2006 as royalist coup

19 09 2018

2006 coup

It is 12 years since the military, wearing yellow tags, rolled its tanks into Bangkok to oust Thaksin Shinawatra, the Thai Rak Thai Party government and to wind back the Thaksin revolution.

Thaksin had a lot of faults and made many mistakes. His War on Drugs was a murderous unleashing of the thugs in the police and military that should not be forgiven.

But his big mistake was being “too popular” among the “wrong people.” TRT’s huge election victory in February 2005 was an existential threat to the powers that be. Their final response, after destabilizing the elected government, was to arrange for the military to throw out the most popular post-war prime minister Thailand had known. And, the palace joined the coup party.

2006 coup

But getting rid of the so-called Thaksin regime and his popularity was too much for the somewhat dull guys at the top of the military and the palace’s man as prime minister was typically aloof and hopeless. He appointed a cabinet full of aged and lazy royalists who misjudged the extent of Thaksin’s popularity. The 2007 election proved how wrong the royalists were about the Thaksin regime being based on vote-buying and “policy corruption.”

So they ditched out another prime minister and then another elected government, this time relying on the judiciary. Then they killed red shirts.

But still Thaksin held electoral sway, this time via his sister Yingluck. And she had to go too, replaced by the knuckle-draggers of the current military dictatorship.

Meeting the junta

12 years on, PPT felt that our best way of observing the anniversary of the military-palace power grab is to re-link to the Wikileaks cables that reflect most directly on that coup. Here they are:

There are more cables. As a collection, they provide a useful insight as to how the royalist elite behaved and what they wanted the embassy to know.





Fearful, covering up or just thick?

30 08 2018

The military junta has emphasized Thailand’s “uniqueness.” Thailand is probably the world’s only military dictatorship, it “protects” the monarchy more intensely than almost any other constitutional monarchy, its lese majeste law carries higher sentences than anywhere else and more.

It is probably not unique that it has officials and appointed members of assemblies who say some of the dumbest things that could possibly be imagined. They do this with straight faces, without a smile and appear to believe the daft things that flow from their mouths, seemingly disconnected from anything resembling a brain.

Likewise, we don’t think it is unique when the main “anti-corruption” bodies prefer to obfuscate, lie and cover-up for their bosses/friends/dictators.

But combining those “anti-corruption” bodies with officials saying the dumbest things may be unique.

As a case in point is Surasak Keereevichiena, a member of the National Anti-Corruption Commission reportedly stated that “[i]t is difficult for the nation’s anti-graft agency to conclude whether there was any wrongdoing in the Bt1.13-billion purchase of fake ‘remote substance detectors’…”.

That’s bad enough, but what was the reason for this outrageous claim? Get this: Surasak “said it was likely that officials had decided to purchase the devices because they believed the devices would work.” Making this dopey statement dopier still, he babbled that “[s]ometimes, it is not about the value of devices. It’s more about belief, just like when you buy Buddha amulets…”.

Now what is Surasak prattling about? None other than the plastic handled scam wand, the GT200.

Wikipedia’s page says this:

The GT200 is a fraudulent “remote substance detector” that was claimed by its manufacturer, UK-based Global Technical Ltd, to be able to detect, from a distance, various substances including explosives and drugs. The GT200 was sold to a number of countries for a cost of up to £22,000 per unit, but the device has been described as little more than “divining rods” which lack any scientific explanation for why they should work. After the similar ADE 651 was exposed as a fraud, the UK Government banned the export of such devices to Iraq and Afghanistan in January 2010 and warned foreign governments that the GT200 and ADE 651 are “wholly ineffective” at detecting bombs and explosives. The owner of Global Technical, Gary Bolton, was convicted on 26 July 2013 on two charges of fraud relating to the sale and manufacture of the GT200 and sentenced to seven years in prison.

For Thailand, where the prices paid reached the maximum, this story goes back beyond the early days of this blog. Our first post was in early January 2010, when General Pathomphong Kasornsuk reportedly wrote a letter to then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to urge that a committee investigate the army’s procurement scheme for GT200 “bomb detectors.”

But the news reports of early 2010 point to an earlier purchase of the GT200, by the air force in 2004 or 2005.  Wassana Nanuam, writing in the Bangkok Post (18 February 2010) says future 2006 coup leader ACM Chalit Phukpasuk was commander at the time. 2006 junta boss Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, then army commander and chairman of the Council for National Security (CNS), was impressed with the device and it was used at that time by a unit which provided security for then prime minister Surayud Chulanont.

