Local elections “this year”?

11 06 2018

After essentially telling the nation that the military junta’s “election” was off the much-touted “road map,”  the Bangkok Post reports that an unnamed source says the junta was “preparing to hold local elections this year as it wants to ‘test the waters’ ahead of the national election expected next February…”.

We have doubts about this “source” and the claims. For one thing, almost no-one expects an election in February. For another, talks about local elections are not new, but have gone missing for several months. It was back in November that Wissanu Krea-ngam said local elections would be held within 45 days of bills to amend six laws relating to regional governing bodies being enacted.

We have heard little about those bills and laws. This report states that “the Council of State, which is the government’s legal advisory body, has finished scrutinising six legislative bills relating to local elections.” They would then go to the junta’s cabinet and then to the National Legislative Assembly before going through the formal approval process.

If that is true, it would mean that local elections could probably be held – if the junta so decrees – by very late this year or early next year. And, that could easily delay national elections even further.

The most recent mumbling about local elections “comes as the government [junta] is likely to reinstate several more local leaders put on suspension pending corruption probes in what is seen by critics as a ploy to achieve political aims at the general election.”

Another unnamed source, this one at the Election Commission, said the junta has ordered the Local Administration Department, which is under the authority of Gen Anupong Paojinda, “to prepare local elections as the government [junta] wanted to assess local support for the government [junta] and parties.”

As it was several months ago, local polls are seen as a way to “ease public calls for a speedy return to democracy.” According to this source, “the results of local elections will be factored in when the government [junta] makes a decision to hold the general election…”.

Given that most political parties are unable to do much at all at present, local elections would be easy for the regime to control and manipulate and would be a chance for it to promote pro-junta parties ahead of the national election it plans for them to “win.” It would also be an opportunity for the junta to ensure it has its people in administrative place for controlling national elections at the local level.

In this context, should local elections be held, the real fight will be to prevent the junta from expanding its bootprint even further at the local level.





2014 military coup: assessing and forgetting

21 05 2018

There’s currently a plethora of stories and op-eds that assess the results of the 2014 military coup.

Despite limited resources, Khaosod is usually a news outlet that is better than others at reporting the events of the day and in trying to be critical of military rule. However, one of its assessment stories is rather too forgetful.

Teeranai Charuvastra is the author and begins with the sad statistic that The Dictator Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has been directing the state since he seized it 1,641 days on Tuesday. In fact, he effectively seized power a couple of days earlier and the official coup announcement then followed.

That long four years is, Teeranai observes, “longer than any other coup leader since the Cold War.”

We are not exactly sure when the Cold War ended. Perhaps its late 1991 when the Soviet Union itself dissolved into its all those republics. Perhaps it is the fall of the Berlin Wall two years earlier. It matters only because if it is December 1991, then there’s only been two military coups in Thailand in that period, both involving roughly the same military crew as is in power now. If it is 1989, then add one more coup.

Two or three coups in Thailand’s long history of military seizures of the state doesn’t necessarily amount to establishing a pattern, although Teeranai’s thinks it does. The claim is that:

Every ‘successful’ military takeover of the last four decades has followed the same script: The generals who led the putsch quickly install a civilian prime minister, ostensibly to give the appearance of democratic rule, before retreating into the shadows. Typically, general elections have been organized within a year.

For one thing, that time period takes us back to about 1978, when Gen Kriangsak Chomanan was in the premier’s seat, having seized power in late 1977 from the ultra-royalist/ultra-rightist regime of civilian and palace favorite Thanin Kraivixien.

But back to Gen Prayuth, who is claimed to have gone off-script. Military junkie/journalist Wassana Nanuam is quoted in support of this claim: “He tore to pieces the rules of the coup.”

Back to the dates. Is there a script. In our view there is, but it isn’t the version proclaimed by Wasana. Rather, the script for the military is in seizing and holding power. When Gen Sarit Thanarat seized power in 1957, he put a civilian in place but in 1958 took power himself. He and his successors held power until 1973. When the military again seized power in 1976, it reluctantly accepted the king’s demand for Thanin to head a government. He failed and Kriangsak seized power in late 1977. Kriangsak held the premiership until 1980, when the military leadership convinced him to handover to palace favorite Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, who stayed until 1988.

Now there’s a pattern. We think its the pattern that Prayuth’s dictatorial junta has had in mind since they decided that the 2006 coup had failed to adequately expunge Thaksin Shinawatra’s appeal and corral the rise of electoral politics.

So Wassana’s triumphalism about The Dictator “breaking a mold” is simply wrong. The military regime is, like its predecessors in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, about embedding the military and throttling electoral politics.

Wassana’s other claim is that Prayuth’s coup and plan to hold power was risky. We think that’s wrong too.

In fact, after 2006 was declared a failure, Prayuth and his former bosses, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Gen Anupong Paojinda, had worked with various rightist and royalist agents to undermine the likely opponents of another military political victory: red shirts and politicians of the elected variety.

ISOC was an important part of that as it systematically destroyed red shirt operations and networks.

