Authoritarians flock together

8 09 2021

What’s the collective noun for draconian authoritarians? Perhaps a Falange of authoritarians. Whatever the noun, it’s happening now in Southeast Asia. More to the point, the authoritarian, military-backed regime in Thailand is providing strong support for the murderous military junta in Myanmar.

Myanmar’s opposition, as a government in exile, known as the National Unity Government, formed mostly by elected lawmakers from the ousted National League for Democracy and their ethnic allies, has recently called for the uprising against the military junta to continue.

The response of the authoritarian twin in Thailand is telling and damning.

The Irrawaddy reports that “Thai police have been alerted to arrest anyone related to Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG) found to be staying in Thailand.” The terrible twin in Myanmar must be very grateful that Thai authoritarians are doing their repression.

Intelligence sources in Thailand say an “alert was issued a few months ago” and that police and military have been “ordered to raid places suspected of sheltering NUG members—especially ministers and deputy ministers—who have been opposing Myanmar’s military regime.”

From Ugly Thailand

So far as we know, none of the leaders have been arrested. But, not long ago, “journalists and their associates from Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), a Myanmar online news site outlawed by the regime, were arrested for illegal entry by Thai authorities after they were found to be staying in … the country’s north. They were later deported to a third country.”

As usual, the threat is there and the fear created.

The Irrawaddy states that “Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is close to Myanmar coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and his government’s policies favor the junta.”

Rotten regimes Falange together.





Fascist-like culture wars

6 09 2021

Thana Boonlert of the Bangkok Post has an op-ed on the junta-appointed Senate that is worth considering.

Hardly noticed, the unelected senators convened to consider “a motion for the virtuous council…”. Huh? Yep, the unelected swill of military backers, ultra-royalists and assorted conservatives “sought to reform the national culture to ensure its progress, discipline, and morality.”

Senator Sirina Pavarolarvidya “attributed the current social conflict to the generation gap and proposed that the virtuous council be established to provide role models for every sector of society.” By this she means the youth have lost “gratitude, discipline, honesty, sufficiency, and a volunteer spirit…”. That all of this is imbued by thick-headed royalism is revealed when she says these “virtues” “are born out of the love for nation, religion, and king.”

Berlin, Germany….. Two heads that bow as one, Herr Adolf Hitler, Dictator of Germany (left), bids bon voyage to King Prajadhipok of Siam, when the latter, accompanied by his queen, left Berlin following their extended visit to Germany’s capital. This modern ruling family does all its traveling by airplane, while in Europe, at least.

She sounded decidedly Fascist when she said that “…[w]hen people are virtuous and healthy, they acquire knowledge and skills.”

Thana sees historical links with “the government of Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram issued cultural mandates to strengthen Siam in the context of the global war.” That Phibun was attracted by Fascist models was not unusual, with many entranced by authoritarianism, militarism and strong leaders.

The morality demanded, Thana says, “is like a balm for those in power who are under threat from the pro-democracy movement.” Such a “campaign for virtue justifies and sustains the regime that rose to power from a military coup in 2014,” which Thana sees as an effort at “refashioning itself into a bastion of virtue…”. It’s the ridiculous “good people” justification for all political and social repression and corruption. Thana expounds on this.

Than observes that “the virtuous council is an expression of fantasy of those in power.” For PPT, it sounds a bit like a version of the “deep state” argument that the judiciary was needed to carry on the then (near dead) king’s interventionism. In this version, it seems like an effort to replace the (now) dead king’s alleged “moral” leadership.

None of the “blatant misconduct, nepotism, and corruption” is necessarily negated by culture wars directed by “good people” royalism and moralism.





Doubling down on failure

18 08 2021

Doubling down on dubious policy is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes. And so it is in Thailand as the poor choices made about vaccines, suppliers and rollout are made again.

A Bangkok Post editorial asks the obvious question: “Why more Sinovac?” The editorial states that “another 12 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine were included in its August-September Covid-19 jabs procurement plan.” It asks why a such a decision is made when “the ministry knows the efficacy of Sinovac vaccines remains in doubt against the Delta strain. ”

Meanwhile, with the king’s Siam Bioscience still as opaque as ever,  and the regime mum on what’s going on there, Reuters reports that Thailand, supposedly “a regional manufacturer of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus shots, is [now] seeking to borrow 150,000 doses of the same vaccine from the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan…”. Failure upon failure, but this is the word from “an official.”

