Military, dictators, and money

2 05 2021

There’s a story at something called the Atlas Institute for International Affairs which sounds very 1960s and argues that militaries kept “fed” with taxpayer funds don’t intervene politically. This long discredited notion is in part based on work on Thailand. The fact that coups in Thailand bear no relationship to that military’s ability to grab loot from the taxpayer should alert the authors. Think of “self-coups,” coups against military leaders and other rightists, and, most recently, the coup against Yingluck Shinawatra, when spending on the military increased.

That said, there’s no doubt that Thai military leaders love kit and money. One graph in the Atlas story demonstrates how the military has benefited by sucking the taxpayer of the people’s money.

Military spending

What is clear, is that following the 2006 and 2014 coups, the military has been rewarded and the taxpayer filched. We might also observe that military and military-backed regimes also shovel taxpayer funds to their ally, the monarchy.

The other group that does well following military political interventions is the Sino-Thai capitalist oligarchy and their conglomerates. They get to such at the taxpayer teat via the contracts and concessions doled out by the regimes that reward their loyalty to military and monarchy.

Several times already this group has come to the rescue of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s regime. And as Prayuth’s mafia coalition struggles with the virus, once again, Thailand’s top business groups “offered to join the government in a mass rollout of Covid-19 vaccination from June as the Southeast Asian nation grapples with its worst coronavirus outbreak since the pandemic began.”

Gen Prayuth’s faltering vaccine “strategy” has the support of “the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the Thai Bankers Association and the Tourism Council of Thailand,” with special mention made of “[b]illionaire Dhanin Chearavanont’s Charoen Pokphand Group and VGI Pcl…”. VGI is the profitable advertising arm of the Skytrain enterprise owned mostly by the Kanjanapas family.

It seems that these groups plan to not only prop up the regime, but the king’s vaccine company as well:

Thai owners of malls, commercial real estate and industrial parks will provide spaces for vaccination camps once the country receives more vaccines from June, while other businesses will assist in distribution and logistics, communication with the public and procurement of more doses….

The Bangkok Post – which is interlinked with the conglomerates through directors and major shareholders – manages to come up with the outlandish claim that, like frontline health workers, the “men in suits turn saviours,” joining “medical heroes in trying to give [the regime’s] slow vaccination drive a shot in the arm…”. These are, it claims, “a crop of saviours stepping out of their boardrooms to rally behind vaccine procurement and national vaccination efforts…”.

Observing that the “country’s economic powerhouses are being seen as an emerging sturdy force that can help prop up the government…”, the Post doesn’t acknowledge that, so far, they haven’t actually done anything apart from prop up their regime.

Of course, more vaccination is also good for business, so the tycoons are in a win-win-win situation. And, propping up the Gen Prayuth and his limping regime of hucksters, criminals, and thugs, guarantees profits, concessions, and contracts.

Money greases a lot of wheels, but the benefits flow mostly to military, money, and monarchy.





Monarchism and secrecy

25 04 2021

Prachatai reports on cabinet approved draft amendments to the Official Information Act. As with changes proposed for the registration and operation of NGOs, the approved amendment promotes and supports political authoritarianism that is rooted in monarchism.

As the report notes:

The Official Information Act B.E. 2540 (1997) was intended as the cornerstone of the people’s right to access state information….

Under the current procedure, the authorities are required to make a wide range of information accessible to the public on request, including cabinet resolutions, the structure of state agencies, policies, regulations, budgets and concession contracts with private companies.

Of course, the authorities could still legally “withhold or not give information that would damage the monarchy (Section 14), or that would damage national security, international relations, law enforcement or the wellbeing of a private individual (Section 15).”

Those bits of information on the monarchy would be available after a massive 75 years and after 20 years for other withheld information.

The draft amendment, however, expands the kinds of information that can be withheld and adds “a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a 200,000 baht fine for any ‘individual’ who discloses such information.”

The draft now states that withheld information is that which could be “used to damage the monarchy and information about royal security, cannot be disclosed.

In addition, the amendment:

… prohibits the publication of information about state security regarding the military, defence, terrorist prevention, international affairs related to the state security, intelligence, individual security and “other information about state security as announced by the Cabinet following recommendations of the Board.”