In addition, the courts and “independent” agencies had all been co-opted by the military and its royalist and anti-democrat allies.

There was never any chance that Prayuth would hand over to an appointee.

Teeranai’s piece also asks; “So how did Prayuth’s National Council for Peace and Order, or NCPO, manage to stay this long?”

The response is: “The reasons are many, … [that] range from the junta’s use of brute force to Prayuth’s personal influence.” But a “common thread has to do with what the junta is not. The regime’s success, according to most people interviewed, lies in convincing people it is a better alternative to the color-coded feuds and churning upheaval that have plagued the nation.”

We think this is only true for some people and certainly not all. And the people who were convinced are the anti-democrats. Those interviewed are mostly yellow shirts who define “the people” as people like them.

When Suriyasai Katasila says that “The people felt there was only instability… So people accept the NCPO’s [junta] intervention, even though it cost them certain rights,” he speaks for some of Bangkok’s middle class and the anti-democrats.

Other anti-democrats are cited: “people don’t see the point of calling for elections, because they think things will just be the same after the election. People are sick and tired.” Again, these are words for the anti-democrats and by the anti-democrats.

If elections were rejected, one would expect low turnouts for them. If we look just at 2011 and 2007, we see voter turnout in excess of 80%. The anti-democrats propagandize against elections and speak of “the people” but represent a minority.

We’ve said enough. The aims of the current military junta are clear. And the anti-democrats are self-serving and frightened that the people may be empowered by the ballot box. That’s why the junta is rigging any future vote.





Amnesty International on systematic and arbitrary restrictions on human rights

24 02 2018

Amnesty International has released its annual report on the state of the world’s human rights. It’s a 400 page PDF that makes for grim reading.

The report had a launch in Thailand and there are reports at Khaosod and The Nation.

Amnesty International Thailand Director Piyanut Kotsan is quoted in The Nation saying:

“The situation of human rights violation in Thailand under the administration of the Prime Minister and head of National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the military junta] is still considered very poor, as the junta still exercises the absolute power of Article 44 of the interim Charter to stop any political activists exercising freedom of expression…”.

“Many citizens are still being held in unofficial custody, civilians are still being prosecuted in the military court, and freedom of expression and gatherings in public are limited by the use of NCPO order 3/2558, which bans the gathering of more than five persons for political protest.”

Khaosod quotes Antima Saengchai, deputy director of Amnesty Thailand:

Despite having declared human rights a national priority, the military government still prosecutes activists, practices extrajudicial killings, allows torture of people in custody, deports asylum-seekers and suppresses online freedoms….

“Despite promises, there has been no process on passing laws to prohibit human rights violations such as torture and enforced disappearances…”.

On lese majeste in 2017, the report states:

Authorities continued to vigorously prosecute cases under Article 112 of the Penal Code – lèse-majesté provision – which penalized criticism of the monarchy. Individuals were charged or prosecuted under Article 112 during the year, including some alleged to have offended past monarchs. Trials for lèse-majesté were held behind closed doors. In June, the Bangkok Military Court sentenced a man to a record 35 years’ imprisonment − halved from 70 years after he pleaded guilty − for a series of Facebook posts allegedly concerning the monarchy. In August, student activist and human rights defender Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa was sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment after being convicted in a case concerning his sharing a BBC profile of Thailand’s King on Facebook. Authorities brought lèse-majesté charges against a prominent academic for comments he made about a battle fought by a 16th century Thai king.

The latter case was dropped a few weeks ago. We are surprised AI didn’t mention the lese majeste cases brought against juveniles.

On the still unresolved case of the extrajudicial killing of Chaiyaphum Pasae the report states:

In March, Chaiyaphum Pasae, a 17-year-old Indigenous Lahu youth activist, was shot dead at a checkpoint staffed by soldiers and anti-narcotics officers, who claimed to have acted in self-defence. By the end of the year, an official investigation into his death had made little progress; the authorities failed to produce CCTV footage from cameras known to have been present at the time of the incident.

This seems a case of impunity for soldiers. Another, mentioned in  the report under the heading “Impunity” states:

In August, the Supreme Court dismissed murder charges against former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban. The charges related to the deaths of at least 90 people in 2010 during clashes between [red shirt] protesters and security forces.

It might have also noted that Gen Anupong Paojinda, who was then army commander and is now Interior minister also got off. And, current prime minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha commanded troops who conducted some of these murders.

The report on Thailand is only a couple of pages long and should be read.





When the military is on top XIV

23 02 2018

When the military is on top it makes stuff up that almost no one believes but the regime expects the population to accept, no matter how nonsensical the claim.

In a recent report, Interior Minister General Anupong Paojinda has claimed that “[a]bout a million people joined the ‘Thai Niyom’ program launched by junta chairman [Gen] Prayuth Chan-ocha on its first day…”.

Gen. Anupong proudly declared that: “In each village, about 100 people joined…. Excluding Bangkok, the number [of people who joined] is nearly one million.”

As the report adds, “[n]o data were provided to support the claim.”

