Rabid royalists battle “liberalism”

7 09 2019

This Reuters report has been widely distributed, but deserves attention.

It notes the rise of a rightist ultra-nationalism as those who are insufficiently royalist are attacked as “chung chart” which “translates roughly as ‘nation-hater.’ Here, nation equals monarchy and support for the military and its current political regime.

Opposing that regime, the military or being considered insufficiently royalist means being seen by royalist-rightists “as a threat in a kingdom…”.

Royalist-rightists are identified as “waging an increasing battle against the opposition on social media and in the courts, illustrating the deepening political divide in the southeast Asian nation.”

Sound familiar? It should. Nothing much has changed in this royalist-rightist agitation since recently-released Sondhi Limthongkul and the People’s Alliance for Democracy signed up with the monarchy for ousting Thaksin Shinawatra in 2005. He and PAD were followed by royalist-rightist groups such as the Dhamma Army and Santi Asoke (since 2005), No Colors/Multi Colors (from about 2010), Green Politics Group (since 2007), Thai Patriot Network (since 2008), Siam Samakkhi (since 2011), Network of Citizen Volunteers to Protect the Land (2012), Pitak Siam (2012), Sayam Prachapiwat (2012), the White Mask group, People’s Army Against the Thaksin Regime (2013), the so-called Rubbish Collection Organization (2014), and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (2013-14).

This is just a selection of ultra-rightists, many associated with the military’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC). All have been anti-Thaksin. The current lot say:

they are acting in the name of the palace and the army also say they get no direct support from those institutions. Government spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat declined comment on the issue and said Thailand is a free country.

We are sure that there are ultra-rightists who act independently in the cause of promoting the world’s wealthiest monarch, a grasping playboy as a symbol of “the nation,” but we doubt that the military and ISOC are uninterested. After all, they’ve manipulated or arranged most of these groups over five decades.

Claims by by Defense Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich that the “military is not behind any groups…. The military does not support anyone engaged in activism outside parliament” are false.

The report claims that “chung chart” was made popular by The Democrat Party’s Warong Dechgitvigrom, who says:

I see this as liberalism that destroys traditions and the monarchy by claiming to be democratic…. We need to fight them through ideology. The New Right is a political ideology.

Akechai. Clipped from TLHR

The ideological fight usually leads to legal actions and violence. Indeed, there was plenty of political violence in the last days of the junta. Think of the repeated attacks on Sirawith Seritiwat and Akechai Hongkangwarn, among others.

As the report notes, “army chief Apirat Kongsompong … has described Thailand as being in a ‘hybrid war’ against enemies of tradition” and the rightist-royalists are working in support of his “war.”

The current targets of rightist-royalist angst and wrath include the Future Forward Party – who Warong considers false democrats and nasty “liberals.” That party also worries Gen Apirat as they are too popular; the military fears popularity that translates into votes.

The report cites former PADista and Democrat Party minister Kasit Primya as saying: “The two sides are becoming more entrenched…”. There might be more than two “sides,” but as far as we can tell, the “sides” have been deeply entrenched since PAD.

So it is that Future Forward and its supporters are painted by ultra-nationalist rightist-royalists as “want[ing] to destroy the Thai system [monarchy] and change it to the Marxist-Socialist system…”.

On social media, hatred of identified opponents is fanned. Such hatred has long proved useful of the military when it mobilizes violence to support military-backed regimes or to destabilize elected governments.





On king and military

5 09 2019

The Economist has an article this week on King Vajiralongkorn’s political rise. We at PPT don’t agree with all of it, but we reproduce it in full as it will likely be banned in hard copy in Thailand and finding it online may be difficult.

For the record, we disagree on the significance of factionalism in the military. Military watchers over emphasize this. Nor do we think the relationship between King Bhumibol and the military was in any way “ambiguous.”