“National security,” dominated by issues surrounding the secretive monarchy, has “been interpreted in a highly military manner after the 2014 coup.” Nakorn Serirak, a lecturer at the College of Local Administration, Khon Kaen University, a former expert on the Information Board, said the:

increased presence on the Board of military officers expert in national defence, intelligence, counter-terrorism and security-related international affairs may cause a greater information lockdown when it comes to considering appeals against non-disclosure decisions.

The increased restrictions and penalties for those who disclose it will cause a “shrinking of freedom of information for Thais…”.

Mana Nimitmongkol, Secretary-General of the Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand (ACT), is also quoted. He says that the amendment will allow “the authorities to sweep many documents, like those to do with procurement or construction project details, under the security carpet, making it impossible to check corruption in projects.”

The descent into dark authoritarianism was the aim of the 2014 military coup and is a part of the military-monarchy dictatorship.





Bail double standards

26 02 2021

A couple of days ago we posted on the limp response on bail by one who should do better. The observations there become even more stark as yellow shirts, found guilty of sedition, stroll away with bail while four lese majeste defendants are repeatedly refused bail and may be kept in jail “indefinitely.”

The former People’s Democratic Reform Committee leaders, including three serving ministers, given their posts as “repayment” for paving the way to the coup in 2014, were sentenced on Wednesday. As Khaosod had it, those convicted were:

… former Democrat Party executive Suthep Thaugsuban and five others on charges of insurrection for their roles in street protests against the elected government back in 2013 and 2014.

Suthep was sentenced to 5 years in prison for the protests, which culminated in the military coup that toppled Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration in May 2014. The court declined to suspend their sentences, though it is not clear as of publication time whether Suthep and others would be granted a bail release while they appeal the verdict.

Defendants who were given jail sentences alongside Suthep include Digital Economy Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta, Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan, and Deputy Transport Minister Thaworn Senniam.

Buddhipongse and Thaworn were sentenced to 7 and 5 years in prison, respectively, while Nataphol got 6 years and 16 months.

In all, 25 PDRC leaders and members were sentenced for treason and sedition. Other key PDRC leaders were given jail sentences were:

  • Issara Somchai – eight years and four months
  • Suwit Thongprasert, formerly Buddha Isra – four years and eight months
  • Chumpol Julsai – 11 years
  • Suriyasai Katasila – two years

Today, the Appeals Court granted bail to at least eight: “Suthep Thaugsuban, Issara Somchai, Chumpol Julsai, Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta, Deputy Transport Minister Thaworn Senneam, Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan, Suwit Thongprasert and Samdin Lertbutr.”

But, for those who have not been convicted of anything remain in jail as further charges are piled on. They are detained pending trial which means they are detained indefinitely until the trial is over or until bail is granted.

Double standards? You bet.





Updated: Lese majeste torture

16 02 2021

In the past, we used the term “lese majeste torture” to refer to the ways in which those detained on Article 112 charges were denied bail, had their trials drawn out, and were shuttled around various courts. One of the aims of this seemed to be to get the defendant to plead guilty so that the trial became unnecessary.

Somyos caged

One particularly nasty example of lese majeste torture involved Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, who was refused bail at least 16 times. He was put in cages, transported around the country to various court proceedings, some of which were canceled, and was repeatedly chained.

Of course, Somyos is now back in detention, refused bail and accused of lese majeste and other charges. With Arnon Nampa, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, and Patiwat “Mor Lam Bank” Saraiyaem, lawyers asked for temporary releases and bail for a second time. The Appeal Court dismissed that appeal citing “as reasons the severe penalties of the offences, their brazen behaviours which tarnish the highly respected monarchy and hurt the feelings of all loyal Thais without fear of the law, their past records of similar offences and flight risks.”

Such statements indicate the extreme political bias of the court, make prejudicial judgements and resort to moral and royalist shibboleths rather than legal grounds for refusing bail. About as close as the court got to legal reasoning was declaring them “flight risks,” which contradicts an earlier court ruling that declared them likely to re-offend, so not flight risks.

All of this is congruent with the measures used by the military junta after its 2014 coup.

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that “the Criminal Court had rejected their latest plea for bail, ruling that the Court of First Instance and Court of Appeal had already denied their release and it saw no reason to overrule their decisions.” We count that as the third rejection.





