When the military is on top XII

19 01 2018

It is some time since our last post with this title. There’s a general air in the press and on social media that the political tide may be turning.

For example, commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak says he can see “civil society noises, together with political parties, are now on rise and may build into a crescendo of opposition to the military government.” Others are pleased to see the detestable Abhisit Vejjaiva “damning” the military government with language that is advisory in tone on General Prawit Wongsuwan’s large collection of luxury watches. On social media, many have lauded the dropping of yet another lese majeste case against Sulak Sivaraksa.

While there is some cause for cheer, it might be noted that much of this criticism is coming from yellow shirts and anti-democrats, many of whom were strong supporters of the 2014 military coup. This suggests that that coalition of anti-democrats is unraveling as the junta seeks to embed its rule. The unanswered question is what they propose as an alternative to the junta. Do these critics propose using the junta’s rules and having a military-dominated administration post-“election” – a Thai-style democracy – but where that dominance is not as total as it is now. That is, a simple refusal to allow General Prayuth Chan-ocha to hang on as head of a selectorate regime? Nothing much that any of these “opponents” have proposed since 2005 has looked much like an open political system.

What we can also see, and this also deserves attention from those cheering these developments, is that the junta continues to crackdown on other opponents.  One case involves the National Anti-Corruption Commission, criticized on Prawit, but widely supported by anti-democrats in an action to “determine whether … 40 [elected and pro-Thaksin Shinawatra] politicians submitted the [amnesty] bill with ‘illegal’ intent” back in 2013. If found “guilty,” they would all be banned from the junta’s “election,” decimating the already weakened Puea Thai Party.

Even when criticizing Prawit’s horology obsession, some critics are tolerated and others not. For example, Abhisit and yellow-hued “activists” can criticize, but what about Akechai Hongkangwarn? He’s identified as an opponent, so when he was critical, “four police officers … turned up at [his]… home … to serve a summons.” The “charge” seems to be “posting obscene images online…”. An obscenely expensive watch perhaps?

Then there’s the warning to critics of the junta that there call for The Dictator’s use of Article 44 for to not be made into law. Maj Gen Piyapong Klinpan “who is also the commander of the 11th Military Circle, said the NCPO [junta] is monitoring the situation. He said the NCPO did not ban the gathering on Monday since it was held in an education institute where academics were present to share knowledge. The NCPO merely followed up the event and tried to make sure those present would not violate any laws.” In other words, watch out, you’re being watched. It’s a threat.

Amazingly, Maj Gen Piyapong then “explained” these political double standards:

Commenting about political activist Srisuwan Janya, who has criticised the regime, Maj Gen Piyapong said there is no need to invite the activist for talks as he still has done nothing wrong, but the junta will keep tabs on his movements. “Currently, there is still no movement which is a cause for concern,” Maj Gen Piyapong said.

And, finally, if you happen to be one of those unfortunates – a citizen in the way of military “progress” – you get threatened with guns. At the embattled Mahakan community, where a historical site is being demolished, Bangkok Metropolitan administrators called out the military to threaten the community. The deployment of troops was by the Internal Security Operations Command.





Push and shove on “elections”and a disingenuous junta

3 01 2018

Some commentators argue that the junta needs an election in order to embed all the conservative changes it has made. That would be so if its preferred people can actually “win.” Certainly the bigger political parties are dead keen for an “election,” even if conducted under the junta’s rules. More direct military rule in an extremely narrow political space does them no good at all.

The mainstream media is mostly pushing for an election. Even some activists reckon any election is better than a extension of the junta’s political nastiness.

All of these “pro-election” groups know that “the regime is paving the way for a military-backed political party which will draw members of existing parties to back it and support Gen Prayut[h Chan-ocha] and the regime to stay in power after an election expected in late 2018.”

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has questioned the (ever changing) election roadmap, doubting that an “election” can be held by November.

The Puea Thai Party’s Chaturon Chaisang reckons the “political landscape this year will be dominated by efforts to prepare for the NCPO [junta] to return to power after the poll” via a “nominee” party. He’s dubious the “election” will be held in November.

