With two updates: Junta politics of influence, dark influence and murder

25 09 2019

A quick look at the English-language newspapers over the last day or so suggests that there’s more than a little poor journalism going on.

One was the report that “the Charoen Pokphand Group (CP)-led consortium, winner of the bid to build the 224-billion-baht high-speed railway linking three airports, will be told to sign the contract on Oct 15 or face a fine for failing to honour the terms of the bid.” That “ultimatum was decided upon … at a meeting between Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who oversees the Transport Ministry, Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob, senior transport officials and the chief of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) Office.”

PPT has no brief for the Sino-Thai tycoons at CP, but we would have thought that someone at the Bangkok Post might have recalled that Anutin’s family are the major shareholders in CP competitor Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction. Perhaps it might have also been useful to note that the Chidchob family, Anutin and his father have been political bedmates for over a decade.

While on Sino-Thai tycoons, the Post reported that Viroj and Samrerng Suknamai, the parents of “former beauty queen and actress Nusara Suknamai,” have “filed a lawsuit with the civil court on Monday, demanding 300 million baht in compensation plus a 7.5% interest from the manager of Vichai’s estate and the King Power Duty Free company, which is owned by the tycoon’s family.” Nusara “died on Oct 27 in a helicopter crash outside the King Power Stadium in Leicester…”. When all of the eulogies were for Vichai, at the time of the accident, BBC Sport Editor Dan Roan was in a spot of bother after being caught “talking about Vichai[‘s]… personal assistant Nusara Suknamai.” He correctly identified her “the mistress who died in the crash, otherwise known as member of staff, i.e. mistress… [of the so-called] family man [Vichai]…”. The report does indicate that the fabulously wealthy King Power lot have been pretty tight-fisted in dealing with the “other woman.”

The ruling class’s military-backed regime is anything but tight-fisted when it comes to buying support. Puea Thai Party chief strategist Sudarat Keyuraphan claims to have “an audio clip that would show that Phalang Pracharat had tried to lure …[14] Pheu Thai MPs by offering to pay them certain benefits.” Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan denied this. But no one should believe Gen Prawit. He’s got form on this, having bought up former pro-Thaksin MPs all over the country before the election. That included heroin trafficker and standover man Thammanat Prompao. Now, Gen Prawit needs “to prop up the government’s slim majority.” This wheeling and dealing is expensive and leads to all kinds of policies that are designed simply to raise money for political shenanigans. The media should be more active in pointing out that it is the military junta’s constitution that (re)created the capacity for such political corruption.

While considering the military junta’s corruption, look to the report that the “Parliament’s Anti-Corruption Committee is gathering evidence in a fact-finding probe against Public Relations Department chief Lt-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd over accusations that he verbally and in writing ordered his subordinates to spread information allegedly helping the Palang Pracharat Party ahead of the March 24 national elections and attacking a former prime minister and his party.” Remarkably, the junta government’s former spokesman thinks that like a heroin smuggler, he can simply deny: “Sansern argued that he had never taken sides…”. Back when the junta moved Lt Gen Sansern to his position, the Bangkok Post observed that Sansern was in place to “control all government-run media and enforce censorship rules in the lead-up to the expected 2019 election.” While denying everything, Sansern ran back to the boss: “Sansern said he had briefed Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha about the case.” Of course he has.

And speaking of corruption, the National Anti-Corruption Commission is ever so careful when dealing with its masters the government. A report at The Nation advises that Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives from Anutin’s Bhum Jai Thai Party, Mananya Thaiset – yes, in there with Thammanat – “has not yet submitted her declaration of assets and debts to the anti-graft body within the required time frame…”. While the law requires all to declare their assets, NACC secretary-general Worawit Sukboon “said officials … would gather information regarding the matter and consider issuing a letter to Mananya requiring her to provide her reason for failing to file.” It gets worse as the NACC tiptoes around its masters: “If the NACC decided Mananya was required to submit the declaration, the NACC secretariat will issue a letter to notify her accordingly…”.