The Wikipedia page says this about Thailand:

The GT200 was used extensively in Thailand. Reportedly, some 818 GT200 units were procured by Thai public bodies since 2004. These include 535 bought by the Royal Thai Army for use combating the South Thailand insurgency and another 222 for use in other areas, 50 purchased by the Royal Thai Police for use in Police Region 4 (Khon Kaen), six bought by the Central Institute of Forensic Science, six by the Customs Department, four by the Royal Thai Air Force, and one by Chai Nat police. Other agencies such as the Border Patrol Police Bureau and the Office of the Narcotics Control Board use a similar device to detect drugs, the Alpha 6, procured from another company, Comstrac. According to the Bangkok Post, the Royal Thai Air Force first procured the GT200 to detect explosives and drugs at airports, followed by the army in 2006.[30] According to Lt Gen Daopong Rattansuwan, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Royal Thai Army, each GT200 bought by the army cost 900,000 baht (£17,000/US$27,000), rising to 1.2 million baht (£22,000/US$36,000) if 21 “sensor cards” were included with it. In total, Thailand’s government and security forces have spent between 800–900 million baht (US$21 million) on the devices. Figures updated in 2016 claim that the Thai government spent 1.4 billion baht on the purchase of 1,358 devices between 2006 and 2010. Even after the efficacy of the device was debunked by Thai and foreign scientists, Prime Minister Chan-o-cha, then army chief, declared, “I affirm that the device is still effective.” The Bangkok Post commented that, “The GT200 case was a unique scandal because the devices…seemed to fool only the people closely connected to their sale and purchase.”

Tests and experiments conducted in Thailand and in the UK showed that the GT200 and similar wands were an undisguised scam.

Wassana Nanuam, writing in the Bangkok Post (18 February 2010) pointed out that it was Army commander Anupong Paojinda “who approved the purchase of more than 200 of these so-called bomb detectors at the price of 1.4 million baht each in 2009.” As we know, he is now Minister of Interior and part of the junta.

She says that the GT200 was first purchased by the air force in 2005, when future coup leader Air Chief Marshal Chalit Phukpasuk was commander. “After that, [2006 coup leader] Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, then army commander and chairman of the Council for National Security (CNS), became impressed with the device. He asked that two of them be sent for trial. They were used at that time by a unit which provided security coverage for then prime minister Surayud Chulanont.”

Despite the legal cases elsewhere and the tests, Anupong, Prayuth and others refused to acknowledge that the GT200 didn’t work. They mumbled about soldiers finding them useful. Questions were raised about the commissions paid.

In mid-2012, reporters asked “army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha if the GT200 had actually been taken out of service.” The response was an emphatic no. Then the now premier and more than fours years as The Dictator, stated: “I affirm that the device is still effective. Other armed forces are also using it…”.

Indeed they were, including in the south, where people were arrested based on “tests” using the GT200. Prayuth “insisted the GT200 has proven to be effective in the army’s operations in the past. But he would respect any scientific test if it proves otherwise.” Of course, those tests had already been conducted. The (future) Dictator believed the GT200 worked. Full stop.

He was supported by then Defence Minister ACM Sukumpol Suwanatat under the Puea Thai government. Dense and commenting on a report that the Department of Special Investigation was investigating whether the devices were purchased at exorbitant prices, he “said: “The GT200 detectors can do the job and they have already been tested…”. He also babbled that the DSI “should also ask those who are using the detectors because if they don’t work I want to know who would buy them.”

By April 2013, the Bangkok Post reported that investigations in Thailand have shown that “13 agencies to buy 1,358 GT200 and Alpha 6 detectors worth 1.137 billion baht.” It added that fraud charges are being considered by the NACC.

More than 5 years later, Surasak has come up with his ludicrous claims that mimic his bosses in the junta. He added that the junta-shy NACC would “come up with a clear-cut conclusion on the matter ‘at an appropriate time’.”

He said: “if soldiers in the field … have faith in the bomb-detectors and believe they work, then they would consider the equipment worth the money spent. But he admitted that there are people who question their worthiness considering the prices paid.”

We are tempted to conclude that Surasak is dumber than a sack of hammers, but that would do damage to hammers. We should consider that he may be fearful of The Dictator and his team of military thugs. He might love them and feels the need to cover up to protect them. Or some combination of these.





“Election,” political “ban” and “policy corruption”

21 08 2018

So many inverted commas!! But that’s what the world of the junta’s politics demands. Nothing is exactly what it seems.

In yet another careful rollback of expectations and the original statement, the Bangkok Post reports junta legal minion Wissanu Krea-ngam as saying the junta’s “election” will probably be “scheduled sometime between Feb 24 and May 5…”. Wissanu hinted that 24 February was a possible date, but that depends on a lot of others doing the necessary vetting, signing and so on. Unlikely, we think.

