Open-mouthed disbelief IV

10 09 2019

That Deputy Agriculture Minister Thammanat Prompao is a convicted heroin smuggler seems not to bother anyone in the military-backed government.

Yesterday he strolled with Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha in Yasothon and Ubon Ratchathani, together with Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paojinda and Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob. Readers might consider this a pack of goons and thugs, but only Thammanat has served jail time.

Today, Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan claims that having a convicted drug trafficker as a minister “is unlikely to be affected…”.

Gen Prawit mumbled something about Thammanat needing “to handle the problem himself,” but went onto say that the drug conviction “was old news and Mr Thammanat said earlier he had already cleared the case.”

“Cleared appears to mean telling journalists a pack of lies, which the recent Australian newspaper reports correct.

Gen Prawit then went further, saying that Minister Thammanat’s drug trafficking conviction “had nothing to do with the country.” He then added that there was no problem as “Thammanat had been released from prison.”

It seems that Gen Prawit is hinting at Section 98 of the junta’s constitution that allows persons to stand for election 10 years after having completed their sentence.

Is that enough for a drug trafficker and thug? The court of public opinion may have another view.

Another line the former junta has been pushing is that a “movement abroad” is undermining the “government’s credibility.” Remarkably, that bit of nonsense was put by a “journalist.” Gen Prawit shrugged. But the implication is that if it wasn’t for nasty foreigners or anti-regime elements, Thammanat’s criminality would be no problem at all. That mindset is difficult to fathom.





Red shirts engaged in political struggle

15 08 2019

Khaosod reports that the Court of First Instance has acquitted 24 red shirt leaders of terrorism charges related to protests in 2010.

Most significantly, in its ruling, the Court “stated that the Redshirt leaders engaged in ‘a political struggle and not an act of terrorism’.” However, one of the defendants, Weng Tojirakarn, said that “the prosecutor will likely appeal the lower court’s decision.

In fact, it was state officials who have been found by several courts to be responsible for most of the murders that took place in April and May 2010. Independent reports tend to agree.

Those who ordered the bloody crackdowns in 2010 – Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban – got off (but have been ruthlessly punished by voters) and their eager military accomplices murdered with impunity, led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha and General Anupong Paojinda.





Updated: “New” government

11 07 2019

King Vajiralongkorn has endorsed The Dictator’s cabinet list.

One of the “stories” is how, as expected, many of the junta’s henchman have transitioned into the “new” government:

Prayut will also double as Defence Minister, a key position currently held by General Prawit Wongsuwan, his deputy in the outgoing government.

Prawit will retain his position as a deputy prime minister and is expected to also be in charge of security affairs.

The new Cabinet also has eight other ministers who have worked with Prayut and Prawit in the current post-coup government: Somkid Jatusripitak, Wissanu Krea-ngam, General Chaichan Changmongkol, Uttama Savanayana, Don Pramudwinai, Suvit Maesincee, Sontirat Sontijirawong and General Anupong Paojinda.

But the biggest story is undoubtedly going to be about an army man and mafia figure, reported by AFP, 9 Sep 1998, and now being circulated in Thailand:

BANGKOK, Sept 9 (AFP) – Eighteen middle-ranking Thai military officers are being investigated for links to an international heroin trafficking operation, the supreme commander of Thailand’s armed forces said Wednesday.

General Mongkol Ampornpisit said the officers had been re-admitted into the military in the past two years and the scandal, the latest in a series to rock the Thai military, had prompted him to order that all recently re-admitted officers have their backgrounds checked.

“I have submitted the names of all re-admitted officers for the last two years to have their criminal backgrounds checked with the police,” General Mongkol told reporters, without elaborating on the heroin trafficking allegations.

He said he hoped the move to vet officers would help contain one of the biggest scandals to hit the Thai military establishment in many years.

The revelation of the heroin investigation follows another scandal involving an army captain at the centre of a murder probe, who had previously served a jail term in Australia for drug trafficking.

Mongkol conceded the military had been lax when re-admitting Captain Patchara Prompao into the armed forces after he was fired twice and convicted of narcotics trafficking.