Back when the political dealing was in full swing, the Bangkok Post had a source who observed the obvious: “Because it receives a big budget, the ministry [of agriculture] can be used as a political tool…”. Money can be made, voters influenced and parties supported.And, as we know from the Thammanat case, “influential persons” get these positions because they are the party wheeler-dealers. And, Mananya is from a family of chao phor and chao mae. Not that long ago, her brother, Chada Thaiset, also a Bhum Jai Thai MP for Uthai Thani declared “I am an influential person.” Back in 2015 it was reported that. like Thammanat, Chada was considered a “dark influence”:

Crime suppression Division (CSD) police officers and commandos yesterday raided 11 locations belonging to alleged influential figures in Uthai Thani’s Muang and Sawang Arom districts.

Most of the targeted premises were those of former or local politicians. They included the house of former Chart Thai Pattana Party MP Chada Thaiset and a resort building under the care of Chada’s nephew.

The 200-strong “Yutthakan Sakaekrang” operation … seized 20 guns, four bullet-proof vests, two tiger skins, two pairs of wildlife horns and a clouded leopard carcass.

… the operation was part of the Royal Thai Police’s policy to suppress crime, crack down on influential figures and hired guns.

Then in 2017, it was reported that:

A former MP and four members of his entourage were released on bail on Sunday after being detained overnight for carrying firearms in public without permission.

Chada Thaiseth, a former Uthai Thani MP, reportedly has been on an official list of mafia-style figures.

More than 100 policemen, both in uniform and plainclothes, intercepted his convoy on a road in Uthai Thani province on Saturday afternoon.

Chada’s group was driving as many as eight vehicles and a search found several guns and illicit drugs in the cars.

A pattern? You bet.

Turning to the other side of politics, Khaosod reports that Nawat Tohcharoensuk, a Puea Thai politician was found guilty of “engineering the murder of a civil servant” and was “sentenced to death on Tuesday … [but] will continue serving as an MP for the opposition, his party said.” He’s appealing the verdict, so the case is not over, but even so, it might be considered prudent for him to step down. But with gangsters in the government, the opposition has them too. And a bit of reading suggests the modus operandi of a dark influence:

Prosecutors said Nawat hired two police officers to gun down Suchart Khotethum, an administrative official in Khon Kaen, in front of his home in 2013. Investigators cited romance-related vendetta as the motive.

And, just to finish off with state violence of the military kind, we see the remarkable report that “four red-shirt co-leaders on Monday … confessed to their roles in the violent protest outside the home of the late Privy Council president, Prem Tinsulanonda, in 2007.” Perhaps they confessed to get the case settled? Perhaps a deal has been done? We can’t help but wonder because Nattawut Saikua said:

he and fellow red-shirt co-leaders offered their apologies because the protest outside Gen Prem’s residence caused injuries among both protesters and police officers on duty.

“We are sorry for what happened,” he said, before insisting the red-shirt co-leaders harboured no grudge with the late Gen Prem.

No grudge? Why’s that? He was one of those who perpetrated the 2006 coup and egged the military on in 2014. He supported crackdowns on red shirts that resulted in deaths and injuries to thousands. He dis this for the military-monarchy alliance that underpins the ruling class. With all the royalist buffalo manure that surrounds this creepy general, there’s no criticism allowed. No one has asked about his unusual wealth, revealed when he finally died.

What a week it has been for a political system designed by the military junta.

Update 1: Legal eel and Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam declared Nawat’s “tenure as an MP was now voided, even though the appeal process was not finalised…”. He said the “constitution stated clearly that MPs lost their status when convicted of a criminal offence.” While we think Nawat should step down and while Wissanu picks and chooses which aspects of the constitution he adheres to, we are not so sure he’s right on this. All sections in the constitution relating to convictions refer to final judgements. Indeed, Article 29 offers a general protection to those in the legal process, stating:

A suspect or defendant in a criminal case shall be presumed innocent, and before the passing of a final judgment convicting a person of having committed an offence, such person shall not be treated as a convict.

Despite this, and the fact that “appeal is automatic in the case of a death sentence,” the House Secretariat is advising a ruling from the Constitutional Court. Of course, the judgement of that Court will probably follow Wissanu.

Meanwhile, in another case of twisted ethics (see those above), the junta’s Palang Pracharath Party is “likely to field Krungsrivilai Suthinpuak in a potential by-election despite the Election Commission (EC) having issued him with a yellow-card for attempted vote-buying.”

The junta’s 5 years seems to have yielded an administration of goons and crooks.

