With 3 updates: Campaigning for Wanchalearm

9 06 2020

Update 1: Apologies to readers. Some of our earlier version of this post was left unedited. We have fixed that now.

Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s enforced disappearance has been taken up by Thai activists and some of the international media.

In a story with worldwide impact, Thomson Reuters reports that the exile’s kidnapping has sparked protests. These aren’t just about Wanchalearm but all of the now “missing” or deceased exiles. As the report explains, the agitation has expanded “reignit[ing] protests against Thailand’s military-royalist elite, with some online questioning a law banning criticism of the monarchy.”

There were protesters at the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok: “Dozens of protesters outside the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok demanded an investigation into the disappearance and accused the Thai state of orchestrating his kidnapping, which Thailand’s police and government have denied.” According to Khaosod, the “protesters submitted a petition to the mission’s secretary and placed posters calling for justice on the embassy’s wall.”

Somyos Prueksakasemsuk and other protesters at the Cambodian Embassy

Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan deflected criticism, saying the matter is one for Cambodia. Previous disappearances have seen no action at all from the Thai authorities, convincing many that the perpetrator/s are protected.

Posters “labelled ‘Missing’ appeared around Bangkok featuring photos of Wanchalearm and other [disappeared] critics of military governments…” appeared around Bangkok. Claimed to be “the work of the Spring Movement, a small group of students at Bangkok’s elite Chulalongkorn University…”, officials working hard to remove them.

One group member told Reuters: “We do not know who directly ordered the abduction, but we can see the ruling elite of this country does not care about this issue.”

Suddenly, there seemed a general “feeling” about “who directly ordered the abduction,” with the hashtag “#abolish112” trending on “Twitter, used or retweeted more than 450,000 times by midday on Monday.” The reporters involved sought a response from the palace! An official said: “The palace has no comment on this issue…”.

Oddly, according to Khaosod, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees also responded saying “the organization cannot give any opinion or information about the disappearance of activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit.” We assume this reflects the royalist domestication of UN agencies in Bangkok.

Some celebrities – presumably of some significance in Thailand – have taken up Wanchalearm’s case, with Maria Poonlertlarp, a “former Miss Universe Thailand … add[ing] her voice to the growing campaign for the Thai and Cambodian governments to explain the disappearance of Wanchalerm…”. On Instagram she used the #SaveWanchalerm hashtag “calling for  answers from authorities about his disappearance.”

Often timid on such matters, the Puea Thai Party “also called on the government to use diplomatic channels to find his whereabouts.” Sudarat Keyuraphan stated: “He is a Thai citizen that the government is duty bound to protect…”.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary committee is asking questions. Move Forward Party MP Rangsiman Rome, who serves as the committee on law and human rights spokesman, “said the government must be held accountable for the incident.” He stated that the committee “will summon the national police commissioner [Gen Chakthip Chaijinda] to testify about … [Wanchalearm’s] fate…”. He also said others like Special Branch Police commissioner Maj Gen ‎Sarawut Karnpanit and consular affairs department chief Chatri Atjananan would be called to meet the committee. Rangsman observed: “It is the obligation of the government to protect its citizens. On top of that, Wanchalearm has contributed to many youth welfare and other charitable organizations.”

The Bangkok Post reports that the Active Thai Citizen group, led by Kan Wattanasupang, also a member of the Move Forward Party, submitted a petition to the House of Representatives. Kan said “the government must seek to protect all Thai citizens regardless of differences in political ideology.” He added: “We cannot let such gross human rights violations happen to those with political different ideas. In the past, political dissidents have been victims of intimidation, assault or even enforced disappearance,” raising the “mysterious disappearances of other political dissidents including Wuthipong … Kochathamakun and Surachai Danwattananusorn.”

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

Remarkably, there’s also a report about the decrepit, regime-controlled National Human Rights Commission, claiming some role:

Thailand’s state-sanctioned human rights agency on Monday denies turning a blind eye to the spate of abduction targeting Thai dissidents living overseas.

In a phone interview today, What Tingsamitr, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, said his organization has acknowledged the latest case of disappearance, that of activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit. However, What said no formal investigation opens yet because no one has filed a complaint with them.

“We are keeping our eyes on the issue,” What said. “We can’t take action right away since it happened outside the country. We admit that we don’t have power beyond our boundary, but we can coordinate with the foreign ministry and forward the case to Cambodian authorities.”