Patchara is now in detention awaiting trial in a civilian court after he surrendered to police on Monday to face charges that he raped and then beat a male academic to death.

In June, amid a drive was to make the armed forces more accountable, the government demanded the military disclose the contents of secret bank accounts they had been allowed to keep.

Earlier this year the armed forces were accused by opposition politicians of involvement in vast illegal logging operations in northern Thailand.

It is also Thammanat who was reported in 2016 as being among more than 6,000 “influential criminal figures” being targeted by the junta in a nationwide crackdown. Back then it was Gen Prawit who stated that “[s]tate officials, police and military officers found to be involved with ‘dark influences’ must also be dealt with…”. Gen Prawit was reportedly in charge of “suppressing influential criminal figures.”

At the time it was considered that the regime’s political opponents were being targeted, a claim Prawit denied. When asked about specific individuals on the list – “former army specialist Gen Trairong Intaratat, better known as Seh Ice, and Capt Thammanat Prompao, a former close aide to Gen Trairong…” – Gen Prawit said “police will explain the offences they have allegedly committed.” He added that the two “might have done nothing wrong, but their aides might have…”. The report continued:

Gen Trairong, said to have close ties to ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was among four people mentioned in a leaked document from the 1st Division, King’s Guard.

The three others named in the document are Karun Hosakul, a former Pheu Thai Party MP for Bangkok’s Don Muang district; Capt Thammanat Prompao, said to be involved in several enterprises including lottery ticket distribution; and Chaisit Ngamsap, alleged to be connected to illegal activities in the Mor Chit area of Bangkok.

Gen Trairong and Capt Thammarat have denied the allegations.

In the same report, Gen Prayudh is reported as saying:

… those who break the law must be punished…. In the future, these people may support politicians. They must not be allowed to break the law and use weapons against people. Today, we must help to clear up the mess to make our country safe….

It seems that the once pro-Thaksin Thammanat has metamorphosed into a pro-junta man and the politicians he’s supporting are Prayuth’s and he’s now so trusted that he’s a deputy minister!





New government promised

4 07 2019

Now more than 100 days since the junta’s rigging of its election and result, things haven’t gone smoothly for the military junta. Because the “election” result wasn’t exactly as the junta had hoped, and because the multi-party coalition is so large and because the junta’s Palang Pracharath Party is such a motley concoction of old-style politicians, “negotiations” over who scores what benefit and position have been endless and publicly messy.

The most recent glitch involved what the Bangkok Post calls the “Sam Mitr faction of the Palang Pracharath Party…”. In fact, it was this small group of mostly former pro-Thaksin Shinawatra politicians who formed the party, funded it and went around hoovering up the old-style politicians as candidates for the junta’s party.

Suddenly, however, the three friend group has appeared contrite. Moneybags and former Thaksin minister Suriya Juangroongruangkit said his “group will not cause problems for the prime minister, so he will have time to work for the country. After communicating with seniors yesterday, whatever positions the group now receives will be the decision of the prime minister…”.

Did those “seniors” threaten or did they make concessions? Was it Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s coup threat? Being the junta, the tea leaves may remain unreadable, although the cabinet list will be revealing of the dozens of deals done.

Gen Prayuth, scaffolded by constitutional rigging into a further term as prime minister, now reckons he will have a cabinet sworn in by the end of the month. That depends on the king being in Thailand. He says he’s made all the decisions, but in a bit of royalist nonsense that evolved in recent years, the cabinet will not be announced until approved by the monarch.

Within hours, Gen Prayuth was then saying he could “confirm the new government will be formed and will swear the oath of office [before King Rama X] by the middle of July for sure…”. That cabinet is rumored to be junta-heavy and includes self-confessed mafia figures:

They included his three deputies — Somkid Jatusripitak, Wissanu Krea-ngam and the embattled Gen Prawit Wongsuwon — who are penciled in to retain their current posts.

Gen Anupong Paochinda — Gen Prayut’s other brother-in-arms — also looks set to retain his position at the Interior Ministry.

Meanwhile, Capt Thammanat Prompao, who is close to Gen Prawit and was once seen as an influential figure, is to become the next labour minister.

