Asia Society shame

28 09 2019

The Asia Society surprised many by giving The Dictator Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha a stage in New York. Why have a “leader” who has had a hand in the murder of protesters, a military coup, more than five years of military dictatorship and a rigged and stolen election on your stage? As far as we can tell, this isn’t unusual for the Asia Society.

Readers might want to watch Gen Prayuth bumbling through the dictator-friendly discussion, which seems to have followed his speech (we can’t find a video of that). Gen Prayuth’s demeanor during the interview is of an uncomfortable person. He fidgets, bellows, points, gets prompts, forgets the microphone and fails to listen to the translation, wants to end the interview early and more. Unprofessional, incompetent, sometimes incoherent and appearing as a bozo. But that’s what he does in Thailand, with its muzzled press day in and day out.

In the discussion, he is seen claiming that while criminals evade the law – meaning Thaksin Shinawatra – he claims he himself has never transgressed the law. Short memory? Just one example: What about that unlawful 2014 coup? Oh, yes, that was made legal by the (in)justice system and by the junta itself after the event. Oddly, reflecting his irritation, Gen Prayuth makes the claim (again) that he had to stage the coup to stop the “conflict” – this time he refers to a pending “civil war.” He gets rather agitated. Finally, he babbles about Googling stuff.

And, during his speech there were silent protesters:

That the Asia Society expelled silent protesters should cause shame. Is that what now happens in the “land of free speech”? One protester does make some noise as she is bundled out by burly security guards.

Meanwhile, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights has pointed out how the junta hangs over Thailand like a lead weight. It begins:

The 19 September 2006 coup was a turning point for the expansion of powers of the armed forces over the democratically elected civilian government since the end of Cold War, in light of the reorganization of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC). The coup makers’ legislative branch passed a statutory law to restructure ISOC, giving rise to the formal and systematic expansion of the military power over civilian affairs.

The trend of such expansion of powers and duties of the armed forces/security authorities continued, even under democratically elected governments. From the 22 May 2014 coup until today, the military’s power reach has continued to increase. ISOC is legally permitted to take charge of so-called “internal security” matters in lieu of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), following its dissolution. Now the powers and duties of ISOC have been expanded even further.

The report highlights five points:

  • Expansion of the definition of “internal security”
  • The composition of ISOC Regional and Provincial Committees now includes personnel from various public authorities including the police, public prosecutor and administrative organizations
  • The powers and duties of the Regional and Provincial ISOC increased from those of 2008
  • Secondary laws amended to require other public authorities to directly support the roles of ISOC
  • The internal reorganization of ISOC

The report concludes:

Military supremacy over civilians, as always

The overall expansion of ISOC’s roles and powers is inseparable from the attempt to proliferate the power of the armed forces, from the NCPO era until after the elections.  Investing such powers in ISOC stands contradictory to the principle of civilian supremacy, an essential benchmark of democracy; members of constitutional bodies should be elected. The public should have a role in managing resource distributions, public administration and the role of the military, not to mention military activities concerning internal security.

Under this principle, the armed forces and security agencies in a democratic society should be of equal status to other public authorities. A government chosen by free and fair elections should have the power to control these organizations, determine their budgets, and give them instructions, as well as to prevent them from getting involved with any civilian affairs, which should not be decided under a military mindset.

Under the incumbent ISOC, the military authorities will continue to have a dominant role over several civilian authorities and affairs. The democratization of the armed forces or security agencies is therefore urgently needed and can be done so only after an amendment of the Internal Security Act to reduce the powers and roles of ISOC.

We doubt the Asia Society is interested.

Updated: Recycling 2006 propaganda

11 07 2014

At the Bangkok Post it is reported that “Foreign Ministry permanent secretary Sihasak Phuangketkeow has urged US media to gain a better understanding of Thai politics, explaining the latest putsch in Thailand differed from coups in other countries in several ways, especially the ‘benevolent intentions’ behind seizing power.”

Sihasak has a record of switching sides, having once been an avid supporter of Thaksin and then deftly switching to the royalist side around the time of the 2006 coup and then the election of the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime. He was the one who was asked to defend lese majeste and a trail of human rights violations (murder of red shirts by his current bosses, cluster bombs, human trafficking, etc.) when he was posted to Geneva.His great ability is his English language. He now “serves as acting foreign minister…”.

So he’s a slippery and unprincipled character. Just the kind of person a military dictatorship would want to send out to defend its 2014 coup.

Sihasak landed in New York to tell “US journalists about the background of Thai politics and the coup’s motivations, as well as the junta’s three-step plan leading to democracy.” Only a deluded junta can imagine that journalists in the US covering Thailand will be fooled by a throwback junta’s Orwellian doublespeak. That his propaganda exercise was directed at “two senior representatives from The New York Times” speaks volumes for the impact Thomas Fuller’s accurate and incisive reporting has had.

Sihasak says: “I tried to explain why the National Council for Peace and Order [NCPO] had to seize power. I told them the coup was aimed at restoring peace and moving democracy forward…. It was Thailand’s last resort to bring the country back to normalcy and the coup helped maintain democracy, not destroy it…”.

