Looking right

1 08 2021

There’s a lot of social media attention to political instability. There’s even rumors of a coup continuing to circulate.

In the English-language press, Chairith Yonpiam, assistant news editor at the Bangkok Post, wonders about Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s future as premier. He points to the “harsh words by MC [a princely title] Chulcherm Yugala, a staunch royalist, against the Prayut Chan-o-cha government, denouncing its poor handling of the Covid-19 outbreak…”. Chairith reckons that the old prince’s words “have stunned political observers and supporters of the prime minister” as the “prince’s criticism has triggered wild speculation over a possible new prime minister endorsed by the palace.”

Chulcherm reckoned “he would even consider joining the pro-democracy movement after its high-profile series of street protests, should its leadership drop their anti-monarchy stance.” Other rightists have been urging this as well, even in a poorly written and anonymous political piece in the same Bangkok Post.

Much of this speculation and urging reflects a perception that Gen Prayuth’s failures threaten the the royalist regime the Palang Pracharath Party. The rightists seem to be moving to a position where Gen Prayuth might be sacrificed in order to save the rightist-military-monarchy regime. As Chairith puts it:

It could be argued that a palace-endorsed PM is the last hope for the right-wing conservative camp in their efforts to maintain power. But having an outside PM rise to power via non-parliamentary means — once an accepted solution to political crises — would be an anachronism in this day and age.

Apirat (r)

The betting seems to be that the alternative premier is Gen Apirat Kongsompong, now a palace groveler-in-chief. But, his ascension would again demonstrate all that is wrong with the monarchy, even if the rightist-royalists may paint the change as another case of a monarch intervening to stem a crisis.At the same time, Gen Apirat is as hopeless as Gen Prayuth, with many of the same characteristics, suggesting that Tweedledum would be replacing Tweedledee, but that’s what the rightist-royalists seems to want.

Meanwhile, General Prayuth says he’s going nowhere. He’s “insisted he will neither resign nor dissolve the House as the country struggles to contain Covid-19… [and] warned politicians [MPs] not to exploit the crisis and incite hatred as that will only worsen the situation.” But it isn’t MPs who are his problem. It’s those who have been his ideological allies.





Army business, Army money

6 03 2021

Remember when, after the February 2020 massacre of 29 innocent people in Korat, the then military chief and now senior advisor to the king Gen Apirat Kongsompong vowed to

IThe killer’s problem was “a property dispute” with “the soldier’s senior officer and his mother-in-law…”. In other words, “the army’s side dealings [were]… the root cause.” It adds that “analysts” say that “some army officers enter into private business dealings — and it’s an open secret.”

Apirat (r) doing his duty for the king

A few days later, “then army chief Apirat Kongsompong promised to investigate the problem…”. He vowed to terminate “unsound” internal army projects, after shady transactions were raised as a possible motive behind a soldier’s shooting spree in Korat.

In fact, he did nothing to change the underlying situation. As we said back then, the corruption continues. He did nothing in the months that followed other than endear himself to the palace. The Army remains corrupt.

Indeed, how little has changed is on display in a recent Bangkok Post op-ed by Chuenchom Sangarasri Greacen who is “an independent energy researcher and a former policy analyst at Energy Policy and Planning Office, Ministry of Energy.” It is worth reading in full. Here are some tidbits:

An army plan to open its land for massive solar farm development, up to 30,000 megawatts, has attracted a large number of energy firms. On Feb 22, representatives of more than 30 firms lined up to meet Lieutenant-General Rangsi Kitiyanasap, President of Royal Thai Army Radio and Television Channel 5, to seek clarity on rules and criteria on how to win a slice of the massive solar farm pie.

Why the Army has the boss of their television propaganda machine negotiating this is unclear.

The author points out that many see “this pending deal as a new milestone of the military’s over-reach and a worrying departure from established protocols and rules.” He observes that the pending deal sidelines technocrats, the civil bureaucracy and the public:

… the sanctity of energy technocracy was in complete tatters when the 30 plus energy companies scrambled for a meeting with Lt Gen Rangsi for a slice of the 600 billion baht solar farm pie. Note that the meeting took place at Channel 5 Headquarters, not the Ministry of Energy.