RIGID AND austere, King Chulalongkorn, the fifth monarch of Thailand’s Chakri dynasty, gazes across Bangkok’s Royal Plaza from a gleaming steed. The bronze statue is just one immovable legacy of the Thai monarchy. The mindset of the country’s armed forces is another. The king overhauled them late in the 19th century, founding a military and naval academy, creating a ministry of defence and indelibly associating them with the crown.

Thailand’s generals have seized power 12 times since a revolution brought an end to absolute monarchy in 1932. The most recent coup was in 2014. The general who led it, Prayuth Chan-ocha, has remained prime minister ever since. But his authority over the army he once commanded is fading. Instead it is King Maha Vajiralongkorn who is fast becoming the biggest influence over Thailand’s men and women in uniform.

The armed forces have never really proved themselves in war. Instead they have focused on battling their country’s politicians. Their most fearsome foe was Thaksin Shinawatra, whom they ousted as prime minister in 2006. The feud between his supporters and opponents has tortured Thai politics ever since. But the army appears finally to have bested its enemy, presiding over a rigged election in March that relegated the Thaksinites to a parliamentary minority for the first time since 2001. Politicians backing the army have formed a coalition government led by Mr Prayuth. But the coalition is a rickety one, composed of 18 different parties. That leaves Mr Prayuth ever more dependent on the veneer of legitimacy provided by the king.

The army’s penchant for politics has always been tied to the prestige of the monarchy. “The consent of the governed is less important than the imprimatur of the monarch,” explains Gregory Raymond of the Australian National University. Military regimes bolster their legitimacy by slavish devotion to the crown. A symbiotic relationship between the barracks and the palace has endured since the 1950s, each defending the other’s standing.

Close ties to the royals help the armed forces avoid change. The last coup voided a constitution which had established legislative scrutiny over defence policy. Modest reforms occurred after soldiers killed dozens of democratic protesters in 1992 and again after the Asian financial crisis of 1997. Mr Thaksin managed to reduce the army’s budget and placed allies in senior military posts, but achieved little lasting change. Governments which make serious attempts to clip the army’s wings tend to get ousted, as Mr Thaksin’s was. Even so, a popular new party, Future Forward, wants to reduce the number of generals, end conscription and cut military budgets.

The main impetus for change is coming from the palace itself, however. King Vajiralongkorn, who attended an Australian military academy, served in the army and holds the ranks of field marshal, admiral and air marshal, is obsessed with military titles, training and hierarchy. He expects others to share his passion. The queen, a former flight attendant, has risen through the ranks of his personal guard. Her ascent was not purely a show of grace and favour: she had to complete gruelling training with her men. She now holds the rank of general. His official concubine, a former nurse, was promoted to major-general this year. While crown prince, the king made his pet poodle, since deceased, an air marshal.

Since he came to the throne almost three years ago, the king has increased the clout of the monarchy in various ways, dispensing with a regent when he is abroad and taking direct control over the administration of all crown property. He has also inserted himself into the administration of the army. A new unit, the Royal Command Guard, has been created at his behest. It includes many of his former bodyguards. Its 5,000-odd soldiers will be under the direct command of the monarch and will be stationed in the heart of Bangkok. At the same time, an infantry regiment and a cavalry battalion that were instrumental in past coups have been ordered out of the capital. This will make it much harder for the army to launch coups without securing the support of the king in advance.

King Vajiralongkorn has stoked factionalism, too, weakening the bond between the army and the government that it installed. Mr Prayuth and his deputy prime minister, Prawit Wongsuwan, are both former army chiefs. They rose up through the Queen’s Guard, elite troops from a regiment within the army’s Second Infantry Division. The current army chief, Apirat Kongsompong, belongs to the King’s Guard, a faction nestled instead within the First Infantry Division. The king himself once served in it. General Apirat must retire next year and his most likely successor is also from the King’s Guard.