The case is certainly a “grave violation” of human rights if it has been proven to be an enforced disappearance, he added.

To date we have seen nothing at all of significance from the supine NHRC on any of the disappearances and murder.

What said:

“We have already published reports on many abductees in the past,” What said. “But it’s up to the government and legislators to take the issue seriously. Thailand has signed the UN convention against enforced disappearance since 2012, but it never became a law.”

But its done nothing else. Writing a report does not imply investigation.

Fellow exile Ji Ungpakorn has commented, pointedly observing: “No one should be under the illusion that Thailand has returned to democracy, despite recent elections. The military is still very much in charge and the repression continues.” So has Yammy Faiyen, who recently fled Laos for asylum in France, although her comments will probably be blocked.

At the Bangkok Post, columnist Atiya Achakulwisut bravely speaks some truths. We reproduce in full:

It might be because “it could happen to you”.

It could also be an accumulation of bitterness and frustration, built up over decades of hearing about this or that person suddenly dying or disappearing without a trace or explanation.

It could even be a paradigm shift at long last when the new generation is no longer tied to old norms or affected by traditional fear and dares to express in public what was once considered taboo.

It could be a bit of everything but the day has come when a forced disappearance which would generate only quiet whispers in the past is now causing a genuine public uproar.

The disappearance of anti-government activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit, who was allegedly abducted outside his apartment in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, last Thursday, has been covered by mainstream media.

Chulalongkorn as well as Thammasat University student organisations issued statements condemning the alleged forced disappearance and urged the Thai government to take a stance.

The incident has been widely discussed on social media, especially Twitter where the hashtag #save has drawn hundreds of thousands of tweets.

The outrage and demand for the Thai government to take action are welcoming for the human rights cause although they can be considered surprising considering Wanchalearm was not that well-known.

The Ubon Ratchathani native was against the coup and military rule. He was also wanted by authorities for defying a National Council for Peace and Order summons to report after the 2014 putsch.

In 2018, Wanchalearm was subject to another arrest warrant for violating the Computer Crime Act by operating a Facebook page critical of the government.

The activist has been living in self-imposed exile for more than six years, claiming his political stance led to harassment and other threats to his life.

Now that he has gone missing, a seemingly small player unlikely to affect a sea change in the grand scheme of things, his plight has struck a chord with many people.

Alongside news of his disappearance, photos of Wanchalearm, almost all of them showing the bespectacled 37-year-old grinning, have also surfaced everywhere. A little-known name has become a real person. Wanchalearm has become not just an anti-whatever activist but a son, a brother, a friend.

Indeed, he could be any one of us.

Wanchalearm may harbour anti-coup thoughts. He may have voiced disapproval of military rule or other forms of suppression. But do these thoughts constitute a crime?

Do people deserve to “disappear” because they are critical of something powerful?

Wanchalearm had left the country, yet he could be made to disappear in broad daylight in Phnom Penh, taken by a group of armed men according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) citing witnesses and CCTV images. Cambodian police said they knew nothing about it.

Who could be capable of executing such an operation?

As Wanchalearm’s sister Sitanan begged the Thai government and international agencies to help find her brother, Cambodia’s Interior Ministry suggested the HRW report could be “fake news” while the Thai government has made no response.

Today marks the sixth day since Wanchalearm “disappeared”.

Since the 2014 coup, about a hundred political activists exiled themselves to other countries. Of these, at least six have gone missing while two were found dead, according to BBC Thai.

Wanchalearm is definitely not the first suspected of being “carried away”. The UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances reports 82 unresolved cases of enforced disappearances in Thailand since 1980.

These include Somchai Neelapaijit in 2004, Karen land rights defender Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen in 2014 and political activists Siam Theerawut, Chucheep Chivasut and Kritsana Thapthai during 2018-19.

It is possible that the #save trend and collective anger against the alleged forced disappearance could end up like other save someone or something hashtags before it — making no difference to the oppressive, unaccountable power culture in Thailand and becoming just another footnote in the country’s decades-long political struggle.

But one thing is clear — his plight has roused the public like never before. His story has been openly discussed, and not just in a quiet whisper. The fear usually associated with such a “disappearance” is gone.

Will this awakening turn out to be a real force for change? For once, it may be the turn of the other side to be fearful.