Energy Ministry officials were excluded “from the closed-door meeting.” The author adds: “So does the ascendancy of military deal-making render the Energy Ministry redundant?”  Thailand’s existing over-capacity is explained: “In light of the already extreme excess reserve margin, a 30,000MW solar farm deal is outrageously disconnected from the reality of Thailand’s electrical needs.”

So what is going on? Of course, it is about lining pockets and paying off the hierarchy. And, it may even be illegal (not that illegality has ever bothered the khaki machine: “The supremacy of military deal making not only tossed aside an entire ministry, utility technocrats and guiding principles in power sector planning, it also likely skirts the existing rule of law.” He concludes: “While Thailand’s energy technocracy has its flaws, its replacement with closed door deal making by the military is arguably worse.”

But who pays?

Who will foot the bill for the army’s 600 billion baht deal, plus the cost to upgrade the power system to accommodate large-scale solar farms? If history is any guide, the Thai public as electricity users will likely end up shouldering the burden, thanks to Egat, the co-conspirator of the army’s deal, who will pass through costs directly to consumers.

How much money can the taxpayer be milked for? There’s the monarchy, the Army, the police, and the tycoons. They all bathe in the public trough.





Army impunity

24 01 2021

The impunity enjoyed by officials has a long history in Thailand but it is undeniable that it has expanded and deepened since the the 2006 military coup. Under the current regime there is essentially zero accountability for officials. Sure, there are occasional “crackdowns” and the odd prosecution, but the rule that officials can get away with stuff – even murder – holds.

In a Bangkok Post editorial, questions are raised about the Royal Thai Army, which celebrated “its strength and solidarity” on Armed Forces Day.

The editorial asks the public to “keep in mind that military officials still owe a few explanations on its pledge to reform, following several cases, including the Korat mass shooting last year that left a huge stain on its image.”

Clipped from Khaosod

It points out that on 8-9 February 2020, a disgruntled soldier “shot and killed 29 innocent people and wounded 57 others in Nakhon Ratchasima…”. The killer’s problem was “a property dispute” with “the soldier’s senior officer and his mother-in-law…”. In other words, “the army’s side dealings [were]… the root cause.” It adds that “analysts” say that “some army officers enter into private business dealings — and it’s an open secret.”

A few days later, “then army chief Apirat Kongsompong promised to investigate the problem…”. In fact, he did nothing to change the underlying situation. Indeed, this corruption continues. The Post mentions an alleged “illegal allocation of over 70,000 rai of forest land in Nakhon Ratchasima for a real estate project involving senior army officers.”

Yes, the very same province as the mass shooting. The Post adds that there “have been no reports of an investigation, let alone progress and punishment of culprits.”

The Post then recalls the unexplained death of a military conscript – there’s been more than one case – and asks: “How can the RTA restore public trust when it is entrenched in scandals? Why should the public trust a force of armed men who can barely be transparent in their affairs?”

How many times have we heard such pleading. In fact, it is as many times as reform has been rejected by the military as the Army maintains it impunity and its control.

We should note that the Post editorial mistakenly states that the Korat shooting “is considered the deadliest mass shooting in the kingdom’s history.” This mistake reflects some big omissions.

The biggest is the murder of almost a hundred red shirts and bystanders in April and May 2010. Who has been held accountable? No one from the Army.

Who killed protesters in 1992? Who was held accountable? No one from the Army or police.

Who murdered civilian protesters at Thammasat University on 6 October 1976? Who was held accountable? No one from the Army or police.

Who murdered civilian protesters on 14 October 1973? Who was held accountable? No one from the Army or police.

Who murdered people at Kru Se in 2004 and Tak Bai the same year? Who was held accountable? No one from the Army or police.

What about the enforced disappearances of activists and unexplained murder of civilians like Chaiyapoom Pasae? Who was held accountable? No one from the Army or police.

The list could go on and on and on.