During the reign of the king’s father, Bhumibol, the relationship between the armed forces and the monarchy was ambiguous. The king’s advisers had a role in the appointment of senior generals, but then again, most of them were former generals themselves. The king never visibly opposed the many coups that took place during his reign, but he did once give a dressing down to a coup leader who had violently suppressed public protests, causing the offending general to resign.

Under King Vajiralongkorn, the ambiguity has diminished. Mr Prayuth has meekly complied with even the most awkward of the king’s demands, agreeing, for instance, to change the text of the new constitution even after Thai voters had signed off on it. The king left the generals squirming by declining to accept the crown for almost two months after his father’s death, in an unexpected show of modesty. “Prayuth’s days are numbered,” predicts Paul Chambers of Naresuan University. And when the inevitable happens and the army next mounts a coup, the king will be in a commanding position.





Fascists and their opponents

22 05 2019

On the fifth anniversary of the military’s coup where it through out yet another elected government, we at PPT want to point to a couple of stories that do a great job of remembering and noting the impacts of the military’s illegal action in 2014.

The first is a story at Khaosod, where five activists provide brief comments on their experiences. All have been arrested and some have been jailed under the military dictatorship and its junta. Some clips:

1. No Coup 2. Liberty 3. Democracy

Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, recently released from prison on a manufactured lese majeste case, and facing more charges:

I saw. I fought. I lost. I was hurt. After five years fighting the junta and spending time in jail, I lost. Well, I didn’t lose. It’s just that we haven’t won yet. Some people are discouraged and disappointed. Others continue fighting.

Political activist Nutta Mahattana:

I underestimated the Thai people. Thais are more tolerant of military dictatorship than I expected.

Iconoclast activist Sombat Boonngamanong:

The most visible change in the past five years was how some people who fought for a certain strand of democracy were turned into mindless supporters of the military junta…. They saw the failure of the junta over the past five years, yet they are okay with it. It’s scary meeting these people….

Yaowalak Anuphan from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights:

Freedom of expression keeps sinking and more people censor themselves. The military has fully invaded civil society and injected its autocratic thinking into civilians.

Student activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal:

[W]e took democracy for granted. We thought it was something that could be restored quickly after it was gone. We thought military dictatorship wouldn’t last long. But people have become better at adapting to life under dictatorship…. At symposiums, people are now more wary when they speak. This change was rapid….

The second is an article by retired diplomat and Puea Thai Party member Pithaya Pookaman. We disagree with him that the “election” result shows that the junta and its puppet party are “popular.” But he identifies those who are junta supporters as a “new right.” While this is catchy, it is also misleading in that much of the “new right” is pretty much the same opposition that’s worked against electoral democracy for decades. Pithaya knows this, saying:

Broadly speaking, the New Right consists of an odd mix of ultra-conservatives, reactionaries, semi-fascists, pseudo-intellectuals, and even former leftists. It is the product of more than 80 years of political evolution and has been shaped by technological and economic advances, as well as social and demographic changes, and populism in modern Thai society…. This tug of war between the so-called liberals and conservatives dates back to 1932…. The conservative Thai oligarchy, which saw their traditional grip on power being eroded, have strongly resisted democratic developments up until today.

Thailand’s urban middle class has a unique tolerance of authoritarian rule, wholeheartedly embracing military coups with few moral scruples. Meanwhile, the reactionary and semi-fascist groups seem to have a romantic infatuation with anachronistic medieval political and social systems….

Their common hatred of Thaksin and his political machine has allowed the fate of these diverse groups to intertwine. It has also made them vulnerable to “Thaksin Derangement Syndrome”, which has spread among a conglomeration of former leftists, the urban middle class, pseudo-intellectuals, ultraconservatives, semi-fascists, militarists, and the elitist establishment, all of which can collectively be called the New Right.