Update 2: Being ever so gentle and flexible with junta party allies, the NACC has decided that Deputy Minister Mananya Thaiset “must declare her assets and liabilities despite her insistence she is under no obligation to do so.” But she’s forgiven for “interpreting” the law incorrectly and can take longer to get her assets list in order before submitting it. Can anyone imagine such leniency for the other side of politics? Of course not. The Post believes Mananya is known “for spearheading a mission to ban toxic farm chemicals.” We think they are gilding it. She’s best known for being from a family of dark influences.

Chada Thaiseth’s convoy stopped by more than uniformed and plainclothes police on a road in Uthai Thani province in 2017. Clipped from The Nation.





On the road to nowhere (new)

24 05 2019

Is wasn’t hard to predict the final “election” result. PPT predicted a junta “win” a long time ago. The “win” was never in doubt as the whole process was rigged.

HRW’s Sunai Phasuk put it this way:

The March 24 general election was structurally rigged, enabling the military to extend its hold on power. While maintaining a host of repressive laws, the junta dissolved a main opposition party, took control of the national election commission, levied bogus criminal charges against opposition politicians and dissidents, and packed the Senate with generals and cronies who will have the power to determine the next prime minister, regardless of the election results.

What wasn’t clear is that the bumbling generals would be snookered by the electorate. Thai voters, despite all the rigging and repression still voted for anti-junta parties, with the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra Puea Thai Party winning a plurality.

Despite this, the junta’s puppet party, Palang Pracharath, will head up a coalition of some 20 parties. While a great deal of bargaining has gone on, pro-military parties like Bhum Jai Thai and the anti-democrat Democrat Party were always likely to saddle-up with the junta – after all, they have supported it for years and worked for its coup back in 2014.

In a throwback to December 2008, when the military midwifed a government led by the Democrat Party’s Abhisit Vejjajiva, it is reported that there was:

a meeting between Gen Prayut[h Chan-ocha], his deputy Prawit Wongsuwon, Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul and Democrat secretary-general Chalermchai Sri-on at a military camp in Bangkok…. They discussed coming together to set up a government with the PPRP as the main party, the sources said, adding that given the atmosphere of the meeting, the “deal” to form the next government is almost sealed.

The wheeling and dealing is over who gets what. Bhum Jai Thai wants a bunch of potentially lucrative cabinet slots that all seem focused on benefits for the Buriram clan. The Democrat Party wants anything at all that will allow it to look stronger than its horrid election result suggest.

Following the junta’s clear message, via the Election Commission and Constitutional Court, that it intends to grind the Future Forward Party into political dust, the deals were more easily struck, with most of the remora micro-parties and even the middle-sized parties rushing into the octopus-grasp of the junta.

How strong that grasp will be is yet to be tested. A 20-party coalition is a recipe for instability or for massive corruption in keeping it together. There’s also the “Prem model” who tried to ignore party and parliamentary bickering and ruled as a cabinet-led government. Like Gen Prem, Gen Prayuth has a tame Senate. In fact, the Senate looks rather like the puppet National Legislative Assembly of the past few years.

A weak coalition government with an autocratic premier suggests that The Dictator will require strong support from extra-parliamentary sources – the king and the military. Neither is likely to be maintained without cost and deals.

Back in the 1980s, the main threats and support for Gen Prem were extra-parliamentary, and despite the image of a period of stability, saw several coup attempts.





Devils circle

17 03 2019

The junta’s devil party is Palang Pracharath. It was formed by the junta as a vehicle for The Dictator and the junta to continue in power beyond their rigged election.

With voting now on – overseas and advance domestic – other opportunistic rightist parties are lining up to ally with Palang Pracharath and its junta bosses.

Anutin Charnvirakul at the head of the Bhum Jai Thai Party has announced that his party is:

ready to work with parties that are loyal to … the monarchy, can make the country thrive and do not lead the country into conflict. If a party meets our conditions, we will support it and its prime ministerial candidate….

That should be no surprise. After all, the party was essentially created to represent the military’s electoral interests back at the time of the 2007 election. The party splashed loot about and did badly back then and was punished by pro-Thaksin voters for fielding turncoat candidates. It did poorly again in 2011 and now is only relevant as a mini-devil party supporting the junta.

More interesting is the Democrat Party and Abhisit Vejjajiva. He’s writhing and slithering like a wounded snake.