Tooting its own horn

27 11 2020

In another Bangkok Post story by military beat reporter Wassana Nanuam, if we accept the report as accurate, then the Looney Tunes nature of the regime is again on display.

She reports that the “army yesterday officially opened its Security Strategy Development and Research Institute…”.

For no apparent reason, this is “touted to be an independent think tank serving the military and the government in the area of national security.”

Wassana does not question this looney claim but does report that”Gen Narongphan Jitkaewtae, chief of the army, presided over a ceremony yesterday to mark the official opening of the institute…” which had been approved by his predecessor Gen Apirat Kongsompong.

The “independent” institute is headed by Gen Thanet Kalaphruek, reportedly “the army’s chief adviser…”. Clearly, in the strange prose of the report, “independent” means the institute is a tool of and for the military. It babbles along:

The opening of the new institute marks the army’s first step toward setting up a think tank to serve the army and the government at the same time. Also, the institute will be an agent coordinating academic work between the army and institutional partners. A number of soldiers and veterans will contribute their knowledge to the new institute.

Sounds about as independent as the 11th Infantry is independent of the Army. Obviously, this is another effort by the military to fully infiltrate all aspects of civilian life.





The king, his servants, and the monarchy question

20 11 2020

Clipped from Thisrupt

Thisrupt reports on the rally at Parliament House and the speeches made, many of them “addressed directly to [the] … King … by his first name, Vajiralongkorn, and openly mocked his rule.”

As mentioned in a previous post, they launched red balloons where the “words written on them were, ‘I order you to be under the constitution,’ using the “derogatory กู (gu) as the pronoun for ‘I’ and มึง (mueng) as ‘you’.”

The report concludes that “at the heart of Thailand’s political conflict is the monarchy question.”

While Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha promises to use all laws against the protesters, hinting that Article 112 on lese majeste may be back in the regime’s arsenal, the king continues to reward hard-line favorites.

The Bangkok Post reports that the king has “has appointed former army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong deputy director of the Crown Property Bureau.”

He was already a member of the Board, appointed after he retired from the Army and was made a deputy chamberlain in the palace. Now he’s catapulted to a level just behind the prince-cum-king’s long-serving Air Chief Marshal Satitpong Sukvimol.

Gen Apirat is notoriously hot-headed and the most ardent of ultra-royalists.

King and his new, favorite minion, Gen Apirat (right). Clipped from the Bangkok Post

Interestingly, pro-democracy demonstrators have announced that their next rally will be “outside the Crown Property Bureau on Nov 25…”.

At the same time, the king’s supporters are becoming increasingly rabid and going ever more supine. The picture below has circulated on social media. It claims to show Supreme Court President Methinee Chalothorn. LIke all judges, she believes the courts and judges owe their allegiance to the king rather than to the law and justice for all people. Perhaps more than others, she has demonstrated her subservience to the king.

So far  the demonstrators haven’t given much attention to the judiciary. Perhaps they should as it is a pillar of the establishment they seek to reform. Like the king, the judiciary needs to be reformed and brought under the constitution. The double standards and politicization need to be reversed. The neo-feudalism of the judiciary is a roadblock to reform.





Propaganda personified

8 10 2020

Recently retired army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong has a new job with the king, certainly rewarding his “loyalty.” Yet, according to the Bangkok Post, he has entered the monkhood for one month, at Wat Hong Rattanaram, classified as royal temple. It is the same temple where retired national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda was ordained last week.

The Post report is odd, saying his “ordination was a simple ceremony,” but then reporting that all the “chiefs of the defence forces and police” were there for the event and a bunch of Army “slaves” are on call to help the newly ordained Apirat. That hardly counts as “simple” – unless describing the collective mind of the chiefs – and seems to have been a media event as well.

Why? Because it was yet another piece of royalist propaganda, with “Gen Apirat [having] earlier announced he would enter the monkhood … to make merit for King Rama IX, … Queen Sirikit … and [the current] King and Queen.”

As many of Thailand’s old men have shown for a couple of decades, their post retirement propaganda activities are significant.

We doubt that Apirat is making merit for his leadership failures or for the deaths of civilians at the hands of his forces.