And, he says, the ban on political activities (for all but the junta’s buddies and the junta itself) will be “partially lifted, most probably beginning from next month…”.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu made these claims after “meeting the Election Commission” where “he and the five newly appointed election commissioners discussed almost a dozen poll-related issues.”

Is it just us thinking that this a clear statement of the lack of the EC’s independence? Add to this the evidence that Wissanu, representing the junta, and the commissioners agreed that the ban on political activities “would be eased selectively.” That would seem to suit only the junta and its faux parties. In other jurisdictions that might rightly be seen as collusion on election rigging.

Even Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva knows that “the constitution explicitly states that the EC is the final authority in fixing an election date. However, since the regime has Section 44 at its disposal, the EC’s power could be irrelevant.” There you are.

Meanwhile, down south, the junta has been dragging around buckets of loot for “policy corruption”/vote-buying and so on. Another report in the Bangkok Post tells readers that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha “has promised to inject more cash into development schemes…”.

The Dic confirmed that loads of money would be pumped into the south for roads, rail, tourism development and just about anything else business people could think of.





Poaching anti-democrats

26 07 2018

In another report hat we missed a couple of days ago, Khaosod reports that it isn’t just Puea Thai and the red shorts being stalked and poached by the military and its parties.

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has admitted that even his party is seeing the green-clad hunters and their men in suits stalking “some of his former MPs…”. He states that they “are being lured to a new party by promises of money, prestige and legal assistance with  criminal charges they face.”

Abhisit observed that “the promise of prosecutorial relief as an incentive to entice some former MPs would be a troubling brand of politics.”

Abhisit is particularly miffed because he reckons this kind of MP-fishing is a throwback to an earlier period and he has repeatedly stated that red shirts and his opponents should face the courts and he fears they are being offered the same deal as Democrat Party members facing charges from their anti-democrat campaigns in 2013 and 2014. The charges include “treason and terrorism for participating in the street protests which led to the ouster of the elected government and 2014 coup.”





Lese majeste used by the junta to silence a witness

22 07 2018

When she was arrested, Nattatida Meewangpla was a 36 year-old volunteer nurse, accused by the military dictatorship of terrorism and lese majeste. She was abducted by the military on 17 March 2015 and held incommunicado for six days, then charged with “terrorism,” and was later with lese majeste.

Not so uncommon you might think. Especially since the 2014 coup, as the military wanted to crush all anti-monarchy speech and thought, lese majeste victims were usually dragged off by the junta’s uniformed thugs.

But the arrest and continued jailing of Nattathida was unusual. The lese majeste complaint was made by Internal Security Operation Command Col Wicharn Joddaeng, who claims Nattatida copied a text that insulted the monarchy from one Line chat room and posted it in two other chat groups.

Who knows if she did anything of the kind, but this charge was devised to have her jailed as quickly as possible as a threat to the military dictatorship. The threat she posed was as a witness to the murder of six individuals at Wat Pathum Wanaram Temple by soldiers during the crackdown on red shirts on 19 May 2010.

More than three years later, still in jail and never allowed bail, Nattathida’s trial has begun. On 20 July 2018, a “first witness hearing was held behind closed door[s]…”.

Secret trials are not unusual for lese majeste, where laws and constitutions are regularly ignored, but in this case, the military wants nothing said in court to be public for fear that it may incriminate them.

The Bangkok Post’s editorial on her cases is a useful effort to get some media attention to this case of cruel incarceration and the military junta’s efforts to suppress evidence of its murderous work in 2010 under the direction of then military-backed premier Abhisit Vejjajiva, his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban, Army boss Gen Anupong Paojinda and the commander of troops Gen Prayudh Chan-ocha.

The Post describes Nattathida as “a key witness in the deaths of six people killed during the military’s dispersal of red-shirt protests in 2010…”.

The Post seems to get the date of her 2015 lese majeste charging wrong, but these charges and their details are murky, and meant to be. It reports:

Ms Nathathida was in March 2015 charged as a suspect linked to the blast and had been held in prison until July 24 last year when she was finally granted bail. But the police filed a lese majeste charge, an offence under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, against her on the same day resulting in immediate custody without bail.

The editorial notes that her “trial for another case involving a 2015 bombing at the Criminal Court is also moving at a snail’s pace,” describing the slow pace as “questionable.” It thinks the deliberate foot-dragging suggests the charges are based on shaky grounds. It adds:

The cases yet again raise doubts about the legitimacy of the prosecution of many politically-driven cases in the post-2014 coup era, especially lese majeste cases.

Her lawyer Winyat Chartmontri has told the media that “many witnesses, who are government officials, in the blast case had postponed court hearings several times resulting in the case being delayed.”

As the editorial noted, these “two cases not only kept her in jail but may also have reduced the credibility of her as a witness in court over the six deaths at Wat Pathum Wanaram near Ratchaprasong intersection.” More though, they prevent her testimony being heard.