Former People’s Alliance for Democracy leader Suriyasai Katasila reckons its back to political polarization. He reckons an election will not take place until 2019.

As a kind of response, the Bangkok Post reports that “[e]lections for local administrative organisations (LAOs) are likely to be organised from May to July…”. The junta has used the local election card previously. This time there might be more to it. No parties involved and all the electoral bodies in the provinces firmly in the junta’s hands. The Post says General Anupong Paojinda “has been confirmed the LAOs elections would take place before the national poll…”. Maybe.

What is certain is that the military is determined to harass “politicians” (who aren’t members of the junta).

In a contrived event, all four regional army commanders “warned politicians against canvassing for support during the festive period while revealing soldiers have been deployed to shadow certain targets.”

One of the commanders, Lt Gen Wijak Siribansop, added that he’s most “concerned about academics, whom he said cannot be barred from voicing their views.” The military have been “talking” with academics in the north. The demand: “Do not try to touch on politics…”.

Lt. Gen. Kukiat Srinaka “revealed officials have been sent to secretly shadow targets in the 1st Army Region’s jurisdiction.” Lt Gen Tharakorn Thamwinthorn, “in charge of the Northeast, said his officers work with other agencies to monitor prime targets…”. He added that he disdained “politicians” and was keen to “apprehend them…”.

After all of this threatening and discussion of illegal acts by the deeply politicized military, Lt Gen Piyawat Nakwanich “insisted the army will act as a neutral player in the political sphere.” Jeez, what would it be like if they did insist they were taking sides? Probably not that different.

It’s a stitch-up.





Abhisit in the mirror

2 01 2018

PPT is not given to posting support for the military dictatorship, but in the case of criticism received from Democrat Party “leader” Abhisit Vejjajiva, we can’t help it.

2008: Newin and Abhisit as anti-democrat deal-makers, backed by the military

Abhisit is quoted in the Bangkok Post as telling the junta that it “should reflect on what it has promised to deliver to the people as this year is likely to be its last in running the country before a general election takes place…”. Abhisit says the military regime “promised to streamline national administration through reforms and return happiness to the people.” He went on to say that the junta “must conduct a self-evaluation to see if the reforms have made any headway or what it has done to convince people that the country under its rule is moving in the right direction.” He makes two more points: “If the NCPO fails to reflect on its performance, the military takeover will have gone to waste,” and “How the NCPO [junta] goes down in history depends on the NCPO itself…”.

There’s much to be said about this statement. For a start, it is appalling that Abhisit calls on the junta to reflect on its time in power when his own regime violently cracked down on civilian protesters on three occasions, in 2009 and twice in 2010, and he seems never to have truthfully reflected on his own role in a murderous regime. Sure, he’s concocted excuses and blamed others, but that’s self-delusion. This is a person who refuses to look at himself in the mirror.

Abhisit and Suthep as anti-democrats calling for a coup

Second, how the junta does down in history depends on who writes the history. If we look at Abhisit’s time as premier, he’s likely to be remembered as a weak and self-centered politician who could not win elections. Worse, he will be remembered for having boycotted elections and trashed parliament while he and his supporters boosted and cajoled thuggish protesters who brought down several elected governments (2006, 2008, 2013-14) through military and judicial coups. He gained the premiership only through the actions of anti-democratic protesters, politicized courts and the actions of the generals. He will be remembered as an enemy of electoral democracy in Thailand.

In this story it is the anti-democratic Abhisit calling on the military to finish the job it began in 2014 – getting rid of the political party that has been Abhisit’s nemesis. He seems to be projecting the possibility of a Democrat Party in coalition with a military-backed party is some distant “election” if the military can crush and destroy the Puea Thai Party.

At the same time, he reflects the views  – even plagiarizes them – of General Prem Tinsulanonda, another anti-democrat.

Our view is that Abhisit is deeply flawed has little future as a leader of a political party that seeks electoral support, even if he is prepared to lick military boot. He’s so tainted that even the military will have to think twice before washing him off.