There may be whispering about the case and even some high-profile expression in Thailand. But that which can only be written about outside Thailand is speculation that “the operation to seize activist Wanchalearm Satstaksit was ordered by King Vajiralongkorn.”

Update 2: AP reports that “Cambodian authorities say they are willing to investigate the reported abduction of an exiled Thai dissident in Cambodia’s capital, though they claim to have been unaware of his presence for several years.” We won’t be holding our breath on that one. Meanwhile, in Bangkok, the regime repressed those raising awareness of the case, with police arresting four students … tying white ribbons at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument in protest against the apparent forced disappearances of Wanchalearm and other victims. They were accused of violating littering and traffic laws.”

Update 3: Khaosod reports that officials are busy in Bangkok erasing murals and tearing up posters that were raising awareness of Wanchalearm’s disappearance. Such actions will be seen by many as admissions of the regime’s complicit role in the enforced disappearance.

With 3 updates: Reflections on Korat murders I

10 02 2020

It isn’t often that the unelected soldier at the head of the country and his critics are in agreement. But on the tragic events in Korat, there’s at least one point of agreement.

Prayuth’s political weapons

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha was reported as saying:

All I can say is if we had fully followed [the standard security procedure], we would have been able to mitigate the degree of violence [in this incident]….

Even if we insisted we had completely followed a proper security procedure, the question is what more could we have done to improve the efficiency of security measures?

By “we,” Gen Prayuth is continuing to think of himself as a soldier.

It is certainly true that the security of arms and armories is slack on military bases and soldiers arms trading is relatively common. This is a part of the corruption in the military that is organized to the top.

Meanwhile, Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong seemed to confirm slack weapons security when he issued an “urgent order” for:

all army units to adopt stricter security measures including that the bolt carriers of the guns in guard post armouries are removed and kept separately by the chief of the guard post.

Also under the same set of new measures, bullets and machine guns will also no longer be stored at any guard post….

Apirat shooting at protesters

As the events of the terrible events in Korat remain somewhat murky, Gen Apirat’s orders on machine guns remains unexplained, at least in what we’ve seen.

Gen Prayut also said:

he had learned from investigators that it was a personal conflict involving a dispute over a house sale involving a relative of Jakrapanth’s commanding officer, which arose three days before the shooting incident.

In another report, citing some of the regime’s critics, it is agreed that “Thailand’s military faces hard new scrutiny of its ability to secure weapons and control troops at its bases and barracks.”

While this report is wrong that this “the worst mass shooting of civilians in the often violent kingdom’s modern history” – think of the military’s many attacks on civilian protesters in recent decades – it raises important issues.

Not least, critics are right to point to the unprofessional nature of Thailand’s military and:

the wisdom of the wisdom of having many of its senior-most officers busy in politics, running ministries and staging frequent coups instead of imposing discipline among its rank-and-file.

“Discipline” in the military is usually feudal, with torture and violence used on its own and junior soldiers have to act as the servants and laborers for officers. As the report adds:

Thailand’s heavily politicized and sometimes poorly disciplined military culture has not yet been mentioned as a possible motivating factor in the killings. But officials, dissidents, politicians and others have frequently criticized its lack of focus on purely military affairs.

Apirat on his knees. Clipped from Khaosod.

It might also be asked if the military’s focus on supine obeisance to the monarchy, where its senior leaders gain their positions through playing palace politics and, now, doing all it can for the king, following his compulsive-obsessive manias and spending billions on exalting and “protecting” the king.

Clearly the brass has its attention to politics and propaganda.

This is all worse by the impunity enjoyed by the brass and those working for them. This allows the military to get away with murder. This adds to ill-discipline and promotes corruption and money-making.

All of this is (possibly) seen in the motives of the murderous soldier in Korat:

The gunman’s rage allegedly erupted after a land sale where he apparently expected to receive a commission fee. Thai soldiers are often involved in side businesses, many security-related, to bolster their low incomes.

The first person among three killed at the Suatham Phithak military camp was his commanding officer, who allegedly was involved in the land deal. Details about their relationship were not immediately clear.

Whether this is true or not, you get the picture.

Update 1: Above we mentioned that we were unsure about the mention of machine guns. That is explained in a Khaosod report which states that shooter Sgt Jakkrapanth Thomma “left the base with firearms including a Heckler & Koch rifle, an M60 machine gun, a shotgun, a handgun, several types of grenades, and over 700 rounds of ammunition.” It adds: “The soldier reportedly switched to a machine gun loaded with armor-piercing rounds when fighting the besiegers, leading to the death of one police commando.”