It is said that it has again been Gen Prawit pulling the strings and “played a major role in arranging the cabinet line-up…”.





Humpty’s men

3 07 2019

Marwaan Macan-Markar, at the Nikkei Asia Review, contributes a long and useful review of the remolding of the relationship between monarchy and military.

He claims that diplomats in Bangkok know which military leaders are closest to King Vajiralongkorn by a pin with an “image of Prince Dipangkorn, the king’s 14-year-old son” which are “pinned on the left breasts of a select few military leaders…”. (Dipangkorn is widely considered to be heir apparent, lives in Germany and seldom appears the full quid.)

Gen Apirat

One diplomat described those wearing the pin as “a small network,” with Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong an important bearer of the pin. Gen Apirat is known to present himself as “fiercely loyal to the king.”

Macan-Markar says that this “network” indicate “a major change in the relationship between two of Thailand’s most powerful institutions — the monarchy and the military” under King  Vajiralongkorn.

While his analysis, based on interviews with diplomats, pundits and academics, is interesting, it is one that is based on a kind of “Kremlinology” of military watching which can be somewhat misleading if the forest is obscured by the trees. Hence the interminable speculation over Queen’s Guard versus King’s Guard.

In our view, it is misguided to see the king’s faith in the “senior generals of the King’s Guard, a Bangkok-based faction” as representing a spurning of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and his junta. As far as anyone can tell from available evidence, the junta has done everything that the king has wanted and it is Gen Prayuth, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Gen Anupong Paojinda who have put in place military succession plans that lead from Gen Apirat to Gen Narongphan Jitkaewthae, currently commander of the First Army region and Gen Songwit Noongpakdee, the leader of the Bangkok-based 1st Infantry Division.

That “defense analysts say the monarch’s choice of trusted lieutenants stems from his own military record” is no surprise, now. What they miss, however, is that the king’s succession was a long one, with his father incapacitated, and the then crown prince and his advisers long having had influence over the military brass.

Interestingly, and barely mentioned, is the ways in which the king revamped the Privy Council, the Crown Property Bureau and the palace administration over that period of long succession. In these moves, he made these institutions his own, bringing in junta loyalists and advancing those closest to him, including Air Chief Marshal Sathitpong Sukwimol, long the king’s private secretary and now, arguably, his most powerful adviser, heading the CPB, Siam Commercial Bank and Siam Cement Group, among other important bodies.

ACM Sathitpong Sukwimol (clipped from The Nation)

All of these rearrangements, promotions and not a few demotions and ousters do mean that a military man on the throne has ensured that he has the military under control. Just in case of problems, there’s some “insurance,” with ACM Sathitpong’s younger brother Pol Maj Gen Torsak at the head of a large force of “protectors.”

Naturally, Prawit remained a Prayuth confidant during the five years of the junta, serving as the deputy prime minister and defense minister. Gen. Anupong Paochinda, another former army chief from the Queen’s Guard, was also a key figure in Prayuth’s coup and junta.

That the king promotes the “King’s Guard, the faction he was part of, in the driving center of army power,” hardly seems a revelation. Yet there’s no evidence that the Queen’s Guard is in any way untrustworthy or disloyal. (It was King Bhumibol who placed his son in the King’s Guard.)

With little evidence, Macan-Markar discerns that the generals of Queen’s Guard is somehow more “politically ambitious” than those of the King’s Guard. There’s no evidence for this. In addition, there’s an amnesia for previous claims made. In the view of many pundits, it was the Queen’s Guard who conducted the 2014 coup in order to ensure the current king’s succession. What happened to that position? And, it was the Queen’s Guard coup masters who purged the military of those perceived as disloyal.

Former foreign minister Kasit Piromya is quoted as saying: “The king clearly wants a vertical hierarchy without any distractions and divisions that can cause splits in the army…”. That seems to have been the junta’s aim as well. To see this as a move against the Queen’s Guard ignores the fact that the junta’s role has been to “cleanse” the military, to immeasurably strengthen it and to embed it at all levels of society. That’s the important message, not the Kremlinology of watching factions.