The report states that the “request to tap vaccines from Bhutan, a country of less than 1 million people, reflects efforts to plug gaps in Thailand’s chaotic vaccine rollout, after AstraZeneca said it could supply the country with about five to six million monthly doses, about half of what the government had targeted.” It is not clear if this is coming fro Siam Bioscience or being imported, although AZ claims there’s production going on.

Mess, failure, repeat. That’s the authoritarians code.





Mafia military dependence

19 07 2021

The regime’s dependence on the military is an addiction to the military’s power. PPT posted on this recently when we observed that it it somehow “natural” that a military-backed regime, populated and commanded by generals, should use the military for civil actions.

A couple of days ago this was reaffirmed in a Bangkok Post report where Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, the self-selected prime minister, was said to have “instructed the armed forces and the national police to join hands with City Hall to arrange for more than 200 rapid deployment teams to carry out door-to-door testing for Covid-19 in the worst-hit parts of the city.”

The military and police usually combine and arrive at homes when arresting regime opponents for sedition or lese majeste or when threatening and intimidating the regime’s opponents. So having them show up – in uniform – is threatening and scary for many.

Military repression

Public health maneuvers

And, that’s what it is meant to be as the regime’s aim is aimed “finding and isolating infected people to curb soaring transmissions in the capital…”. It is reported that the “teams will go door to door to offer a free Covid-19 testing service to people.”

“Offer” is not the right word except in the Mafia context of “an offer you can’t refuse.”

Perhaps if the regime had sufficient testing, where people didn’t have to camp out over night, might have been a public health way to do this, but this is a military-backed regime, populated and commanded by generals, skilled in hierarchy and order rather than civil administration.

In addition, it seems that the regime is unable to come up with any sensible idea about how to deal with bed shortages. Again, it takes the military route, with Gen Prayuth ordering the “armed forces to support vehicles and facilities to transport Covid-19 patients from Bangkok and its surrounding areas to return to their home provinces to undergo treatment on a voluntary basis because of bed shortages in the capital and its surrounding provinces.”

“Voluntary” is not the right word except in the Mafia context of “an offer you can’t refuse.”

The regime is addicted to military authoritarianism.





Silencing dissent

13 07 2021

Several outlets have commented on and criticized the regime’s new effort to silence criticism using the pandemic as an excuse for further repression.

Prachatai notices that, in addition to “curfews and lockdowns in many locations, the 27th regulation under the Emergency Decree also imposes a 2-year jail sentence and/or a fine of up to 40,000 baht for anyone who spreads information or news that causes public fear or affects national security.”

This effort by the regime to silence dissent and criticism goes along with the militarization of the lockdown.

In its broadest effort to prevent criticism, the regime’s decree states:

2009_0828_ss_tape_mouth_censor

© Shutterstock

The presentation of news or dissemination of books, printed matter or other media containing information that may cause fear among the people, or with the intention to distort information or news to cause misunderstanding under the state of emergency in such a way that affects national security or public order or the good morals of the people throughout the kingdom is an offence.

Earlier regulations “issued during the state of emergency in 2020 which outlawed only incorrect information.” iLaw points out that with “incorrect information” now “removed from the current regulation, it raises questions about the prosecution of information distribution regardless of its validity.”

In other words, this decree potentially makes the truth illegal.

Thai Enquirer argues that “this new emergency decree has been passed by the government because it has been under pressure for its poor Covid-19 response.” So bad has that response been in this recent period that “instead of trying to do a better job, the government thinks that the best course of action to ease the pressure that it is feeling is to pass a decree that will muzzle the public’s free speech.”

It concludes:

The government, unable to figure things out with the pandemic, is reverting to the one thing it does know, authoritarianism.

Because the passage of this decree is exactly what a military government would do. Unable to fight the rising tide of public dissatisfaction, the government is pursuing the heavy-handed, intellectually-stunted approach that all military men eventually fall back on.

Censorship





Constitutional conservatives

20 06 2021

Since World War 2, Thailand’s royalist, conservatives and rightists have long tried to use constitutions to prevent change and to maintain their political dominance. That’s why recent and current battles over the constitution are important.

Since the military re-established itself as chief constitution drafter with the 2006 coup, the two resulting constitutions have been written to ensure that military-backed regimes of royalists control things. The 2007 constitution wasn’t enough for that, so the 2014 coup and the resulting 2017 constitution were an effort to enforce the ruling elite’s preferred arrangements. This includes the 20 year “reform” period that seeks to fully embed military-backed authoritarianism.