Update 2: Readers might be interested in Ji Ungpakorn’s views on the Korat massacre.

Update 3: Worth looking at Atiya Achakulwisut’s op-ed at the Bangkok Post and her criticism of the military that runs Thailand via the unelected PM.

Constitutionalism and neo-feudalism

3 09 2019

Atiya Achakulwisut has an op-ed of note with the Bangkok Post. It deserves wide consideration because she raises uncomfortable issues that have been avoided by the mainstream media when discussing Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s un/anti-constitutional oath given before the king, as premier and for his ministers. We will mention just a couple of points here, as teasers to encourage readers to read her op-ed if they haven’t done so already.

She comments that Gen Prayuth’s omission of a sentence pledging to uphold the constitution in his oath began “as a gaffe but has taken on a mysterious tone as no explanation has been given.” We don’t think it a “gaffe, but it is the “mystery” that warrants attention. Making the mystery far less mysterious, last week, the king’s support for the premier and his ministers in an ostentatious ceremony. As usual, the king was cavorting in Europe, meaning the ministers bowed and prostrated before a photo of the monarch. But the message from the king was crystal clear, even if Atiya reckons the event added to the “mystery.”

For the feudal lord

She then raises an important issue:

At this point, it is not clear if the failure to utter the complete oath constitutes a breach of the constitution. However, the Office of the Ombudsman believes this to be the case and forwarded a complaint to the Constitution Court.

Moreover, it’s also not clear what implications the incomplete oath will have on the government’s policies and actions if the oath slip is found to be against the constitution.

And then Atiya gets to the point:

It also does not help that the oath-taking controversy concerns the monarchy and a willingness on the PM’s part to abide by the constitution. Both are sensitive issues in Thai politics.

… Although the opposition is set to launch a general debate against the premier about the oath gaffe on Friday, the government is suggesting that the session be conducted behind closed doors as it concerns the monarchy.

She reinforces this point by pointing to an online-arranged effort by some activists to challenge/know “whether it’s against the law not to stand during the royal anthem in theatres…”.

It seems that a backlash against rising neo-feudalism may (re-) emerge.

The grim road ahead

18 06 2019

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist with the Bangkok Post – who can still be located on the awful new web layout that runs slower than a three-legged buffalo – who has been pretty brave and insightful in her recent columns. Her contribution today deserves to be read in full and carefully considered.

She discerns the junta’s efforts to establish a new regime as involving violence, intimidation and repression. A lot like the junta’s current regime, but likely to be nastier.

We won’t summarize the column, but point to some bita nd pieces while urging our readers to read the whole thing.

Atiya, clipped from the Bangkok Post

… a trend has emerged which is worrying for a country seeking to reestablish democracy.

Of course, the junta has never really been interested in re-establishing democracy. It has only been interested in embedding military-dominated government.

A return to extremism complete with lese majeste accusations, intolerance to different political views and a willingness to bypass justice and fairness for political expediency has prevailed in Thailand’s post-election landscape.

Since the far-right conservatives at the helm of the country and their support base seem more intent on beating up the emerging liberalism …[and] the prospects are grim for where this round of tussling will end.

… the [junta’s] coalition at present appears more like a loose bundle of friends for benefits, ready to join hands for mutual interest…

If anyone doubts that last point, consider the blatant nepotism of Capt Thammanat Prompao, a Palang Pracharat MP for Phayao and chief of its strategic committee in the North. He’s considered a crook controversial figure, so can’t be a minister. His response is “let a family member take a ministerial post.” So slippery, so easy, so corrupt. Get used to it.

… extremism and a winner-take-all attitude seem to have prevailed. As if to prop up their lack of legitimacy and feeble political position, the ruling conservatives have reverted to whipping up of far-right sentiment….

That includes the extravagant use of  lese majeste by pathetic royalists.

Violence is waiting to erupt…. Authoritarianism has been ramped up as well.

The military regime may believe that dictatorship has carried it this far and its iron fist can still win the day…. [T]he road ahead looks grim.

Sadly, we agree.

The rigged election and the coup

23 10 2018

Atiya Achakulwisut at the Bangkok Post asks the obvious question: “What is the point of holding a general election when a military coup is lurking just around the corner?”

Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong making headlines by “saying another coup is possible if political unrest returns” is topic of the week, as the junta expected and wanted.

Atiya says Gen Apirat’s threat “has dimmed the light of a return to democracy after four years under military rule but because it suggested that authoritarianism will always be the answer for Thai society.”

We get the point, but anyone who reads anything about Thailand’s politics knows that the military has long been the enemy of electoral democracy.

Gen Apirat’s statement is only a little more threatening than Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s exhortation just prior to the 2011 election for voters to reject Yingluck Shinawatra and the Puea Thai Party. The implication of his “advice” to voters was that if they didn’t elect the other side, then expect the military to eventually intervene. And so he did via the creation of the anti-democrat movement.

Atiya suggests that the “new army chief made the coup threat public to send a message to politicians not to stray so far as to instigate violence ahead of the poll.” That’s wrong. His threat is to voters, just as Prayuth’s threat was to voters.

When Atiya says that “hopes are still high that the next election will be free and fair and the results will be accepted by all sides,” she’s grasping at straws and misreading what the junta means the “election” to be.

She’s right on a lot more about the nature of the military dictatorship. What matters for the junta is keeping political power in the hands of the anti-democrats, whether by rigged election or military coup.

The Dictator’s rigging

25 09 2018

As The Dictator sails towards an “election” that he expects that, with hot air in his sails and huge amounts of public money in his hold, he must feel that a strong wind is behind him. In this race, he’s also set the rules, planned the course, rigged all the other competitors for failure and now, we learn, he’s going to control every single aspect of the competition while being in it.

An insightful op-ed by Atiya Achakulwisut in the Bangkok Post points out that:

What Gen Prayut was clear about in his announcement is he will not step down as PM or head of the regime ahead of the election, tentatively scheduled for early 2019. That means he will remain PM until a new cabinet is formed according to the charter.

The Nation also highlights this issue:

Another question has emerged as to whether the former Army chief should step down as NCPO leader. His continued tenure could be seen as being more advantageous versus other competitors, as the junta leader has unrestricted power over all branches of government. When asked about it by a Government House reporter yesterday, he responded with a clear “No”.

It is his race, his course, his rules, and he has control. Fair? Of course not. This is a race designed and managed (and later, perhaps, to be finagled) for the junta’s men and The Dictator.

The nation lists other junta men “expressing interest” in staying on: PM’s Office Minister Kobsak Pootrakool and Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana. More will do the same as Gen Prayuth prepares for his Gen Prem Tinsulanonda-like term in office.

We can only hope that he gets sunk.

Updated: No rights

10 05 2016

Atiya Achakulwisut at the Bangkok Post on the fallout from Patnaree Chankij’s case and the arrest of the Facebook 8:

What is the point of having our rights and liberties guaranteed in the charter or any other laws when our rulers can override them at any time by citing national security, public order and good morals?

At this point, there is no telling whether a citizen’s rights to privacy and communication still exist. We don’t know either how far the citation of national security, public order and good morals can be extended to suit the regime’s agenda.

A constitution will only be useful if it can protect us, citizens. Will the draft that the military regime is offering us do the job? As a popular online poster suggested: Think, while it’s still legal.

In Thailand, if you are not 100% behind the military dictatorship and at its beck and call, you have no rights.

Update: A reader points out an error. If you are 100% behind the junta, you still don’t have any rights. What you have is the political latitude granted by the junta.

The boss gets bossier still

13 04 2016

We recall seeing a small story somewhere announcing that one party, the Bhum Jai Thai Party, has chortled that the military’s charter is just fine for them. That party was spawned by formed by Thailand’s vote-buyer-in-chief Newin Chidchob and midwifed by the military and did very poorly in the 2011 election, despite the military adding to Newin’s vote-buying capacity.

However, both the major political parties seem to have or are set to reject the junta’s draft charter. (The Democrat Party is somewhat unclear, being critical and rejecting the “extra question,” but is not yet declaring a position on a yes or no vote; we guess that Abhisit Vejjajiva is seeking some sort of deal with the military on some way to give him and his party some advantage.)

The result is that The Dictator has blown his top yet again.

In a story at Prachatai, we are told that General Prayuth Chan-ocha has “scolded politicians for disagreeing with a plan to add an additional question to the public referendum on the draft constitution.”NO

The junta leader and self-appointed prime minister went further and “said that politicians have no right to disagree with him over the proposal to include another question in the public referendum to pass the draft constitution.” The junta boss declared: “I think some people are with me in this. Therefore, will the people who are in the middle believe me or them (politicians)?”