A third story is important. “All They Could Do To Us: Courage in Dark Times from a Fighter (Not a Victim)” is an article by Metta Wongwat, translated by Tyrell Haberkorn. It is about Pornthip Munkhong, who was jailed on lese majeste for her role in a political play, The Wolf Bride (เจ้าสาวหมาป่า), about a fictional monarch and kingdom. Her new book, All They Could Do To Us (Aan Press, 2019) “is an account of imprisonment under Article 112 during the NCPO regime written in the voice of an artist. She tells her story and the stories of her fellow prisoners from every walk of life, and in so doing, leads readers into her life during her two years of imprisonment.”

She includes a message for those who hold politics close: “(Political struggle) is like boxing. The ring is theirs. The rules are theirs. The referees are theirs. You must be prepared.





The monarchy, military two-step

16 05 2019

Since the Cold War era, the relationship between the military and monarchy has been close, with predominance see-sawing between the two pillars of Thai authoritarianism. Several times, the military has murdered and massacred in the name of the monarchy. The monarch appreciated their work. The monarchy has long danced with dictators.

The current military dictatorship seized power to eject yet another pro-Thaksin Shinawatra party, in part to eradicate what it considered an unacceptable rise in republicanism. That republicanism was bred of the royal family’s support for royalist political movements and against the pro-Thaksin/pro-democracy forces.

At times it has been felt that King Vajiralongkorn is not particularly close to the ruling junta. We have no idea if that is true. What has been demonstrated is the junta’s loyalty to the king, publicly accepting demands made by the king and lauding him to the public. As far as we can discern, the king has gone along with the junta’s plans, even (effectively) campaigning for the junta’s party in the recent election.

That support from the king will be even more important in what might be a shaky politics after a new government is in place.

The-Dictator-hoping-to-be-reaffirmed-premier Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha demonstrated how the monarchy can be used politically to benefit the post-junta military-backed regime when he used the king’s name to reject criticism of the puppet Senate he selected and the king approved (we do not know if any were the king’s selection.)

Rejecting all (valid) criticism, Gen Prayuth thundered at journalists: “Remember this…. Anything that has been endorsed and considered by His Majesty has always already gone under scrutiny. That’s the most important thing.”

In other words, only the king can scrutinize the work of the junta and if he approves no mortal can criticize this.

While we do not expect that this threat will silence criticism of the completely compromised Senate, the use of the king’s name is suggestive of some very dark times ahead under a military-backed regime and a military-trained and aligned king who is building his own control of the Army.

That the king is used to silence critics of a Senate that is packed out with junta relatives, junta ministers, military officers and other junta flunkies suggests The Dictator and king are locked in goose-step.





Democrat Party going home?

6 04 2019

It’s likely a homecoming. Reports in both The Nation and Bangkok Post refer to meetings of the Democrat Party or a faction of it. In essence, the reports are of the anti-democrat, People’s Democratic Reform Committee, aligned members electing to return to the junta.

This should come as no surprise, especially as the red/pro-Thaksin versus yellow/junta/royalist divide has been reasserted by the latter group.

While several pundits reckoned the election marked the end of that divide, its muscular reassertion as a series of attacks on pro-democracy parties, now identified as, variously, left-wing, pro-Thaksin, foreign-influenced and anti-monarchy, has been intense.

Some 30 Democrat Party members, including some who were elected, has “voiced support for Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to continue running the country in a government led by the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), according to Thaworn Senneam.” The Nation reported that former Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai attended part of the meeting.

The group included other PDRC stalwarts Chitpas Krisdakorn and Atavit Suwannapak­dee. This PDRC aligned group is now going to press the party executive to take the party back to its natural political location. That is, with the military, the junta and the anti-democrats.

This is a challenge for the party as disgruntled anti-democrats could easily act as cobras, threatening the existence of the party.





Updated: Cynical recycling

16 03 2019

We are sure readers recall when Thaksin Shinawatra was damned as a “populist.” And then there was Yingluck Shinawatra. When she campaigned in Thailand’s last completed election in 2011, she was also labeled a populist and was prosecuted for one of the policies she took to the electorate. Anti-populism has been a pillar of anti-Thaksinism.