The last time the opposition tried to amend the constitution was swiftly swatted away – as were efforts to amend the 2007 constitution. To do this, the Constitutional Court was required to rule that amendment should be made all but impossible. Where amendment was possible, it could essentially be by the regime, making things more comfortable for itself and its progeny.

The current attempts to amend the constitution are moving in the direction of giving the regime and its parties even more electoral advantage while rejecting the opposition’s efforts to  make the military junta’s constitution look a little fairer.

Emblematic of the resistance to change is the role of the junta’s appointed senate that made Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha premier. For some background on this, see Bunkueanun Paothong’s op-ed at Khaosod.

For more detail on the current efforts to amend the constitution, look at Prachatai’s Explainer. There’s also an effort at explaining at Thai PBS.

On the rejection of opposition suggestions, see here and here.

For the regime’s continued constitutional rigging , see here.





Free Penguin and Rung

26 04 2021

Tyrell Haberkorn and Thongchai Winichakul of the University of Wisconsin-Madison have a call for the release on bail of political prisoners Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak and Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul. It is at NikkeiAsia. Read it in full.

Clipped from The Nation

The two have “gone on hunger strike while being detained ahead of their trials in late May for alleged lese-majeste. The pair are refusing nourishment to protest the denial of their right to bail.”

Penguin began his partial hunger strike on 15 March 15 and Rung joined him 15 days later: “The risk to their health grows with each passing day.”

The authors note:

…these activists have not actually insulted, defamed, or threatened the monarchy. Instead, they have dared to call for an open and frank discussion on the place of the monarchy in Thailand — particularly with respect to its relationship with the law, the judiciary, the military and its assets.

Parit faces at least 20 counts of violating Article 112, and Panusaya at least nine. Their sentences for speeches at peaceful protests and social media posts could break records — evidence how afraid the state and the palace are of such discussions.

They point out that the “right to bail is guaranteed under Thai law and by Thailand’s international human rights obligations, but it is routinely denied in Article 112 cases on the grounds of national security and the fact that the harsh penalty makes flight more likely.” By denying bail, they say,the regime “has effectively shut down the protest movement, and instilled fear in those who dare to dissent.” And, authoritarianism deepens.

They conclude:

As each application for bail is denied, it becomes more evident that preventing citizens from openly discussing the monarchy and its role in the Thai polity are to the authorities more important than the lives of citizens. Parit, Panusaya and all the other political detainees must have their bail rights restored.





Monarchism and secrecy

25 04 2021

Prachatai reports on cabinet approved draft amendments to the Official Information Act. As with changes proposed for the registration and operation of NGOs, the approved amendment promotes and supports political authoritarianism that is rooted in monarchism.

As the report notes:

The Official Information Act B.E. 2540 (1997) was intended as the cornerstone of the people’s right to access state information….

Under the current procedure, the authorities are required to make a wide range of information accessible to the public on request, including cabinet resolutions, the structure of state agencies, policies, regulations, budgets and concession contracts with private companies.

Of course, the authorities could still legally “withhold or not give information that would damage the monarchy (Section 14), or that would damage national security, international relations, law enforcement or the wellbeing of a private individual (Section 15).”

Those bits of information on the monarchy would be available after a massive 75 years and after 20 years for other withheld information.

The draft amendment, however, expands the kinds of information that can be withheld and adds “a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a 200,000 baht fine for any ‘individual’ who discloses such information.”

The draft now states that withheld information is that which could be “used to damage the monarchy and information about royal security, cannot be disclosed.

In addition, the amendment:

… prohibits the publication of information about state security regarding the military, defence, terrorist prevention, international affairs related to the state security, intelligence, individual security and “other information about state security as announced by the Cabinet following recommendations of the Board.”

“National security,” dominated by issues surrounding the secretive monarchy, has “been interpreted in a highly military manner after the 2014 coup.” Nakorn Serirak, a lecturer at the College of Local Administration, Khon Kaen University, a former expert on the Information Board, said the:

increased presence on the Board of military officers expert in national defence, intelligence, counter-terrorism and security-related international affairs may cause a greater information lockdown when it comes to considering appeals against non-disclosure decisions.