Jokers and the chicken farmer

12 02 2021

In one of the most laughable of news stories Thai PBS reports that the military leader and head coup maker in Myanmar are asking Thailand’s most recent coupmeisters to provide “support for his country’s democracy.”

Democrat at work

Even more laughable, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, leader of Thailand’s 2014 coup, military dictator for more than 5 years and administrator for a rigged constitution, rigged laws and a rigged election retorted that “he is ready to extend full support to democracy in Myanmar…”. He claimed that “democracy in Myanmar” was “something I totally support…”.

Not only is this comically ironic, but Gen Prayuth is piling up buffalo manure. He has little understanding of democracy, doesn’t support it in Thailand, and can’t support it in Myanmar because he supports the coup makers there. The latter is clear when he babbles about “Myanmar’s democratic process…” following a coup that overturned a landslide election victory.

From the comically ironic to the ridiculously horrid.

Startlingly many, Thailand’s Office of the National Anti-Corruption Commission has done something. Usually its job is to support the regime, but in this case it has found that the notorious Phalang Pracharath Party MP Pareena Kraikupt has committed “serious ethical breaches.” This involves her “building a poultry farm on a protected forest land.” It has sent the case to the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions.

This could lead to Pareena being “stripped from her seat and banned from holding political offices.”

The NACC said the “case of MP Parina Kraikupt unlawfully owning and benefitting from state land is a serious ethical breach…. There is a conflict of interest between her individual benefits and public benefit.” It investigated and found that Pareena and her father “encroached and benefitted from state land…”. The  711-rai chicken farm is estimated to have “cost the state at least 36,224,791 baht in damages.”

“The case of MP Parina Kraikupt unlawfully owning and benefitting from state land is a serious ethical breach,” the announcement by the commission said. “There is a conflict of interest between her individual benefits and public benefit.”

In response, Pareena “insisted she had done nothing wrong,”claiming: “I have been making an honest living by raising poultry openly and legally and paid taxes…”.





Courts uphold military coups

31 01 2021

We are slow in getting to this story, and many readers will have seen it at Prachatai (with a date error in the final lines). We were going to write that this is a “remarkable story,” but nothing is particularly remarkable in a country that has an erratic monarch who favors neo-absolutism and a “civilianized” military junta that has maintained tight control since its military coup in 2014.

On 26 January, the Appeals Court “found Pholawat Warodomputthikul, 28, a former technician in Rayong, guilty under the sedition law for distributing leaflets expressing opposition to the 2014 coup.”

For opposing a military coup, made “legal” after the event by a pliant judiciary, “Pholawat was sentenced to 4 months in prison,” but “commuted the prison sentence to 2 years on parole.”

The leaflets reportedly stated:

“Wake up!!! and stand up to fight already … Everyone who loves democracy … Dictators shall fall. Long live democracy,” with an image of the three-finger salute, with the message “Liberty, equality, fraternity, oppose the coup.”

Most of the “leaflets were distributed in Rayong province, which, the court ruled, showed the intention to rally people who share Pholawat’s political ideas to oppose the government led by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the head of the junta which had seized power.”

The court “ruled” that such opposition to the [illegal] coup, “might cause disorder or violence among people to the point that it may have caused unrest in the country, and does not constitute honest criticism…”. In fact, it was absolutely honest and an action protected by the constitution had it not been trashed by the junta.

The court’s verdict mangled and conccoted to justify its support for military coups. Much of the court’s verdict, as it is reported, reads like it was put together by the junta itself.

Pholawat plans to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.





On lese majeste repression

26 01 2021

There’s an hilarious report on Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha declaring that “he never intended to enforce Section 112 of the Criminal Code — also known as the lese majeste law — to silence anyone.” The words used are cited: “I’ve never wanted to use Section 112 to silence or hurt anyone.”

This is a blatant lie and such a porker that it is cause for mirth, and then for anger.

This remark was reportedly “made in reference to the lese majeste case brought by the government against the leader of the Progressive Movement, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, over his comments about the government’s Covid-19 vaccination programme.”

Hilarious though it is, the claim masks the facts of lese majeste under The Dictator-cum-unelected-premier.

Gen Prayuth has been at the head of a regime that has, since the 2014 military coup, charged more people with lese majeste than any other regime in the history of modern Thailand. His regime has also jailed more people on these political charges than ever before. The charges his regime have brought record-shattering, inhumane sentences.

