When the military is on top XII

19 01 2018

It is some time since our last post with this title. There’s a general air in the press and on social media that the political tide may be turning.

For example, commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak says he can see “civil society noises, together with political parties, are now on rise and may build into a crescendo of opposition to the military government.” Others are pleased to see the detestable Abhisit Vejjaiva “damning” the military government with language that is advisory in tone on General Prawit Wongsuwan’s large collection of luxury watches. On social media, many have lauded the dropping of yet another lese majeste case against Sulak Sivaraksa.

While there is some cause for cheer, it might be noted that much of this criticism is coming from yellow shirts and anti-democrats, many of whom were strong supporters of the 2014 military coup. This suggests that that coalition of anti-democrats is unraveling as the junta seeks to embed its rule. The unanswered question is what they propose as an alternative to the junta. Do these critics propose using the junta’s rules and having a military-dominated administration post-“election” – a Thai-style democracy – but where that dominance is not as total as it is now. That is, a simple refusal to allow General Prayuth Chan-ocha to hang on as head of a selectorate regime? Nothing much that any of these “opponents” have proposed since 2005 has looked much like an open political system.

What we can also see, and this also deserves attention from those cheering these developments, is that the junta continues to crackdown on other opponents.  One case involves the National Anti-Corruption Commission, criticized on Prawit, but widely supported by anti-democrats in an action to “determine whether … 40 [elected and pro-Thaksin Shinawatra] politicians submitted the [amnesty] bill with ‘illegal’ intent” back in 2013. If found “guilty,” they would all be banned from the junta’s “election,” decimating the already weakened Puea Thai Party.

Even when criticizing Prawit’s horology obsession, some critics are tolerated and others not. For example, Abhisit and yellow-hued “activists” can criticize, but what about Akechai Hongkangwarn? He’s identified as an opponent, so when he was critical, “four police officers … turned up at [his]… home … to serve a summons.” The “charge” seems to be “posting obscene images online…”. An obscenely expensive watch perhaps?

Then there’s the warning to critics of the junta that there call for The Dictator’s use of Article 44 for to not be made into law. Maj Gen Piyapong Klinpan “who is also the commander of the 11th Military Circle, said the NCPO [junta] is monitoring the situation. He said the NCPO did not ban the gathering on Monday since it was held in an education institute where academics were present to share knowledge. The NCPO merely followed up the event and tried to make sure those present would not violate any laws.” In other words, watch out, you’re being watched. It’s a threat.

Amazingly, Maj Gen Piyapong then “explained” these political double standards:

Commenting about political activist Srisuwan Janya, who has criticised the regime, Maj Gen Piyapong said there is no need to invite the activist for talks as he still has done nothing wrong, but the junta will keep tabs on his movements. “Currently, there is still no movement which is a cause for concern,” Maj Gen Piyapong said.

And, finally, if you happen to be one of those unfortunates – a citizen in the way of military “progress” – you get threatened with guns. At the embattled Mahakan community, where a historical site is being demolished, Bangkok Metropolitan administrators called out the military to threaten the community. The deployment of troops was by the Internal Security Operations Command.

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…”. 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.

ISOC’s electoral power

8 01 2018

It has taken a while for the Internal Security Operations Command or ISOC to respond to concerns about its growing power under the military dictatorship. It was back in November when General Prayuth Chan-ocha used his sweeping powers under Article 44 to amend internal security legislation and set up a security “super board” to allegedly assist ISOC in dealing with “domestic security threats.”

The Dictator made ISOC the central agency dealing with all matters it considers “security,” and at all levels. As we well know, “security” usually means the use of lese majeste, computer crimes and sedition laws against political opponents. Using his extra-judicial powers, The Dictator has ISOC heading up all other agencies, and at the regional level, this includes the Interior Ministry, police and prosecutors. Among other things, this is a handing iron fist for when the military dictatorship decides it needs an “election.”

In the Bangkok Post, we get ISOC’s response. We doubt many will believe ISOC’s claim that the agency is warm and cuddly and apolitical. It never has been and with its domination by the military, it never will be. It is an agancy used by the military to undermine opponents, spy on opponents and purvey propaganda for the regime. But back to the new, “soft” line, reflected in its “peace” and “reconciliation” website and its Facebook page.

Isoc spokesman Maj-Gen. Peerawat Sangthong “explained” the use of The Dictator’s unchecked power was just a bit of administrative and technocratic streamlining. No need to worry.

Chaired by Deputy Prime Minister for Bling General Prawit Wongsuwan chairs ISOC’s “administrative committee.” His deputies are the “defence and interior ministers … with members including commanders of the armed forces and the Isoc secretary-general…”.

Now there are mirror regional and provincial committees, giving ISOC nationwide control of “security.”