The increased restrictions and penalties for those who disclose it will cause a “shrinking of freedom of information for Thais…”.

Mana Nimitmongkol, Secretary-General of the Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand (ACT), is also quoted. He says that the amendment will allow “the authorities to sweep many documents, like those to do with procurement or construction project details, under the security carpet, making it impossible to check corruption in projects.”

The descent into dark authoritarianism was the aim of the 2014 military coup and is a part of the military-monarchy dictatorship.





Mad authoritarianism

23 04 2021

There’s been considerable discussion in recent days of a draft law that would allow state monitoring of NGO funding and supervision of their activities. This amounts to a predictable deepening of control by an authoritarian regime. At the same time, it is reflective of a quite mad authoritarianism as the regime has increasingly come under the influence of ideas of conspiracy that dominate the “thinking” of mad monarchists.

Thai PBS reports that the effort to strictly control civil society organization and dominate political space by limiting NGOs by the “monitoring of NGO funding and supervision of their activities” through the Bill on the Operations of Not-for-Profit Organisations “stems from fears of foreign intervention in local politics and adverse impacts of NGOs’ foreign donations on national security.”

That report cites Amnesty International as saying that other states have also introduced “restrictive laws and policies, and stigmatising rhetoric…”. The examples provided include “Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, India, Hungary, and the Philippines.”

In the Thai case, the bill appears to reflect the increasingly frenzied deep yellow shirt conversations about CIA (meaning the USA) and Jewish (meaning George Soros) conspiracies to undermine the monarchy. There’s no evidence for such conspiracies, just an ever-mounting social media gnashing of teeth and tan ever-higher piling of buffalo manure, some of it egged on by organized anti-Western bloggers and “news” outlets. Such sources have waged a campaign against “colour revolutions” and, since the rise of the red shirts, have increasingly focused on Thailand. In Thailand, their deeply conservative narrative has been couched in “radical” terms, railing against “American imperialism.”

This narrative caught on among yellow shirts who themselves had dealt in fictious notions of conspiracy against the monarchy that constructed accounts of the Finland Plot to bring down the monarchy and of Thaksin Shinawatra’s anti-monarchism.

Such conservative fictions were easily imbibed by military monarchists. One result is this bill to control civil society groups. It was the post-junta cabinet, dominated by military monarchists that “in late February approved in principle the Bill on the Operations of Not-for-Profit Organisations, which would require NGOs to report their financiers and amount of funding, to have their accounts audited, and to ensure that their activities are lawful.”

Thai Enquirer refers to the Bill as the “Operation of Non-profit Organizations Act,” and notes that the “legislation was proposed by the Council of State…” which cited the concerns that resulted in the draft bill, including that NGOs “receive funding from foreign persons or entities.” Nothing new there; it has been a standard operating procedure for decades. However, in these reactionary times, there’s a view that this “might adversely affect the relationship between Thailand and that of other countries.”

Thai Enquirer explains what the Bill will do:

This draft bill, if passed into law, would require NGOs to register themselves with the Director General of the Department of Provincial Administration, prior to commencing its activities in Thailand. Once registered, they will be additionally required to comply with rules and conditions prescribed by the Minister of Interior, in addition to those requirements set forth in the legislation.

In addition, NGOs would be subject to an annual disclosure viz-a-viz sources of funds and must file an annual tax report to authorities. And, more horrendously, the NGOs can only receive funding from foreign persons, entities, or groups of persons, only for the purpose as prescribed by the Minister of Interior. Failure to comply with these requirements would subject the NGOs to criminal sanctions. Potentially imprisonment for persons involved.

It is unclear whether receiving funds to engage in political advocacy such as calling for the amendment of the constitution would be one of the permissible purposes. However, given the government’s track record and how the government MPs have reacted to iLaw’s requests, it is reasonable to fear that the purpose of political advocacy would not be permitted.

The article continues, noting that the regime:

does not wish to appear subtle about its motives either. It includes as material substance of the law that the bill would effectively ensure that NGOs are operating in Thailand without “Tai-ya-jitr” (hidden agendas). It remains unclear what “hidden agenda” means in this context. Is advocating for democracy … under the authoritarian regime regarded as a “hidden agenda?” … One might therefore reasonably conclude that this law is aimed at curtailing the activity of liberal NGOs….