The headline for his interview with the Bangkok Post is as damning as it gets: “Abhisit OK working with military.” Of course, despite his denials, Abhisit has been with the military for years and supported both the 2006 and 2014 military interventions. For reminders, look here and here.

He groveled further to the junta, saying that he would only “join a no-confidence motion against a future [unelected] Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha if there were ‘good reasons’…”. So while saying he’d rather he was premier and would not support Gen Prayuth, Abhisit does not reject him as premier.

Abhisit also says that he “categorically rules out supporting any future coups,” which would be a huge change from his previous support for them as a means to remove elected governments.

And, he reaffirms that the Democrat Party is willing to join the devil parties: “he’s open to working with pro-military Palang Pracharath Party…”.

As for the anti-democratic, military-backed, appointed, senate, Abhisit can only waffle about maybe doing something or other about its undemocratic nature.

At this point, we at PPT would be willing to bet that the main devil parties will be Palang Pracharath, Bhum Jai Thai and the Democrat Party, and that this alliance, together with the senate, is very likely to deliver The Dictator as premier. Only a massive reaction against devil parties at the polls has a chance to prevent that.





Vichai’s political location

30 10 2018

The Nation was quickly off the blocks with a eulogy for Vichai Raksriaksorn-cum-Srivaddhanaprabha. It lauds him as a “master of the big deal.” What, exactly, does this mean?

The articles observes that Vichai was “the key figure behind the huge success of King Power International, Thailand’s duty-free shopping giant,” adding that he “bagged many big deals … including their latest acquisition – the MahaNakorn development project, Thailand’s tallest mixed-use tower – at Bt14 billion.”

The Nation says that Vichai was “a son of Wiwat and Prapasorn Raksriaksorn. He graduated high school from Woodlawn High School, US, and did his bachelor’s from the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Ramkamhaeng University, and got a degree from Northrop University’s Business Administration Faculty in the US.”

There’s a couple of Woodlawn schools in the US. However, Northrop University is known for having been de-registered in early 1992 for an array of corrupt activities, poor administration and low standards.

The report claims “Vichai became a vastly experienced businessman, both from his own and jointly-managed companies,” but the companies pale into minuscule insignificance when compared with King Power, which was founded in 1989. He had some experience with Downtown DFS (Thailand), but King Power eclipsed and pushed aside Downtown/DFS and all other competitors for concessions at the airports.

Vichai’s move into duty free began with “the country’s first downtown duty-free shop as a joint venture with the Tourism Authority of Thailand, before expanding the business to Cambodia, Macau and China, as well as Thailand’s international airports.” The company’s own history is brief but worth a look while wondering how it all happened. It states that it received the airport monopoly concessions in 2006, whereas an AP report states: “The granting of King Power’s monopoly status at Thailand’s airports — set in motion in 2004 by the government of since-ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra — caused some controversy.” PPT looked through standard references and at our newspaper clippings, but could not confirm the AP account. (Readers can let us know.)

Exactly how King Power achieved its monopoly remains opaque for us. What we do know is that duty free shopping creates all kinds of advantages, one of which is huge cash flow, which has grown by leaps and bounds as tourism has expanded to enormous growth. The report states that “Vichai controls and chairs $3.3 billion (revenues)” from King Power in a private company with a board studded with children and other relatives.

The report notes Vichai’s close link with Newin Chidchob and also mentions a close connection to the Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan. It doesn’t mention his links with Bhum Jai Thai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul.

His “passion for sport, especially polo and football” is also listed.

Exactly how Vichai came to be “ranked by Forbes as the fifth richest person in Thailand in 2018 with US$4.9 billion” remains something of a mystery. His wealth is huge but he also pays 2 billion baht a year for the Suvarnabhumi airport concession.

But then there’s the fact that in 2012 “the family was bestowed the new family surname Srivaddhanaprabha by … the late King Bhumibol – the name means ‘light of progressive glory’.”

Like many Sino-Thai tycoons, Vichai was an extraordinary royalist and supported many royal causes. He has credits for the yellow wristband for the king.

Political backstopping, royalism, and opaque deals and bureaucratic linking seem to be a pattern for fabulous wealth for a well-connected few.





Updated: King Power helicopter down II

28 10 2018

Most international reports are now assuming that Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha is dead following the crash of his helicopter in the U.K.