He went on to chastise the Democrat Party. That party said the junta “should reveal a future plan in case if the draft constitution does not pass the upcoming referendum. The junta boss was not amused: “If it doesn’t pass, [the authority] will remain with me. Do you understand the word ‘authority’? And it’s up to me whether this authority is transparent or not.”

In a report at the Bangkok Post, The Dictator is quoted as declaring that “he would not care if they refused to run in the next general election.” He waxed populist: “political parties could voice opposition to the charter, but it was the people who would decide at the referendum…”. Referring to a long promised election, Prayuth stated: “If they don’t want to run, don’t run. Let other parties do so.” Recall that, in the past, boycotted elections have been used to overthrow elected governments.

In fact, under the new law the junta’s puppets just passed, the parties are not necessarily permitted to oppose. Indeed, Prayuth stated that “if those who were against the draft charter actively demonstrated their opposition, they would end up in jail.”

Another Bangkok Post: has the erratic general “warned political parties to toe the line … or they would face a summons.” Prayuth went on: “Do they want to be arrested? Those who break the [referendum] law will get up to 10 years in jail. Keep that in mind…”.

It seems that Prayuth only listens to two groups: the royalist anti-democrats who support him and the voices in his head. In the former group, Constitution Drafting Committee chairman Meechai Ruchupan who keeps saying “he was concerned about attempts to distort the content of the draft and cause misunderstandings.” We haven’t seen this. In fact, the draft charter is so bad and so steeped in anti-democratic articles that it would be difficult to misrepresent it.

Atiya Achakulwisut, who is a Contributing Editor at the Bangkok Post is spot on:

Now the draft charter is complete, the military regime’s vision for the future of Thai politics is pretty clear.

The future is now…. What the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), which promised Thais a return to happiness and democracy when it seized power two years ago, seeks to establish is a system of governance that is similar to what we have at present.

In other words, we are going to have a Prayut-style regime for the next five to 20 years, except this time it will be legitimised by an election.

That’s what the junta and The Dictator and meddling royalist proxy General Prem Tinsulanonda want. Some might hope that the Thai people stand up and declare the whole charter a sham attempt to embed military authoritarianism. Others might want to declare the referendum and the charter illegitimate. If that happens, the problem is still there, in front of everyone’s face: the military, the junta and the establishment. How do they get pushed aside?

For friends and supporters

19 01 2016

The Dictator has been forced to back down twice in a week, here and here. He must be as peeved as hell. Yet he has had to fall in line with supporters.

Atiya Achakulwisut at the Bangkok Post reports on the latest political accommodation. She begins:

It must have taken an exceptionally strong force to make a feisty character like Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha flinch.

What is more remarkable is the strong-minded prime minister did not just recoil but that he apologised, deeply, three times in a row.

The words he chose to use, krab khor aphai, conveyed not just regret but expressing it in a most respectful way, as if he would prostrate himself in front of the person to show how sorry he was.

That is quite a remarkable step down. Atiya states that “Gen Prayut took people by surprise when he made a U-turn and told the remaining board members of the Thai Health Promotion Foundation (ThaiHealth) to get back to work.”

Prayuth’s about turn followed the “strongest reproach” from “senior doctor Prawase Wasi, considered the brains behind ThaiHealth.” Readers may recall PPT’s comments about Thai Health and Prawase in earlier posts, here and here.

Prawase declared that “the military government’s move to dismiss Thai Health’s seven board members and accuse them of corruption was a ‘strategic mistake’ that will dissatisfy a wide range of people.” That’s a warning of a potential loss of important supporters and friends of the military dictatorship.

Another reproach came from “former health minister Mongkol na Songkhla who said he had made a grave mistake in joining protests to oust the Yingluck government.” He declared: “The situation now is much worse but we do not have an opportunity to go out and protest because of fear of military power…”. That’s a warning of a political ally.

Atiya makes a point we tried to make:

the ThaiHealth fiasco has exposed the military regime’s weakness. Right-wing conservatism may be the only force prevailing in the country right now. But under the same ideal, there are still shades of difference.

The military regime may have based its power on a coalition of conservative forces that seeks to maintain certain social orders that suit their interests. The truth, however, remains that this is a coalition of expediency.

