Thailand and Myanmar’s generals

25 02 2021

Oren Samet has a useful article at The Diplomat. “The Myanmar Public Fights Not to End Up Like Thailand” makes some points that need attention. It begins:

A week after overthrowing Myanmar’s elected civilian government on February 1, coup leader [Gen] Min Aung Hlaing sent a letter to Thai Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha asking – with no hint of irony – for his help in supporting “democracy” in Myanmar. The letter was revealing not for what it said, but for who it was addressed to. Prayut is, himself, a former general, who overthrew Thailand’s elected government in 2014 and has been in charge ever since. When it comes to coups, Thailand’s generals know what they’re doing.

As we know, and despite initial silence and opacity, in recent days, representative’s of Myanmar’s military junta have been meeting with Thai counterparts – most of whom were a part or associated with Thailand’s own military junta in 2014-19.

As far as we know, this is the first overseas visit by a Myanmar government representative since its hugely popular and elected government was thrown out by the coup.

According to Samet, the Myanmar generals are following a Thai script:

When Min Aung Hlaing made his first televised statement since taking power, he repeatedly emphasized that government policies would remain unchanged and welcomed continued foreign investment. Despite the disastrous consequences of previous military takeovers in Myanmar, he promised that this coup would be different.

He might as well have said, “this time we’re doing it Thai style.”

Samet rightly points out that Gen Min Aung Hlaing:

has close connections to the Thai military. He received multiple high-level honors from the Thai authorities, even after orchestrating the Rohingya genocide in 2017. Prem Tinsulanonda, a previous Thai general turned prime minister, considered Min Aung Hlaing his “adopted son.”

Thailand’s royalist military and the interfering Gen Prem has, from the ashes, helped in bringing authoritarianism back to Myanmar.

But, as the world knows, the Myanmar generals are facing stiff opposition. This is not, as Samet claims, being unable to follow the Thai example, but different circumstances. In 2014, the Thai generals didn’t face widespread opposition because they had eliminated, through repression and jailings, the red shirt opposition and its leaders. At the same time, like Thailand’s yellow shirts who hated Thaksin Shinawatra, in Myanmar, several public intellectuals with civil society links have gone over to the generals and express an intense hatred of Aung San Suu Kyi and her alleged arrogance.

The other thing that the Thai military might have shown their buddies across the border is that it is possible to wait out civil opposition while picking off some of that oppositions leadership. The men with guns know that peaceful protest can often be waited out.





Updated: Going Chinese on Myanmar

1 02 2021

With a military coup in Myanmar, the military-backed and populated regime in Bangkok has responded as you would expect.

Despite bogus claims that the rigged 2019 election made the military junta somehow “democratic,” Gen Prawit Wongsuwan has shown that the military mindset rules.

Gen Prawit declared that the coup, the democratically-elected government that won in a landslide, and the military detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and several other leaders of her party as an “internal affair.”

This response sounded very much like it might have come from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Naturally enough, Cambodia’s autocratic leader Hun Sen concurred that it was an “internal matter.”

Of course, Gen Prawit has been involved in at least two military coups in Thailand and he and other military bosses are close to Myanmar’s military.

The company the regime keeps shows that military domination, coups, mad monarchism, and oligarchy does the country no good at all.

Update: Prachatai reports: “As the Myanmar military seizes power, detains politicians and declares a 1-year state of emergency, the democratic opposition in Thailand condemns the putsch and holds a protest in front of the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok…”. In another Prachatai report, it is reported that “after Thais and Myanmarese staged a protest against the coup by the Myanmar military this afternoon, they were dispersed by the Royal Thai Police with shields and batons. 3 people were arrested.”

Thailand’s military-monarchy despots have become the protectors of authoritarian regimes.

 





Updated: Suchart Nakbangsai has been convicted

29 11 2010

On 24 November 2010, Suchart Nakbangsai (Worawut Thanongkorn) was sentenced to three years in prison for allegedly violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code. He was accused of defaming the queen during comments made during a UDD rally on Sanam Luang on 14 October 2008.

Initially, Suchart was facing a six year sentence, but he confessed and so his sentence was cut in half.