When the military junta seized power, there is a plan to outlaw “populist” policies. That anti-populism soon became an embrace of the policies that the junta had previously damned. This turn to economic policies previously damned was an effort to claw back political ground from the Shinawatra clan, led by Thaksin turncoat Somkid Jatusripitak.

Not surprisingly, it was Somkid who was behind the manufacture of the Palang Pracharat Party as the junta’s devil party.

Now, desperate to gain the electoral traction it has been lacking, Palang Pracharath has released a range of so-called populist policies, apparently hurriedly concocted in recent days.

Increasing the minimum wage by a third, cutting income tax (including for the wealthiest), raising the graduate minimum wage 10% and waving their income tax for 5 years, loans and exemptions for businesses, and promised guaranteed minimum prices for six crops.

Remember Yingluck’s travails for her rice pledging policy?

Palang Pracharath deputy party leader Suvit Maesincee said “Pracha Rath state welfare cards would be given to more people, from 14.5 million low-income earners currently.” He added that “[d]ebt suspension will be allowed for village funds and more funds will be added.” And he promised a welfare state to “take care of children from womb to old age…”.

Can the junta/Palang Pracharath afford these promises when it is already running a substantial “fiscal deficit of 450 billion baht…”? The Bangkok Post notes that the regime has abandoned “plans to balance the budget within the next few years…”.

Sounding Thaksinesque, Palang Pracharath’s Uttama Savanayana declared: “Thais shall be rich in peace, happiness and hope…”.

Even more Thaksin-like were the measures proposed to  fund “Thais being rich.” The measures for making administration more efficient are exactly those used by Thaksin and Thai Rak Thai back in 2001-06.

Policy plagiarism has been a hallmark of the junta. It continues. The only “original” contribution by Palang Pracharath/junta is to promise “order.”

The Palang Pracharath/junta twin is banking on voters being “uneducate” and that by offering Thaksinesque policies that they can lure pro-Thaksin voters to support a failing junta party.

Update: Less than a day after his devil party released the policies discussed above, The Dictator has “issued a statement saying all governments must abide by financial discipline and good governance.” Maybe he should have thought about that several years ago before his own government began its vote-buying splurges. Or maybe before his party promised to extend the splurge further.





Tangling opponents in “law”

10 03 2019

The pro-Thaksin Shinawatra Thai Raksa Chart Party is gone. Dissolved for (stupidly) nominating a (non) princess, only to have the king decide – some say belatedly – the party was designed to support the pro-Thaksin vote under the junta’s rigged electoral system.

But the minority anti-Thaksin alliance of anti-democrats, military fascists and royalists is seeking to tangle all parties they view as pro-Thaksin or insufficiently loyal in law suits that could easily be used to overturn election results.

The Bangkok Post reports that Anat Chang-in, a lawyer based in Loei, is seeking to have the Puea Thai Party dissolved.

This follows the series of legal moves against the Future Forward Party. Just on Friday, as the party drew very large crowds at rallies, the junta “filed another complaint with computer crime police …[with] its webmaster … accused of uploading a video clip that the regime said contained false information that may undermine national security or frighten people under the Computer Crime Act and the Criminal Code.”

Buffalo manure, but the harassment is unending and it is clear that the junta has military stalking the party and its leaders. This complaint is against Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, who simply observed that the law has been a political tool. Every one knows that is true. Indeed the harassment of Future Forard and every pro-Thaksin Party that has ever existed is evidence for the veracity of his observation.

Meanwhile, Lawyer Anat claims Puea Thai’s Sudarat Keyuraphan”misled people about her popularity and that of her party.” She is accused of mentioning the name of a person not running for the party. This is said to be an “offence is punishable under the 2018 MP election law.”

It seems pretty clear that the junta is piling up cases to use against any pro-Thaksin or pro-democracy party that does well in the election. Red cards and court cases could see elected MPs disqualified and parties disbanded. At present, what this use of allegedly legal cases ties the parties up in court and with the police.