It seems that “experts” on the military blame “factional rivalries” for “repeated coups.” We think the experts need to re-read the history of successful coups.

Former ambassador and new author James Wise is right to observe that “the monarchy and the military exercise authority in their own right, often without reference to the more familiar legislative, executive and judiciary…”. The big picture matters.

When Kasit predicts: “No more coups,” we think he’s in la-la land. It will depend, as in the past, on on perceptions of “threat” to the monarchy and the broader ruling class.





Political violence and official impunity

2 07 2019

Gen Prawit Wongsuwan is administratively in charge – still – of all security units. He has finally spoken of the attack(s) on activist Sirawith Seritiwat. He wasn’t very convincing when he “denied being behind a recent attack that left a pro-democracy activist in a critical condition.”

He went on in junta-speak: ““I don’t condone violence. Whoever causes unrest in the country must be punished…. The case is still unclear. It is under investigation.”

Gen Prawit managed to maneuver into to ultra-rightist narrative when he added that he did not know if the attack was politically motivated or a “personal issue.” This plays into the “fake news” (that Prawit claims to want to end) from ultra-yellows and the junta’s own, including the reprehensible Pareena Kraikupt of the Palang Pracharath Party and police “leaks” to a rightist newspaper that claim “Sirawith might have been attacked by loan sharks due to a family debt…”, which Sirawith’s mother has vehemently denied.

Meanwhile, national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda “aired his suspicions that both attacks on Sirawith were orchestrated by the same group.” Brilliant! No wonder he is police chief! But then he managed to support the rightists thugs and their aim, warning “that it wasn’t safe to get political in public, saying that activists should avoid campaigning publicly…”. That’s what the thugs (and the junta) want. He also mentioned that police “couldn’t guarantee their [activists’] safety.”

Some of the reporting/op-eds on the cowardly attack is worth considering.

Veera Prateepchaikul at the Bangkok Post observes the brazen attack, claims of state connivance and the attackers’ apparent nonchalance, “convinced they would never get caught.” He is right to say that the “unprovoked violence deserves condemnation in the strongest terms.”

He’s also correct to observe that “there has not been a word from any other incumbent ministers except …[Gen] Prawit Wongsuwon…”. He notes their silence on previous attacks on Sirawith and other anti-coup activists. And, he’s has little doubt that the “attack on Mr Sirawith was politically motivated.”

But, then, as ever, Veera wants to compare this violence with that under Thaksin Shinawatra. While political violence occurs under all regimes, the culprits and motivators of political assassination, beatings and enforced disappearance are almost always believed to be police and military. In recent cases, He also mentions the murder of former ministers in the 1940s, by police. It isn’t clear why Veera does not look at the rise of royalist-rightist violence sponsored by the military in the early 1970s.

(He might also get his facts right. He states that “whistle-blower Ekkayuth Anchanbutr went missing without trace in 2013 during the government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.” In fact, according to Wikipedia and The Nation reported Ekkayuth’s “body was found in the southern province of Phatthalung…”.)

Then there’s Paritta Wangkiat who is a columnist for the Bangkok Post. She observes the rightist cheering of the political thugs. That’s the “He deserves it”response, “with apparent satisfaction…”. Some on social media “referred to the activist as a ‘saboteur’ against the nation who deserves to suffer from even more attacks.”

She’s right to observe that these “recent attacks reflect the current state of polarisation in Thai politics with a dangerous rise in incidences of violence.” Her comment that the rightist “acceptance and encouragement of the use of violence against someone with a different political ideology speak volumes about our sick and rotten society” is worth considering.

But she looks to the past decade when, again, her view should be more historical. This kind of violence, conducted with impunity, is a defining characteristic of Thailand’s military and its efforts over several decades to “protect” monarchy and promote anti-democracy.

While Veera neglects it, Paritta does mention the impunity with which the military under Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and Gen Anupong Paojinda shooting down dozens of protesters and injuring hundreds more or the cheering associated with that, including from the Bangkok Post.