The regime “has provided numerous hints about how it intends to use the law,” citing “a senior intelligence official specifically cited a statement signed by 13 human rights organisations … as demonstrating the need for further control over organisations working in Thailand.” That statement by human rights groups “condemned the government’s use of force against protesters.”

As The Interpreter observes:

Since a military coup in 2014, however, civic space and fundamental freedoms have taken a beating in Thailand. Authorities have harassed activists, cracked down on protesters and obstructed the proceedings of civil society. But these actions have failed to fully extinguish dissent, and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government has now proposed a draconian new law governing associations and organisations, which, if passed, would do more to crush civic space and undermine Thailand’s role in the region than any other effort by the Thai government in the past decade….

Under the proposed legislation, any group engaged in non-profit activities – no matter how small, informal or unorganised – would be required to register with the ministry. Student groups, community organisations, protest movements, artistic collectives, social clubs and short-lived associations would all fall within the remit of the law.

It establishes a “mandatory registration scheme overseen by the Ministry of Interior” and gives “authorities expansive powers to control and monitor groups of all sizes and types.”

Under the current authoritarian regime, the proposed law’s “broad terms and steep penalties would likely be wielded arbitrarily against independent-minded individuals and organisations.”

It imposes harsh penalties for failing to register: “individuals associated with an unregistered group could be punished with up to five years’ imprisonment.”

…The law would give the Ministry of Interior sweeping powers to determine the conditions under which registered groups operate. Activities backed by foreign funds would require pre-approval by the ministry, with foreseeable consequences for groups that frequently come into conflict with the government. More worrying still, the law would allow officials to inspect a registered organisation’s office and access its emails without justification or judicial oversight. It provides no safeguards against governmental misuse or arbitrary application of the law.

…Moreover, the selection of the Ministry of Interior as the ministry responsible for enforcing the law is telling. The Ministry of Interior oversees local administration and internal security within Thailand. As a result, it frequently comes into conflict with community associations, non-governmental organisations and other groups that would be governed by the law. The surveillance and enforcement powers granted by the law would bolster the ministry, to the detriment of those seeking to hold government officials accountable for corruption, human rights abuses or other misdeeds.

Such requirements and such intrusive surveillance mean that the government would determine which NGOs could register and what they could do, if they receive international funding.

The Interpreter further observes:

Adding to the law’s recklessness, the timeline set forth for registration – 30 days from the date of enactment – does not provide enough time for the ministry to register the thousands of currently unregistered groups operating in Thailand. If it were passed, numerous organisations would be forced to cease operations, and many would never reopen.

That is likely one of the aims of the legislation.

Each of the reports mentioned in this post reports on responses from NGOs. Among many issues, they note that the law is in conflict with several provisions of the constitution – not that such matters have ever bothered this regime – and that the law would allow “authorities to harass civil society groups and activists critical of the government by categorising them as NGOs.”

The Interpreter concludes:

If enacted, the proposed law would devastate Thai civil society and could lead to an exodus of international organisations currently based in Thailand.

Clearly, the regime’s support for the monarchy and the need to suppress anti-royalism puts it in alliance with all kinds of mad monarchists. For them and the regime, only conspiracy theories can “explain” attacks on their beloved monarchy and monarchist ideology. When mixed with the regime’s military-induced love of hierarchy and order, the outcome is a political system that is deeply authoritarian. The threat is to make Thailand forever authoritarian.





Down the shute

4 03 2021

PPT doesn’t always post on rankings, but the Freedom House index struck us as telling of Thailand’s descent into a dark era. Freedom House’s report now ranks Thailand as Not Free. While one might dispute such indices, it is clear that the country now languishes with some sad companions in these “league tables,” looking far more authoritarian than democratic.

Freedom House’s report on Thailand begins:

Thailand’s status declined from Partly Free to Not Free due to the dissolution of a popular opposition party that had performed well in the 2019 elections, and the military-dominated government’s crackdown on youth-led protests calling for democratic reforms.

It goes on

Following five years of military dictatorship, Thailand transitioned to a military-dominated, semi-elected government in 2019. In 2020, the combination of democratic deterioration and frustrations over the role of the monarchy provoked the country’s largest anti-government demonstrations in a decade. In response to these youth-led protests, the regime resorted to familiar authoritarian tactics, including arbitrary arrests, intimidation, lèse-majesté charges, and harassment of activists. Freedom of the press is constrained, due process is not guaranteed, and there is impunity for crimes committed against activists.

Read it all here.