 





Speaking truth to those with power

2 10 2020

Clipped from Khaosod

When Gen Apirat Kongsompong retired and mumbled something about all the good work he’d done reforming the Army, activist Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was among the few who disputed this. The former Future Forward leader stated that Gen Apirat had not reformed the Army. He promised to. That was after the dozens of murders and injuries in Korat by a soldier. But Apirat did nothing.

He promised to “reform the army within 100 days,” but as Thanathorn correctly observes:

“More than 236 days have passed since the Korat shooting incident that disturbed the whole nation,” Thanathorn wrote. “Under social pressure to reform the army, Mr. Apirat promised to the people to reform the army but until today, those reforms did not take place.”

The politician went on, “Mr. Apirat is part of the elite, and the armed forces are an instrument for these people to maintain their power. The fact that Mr. Apirat did not do what he said may show the intention of the elite – that they do not want to adjust themselves to changes.”

Of course, Apirat has been rewarded by the king for his loyalty to the ruling class and his personal favors for the king.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

 





King’s men I

26 09 2020

A few days ago, the Bangkok Post’s Wassana Nanuam had another of those posterior polishing articles on the new Army boss, Gen Narongphan Jitkaewtae.

Paul Chambers describes Gen Narongphan:

Narongphan’s elevation through the ranks has been extremely rapid since the beginning of the current reign. He is the former commander of the Royal Rachawallop 904 Special Military Task Force and considered extremely loyal to the current monarch. He is rumoured to be much more virulently reactionary than [Gen] Apirat [Kongsompong] and will serve as Army Chief for three years until he retires in 2023.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

As can be seen in the attached photo, Gen Narongphan wears his 904 haircut, red-rimmed t-shirt and proudly supports a chestful of royal symbols of “closeness,” including the 904 and Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti badges.

The Post’s story has Gen Narongphan heaping praise retiring generals – almost 270 of them – including Gen Apirat for having “dedicated their time and energy to fulfilling their duties to protect the nation’s sovereignty and the public interest and to maintain law and order.”

Most of these generals have probably been honing their golfing skills, collecting loot from the “sale” of their rank and influence, and shining the seats of their pants, but we acknowledge that some, like Apirat, were dead keen to take up arms against civilian protesters. “Law and order” means maintaining royalist-rightist regimes or as Gen Narongphan succinctly explains: “Protecting the monarchy with absolute loyalty and supporting the government to resolve national problems and working to advance the country are tasks for which [the generals] deserve the honour…”.

Worryingly for those who hope that there might be a more democratic Thailand, Gen Narongphan pledged to support the military-royalist “ideologies and perform our duties to the best of our ability, to ensure peace in society, foster national unity and support the country’s development…”. What does he mean by “peace”? Based on previous evidence, we suspect it means “defeating” civilian demonstrators, again and again.

Reading this puff piece, we were reminded of a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald, All the king’s strongmen.

It points out the obvious when it comes to the military and its government:

The seemingly endless cycle of military coups that interrupt democracy. A government plagued with allegations of corruption and nepotism. The former army chief with the suspiciously large luxury watch collection. The cabinet minister who was jailed in Sydney for conspiracy to traffic heroin. The lack of investigation into the disappearance and murder of dissidents. The king who would rather live in Germany.

The anti-government protests, it points out, have been heavy on symbolism. For last weekend, the “sites are significant; a campus massacre by the armed forces in 1976 left [at least] 45 people dead, hundreds injured and continues to haunt the country. More recently Sanam Luang has been subsumed into the giant and opaque Crown Property Bureau (CPB), and protesters have declared their intention to return it to the people.”

While the sudden appearance of naysayer conservatives (posing as liberals) have come out to lecture the students on how to rally and how to demand change, the SMH correctly observes that the “focus is squarely on Thailand’s political class and the powers that have long acted with impunity.”

As might be expected, the SMH points at “cabinet enforcer Thammanat Prompao, who … spent four years in a Sydney jail on a drugs conviction.” It goes on:

When Thammanat was sitting across from detectives making a statement in Parramatta jail on November 10, 1993, the first thing the young soldier put on the record was his connection to royalty.