What is somewhat odd about these reports is that they are based on little official information and continuing silence on important matters from the football club, Vichai’s family and King Power. Even police are silent as they say they are investigating. There’s no confirmation of who was on the helicopter, whether some were taken to hospital or if bodies were recovered.

Fans of Leicester City appear convinced that Vichai was on the helicopter and that he died in the crash.

In Thailand, it seems that Vichai’s business and political allies know what has happened. The Straits Times reports that the media :

… zeroed in on another football baron, Mr Newin Chidchob, who owns local league champion Buriram United football club and was at Pullman Bangkok King Power hotel next door. The motorcycle enthusiast looked grim as he left the hotel with his entourage of superbikes.

Meanwhile, Bhum Jai Thai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul, “who said he had just spoken to Mr Newin” stated: “We just lost someone who made big contributions to the public. I am sure his legacy will live on.”

Anutin added that Vichai was a “big brother,” stating: “He is a self-made man, worked hard and loved friends dearly…”. Reflecting the norms of Sino-Thai tycoons, Anutin recalled: “I told him that I loved riding horses and, the next day, a nice horse was sent to me… That’s the way he was.” He does not explain what “self-made” means in the murky world of King Power’s monopoly.

Update: Leicester City has now confirmed Vichai’s death. The club’s statement includes confirmation that “None of the five people on-board survived…”. The report states that “Leicestershire police have named them [the others on the helicopter] as Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, two members of Vichai’s staff, and pilot Eric Swaffer and passenger Izabela Roza Lechowicz.”





Updated: Regressive politics

5 10 2018

Not that long ago, one of Thailand’s oldest generals briefly got himself back in the spotlight. Former Prime Minister Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, sitting with Jatuporn Promphan of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, the official red shirts, he opposed an election.

He proposed an interim or national government “to solve the country’s problems and the 1997 constitution should be revived with some changes…”. He’s suggested a national government umpteen times.

It seems he was provoked by The Dictator’s plans for future control of politics following a rigged election.

The leader of the 2011 election’s military-backed party Bhum Jai Thai Anutin Charnvirakul observed, “next year’s election is a foregone conclusion…”. We are not sure whether he meant the election itself or the outcome. Probably both.

But at least five people took up Chavalit’s call and decided to petition the kin, asking him to ditch out the junta. Now, this is feudal bizarre, but the reaction from the military regime was predictably unrestrained.

Police arrested the five, dragged them off to a police station, along with their flag and portrait of the king, before presenting them to the military. The military whisked them off to the 11th Military Circle base for “attitude adjustment.”

Running to the king and calling for a national government are equally regressive political acts, but this is where Thailand is located, thanks to the junta.

Update: Khaosod reports that the arrested would-be royal petitioners have been released from military custody. The group “was taken to an army base for questioning before they were freed without charges at 5pm on the same day, military sources told the media.” The arresting officers claimed that the group “violat[ed] the junta’s ban on political gatherings.” It seems the king is not above politics.





Did The Dictator blink?

13 05 2018

After a barrage of criticism about his electoral campaign visit to Buriram and the Newin-Dome, candidate/The Dictator/General/Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has postponed a trip to another potential devil party lair in Sa Kaeo, at least that’s the Bangkok Post’s reporting.

It had already been reported that “veteran politician Sanoh Thienthong, whose stronghold is in the province, had told media he would greet the premier during the visit.” Naturally. And, The Dictator knows the rapacious political chameleon from his time on the border when the Army’s and Sanoh’s business interests coincided.

Some critics slammed the visit because the junta chief is campaigning while all others are banned. Well, sort of, for when The Dictator showed up in Buriram, Newin Chidchob and Anutin Charnvirakul got campaign style coverage for Bhum Jai Thai. But, then, BJT is a pro-military party.

A “government source” says the campaign stop visit is postponed because “Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is not available to attend on the proposed date” for a border shindig.

Did the Boss blink? Did the criticism bite?

Probably not. The Dictator’s skin is as thick as a whale’s and he has “another provincial trip on May 23…” to canvas for votes and political alliances with local mafia capofamiglia and associated thugs.

Staying power for years to come means Gen Prayuth must stay on the campaign trail and hammer together a coalition of minor parties so that he can get the call to be the “outsider” premier.