Right. So the repression, crackdowns, arrests, intolerance of dissent, trashing of the law and constitution, and the implementation of a lese majeste regime is about restoring democracy (after the junta has destroyed its opposition).

The New York Times is not, we expect, so gullible as to believe such errant nonsense.

Sihasak’s recycling of 2006 justifications for the military-palace coup must amuse the journalists. He says he told them: “If there was no change on May 22, there may have been bloodshed. The army had no choice…”. Lacking ideas and justification for a coup, the military dictatorship makes it up, using words that are exactly the same as in 2006.

Sihasak reportedly also “met the Asia Society’s executive vice-president Tom Nagorski, and proposed a joint meeting on the Thai-US relationship, inviting American policy-makers, members of Congress and think tanks familiar with Thailand.”

This sounds remarkably like the deal Abhisit and his government engaged in back in 2009 and 2010. The appearance at the Asia Society by then Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya in 2009 was a disaster when he was unprepared and spoke in yellow-shirt style.  Yingluck appeared there as well after her election and had an easy task, not having to defend a pathetic unelected regime or a bunch of military despots.

Still, the junta seems to think that a bit of the ancien regime’s blarney might convince those who have had the scales removed from their eyes. Treating the foreign audience as political nincompoops is unlikely to be a viable strategy in 2014.

Update: More horse manure from Sihasak reported at the Bangkok Post. The Post says that the Sihasak reckons “United Nations agencies are still confident in Thailand’s role as a leader in the region despite the military coup…”. Sihasak “met the president of the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly John W Ashe, the chef de cabinet of UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, Susana Malcorra, and president of the Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc) Martin Sajdik.” We are unsure how Sihasak came to his conclusion when the report states that all he met said that Thailand should return to democracy. That might be what the military dictatorship says but no reasonable U.N. official could believe them. The claim that “Ecosoc chairman Sajdik saw Thailand achieving success by adhering to the rule of law, justice and transparency” seems a bizarre interpretation and suggests that Sihasak is making stuff up or the report is missing something.

Yingluck at the Asia Society

28 09 2012

The last time we can remember a Thai leader appearing at the Asia Society – a rather stuffy and conservative organization that does the”promoting mutual understanding and strengthening partnerships” stuff of U.S. foundations in a kind of Orientalist fashion – it was  Kasit Piromya, when the Abhisit Vejjajiva government was in place. That was in September 2010.

Kasit gave a shambolic and crudely politicized speechthat was full of nonsense. For example, he claimed that red shirts have no popular support in Thailand. He knew that was a lie. He added to that with the bizarre, saying back then that Thailand was open and freedom of the press “is second to none in the world!” He said media that urges violence, hatred, misinformation or challenges the monarchy must be repressed. Kasit thought Prachatai was doing this!

Yingluck at the U.N.

Contrast this with Yingluck Shinawatra’s decidedly boring appearance reported at the Asia Society website (transcript here). She had a packed house, and spoke of anything but Thailand’s political conflict. This seems entirely in line with the business-oriented, investment-seeking, political cooling approach that she and her brother have been promoting.

Maybe a little bit of boring and some cooling is a pleasant change as the international community and media comes to neglect political struggles and issues such as lese majeste.

Thailand dives lower on press freedom index

21 10 2010

It should be no surprise to anyone to read in The Nation that “Thailand has slipped 23 places to the ranking of 153rd on the press freedom index…”. The 2010 World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) ranked Thailand between Azerbaijan at 152 and Belarus at 154. RWB states: “Political violence has produced some very troubling tumbles in the rankings. Thailand (153rd) – where two journalists were killed and some fifteen wounded while covering the army crackdown on the “red shirts” movement in Bangkok – lost 23 places…”. Read more from RWB on Thailand here.

Despite claims to the contrary from Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, there can be no sane denial of the facts. The control of the media in Thailand and the regime of censorship in place is reminiscent of that under military regimes.

Readers may recall Kasit’s laughable comment at the Asia Society recently: Thailand is open and freedom of the press “is second to none in the world!” He also pleaded for no more rankings of Thailand, perhaps knowing how badly the country is going to look on politics and freedom indicators.

Or perhaps Abhisit’s remarkable comments at the Council for Foreign Relations, as PPT reported them: Thailand, he said, has plenty of space for opposition opinion. Indeed, “much, much more space than we’ve seen for quite some time…”. He quickly added that this doesn’t apply to red shirt media, which he says is political propaganda for the red shirts…. Of course, Abhisit uses the “they incite violence” line, while ignoring yellow-shirt media…. He says nothing of the silencing and blocking of media that does not incite violence or hatred, such as Prachatai. Abhisit answers another question by saying that when there is censorship of all the red shirt media, “the situation is a lot calmer.” And that is the point. Abhisit and his supporters and backers want to silence the opposition.

If Abhisit and Kasit really do believe that Thailand’s media freedom “is second to none in the world!” then the country is in serious trouble , being run by people who do not understand freedom and democracy.