Maj Gen Peerawat revealed that ISOC “has about 5,000-6,000 staff nationwide, excluding those working in the … South, and there currently are 500,000-600,000 internal security volunteers, as well as tens of thousands of people in its information network.”

All of those people working for an ISOC with enhanced powers might as the general says, will “reduce the gap among agencies where they are needed to work together to solve a problem, eradicate redundancy and to make sure all the agencies involved are supporting one another.”

That’s useful for repressing the junta’s opponents and we guess the most significant “problem” now is how to ensure the junta’s preferred “electoral” outcome.

The junta’s “election” stitch up I

27 12 2017

The junta and The Dictator are working hard on what they assume will their “election” victory, whenever they decide to allow one. The campaign has been underway for a considerable time.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s provincial campaigning has continued. After a bit of a cock-up in the south, the junta managed to orchestrate things better in the northeast.

His most recent provincial trip was to Phitsanulok where his campaigning again involved animals. As reported, Prayuth conversed with an award-winning fighting cock. His message? “Don’t be scared of the NCPO…. The NCPO won’t be hard on you.”

Clipped from The Nation

Meanwhile, the junta is handing out goodies that are incentives for voters. The utilities bills that were a part of earlier elected regime’s and their election campaigns, and trashed as “populist,” are there for the poor.

For the middle class and the rich there are new tax deductions of up to 15,000 baht per taxpayer for taking a holiday. The Bangkok Post reports that:

Tax breaks for tourism spending in secondary provinces from Jan 1 to Dec 31, 2018 will go before the cabinet today. The move is intended to distribute income to these provinces and make the recovery more broad-based.

How “populist” is that! A really cheap holiday thanks to the junta. (Remember to vote for their party!)

While the Democrat Party is disturbed by The Dictator’s use of Article 44, fearing that it will be decimated, that is indeed the junta’s aim. The party that has not been especially critical of Article 44 in the past:

will file a petition with the Constitution Court to determine if the latest National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) order to extend deadlines required for political parties to follow under the Political Party Act is unconstitutional under the charter approved in last year’s referendum.

At the same time, the junta is busy stitching up the “independent” agencies that oversee politics and elections and enforce the rules. This bunch of junta puppets will now include “allowing unqualified anti-graft commissioners to continue working as members of the National Anti-Corruption Commission…”. The courts and independent agencies are likely to dance to the junta’s tune, now and into the future.

While all of this is going on, the political repression of red shirts continues unabated, seeking to silence and disintegrate this pro-Puea Thai Party coalition.

And when the junta decides to have its “election,” its puppet Constitution Drafting Committee has decided to make it illegal to criticize another candidate when campaigning for election. Goodness, the junta doesn’t want any of its candidates being criticized!

It’s a giant stitch up.

And, how’s that “election” coming along?

24 12 2017

As regular readers will know, PPT hasn’t joined the boostering about a junta “election” taking place next November. As it has turned out, all of the enthusiasm for a junta “election” has quickly faded.

In what should now be obvious to all, the military dictatorship has had The Dictator use his dictatorial powers – Article 44 – to provide advantages to “new” parties. The “balance” is now so far titled in favor of “new” parties that the junta might even be able to smell its (first) “electoral” victory.

The military bosses might be sniffing the political air a little too soon. After all, the Bangkok Post reckons that the recent use of Article 44 is “doomed” because “any misuse of power to benefit any particular group or help the military remain in power could take the country closer to the already ticking timebomb.”At the same time, the Post notes what General Prayuth Chan-ocha has done:

… paving the way for the formation of new political parties, possibly parties that have been rumoured to be in the making with the aim of the military transferring its powers if and when elections are held 336 days from today.

What was more surprising was the fact that under our dear leader’s abuse of power this time, all party members who want to keep their membership have to submit a letter to confirm their choice of party leader and pay their membership fee within a period of 30 days or lose their membership.

The 70-year-old Democrat Party, for instance, may lose the bulk of its nearly three million members….

Moreover, the party law previously exempted members of existing parties from paying a membership fee for four years. But the Section 44 order has nullified that and ordered both old and new parties to collect a membership fee for 2018 from at least 500 qualified members within 180 days, from April 1 to the end of September.

… What Gen Prayut has done with his use of the magic wand is give new political parties a month’s head start as they are allowed to start by March 1 against April 1 for existing parties.

This move looks set to help political parties and individuals who support the military, such as the likes of street protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban and Paiboon Nititawan, a former senator appointed by the military.

It is all pretty straightforward and is in line with every other move the military junta has made since its coup. It is preparing to maintain power and influence over Thailand’s emerging semi-authoritarian politics for another 15 or so years, at least.

The old political parties can cry foul but they are daft if they continue to publicly say that the junta is only now rigging the “election”; that’s been its grand game since the coup.

The Nation also added some important points:

The order also schedules the new deadline for political parties to complete their administrative work, which brings into question whether the election scheduled in November next year was still possible. The political parties Act, which was promulgated in early October, will come into effect only on April 1, 2018, according to the junta order yesterday.