De facto lese majeste

15 12 2017

We were interested to read a Bangkok Post report that the “Supreme Court has halved two prison terms given to red-shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan for accusing former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of ordering soldiers to kill protesters” in 2009.

The bit of the report that interested us was the reason the court provided for refusing to suspend the sentences:

The Supreme Court rejected Jatuporn’s request for suspended sentences, saying his speeches had affected the royal institution.

We had not previously understood that Jatuporn’s jail sentence was a de facto lese majeste case.





Updated: Shuffling the same military deck

26 11 2017

Readers may recall the columns of speculation about The Dictator’s cabinet reshuffle. There were all kinds of motives attributed to The Dictator. Pundits claimed he was trying to increase the dictatorship’s popularity, he was trying to boost the economic ministries, and/or he was civilianizing his military dictatorship in preparation for “elections.”

As far as we can tell, this was all wasted energy. What The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, did was maintain the dominance of the military. As we have said many times before, this is looking like a regime that is settling in for the long term.

The interesting thing in all of this for us was the position of the monarchy. In the past, cabinet reshuffles were announced by prime ministers and the composition of proposed cabinets was widely reported, with the king merely signing off. Of course, there may have been discussions with the king beforehand, but it was the executive’s political ground.

In our memory – correct us if we are wrong – it was only recently that the names involved in the reshuffle were withheld until after the king had signed off. As far as we can tell, there was plenty of discussion and even official announcements of the reshuffle list before the king signed off even under General Surayud Chulanont (see Bangkok Post, 3 October 2007). Again, and given Surayud’s previous Privy Council position, discussions may well have taken place with the palace and General Prem Tinsulanonda. Even so, the executive maintained its position.

Even under Abhisit Vejjajiva, put in place by the military in 2008, saw huge public debate over his cabinet but seemed to retain executive dominance (see Bangkok Post, 21 December 2008).

We have a feeling-cum-memory of the capitulation of the executive to the palace came under the military dictatorship. This means that it was all secret until approved by the king, giving even more political and constitutional power to the palace. Are we wrong?

Update: On the cabinet reshuffle, Bangkok Post editor Umesh Pandey has a view that it “can be seen as a very positive step for the gradual transition of Thailand towards a more democratic society…”. Seriously? He gives plenty of reasons for not believing him.





Abhisit on ethics (yes, really)

23 11 2017

Under a headline “Abhisit evangelises on ethics,” the Bangkok Post reports that Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva called on the puppet political reform committee to prioritize “a set of rules governing the ethical behaviour of politicians is needed before the next elections.”

Anek: working for the junta

Abhisit is said toe be “sharing his opinions with the reform panel on politics headed by Anek Laothamatas.” Anek, once a communist, later styled himself as an academic before deciding that his vocation was politics. He took money from godfathers and set up a party that was dysfunctional and thumped at the polls. This political chameleon then became an anti-democrat and had a makeover that involves geeky glasses and propeller-like bow-ties and hawked himself to the military junta.

In the company of anti-democrats, Abhisit waxed lyrical about ethics and wondered if elections should be held: “It’s hard to say if it’s time to go ahead with the elections because we don’t know how people will behave…”.

Abhisit

When Abhisit speaks of ethics, he is using the side of his brain that eliminates his own unethical behaviors: presiding over the murder of dozens of protesters in 2010; fake military credentials; boycotting elections; coming to the premiership on the tip of a military bayonet; keeping his dual citizenship secret; supporting anti-democrats; disrupting parliament; accepting military “justice”; we could go on and on.





The “necessity” of military dictatorship

13 10 2017

In the Bangkok Post, commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak comes up with his repeated excuse for military domination. He claims the succession explains it:

The consequent royal transition is likely to be viewed in posterity as the principal reason why the Thai people have had to put up with Gen Prayut.

Later he states, as he has before, that:

To appreciate how Gen Prayut and his cohorts could seize power and keep it with relative ease, we need to recognise the late King Bhumibol’s final twilight. The royal succession was imminent by coup time, and the Thai people collectively kind of knew the special and specific circumstances this entailed. Power had to be in the hands of the military, as it had to ultimately perform a midwife role. Unsurprisingly, ousted elected politicians may have complained about and deplored the coup but none wanted to retake power during the coup period. They knew that after seven decades of the reign in the way that the Thai socio-political system was set up around the military, monarchy and bureaucracy, it had to be the generals overseeing this once-in-a-lifetime transition.