Ended: Live updates on Kasit at Asia Society

28 09 2010

At 8:30 US Eastern, Thailand’s Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya will be webcast from the Asia Society. Should be worht a listen as Kasit always under-prepares and says controversial things. Asia Society says: Online viewers are encouraged to submit their questions to and to join the live chat during the webcast.

Update: It is 8:44, and all PPT can hear is the clinking of plates and cutlery. As is usual with anything Kasit does, it seems to run late and be shambolic….

Kasit Piromya

Live Update: Began at 8:45, with a quite odd introduction by the Asia Society rep. who reckoned Kasit is a democrat and great politician. Kasit began at 8:53. As is usual, he has a small set of handwritten notes. “I want you to know that we are all very determined to become a strong and mature democracy under the constitutional monarchy.” Immediately states that the monarchy is “non-negotiable.” No one can dream of getting rid of the monarchy. It is essential for stability and central to national security. Wow!

Kasit claims that the red shirts have no popular support in Thailand.

He is a remarkable hardliner. He says all the things that one may read in ASTV/Manager. Uses the same line as Abhisit: some people use violence while ignoring the state’s own violence. Mentions corruption at all levels and seems to blame “politicians” and praises Abhisit as clean and not evil. “Thank goodness [for Abhisit]” he says. Sees his government as the only way forward (forgetting Newin Chidchob perhaps). Mumbles about equity, honesty, transparency, defeating clientelism. Lots of words, but nothing that has any weight or conviction.

Also mentions the reform councils, as Abhisit did at the CFR. He argues that they are all from “civil society” and are all independent. Notes the government’s “welfare” provisions, again mirroring Abhisit: a socially-oriented society, but not a welfare state! Seems like he knows what the reforms will come out of the reform commissions.

Our computer view says there are only 33 viewers at 9:06.

Kasit doesn’t want to see any more score cards on Thailand’s democracy, freedom etc. He wants assistance but no criticism. A demand: please stop giving marks!

He finishes at 9:08. Q & A begins. First question from the commentator is on the economy and political links.

Kasit says that economic success is down to him, the premier, Korn and another minister. He sets out that these 4 ministers meet regularly with private sector groups. Business community is assured that there is no corruption requests – under the table – we are an honest government…. Kasit is no economist and mumbles about the nature of the economy as diversified. Commodity prices up. Government policies to farmers have helped a lot. “Every farmer owns a piece of land”!! No child and no farmer will be left out.

36 viewers at 9:16.

What about Thaksin? Kasit says “no compromise” for criminal acts. Again ignores the fact that it is the state’s forces who have killed and maimed most. Some compromise possible on political party executives. Doesn’t mention Thaksin except to say that he has many cases to face. No compromise! Kasit says he is from a law-abiding government.

The south and neighboring countries is next. All is fine according to Kasit. Moves to Q & A.

Prachatai and Chiranuch is raised immediately. Kasit says that Thailand is open and freedom of the press “is second to none in the world!” He says that media that urges violence, hatred, misinformation or challenges the monarchy must be repressed. Kasit seems to think Prachatai does this. He rambles on to avoid the issues. He thinks he gets attacked, so that is media freedom.

Next Q is on ASEAN, China and South China Sea. Rambles….

48 viewers at 9:29.

A Q on Burma. What’s happening there now. Kasit talks of his “friends” there and their desire for freedom of expression and so on. “The election is a first step back to an open, democratic society, so let’s support them…”. It may not be a completely fair, inclusive election, but it is a first step. Let’s support it. Kasit says he is going to do more about getting the intellectuals and emigres to return to Burma following the election. Is this a suggestion that they will be “trained and deported”? Wants release of Aung San Suu Kyi. Perhaps…. but adds little about this. Goes back to the elections.

Political compromise question: Chiranuch issue raised again. Kasit seems to misunderstand. He seems clear that Chiranuch is wrong. He seems to paint her and Prachatai as a red shirt agency. He complains of thousands of websites that have the “ideology of hatred.” He is uniformed? No he believes it. He says the justice system is one of “high integrity” and begins complaining about Thaksin.

Concludes at 9:38.

Comment: Most disturbing about this presentation is Kasit’s extremely hard line position on the monarchy and his lack of capacity to distinguish opposition and independent media from what he says are dangerous, hate-filled, violence promoting media. Kasit is firmly located in an authoritarian hole and can probably never escape it.

Asia Society provides a political platform for Abhisit regime

11 06 2010

The Abhisit Vejjajiva government has announced that it is sending out teams to “rehabilitate Thailand’s image” following the government’s crackdowns on red shirt demonstrators, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries and hundreds of political prisoners. The regime has also told “Thailand’s friends” that they are expected to do more to “help.” We have posted on one of those efforts already. And, the government has already made the script available.

PPT guesses that this is the reasoning behind the Asia Society’s hosting of a “live webcast-only event featuring Kiat Sitthiamorn, Thai Special Envoy to New York and Washington. The discussion will center on the current political situation in Thailand. This live webcast takes place June 14th on from 4:00 to 5:00 pm ET.

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