The Article 44 order allows executive party members to continue in their positions but allows existing party members to choose whether to remain with the same parties.

If current party members want to keep their party membership, they must submit letters to confirm that choice to the party leader and pay a membership fee between April 1 to 30 next year or they will lose their status. Observers said the short period of time raises practical difficulties.

Moreover, the party law previously exempted the members of existing parties from paying a membership fee for four years. But the Article 44 order has nullified that and ordered that both old and new parties collect a membership fee for 2018 from at least 500 qualified members within 180 days or from April 1 to the end of September.

That timeframe makes it highly unlikely that elections will be able to take place in November, as announced earlier by Prayut.

As we have stated many times, the junta will hold its “election” when it can achieve the result it expects and wants.

The military party option

20 12 2017

There was some social media enthusiasm for The Dictator’s promised use of Article 44 to allow political parties to begin organizing for an “election.” Some of that prattle was about a “return to democracy.”

Leaving aside the use of a dictatorial decree for a “return to democracy” and the failure to consider what kind of “democracy” might follow a junta arranged, managed and directed “election,” that burst of enthusiasm soon waned.

It soon became clear that the military junta was stacking the deck even more than before.

The Bangkok Post reports that the junta “will give a green light to the formation of new political parties while limiting the activities of existing parties…”.

Article 44 will be used to “allow founders of new political parties to reserve party names, recruit members, collect membership fees and organise their first general assemblies to select their leaders and executives.” Each of these activities will require explicit permission from the junta.

The already existing 69 political parties will not be permitted to do anything other than “review their old memberships.”

The junta is unlikely to allow the existing parties to do very much at all until at least June 2018. And, it declared that it would be The Dictator General Prayuth Chan-ocha who would decide “the timetables for the relevant political activities…”.

Meanwhile, The Dictator will continue his political campaigns with “cabinet meetings in Phitsanulok and Sukhothai provinces on Dec 25 and 26.”

The formation of new parties is likely to benefit the junta, with pro-military, military-backed and a military party all possibilities. The Dictator is in a position to control the formation and activities of all new parties.

At the same time he can limit the work of existing parties, which are hamstrung by The Dictator’s capacity to control their activities.

There can be no free and fair elections in Thailand. The claims of a “return to democracy” are nonsensical. Only The Dictator is able to campaign and politick. Only he can decide when an “election” may be held. He holds all the cards in a stacked deck.

Election ≠ democracy

17 12 2017

Bangkok Post editor Umesh Pandey thinks the military junta is likely to allow its “election” to take place in November 2018.

Certainly, the junta and The Dictator are campaigning hard. Umesh also sees the EU capitulation to the military dictatorship as evidence that an “election” just might be held.

But issues remain. For one thing, as Umesh notes, the junta has not yet allowed political parties to complete the necessary legal requirements to allow them to campaign and then stand candidates for election. That could be a delaying tactic or it may be just an attempt to cause disarray and disorganization among political parties and preferencing the junta.

Another issue is that the formation of the Election Commission is stuck. Seven commissioners have been nominated, at least one with links to the anti-democrat stage, but the two selected by the Supreme Court seem not to have followed legal procedures. Of course, the Supreme Court has broken and bent rules in the past but the National Legislative Assembly is questioning the court.

There’s also an issue with the political parties act and the potential for changes and delays. The junta can still play around with this law using Article 44 but there may also be considerable debate at the NLA.

The bigger problem with Umesh’s view, however, is his odd view of “democracy.”

Identifying himself as a “democracy lover,” Umesh states:

Given the fact that elections are usually held on Sundays and assuming that the government plans to hold on to power until the last day it can, the last day to hold elections would be Nov 25, which would mean that the country would be back to a democratic system 343 days from today.

Of course, when the anti-democrats campaigned against the elected Yingluck Shinawatra government, they repeatedly complained that elections did not make democracy. Their argument was that election by a majority of the population ignored the minority.

In the case of the junta, however, “elections” do not make democracy because the military dictatorship has developed all the rules for the “election.” These rules have been developed by the puppet appointees of what is an illegal regime (which legalized itself). Many of those rules have been developed to produce a junta-friendly post-election regime.

The junta’s constitution was “approved” in a referendum that was unfree and unfair. And then it has been substantially changed, some of that done in secret.

The result is likely to be that, as in the period when General Prem Tinsulanonda was unelected premier, “elections” may not matter much and political parties are likely to have relatively limited power.

The junta’s reign has also seen courts and so-called independent agencies made the bastard children of the junta. In addition to the EC, a recent example is the National Human Rights Commission, completely de-fanged after years of increasing impotence and partisanship.

This fixing of the legal and electoral system has been so thorough that no election under the junta’s rule can be democratic if that word has something to do with free and fair elections.