After graduating from army cadet school in 1989 he “was commissioned as a bodyguard for the crown prince of Thailand” as a first lieutenant. “I worked in the crown prince’s household to the beginning of 1992,” he said, staying until deployed to help suppress a political conflict that culminated in an army-led massacre in Bangkok.

The crown prince is now King Vajiralongkorn, but the name landed like a thud: the judge made no mention of it when sentencing Thammanat over his part in moving 3.2 kilograms of heroin from Bangkok to Bondi.

Since the scandal broke last year, Thammanat not only kept his post but was named among [Gen] Prawit [Wongsuwan]’s deputies within the ruling Palang Pracharat party.

Prawit and the convicted heroin smuggler

The article also points out why the monarchy is a critical target: “As military figures loom large in political circles, they are also pervasive in Vajiralongkorn’s business dealings.”

His personal private secretary is an air chief marshal who is the chairman of two listed companies, a director of a bank, chairs the board of eight other companies and is the director-general of the Crown Property Bureau.

The CPB’s assets are estimated at anywhere between $40 and $70 billion, and were made Vajiralongkorn’s personal property in mid-2018.

Protesters want this returned to the state [PPT: not really; they ask for state oversight], along with greater control and oversight over the taxpayer money spent on the royal family.

Also on the CPB board is General Apirat Kongsompong, the army chief set for mandatory retirement this month who has been at the centre of coup rumours. The son of one of the men who led the coup in 1992, Apirat is known for his ultra-royalist views and is set to take up a senior position within the royal household on leaving the army.

At the CPB, 8 of the 11 directors now carry military or police rank.

All the king’s men.





Wanchalearm and the loyalist royalists

17 09 2020

We wonder if there isn’t a connection between the palace appointments of army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong and Corrections Department director-general Naras Savestanan and the enforced disappearance of Wanchalearm Satsaksit.

Prachatai reports that the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has:

submitted a second letter to the Cambodian government over lack of progress in the investigation since the Thai activist was kidnapped from the front of his residence in Phnom Penh on 4 June 2020.

Where is Wanchalearm? Clipped from Prachatai

Both the Thai and Cambodian governments have been silent on the abduction. To us, that indicates both regimes are complicit.

The UN Working Group states: “The right to truth is therefore an absolute right which cannot be restricted and there is an absolute obligation to take all the necessary steps to find the [missing] person…”. Sadly, the Group felt the need to add: “We further underline that his family should be protected from ill treatment or intimidation if required…”.

What does this have to do with the rewards to loyalist royalists? We can’t help thinking that Gen Apirat is being rewarded for taking a leading role in the abduction, disappearance, torture, and murder of several activists in third countries. Each of the operations has a strong whiff of special operations by the Thai military. Gen Apirat is likely being rewarded for illegal and murderous operations. We’d also guess that he’s also being rewarded for all the efforts he’s made to remove symbols of the 1932 revolution.

Clipped from Khaosod

And what of Corrections Department director-general Naras? Again, we’d guess that he’s rewarded for royal deeds associated with prisons, including the operations at the king’s Dhaveevatthana Palace prison and probably the imprisonment as punishment of Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi.

We can but wonder.





Updated: Rewarding loyalist royalists

16 09 2020

The throne expends considerable effort currying loyalty and has long rewarded that loyalty. Over the years, it has been the pillars of the official loyalists who have been rewarded, from the military, judiciary and senior bureaucracy.

The Bangkok Post reports that King Vajiralongkorn has appointed retiring army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong and Corrections Department director-general Naras Savestanan as deputies of the Lord Chamberlain.

The Royal Household Bureau announced “the transfers of both men to the newly created positions” that will take effect from 30 September, when “[t]heir status will change to palace officials after they retire.”

The report notes that both “Gen Apirat and Pol Col Naras were from Class 20 of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School…”.

Update: Khaosod reports: “Under their new positions, Apirat and Naras will report to Air Chief Marshal Sathitpong Sukwimol, who serves as the agency’s secretary-general.”








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