Brief details can be found here: Prachatai, 29 November 2010, “ตัดสินจำคุก ‘สุชาติ นาคบางไทร’ 3 ปี ข้อหาหมิ่นสถาบัน”.

Update: English-language reporting is available here.

PPT has now moved Suchart’s case from Pending Cases to Convictions.

How many more people will be placed behind bars before Article 112 is nullified?





Burma as a model for reconciliation

15 11 2010

PPT knows a lot has been written on the release of Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. We simply note that the Abhisit Vejjajiva government somehow give the impression that they think that the events in Burma are a model for Thailand. This from MCOT News:

The Thai government welcomes the release of Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest by the military junta, according to a statement issued by the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry.

The statement, issued Saturday after the release of the Nobel Peace Prize winner, said her release marked “another important step in the national reconciliation and democratisation process in Myanmar”. It said the Thai government hoped that she will have a “constructive role to play in Myanmar’s nation building process”.

“The Royal Thai government reaffirms its commitment to cooperating with the new government of Myanmar in these endeavours for peace, development and prosperity of Myanmar as well as for the well-being of the Myanmar people,” the statement issued by the Ministry added.

Co-operation for national reconciliation seems to involve forcible repatriation of refugees and business opportunities.

As a variant on the Chinese model, for Abhisit and his regime, a fixed election followed by the release of red shirt leaders might be one of the models they have in mind for an electoral authoritarianism in Thailand.





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 moderator@asiasociety.org 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.





Aung San Suu Kyi on Thaksin’s payroll

26 04 2010

When confronted with any statement they find objectionable, yellow shirted intellectuals and associated media have regularly accused the international media and commentators of being in the pay of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. This has included conservative magazines like The Economist.A few days ago PPT posted an account of comments by Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi about the failures of democracy when the military writes constitutions. At the time, we said: “Suu Kyi’s comments will send some yellow shirts into a low orbit.”

It seems were were right. In this article in The Irrawaddy, while there is a clarification of Suu Kyi’s comments – not that they change the thrust -some of the reaction is reported. The report cites Matichon and acting Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn as “saying that Suu Kyi could not be uninformed about Thailand’s political situation.” The ignorant Panitan suggests that Suu Kyi is challenged in various ways and claims that: “Some countries might not get enough information because of the language or because the methods of communication are systematically blocked. Thus, the news may not be complete.” Perhaps he means Thailand?

Thais said to be “intellectuals who sympathize with Burma’s pro-democracy movement” also challenged Suu Kyi’s comments. One doubted she even made these comments and pointed out that Thailand and Burma are different:  “Politics and the military in Thailand are very different from those in Burma. It is surprising to learn that Suu Kyi compared the Burmese junta’s Constitution to Thailand’s…. Both were written under the military, however, under far different political contexts. We shouldn’t have a stereotypical image of the so-called ‘military’…”. PPT assumes that Thailand’s military are to be seen, not as thugs, but as well-meaning armed men who disregard elections and make coups in the name of minority interests.

Some felt that her comments would damage relations with Thailand’s Democrat Party that “has supported the democracy movement in Burma during the past two decades…”, although the current government hardly seems to fit that history.

Perhaps the “best” response was from a yellow-hued appointed Thai senator who is cited in a very Thaksin-like response to Suu Kyi’s  comments.  Senator Prasong Nuluck says: “I feel very disappointed. Aung San Suu Kyi should understand Thailand better than this…”. He actually “called for an investigation into Suu Kyi’s financial assets to determine if she received ‘any money from any person,’ presumably a reference to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra. The senator said Suu Kyi’s comments would cause damage to Thailand’s image in the international community.” And his will do wonders to take it even further down.

We say this is “Thaksin-like” because Thaksin was often over-zealous in contradicting opponents and wanting them investigated in some way, including their assets.





Aung San Suu Kyi on the perils of having the military’s constitution

24 04 2010

Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi has been reported as commenting that “Thailand’s political crisis shows that a constitution drawn up by the military can never deliver stability…”.