Why is the military so concerned? As the Post observes:

In 2012, she testified at the South Bangkok Criminal Court as a paramedic volunteer stationed at the temple, giving a vivid account of how she saw from close range gunshots being fired from the Skytrain tracks where soldiers were on guard. She did not hear gunshots fired back by protesters, she said.

The editorial makes the mistake of believing that “criminal prosecution requires solid proof of both motive and the scale of damage their act could have caused,” but that is never the case when it comes to lese majeste. And, under the military dictatorship, the courts have generally acted as a tool of the regime, often ignoring law.

The Post knows this, limply proclaiming that “[l]aw enforcement officers should not overlook … universal legal rules when handling cases that could send someone to prison.” Yet in “politically motivated” cases under the military junta, law and procedure goes out the window.

In concluding, the editorial also mentions “that tragic day at Wat Pathum Wanaram,” noting that the courts are “supposed to hold the perpetrators accountable.”

The problem with puppet law courts is that they work for the perpetrators.





Rip up the junta’s basic law

16 06 2018

The Bangkok Post reports that representatives of Future Forward Party and Puea Thai Party “agreed at a forum that changing the whole charter is a top priority for their parties after the poll.” This amounts to a tearing up of the junta’s anti-democratic constitution.

Meanwhile, while Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva also believed that the junta’s constitution was a problem, as might be expected, he talked of amending it, not ditching it as a deeply flawed charter. Likewise, he did not think this a “top priority of the new government…”.

We don’t think the Democrat Party is particularly concerned about the junta’s charter but knows that the charter is likely to be a major election issue whenever the junta decides to hold its rigged election.

They also acknowledged that “the charter is written in such a way that change is almost impossible by following the normal process.”

 Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit of Future Forward said:

The whole 2017 constitution should be scrapped as it is undemocratic and passed by a referendum that lacked transparency. Moreover, the charter also forces future governments to stick with the junta’s 20-year national development blueprint….

Chaturon Chaisang of Puea Thai said that the “national strategy will impose additional burdens on future governments as they will be required to comply with the new law.” If they fail to follow the junta’s plan, they could go to jail.

Chaturon “urged all pro-democracy parties to join in this task” of getting rid of the junta’s charter and its 20 year plan.

In contrast, as the Bangkok Post reports, while admitting that the charter and junta plan are “impediments,” Abhisit seemed happy enough to go along with the junta’s plan, altering it when the context changed. Indeed, he seemed supportive of the plan saying “anyone who has better plans than the government’s 20-year national strategic plan must present them to the public.” He seems to not have an alternative.





Remembering two Mays

19 05 2018

The Bangkok Post had a report recently on politicians being asked to remember the bloody days of 1992.

They seemed to conclude, as the Post put it, that “politics is now in a more backwards state than it was before the Black May uprising of 1992…”, when like today’s big boss, another general tried to hold onto power after repeatedly saying he wasn’t intending to do that and that he abhorred politics. To maintain his power that general, Suchinda Kraprayoon, ordered civilians shot down and beaten by police and military.

Why is “politics” more “backward” now? The junta’s rules, constitution and “roadmap” are “designed to prolong its grip on power…”, say the speakers at the event.

But it is more than that. In fact, the 1991 coup group wasn’t nearly as ruthless following the coup as The Dictator has been. For one thing, it didn’t rule directly as this junta has done following its coup, putting a pliable, royalist businessman in the premier’s chair.

That 1991 coup group changed some rules, but didn’t successfully undermine and infiltrate civilian institutions in the way this junta has. It didn’t arrest and jail hundreds of persons and stalk opponents nearly as routinely as this dictatorship has. There’s more, but the picture is clear.

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva claimed that “the public has not fought back with as much gusto as it did in 1992.” He added that people “harbour fears that parties may wreak havoc if they ascend to power…”.

Of course, Abhisit himself and his party has much to answer for on this. They deliberately undermined civilian politicians by behaving abominably, supporting rightist and royalist mobs, boycotted elections and ordered the military to shoot down demonstrators.

PPT has posted on the events of May 1992 several times and readers can view these posts.

Remembering May 1992 is useful in the current political circumstances. Then, people did rise up against generals seeking to maintain control. The military response was to shoot them.

Yet it is April and May 2010 that should also be remembered for the utter brutality of a military that views electoral democracy and people’s sovereignty as a threat to the order it prefers and defends.

Many pictures have been reproduced over the years of the results of Abhisit’s regime ordering the military to shoot demonstrators; PPT has a few reproduced here.

These pictures are from both sides of the battle as the military gradually surrounded and then cleared the Rajaprasong area in May 2010.