Sadly, she gets amnesic when she refers to “unidentified killers.” Letting the murderous military off the hook for their dirty deeds contributes to its impunity.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

On another point, however, she offers insight by observing the class nature of political violence. She notes that:

Thais are expected to know “their place”, be submissive and accept oppression…. This attitude of submissiveness and obedience has been embedded in society making it a perfect match for an authoritarian regime.

Such attitudes are the bread-and-butter/rice-and-fish sauce of the military and royalist rightists.

Where she gets it wrong is to argue that there is apathy towards political violence. There’s no apathy, on any side. Rather, the problems is that the military and other authorities operate this barbaric way with legal impunity.





Updated: Cheats cheating I

12 06 2019

As everyone knows, Thailand remains a military dictatorship and no government has yet been formed to replace it. Indeed, in a recent ranking, Thailand was determined as “unfree,” ranking between absolute monarchy Brunei and troubled countries with Zimbabwe and Iraq. The “unfreedom” will continue, with dozens of junta orders being converted into laws that will apply into the future, backing a backward constitution that permitted a rigged election.

That rigging has been a vast and expensive project that could, if unchecked, allow the odious cheat Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha to remain as prime minister for another eight year as the unelected Senate he selected will vote again in four years if Thailand has another election.

The selection of the Senate has been a closely-held secret for months simply because of the thoroughgoing cheating it involved. Because the junta has gotten away with a coup, political repression, corruption, a fake constitutional referendum, a rigged and stolen election and more, it figures nothing can derail it now, so it has released some details of its cheating.

In the selection of The Dictator as premier, we know that every single unelected puppet senator voted for their boss (the Senate president abstained, but would have voted for his longtime boss if necessary).

We now also know that the “reserve list” of 50 senators, “publicized in the Royal Gazette, include Election Commission sec-gen Jarungvith Phumma, foreign minister Don Pramudwinai, former deputy governor of Bangkok Pol. Lt. Gen. Amnuay Nimmano, and former member of the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly Prapan Koonme.”

The listing of the EC’s secretary-general indicates how just how flawed the EC is, run by junta puppets and automatons. Rigging an election requires a cheating EC. Having delivered the junta its “victory,” this puppet secretary-general will likely get his reward.

More cheating is confirmed by junta legal thug Wissanu Krea-ngam. It is reported that “[u]nder mounting pressure from transparency activists and political parties,” he has released “the identities of the selection committee who contributed to filling the 250-member junta-appointed senate.”

It should be surprising – but, then nothing is surprising any more – that:

Among the committee were six senators: former deputy PM Gen. Chatchai Sarikulya, former deputy PM Air Chief Marshal Prajin Juntong, former deputy PM Thanasak Patimaprakorn, deputy junta head Adm. Narong Pipatanasai, former labor minister Pol. Gen. Adul Saengsingkaew, and former president of the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly Pornpetch Wichitcholchai.

Wissanu has made unbelievable claims about the committee was “politically neutral” and that the secrecy about membership was to prevent “lobbying.” Of course, all the “lobbying” was actually the junta pulling all the strings.

He has also insisted – again unbelievable – that “members of the selection committee abstained from voting or attending the voting session if their name came up in the candidate roster,” while their brothers voted for them, saying “I can confirm that no member ever brought up their name in the selection process. Everything is on the record…”.

While we have no doubt that if he released “the record,” it would confirm his account. After all, the junta has scribes who can fabricate any record it likes. How Wissanu can say such things with a straight face is a measure of how low the junta – and Thailand – has sunk.

Now the cheating cheats have to ensure their continuing political domination for another eight years.

Update: The Bangkok Post has a few more details on the great Senate scam. The junta’s fixing panel that put the scam together had 10 members becoming nine when Pornpetch resigned. Six of them (see above) became members of the Senate they selected for the junta. The other four were Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, Wissanu, Gen Anupong Paojinda, and deputy PM Somkid Jatusripitak, all of whom are likely to be ministers in the “new” government. In other words, every one of the junta’s panel are now holding positions – or soon will be – in the junta’s “new” government as well as holding such positions under the junta. What can we say? The whole thing is a massive scam foisted on the nation by the junta. It seems there is no way of holding this bunch of election crooks accountable for any of their cheating.