NLD spokesman Nyan Win said that in a meeting he had with Suu Kyi, “she discussed the situation in Thailand, which has been wracked by crises since a 2006 coup ejected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.” He cited her as commenting: “A new government coming to power under a constitution drawn up by the military will never be stable…. We do not need to see very far. We just see Thailand…. Thaksin was an elected person. The military seized the power from an elected person. The constitution was drawn up by the military…. After that, what happened with the first (government)? It was not stable…. This was a result of the constitution being written by the military.”

Readers may recall another Nobel laureate speaking a few days ago. Jose Ramos Horta essentially supported the government’s interpretation of things without considering any context. Suu Kyi’s comments will send some yellow shirts into a low orbit.





A country for old men?

22 09 2009

Also available as ประเทศนี้สำหรับคนรุ่นเก่าหรือไง

With so much happening in Thailand’s politics in the past few weeks, it has been difficult to keep up. Seeing the bigger picture is a challenge.

Following our retrospective on Thailand three years after the 2006 palace-military coup, where we attempted to be positive, we now offer some observations regarding the current situation.

We begin with the police chief debacle. Why has this appointment been so drawn out and so conflicted? Of course, there are the related views that Thaksin Shinawatra controls the police or that the police support Thaksin. Another view is that there was a tug-of-war going on between coalition partners. There is truth in both perspectives. However, PPT suggests that there is more to this dispute.

Reports suggest that Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda (b. 1920) is at work. We won’t go into great detail for Bangkok Pundit has collected some of the comment on the police chief saga and most especially on the latest debates on who should get the job, including from ASTV/Manager and the Bangkok Post (17 September 2009: “New twist in police drama”) where there were guarded comments “new influential players.”

Police General Jumpol Manmai, the “alternative” candidate is known to be close to Prem and The Nation (17 September 2009: “Top Cop : Deadlock remains”) had stated that Jumpol “is known to have very strong backing outside the Police Commission, and lobbying was said to have reached fever pitch in the past few days.”

So is it Prem who is lobbying? Probably. Why? We suggest it is because, for some years, the palace and Privy Council have been trying to get increased control over the legal system. There has been a heightened urgency to this in the battle to root out Thaksin and his “regime.” Retired judges have been brought onto the Privy Council.

In what has clearly been a deliberated strategy, five of the last seven appointments to the Privy Council have been from the courts. The odd ones out were Admiral Chumpol Patchusanont (Former Commander of the Royal Thai Navy) and General Surayud Chulanont, who was appointed after he left the army and stepped down to be premier appointed by the military and then went back to the Privy Council when that guest appearance ended.

The former judges on the Privy Council are: Sawat Wathanakorn (appointed 18 July 2002 and a Former Judge of the Supreme Administrative Court); Santi Thakral (15 March 2005, Former President of the Supreme Court of Justice); Ortniti Titamnaj (16 August 2007, Former President of the Supreme Court of Justice); Supachai Phungam (8 April 2008, Former President of the Supreme Court of Justice); and Chanchai Likitjitta (8 April 2008, Former President of the Supreme Court of Justice and Minister of Justice). That so many judges are appointed send a clear message regarding intent. The king’s speeches to judges confirm the palace’s intentions. That such links to the judiciary have been put to use in the battle against Thaksin is seen in the ample evidence of meddling in the courts.

The palace has also been keen to have its people at the top of the police. In recent years, Police General Seripisut Temiyavet was said to be a palace favorite. When the military took over in 2006, Seri was made acting and then Police Commissioner and became a member of the junta’s Council for National Security.

At about the same time, long-time palace favorite Police General Vasit Dejkunjorn, once the Chief of the Royal Court Police for the Thai royal family, was put in charge of a review of the police force. At the time, this was reported as an attempt to clean up the notoriously corrupt force and to break Thaksin’s alleged political hold over it. As late as just a week or so ago, the Democrats had Vasit look into corruption in the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority.