This is nonsensical propaganda. There were, at the time, and today, many, many Thais who reject this royalist babble. But Thitinan just ignores the deep political and social struggles that marked the period of discord that began with the Asian economic crisis in 1997 and which was punctuated by two military coups.

Thitinan appears to us to be expressing the views of the socially disconnected middle class of Bangkok, those who hate and fear the majority of Thais, and “protect” themselves by attaching themselves to the economic and political power of the Sino-Thai tycoons, monarchy and military.

Thais have “put up with” ghastly military rulers for decades. The military dictators and rulers have used the monarchy to justify their despotism. General Pin Choonhavan used the “mysterious” death of Ananda Mahidol; General Sarit Thanarat promoted the monarchy as a front for his murderous regime; General Prem Tinsulanonda made “loyalty” de rigueur for political office.

Thitinan is wrong and, worse, whether he wants to or not, he provides the nasty propaganda that is justification for military dictatorship. We can only imagine that the military junta is most appreciative.

One reason Thais “put up with” military dictatorship now is because anti-democrats want it, because many of them hate elections that give a power to the subaltern classes. And, as Thitinan acknowledges,

Gen Prayut and his fraternal top brass in the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) have guns and tanks to intimidate and coerce. In their first year in power, the ruling generals detained hundreds of dissenters and opponents for “attitude adjustment”. They even put some of those who disagreed on trial in military court. They also came up with their own laws in an interim charter, including the draconian absolutist Section 44. And they have used and manipulated other instruments and agencies of the state to keep people in check and dissent suppressed.

To be sure, dozens of Thais are languishing in jail during junta rule. One young man, a student with his own strong views, has been jailed for re-posting a social media message that appeared on more than two thousand other pages. The junta also has banned political parties from organising, and has generally violated all kinds of human rights and civil liberties all along.

In addition, the generals have not been immune to corruption allegations….

Thais, it seems, must just “put up with” all this in order to facilitate the death of a king, succession and coronation. Thitinan goes even further, lauding The Dictator:

who grew up in the Thai system from the Cold War, who came of age at the height of Thailand’s fight against communism in the 1970s, seeing action on the Cambodian border against the Vietnamese in the 1980s, serving both the King and Queen and the people in the process with devotion and loyalty.

In fact, General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s military promotion was not forged in “battle” but in providing service to the palace and especially the queen.

Thitinan declares that General Prayuth is the “soul of the nation,” a term once used for the dead king:

When Gen Prayut spoke for the nation [after the last king died], he meant it. Fighting back tears, in seven short minutes, he said what had to be said, and directed us Thais to two main tasks, the succession and the cremation after a year’s mourning. Had it been Yingluck [Shinawatra], who is not known for her eloquence, she might have stumbled during the speech. Had it been Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is fluid and flawless in speechmaking, it would have lacked the soul of the nation.

It had to be Gen Prayut, the strongman dictator and self-appointed premier. He is an earnest man, purposeful and well-intentioned….

Make no mistake, this is pure propaganda for military dictatorship. Make no mistake, Thitinan is justifying military dictatorship for the West, “translating” Thai “culture” for those he thinks are Thailand’s friends. He is saying to The Dictator and to “friends” in the West that 2018 or 2019 will mark the end of an “unusual” time and a return to “normality.” That “normal” is Thai-style democracy, guided for years by the military and its rules.

For those who seek a more nuanced and less propagandist reflection try Michael Peel in the Financial Times. He was formerly a correspondent for the FT based in Bangkok, and has penned “Thailand’s monarchy: where does love end and dread begin?” (The article is behind a paywall, but one may register and get access.) Peel asks: “In a country where few dare to speak openly about the royals, how do Thais feel about their new ruler?”

That is, how do they feel about the succession that Thitinan propagandizes as having “required” military dictatorship working as midwife.