Some of the, like those against Thanathorn, are not even covered by the law, but that doesn’t stop the charges flowing.

The intention of this lese majeste repression is precise: to silence critics of the regime and the monarchy.





A junta win

28 12 2020

One of the main aims of the long period of junta rule was to produce rules and manage politics in a manner that wound back the clock to a pre-1997 era of electoral politics.

Their efforts meant that the post-junta regime could finagle a national election “victory” and make use of the junta-appointed Senate to ensure that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha could continue as prime minister. At the same time, the regime had delayed and delayed local elections so that it could ensure that it had measures in place that prevented national election-like “surprises.” Of course, it also used the Army and ISOC to control civilian administration and arranged for the Future Forward Party to be dissolved.

When the post-junta regime got around to local elections, the result provided evidence that the electoral wind back had been successful.

While initial commentary focused on the “failure” of Move Forward. In fact, while the party didn’t win any Provincial Administrative Organization chair positions, its candidates took more then 50 PAO seats and received 2.67 million votes.  This was on a voter turnout of just over 62% – low compared to the national election.

As time has gone on, commentators have become more incisive in assessing the results. Thai Enquirer wrote of a return to old-style politics, with political dynasties controlling local politics. A Bangkok Post editorial also focused on these factors, commenting: “About 40% of the winners of the PAO elections, Thailand’s first local elections in some seven years, are old faces, with the ruling Palang Pracharath Party making a big sweep in more than 20 provinces, followed by Bhumjaithai, almost 10, and Pheu Thai, nine.”

Recently, Peerasit Kamnuansilpa is Dean, College of Local Administration, Khon Kaen University writing at the Bangkok Post, has explained the big picture. He asks: “Are these elections really meaningful?” He concludes: “The net result is business as usual for PAOs, and Thailand will still be the prisoner of a highly centralised local administration.”

Helpfully, Peerasit lists the reasons for the failure of local democracy, all of them focused on junta/post-junta efforts to turn the clock back. He observes that the junta/post-junta has co-opted “local governments to become agents of the central government…”. He explains:

Following the 2014 coup, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), under then-army chief Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha upended a foundation of Thai democracy by issuing an order to suspend local elections. The politically powerful junta then began to co-opt all locally elected politicians and local government officials to become centrally appointed representatives of the central government.

This process began with NCPO’s Order Number 1/2557, in which one prescribed role of the locally elected leaders was to become partners of the military junta in restoring peace and order to the country. This made them complicit in undermining local governments in exchange for being able to legitimately keep their positions for an unspecified period of time without having to undergo the process of competing with other local candidates to secure the consent of the local citizens to allow them to serve. In other words, if they played ball with the junta, they would not need to face elections.

This “co-optation was then delegated to the Interior Ministry. This change obligated the leaders and the executives of all local governments to be accountable to the central government, thus becoming de facto representatives of the central government. Consequently, local leaders then had an allegiance to the powers in the central government.”

His view is that a promising decentralization has been destroyed: “In effect, the central government is — and has been — committed to failure from the beginning, by creating weak local government organisations.”

The people are not fooled and he reports data that “revealed that, when compared to other types of local governments, the PAOs were perceived as less beneficial than all other types of local governments within the surveyed provinces.” PAO level government is a processing terminal for the regime:

… PAO’s primary function has remained: serving as a conduit of budget allocation to be “authorised” by the provincial governor. This budgetary control by the governor is actually a smokescreen for influence by the central government of 76 provincial budgets, accounting for a very large amount of funding.

While yet another decline in Thailand’s democracy can be lamented, the fact remains that this is exactly what the junta wanted when it seized power in 2014.

 





Judicial intimidation and repression

6 12 2020

We have known for some time that the loyalist Constitutional Court brooks no criticism. However, its recent political decision allowing Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s free gifts from the Royal Thai Army, despite the words against this in the constitution, means the court and the regime are going to be busy dousing the critical commentary of the kangaroo court.

A story at Thai Enquirer is worth considering. It points out that, after the court’s decision, Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, a secretary to the Office of the Prime Minister, warned protesters associated with the new People’s Party and the Move Forward Party “to not create trouble and respect the high court’s decision.” In addition, the Constitutional Court “issued a statement urging people to avoid criticism that could lead to prosecution…”. It stated that “a person shall enjoy the liberty to express opinions, but criticism of rulings made with vulgar, sarcastic or threatening words will be considered a violation of the law.”