The … ThaiHealth saga has shown the united front of right-wing conservatism will last only as long as their interests remain aligned….

The bickering at ThaiHealth has shown the only force that can make Gen Prayut flinch, that will stand any chance to rock the regime that has kept such a tight grip on the country, is the coalition of right-wing conservative groups that set conditions for the coup to happen and has served as its support base.

Atiya makes an final observation:

It is ironic, and deeply sad, that there is no real force in the country, be they political parties, leading figures or organisations, that can mount a serious challenge to the military dictatorship which at the end of the day may be curbed only by its own undoing. The lack of spirit to fight totalitarianism does not bode well for Thailand after the military regime, if such a scenario ever happens.

She’s not entirely wrong, although we need to point out the relentless acts of opposition. We can point to the brave members and supporters of the Neo-Democracy Movement and some academics.

The mess gets bigger still

10 11 2015

Atiya Achakulwisut is a Contributing Editor, at the Bangkok Post. In the current circumstances, where witnesses are being “found” dead and their bodies hurriedly cremated and with a testy military dictatorship lording it over the country, Atiya seems quite brave. Brave because she has an op-ed that calls for transparency and scrutiny of the alleged corruption associated with the military’s homage to the monarchy at Rajabhakti Park near Hua Hin.

She states that “[a]ccording to its website, the army intended to use the 222-rai park located in the popular resort town of Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan, as a venue for its important ceremonies and to welcome international figures during their official visits.”

She says the “allegations [of corruption] may cause visitors to feel unsure about what aspect of the park they should be in awe over.” Now that it is associated with several deaths, perhaps murders, visitors may wonder if the ghosts of violent death will haunt the place.

Atiya commends the Central Investigation Bureau for having the “courage to look into alleged irregularities even when they are associated with such a high-profile project under the care of the most powerful institution in the country.” We are sure she means the military, not the monarchy, although the prince did open the place.

She asks “how far the probe will go, and how transparent the army and relevant organisations will be about the case.” Now that those who raised the possibility of corruption are dead or have fled the country, we don’t expect much “progress” unless it is to nail more junta or palace “enemies.” We would guess that all the contractors who were involved will now be very frightened. If this sounds Mafia-like, that’s because it is.

Atiya states that the “park is located on the army’s land, [and] the budget for its construction, estimated at about one billion baht, came exclusively from public donations.” She adds that “donations for the park’s construction can be made to the ‘army’s welfare fund’ account.” The project is “managed” by the Rajabhakti Park Foundation.

One of the people who must be worried for his career and health is former army chief and Deputy Defence Minister Gen Udomdej Sitabutr as he heads up the Foundation. The Army, Atiya contends, has “put a little distance between itself and the majestic park,” saying that it is “still technically under the care of the … Foundation.”

Udomdej might consider an overseas trip.

Atiya concludes with a call: “With allegations flying around, the army just has to refute them with evidence. Share the information. Show the public that it indeed did everything aboveboard.”

We don’t think there’s much chance of that.

Udomdej has talked about the Park. He has insisted that “everything was transparent and accountable.” He bleats about “sincere intention of making it national property” but that is unlikely to save him if the powers currently at work take a dislike to him. We already know that the current Army boss doesn’t respect his predecessor.

Udomdej tries to close the distance between the Park project and the Army. He says he only headed the Foundation when he was Army chief and that thw finances were “handled by the army’s financial department, which was ready to show details of the spending with clear evidence.”

He makes a very odd claim in the current circumstances, admitting that “during construction of the project some people demanded kickbacks from some owners of factories that cast the statues of the past kings for the park. After this was uncovered, the money was returned to the factory owners, who agreed to donate it to the project…”. An offer the could not refuse no doubt.

When asked about “Col Khachachart Boondee, commander of the 1st Artillery Regiment, who has been charged with lese majeste and abusing his authority for personal gain in two criminal cases, Gen Udomdej declined to comment, saying the matter was now being investigated by police.” We don’t blame him. After all, the colonel was favored during Udomdej’s time as commander.

When Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, deputy prime minister and defence minister, was asked Khachachart, he tried to claim that “his alleged offences were a personal matter and nothing to do with the Rajabhakti Park Foundation.”

We guess that both hope that the deaths of two suspects who were singing to police about the “irregularities” means case closed. They are wrong. We may expect the body count to increase further still.

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