Michael Montesano says this of Vasit: “Briefer of CIA director Allen Dulles during the latter’s late-1950s visit to Thailand, veteran of anti-Soviet espionage in Bangkok, long the Thai Special Branch’s leading trainer in anti-Communist operations, and palace insider at the time of his country’s most intensive counter-insurgency efforts, Police General Vasit Dejkunjorn ranked among Thailand’s most important Cold Warriors.” His own background in the shadows of the Cold War did not prevent him from being of an office holder at Transparency International in Thailand. Vasit remains a warrior for the palace in his columns in Matichon and as a royalist speaker. For a very short time Vasit was deputy interior minister for Chatichai Choonhavan being raised from his position as deputy police chief.

Vasit is 79 or 80 (thanks to a reader for this information), been “retired” for years, but keeps popping up in strategic locations. His political views reflect the position of the palace. For examples of his royalism and extreme views, see here and here.

Meanwhile, over at the Democrat Party, at present it seems that chief adviser Chuan Leekpai (b. 1938) is the power behind Abhisit. In recent years, Chuan has been increasingly outspoken in support of Prem. In recent days, Chuan has become the link between Prem and the government. For example, just a few days ago, as PAD fired up on Preah Vihear, Prem became involved, with the Bangkok Post reporting that “Gen Prem is reportedly concerned about the possibility of tensions spinning out of control if it is not attended to properly. A source said former supreme commander Gen Mongkol Ampornpisit, one of Gen Prem’s closest aides, paid a visit to Chuan Leekpai, the former prime minister and chief adviser of the ruling Democrat Party, at the party’s headquarters in August, to convey Gen Prem’s concern over the border developments.” The Post considers that Prem’s concern nudged Abhisit to send Foreign Minister Kasit to arrange a broadcast “assuring the Thai public that the country has not yet lost a single inch of land area in regard to the Preah Vihear dispute.”

As PPT shown in recent postings, Abhisit has been promoting increasingly nationalist and royalist causes. We won’t detail all of this again, but it is clear that Abhisit is not stupid. His emphasis on right-wing, conservative and nationalist strategies is a reflection of the views of his strongest backers. We see this backing as involving Chuan, Prem and the palace more generally. It seems Abhisit doesn’t have much support within his own party, so this backstopping, is keeping him in his position, has to be acknowledged. So Abhisit, with the support of important and highly conservative and royalists, adopts measures that hark back to a darker past.

Of course, the recently launched project called “Thai Unity” reflects the views king (b. 1927) and currently in hospital. His call for “unity” is a conservative refrain heard since the days when the king feared he might lose his throne to communists.

Abhisit’s calls to nationalism and patriotism may seem anachronistic and even dim-witted but they are an accurate reflection of the fact that the conservatives are bereft of new ideas. Hence, we have loyalist Anand Punyarachun (b. 1932) promoting nonsense like the interview with Stephen B. Young, the “Patronizing White Man With Degree Reassures Thai Elites With Unexamined Rhetoric” upon Thailand and believing that he makes sense and has something to say. What he actually says is that these old men haven’t a clue what the new Thailand is about.

The result is that all they can do is fall back on projects that are emblematic of the military-authoritarian governments of past generations.

Related, the huge effort to protect Prem in recent days is also to be understood as a part of this conservative project (see here and here).

Add in the remarkably expensive efforts to “protect the monarchy” through the use of lese majeste and computer crimes laws and the debt to the elders adds up to a government that is becoming increasingly conservative, more repressive and is normalizing authoritarianism.

While PPT points to this authoritarian slide, we also celebrate and support the courageous struggles of those within Thailand who continue to speak out even as they are watched by the current surveillance state. In 1997, Burmese Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi urged those outside Burma to “Please use your liberty to promote ours.” Comparing the current waves of royalism and the increasingly repressive Democrat Party-led state to the Burmese military regime would be factually incorrect and politically dangerous, yet there seems a determination to take Thailand back.

Thailand is now at a precipice between, as we noted in our coup anniversary post, the potential for deepening democratization, and the potential for unbridled repression at the hands of state, para-state, and royal actors. It is important to continually observe and criticize repression, and call for justice – especially for those jailed by repressive laws and those awaiting trial. A democratic Thailand will be a place where these old authoritarian men have a place, but it won’t be a place that celebrates their anachronistic ideas through government programs that enhance repression.

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