It is difficult not to be sarcastic when characterizing the decisions made by this cabal of politicized regime crawlers and fawners.

The story observes that the “impermissibility of judicial criticism … is a growing concern and has been on the rise since the May 2014 coup d’etat…”. It notes that “[t]hreats to critics have become commonplace.”

Recent high-profile cases include “two academics were summoned by the Court for making comments critical of court decisions.”

Sarinee Achavanuntakul, an academic wrote an opinion piece in Krungthep Turakit arguing that judges were “careless” in their interpretation of election law after disqualifying a Future Forward Party candidate from running in the March 2019 election. Kovit Wongsurawat, a lecturer at Kasetsart University, also received a letter from the Court over an “inappropriate” tweet.

This trend is described as “alarming,” and makes the case that charges of contempt of court are “used in the same fashion as other draconian and authoritarian laws such as lese majeste and the Computer Crime Act to curb dissent.”

The use of courts for political repression is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes.

In the case of the Constitutional Court, its powers are more or less unbounded; it has the power to issue summons to anyone without due process. Guilt is determined on the spot.” The story adds that “[u]nder Section 38 of the Organic Act on Procedures of the Constitutional Court, judges have the power to limit criticism–and have the authority to remand the accused to as much as a month in prison.”

Described as “a thuggish attempt to call dissenters before the Court,” this power to repress is likened to the junta’s  “attitude adjustment sessions.”

It concludes that “[t]ogether, the Court and the regime are demanding no less than silence before, during and after a case appears before it.”

By seeking to intimidate, the article suggests that the Constitutional Court “risks the further erosion of public legitimacy, as their actions chip away at what remains of democratic mechanisms in Thailand,” adding that this “growing intolerance of judicial criticism is another painful reminder of how far Thailand has fallen and that this behavior by the Court has become normalized.”





The Dictator responds

28 10 2020

Controlled by a junta-birthed party and the junta’s demon seed Senate, The Dictator is using parliament to delay and defray demands for democratic reform.

His responses are hopeless and ignorant, showing how out of touch he is. We assume his babbling reflects a broader ruling class and yellow shirt perspective.

The essentially self-appointed premier stated that he rejected the idea of standing aside: “I refuse to comply with the proposals that do not represent the needs of the majority of the people, and will not run away from problems or abandon the country during crisis…”.

He blamed the opposition for the “crisis,” declaring: “Think about the children. Don’t use them to drive political movements.” He just doesn’t get it. He’s a military man through and through and simply cannot comprehend that the student-led movement is an organic outgrowth of the crisis his coup and the 2006 coup created.

On the “children” he believes – or so he says – said that “what is being seen today is a breakdown of the family institution, with children not respecting their parents and students not respecting their teachers. This is simply dopey. These kids are “good,” mostly middle-class kids from “good” families who are fed up with the overbearing ideological weight they bear and the military’s and junta’s erasing of their futures. Not respecting teachers? At the university level, this is certainly not true. In fact, many university lecturers have been supporting them. When it comes to schools, many students are, to repeat, fed up with the overbearing ideological weight they bear.

He went on to accuse the opposition and the students of allowing “foreign forces” to interfere in the country’s domestic affairs. He said: “Don’t open the door to foreign forces to interfere with our sovereignty. This is extremely dangerous…”. He could be listening to the alt-Right fabricators who seem to catch the eye of Thai rightists looking for conspiracies, but we think he means Germany. A moment of thought may have suggested to The Dictator that the person who has opened the door is none other than his boss, King Vajiralongkorn. In his preference for carousing in and “ruling” from Germany, he’s the one who has caused the German government to warn him.

The Dictator defended the monarchy, claiming a “third hand” at work, saying “there was a group of people masterminding the message of the protesters and sending out harmful messages about Thailand and the [monarchy]… to the world.”

Again, the king does a pretty good job of showing the world that he is egotistical, eccentric, erratic and dangerous. Think of the wives and concubines treated with disdain and hatred, the disowned kids, the fury of palace announcements, the deaths in custody, the jailing of associates, lese majeste, disappearances and deaths, the massive wealth and the huge cost to the taxpayer of his lifestyle. Need we go on?