Given that there are some 80,000 villages in Thailand, even excluding Bangkok, the arithmetic seems a bit off. But one million is still a lot of people to mobilize in a single day, even for a military dictatorship. Is it believable?

If it is, then it is an expression of the capacity of the regime to dispatch soldiers to thousands of villagers and round up one million people. This is a frightening demonstration of military power and the capacity that power delivers for reaching down into communities.





“New,” “good” and “bad” politicians

24 01 2018

General Prayuth Chan-ocha, The Dictator since May 2014, recently announced that he is a “politician.” This announcement that he had joined the ranks of those he despises was his formal announcement of what has been known for a very long time: he wants to continue as premier for years and years.

Politicians are not renowned for their judgement of political mood. Many make awful decisions in the face of public opinion that demands something else. They usually pay a price for this poor judgement.

The Dictator-cum-politician will likely pay a steep political price for his failure to deal with General Prawit Wongsuwan’s poor judgement in the ongoing luxury timepiece scandal. Prawit, who is Prayuth’s mentor, former boss and elder military brother, is politically a dead man walking.

But Prayuth closes his eyes and ears and exhibits military “Thai-ness” remaining “loyal” and doing his “duty” to his boss/brother. But, by toughing out the political storm, the regime’s political capital is being rapidly depleted, and especially among its faithful anti-democratic supporters. The latter seem to consider the junta as crossing the line between “good” and “bad” in their middle class definitions of “Thai-ness.”

The military junta adds to that perception by allowing the judiciary to activate a case against Suthep Thaugsuban’s anti-democrats. While this may be as much about political bargaining for an “election” arrangement, many yellow shirts consider Prayuth’s electoral wheeling and dealing as having too much to do with previous Thaksin Shinawatra supporters and the legal case confirms the junta’s moves to the “bad” – downright evil – side of political “Thai-ness.”

“Thai-ness” and “good” and “bad” are slippery concepts but they are also political notions that can be redefined. The military junta is precipitously falling from an anti-democrat “good” to “bad.”

As Prayuth, Prawit and the third of the three stooges, General Anupong Paojinda, cross that line, days their political days are numbered.





Prawit’s watches and the junta’s faithful

23 01 2018

It seems that Deputy Dictator and godfather of the military junta, General Prawit Wongsuwan is done for. The question now is how long it will be before his “younger brothers” cut him loose. Or, more likely, when Prawit buries his face and pride and accepts that he must go.

Of course, these military men have great difficulty in understanding concepts other than power, force and hierarchy. So Prawit probably believes that the whole country should just accept that he is a high-ranked “good” person and accept his lame excuses for being in possession of more than two score of luxury watches. But by toughing out the political storm, Prawit and his “brothers” General Prayuth Chan-ocha and General Anupong Paojinda are depleting the regime’s political capital among its faithful anti-democratic supporters.

The latest reports are that diehard anti-democrats and yellow shirts are abandoning Prawit for the sake of maintaining the regime. Yesterday we posted on the Democrat Party “advice” to the junta it has so vigorously supported. Today it is reported that (several times failed) former minister and minor prince Pridiyathorn Devakula has not just urged Prawit to move on but has rebuked the general on his “excuse” for having the multi-million baht collection of timepieces.

Pridiyathorn said Prawit “must resign before his reputation is ruined…”. He added: “I’ve already had someone deliver my message to him — live a happy life, live well and protect your reputation, which is still good…”. If he doen’t go, his “reputation” is sunk.

Pridiyathorn then undercut the general’s “excuse.” Military sources have leaked a story that “businessman Pattawat Suksriwong, who died last year, would often lend the deputy prime minister watches…”. The minor prince, who “enjoyed close ties with Mr Pattawat as the two were friends and business partners” stated that “he never heard any mention of the watch-lending from the deceased.”

Clearly, the faithful, many of them anti-democrats and supportive of the dictatorship, are losing patience with Prawit and Prayuth. Given Prayuth’s plans to remain premier for the foreseeable future, Prawit’s stubborn refusal to exit, these are dangerous times for the junta.





By and for the junta: arranging elections and law

12 01 2018

As well as the military dictatorship’s election stitch-up gathers pace, the junta is also stitching up the legal system.

On elections, the Bangkok Post reports that the puppet National Legislative Assembly is sitting, waiting and breathing heavily awaiting the junta’s decision on how it will fix local elections. It is the junta that comes up with the laws. The NLA fiddles with them and then passes them almost unanimously.

Interior Minister General Anupong Paojinda revealed that the “amendments will be made to raise the standard of candidates vying for seats…” in local elections. There’s a pattern here: this is the “good” people thesis.

On “fixing” the law, the Bangkok Post also reports that the same puppets will likely pass “about 50 Section 44 orders into law to ensure they remain in effect after the dissolution of the [junta]…”.

In other words, the junta’s use of the unaccountable and dictatorial Article 44 is to be chiseled into the law forever (they hope). Recall that Article 44 gives The Dictator the power to override any laws and regulations he wants.