen in the manner in which the “movements” vaporized once their usefulness was over.

And, look at the leaders. Both had a capacity to mobilize supporters and this worried many in the military. At the same time, the military knew that it “deserved” to be on top and that the upstarts they created had to know their place.

Sondhi was targeted for what was either an assassination bid or a brutal warning to know his place. No one was ever charged, but it is interesting that the media at the time suggested that both Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda were considered “suspects” in the Sondhi shooting.

Suthep thought he was a “star” and “popular,” but the military put him in his place following the 2014 coup, having to enter the monkhood. While Suthep is back and campaigning for his Action Coalition for Thailand (ACT) Party, it seems his “movement” has evaporated and his capacity for garnering the political limelight has been lost under the military junta. Interestingly, this return is a backflip and, according to one op-ed, not popular with his former PDRC supporters (and presumably its backers).

The op-ed continues: “… Suthep seems to have overestimated his popularity, thinking it could be on par with the backing he received from PDRC supporters during the time he led the street protests.” He was disappointed: “his recent jaunts in several areas to recruit members for the party have apparently received a cold response.” This caused “core PDRC supporter Arthit Ourairat … calling for Mr Suthep and other PDRC leaders who have joined ACT to stop their political activities.” Arthit might have poured money into the PDRC but is an ardent anti-democrat and probably is 100% behind The Dictator’s bid for extended power. Tellingly, the man who funded and funneled money to Suthep and PDRC reckons that “people ‘no longer believed them’.”

Anti-democrats want a military-dominated regime and Suthep’s usefulness, like Sondhi’s before him, is over. Suthep’s response will be interesting as his face, position and wealth depend on state links.

Judiciary and corruption

26 10 2018

PPT has posted many times on the politicization of the judiciary. Most of these posts related to a period before the military dictatorship, when the judiciary was used by the royalist ruling class to harass elected governments and prevent them from governing.

This period of deep politicization lasted from April 2006 when the then king ordered judges to intervene until the 2014 military coup, and included a judicial coup in 2008. Since that coup, the judiciary has had a back seat doing the dominant junta’s bidding.

There’s been less attention to the corruption of the judiciary. A report in the Bangkok Post highlights this and the double standards that are so essential to the royalist ruling class.

The report highlights an instance where “[j]Judges have voted in favour of impeaching a member of the Judicial Commission, Bankruptcy Court chief judge Chamnan Rawiwanpong…”. It implies that this is the first time this has happened.

The report states that “Chamnan was accused of  abusing his authority as a judicial commissioner in the matter of an inheritance case handled by lower court judges at Chachoengsao Provincial Court. The case involved his wife’s family.”

A corrupt judge being sacked? No.

In fact, at this stage, the corrupt judge is removed from his “duties as a member of the Judicial Commission…”. But, “[t]he impeachment was separate from Mr Chamna’s duties at the Bankruptcy Court. He was still chief judge of the court…”.

In other words, a corrupt judge continues as a chief judge.

Treasonous military

24 10 2018

The military junta has charged countless persons with treason or sedition over the more than four years since it illegally seized power by way of the 2014 military coup.

But when two pro-democracy and anti-junta activists filed a police complaint against new army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong for his statement in support of military coups and the planning for one after the junta’s “election,” if required, it is they who now face charges.

Akechai Hongkangwarn and Chokechai Paiboonratchata quite correctly accused Gen Apirat of treason as defined by the junta’s own constitution. Section 49 states: “No person shall exercise the rights or liberties to overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State.” Indeed, Section 50 adds that Thais have a duty to to protect and uphold various things including “the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State.”

In fact, Akechai and Chokechai filed a “complaint on grounds that Apirat violated Article 113 of the penal code, which criminalizes treason.”

But that military junta ignores the law and its constitution has a ton of sections that the junta simply ignores.

So, in this case, Akechai and Chokechai are to be charges “for allegedly filing a false police complaint…”.

Thaksin talks elections

19 10 2018

Thaksin Shinawatra haunts the military junta. In several ways, he is there reason for being and for much of what they have done since seizing political power. It is Thaksin who they view as the enemy. It is Thaksin they seek to defeat in their “election.” So when he speaks, despite their hatred and fears, they listen and seethe.

In his most recent commentary, in Hong Kong, Thaksin has declared that an alliance of pro-democracy parties could defeat the pro-military parties in the junta’s election “if it is held freely and fairly…”.

He added: “It’s time for [voters] to cast their ballots…to dump the dictatorship of Thailand…”.

From the Bangkok Post

That is a big prediction, for as the Post calculates, to “win the prime minister vote, the pro-democracy alliance would need at least 376 votes in the House.” Its chart is worth considering and is reproduced here.

Thaksin also predicted that Puea Thai would do well.

He berated the junta, saying that under the junta “you cannot expect any kind of true democracy, you cannot expect any [fairness].” He added: “The rule of law has not been observed … Where there is no justice, why [do] you have to surrender yourself [to] injustice?”

Stunningly, he he kept his political options open, saying, “But if they [the people] need me, because I owe them [for] their continual support — whatever I can do for them, even in a different capacity, I’ll do it.”

The military dictatorship is bound to respond.

Planning for and threatening on the next coup

18 10 2018

Most media, including the Bangkok Post, have reported on new Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong answering questions about “another military intervention.”

Some saw his refusal to rule out “another military coup if fresh political unrest breaks out after the country switches back to civilian rule following a general election next year,” as a sign of the military pulling back a bit. Others, like the Post and PPT, saw this as much more threatening.

When asked by a reporter if he was prepared to launch another coup, Gen Apirat said: “If politics does not create riots, nothing will happen.”

That sounds like a threat to us. It also sounds like the Army has contingency planning in place for a post-election coup. That would only be necessary if the junta’s favorites aren’t still in power post-election.

Gen Apirat also defended Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and the 2014 military coup unblushingly claiming that there were no plans for a coup back then. Of course, that is total nonsense.

Gen Apirat states that The Dictator “had to make a sacrifice. If Gen Prayut had not made the decision, no one could say what would have happened…”.

Again, this is nonsensical. The Royal Thai Army had many paths open to it in 2014. It could have withdrawn its People’s Democratic Reform Committee allies. It could have maintained order to allow for an election. But, these options were exactly what the military leadership and its anti-democrat allies did not want.

Gen Apirat said of The Dictator: “He is my role model…”. His role model conducted a coup only a few years after ordering the shooting down of red shirt demonstrators.

Gen Apirat threatened:

I really hope violent incidents will not re-occur because of political rivalry. It is the country that stands to lose. The military will never defeat the people. But those who incite unrest, make bombs are the losers and make the country suffer….

He means the red shirts. His threat is that if Puea Thai miraculously win a rigged junta election, they are likely to be thrown out one more time.