Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia

20 05 2019

New Mandala has posted a series of videos from a recent conference on Entrenched Illiberalism in Mainland Southeast Asia,” recorded at the Australian National University on 8–9 April 2019.

Coming a couple of weeks after Thailand’s “election,” means that there’s something of a focus on that country. Thai participants included Sunai Pasuk, Pasuk Phongpaichit, Aim Sinpeng, Prajak Kongkirati, and Naruemon Thabchumpon.

Election crisis

17 04 2019

PPT recently posted on the resurrection of the notion of a “national government.” The interesting thing about this hackneyed nonsense was the admission that Thailand faced a political crisis.

An opinion piece at The Nation is disparaging:

Moves to engineer a pseudo-deadlock to justify ‘neutral’ rule ignore the will of voters….

A so-called national unity government has always been a favourite gambit for Thai politicians who lose elections. By utilising this benign-sounding concept they can sweep aside the voters’ verdict and prevent opposing factions from taking power.

It points out that:

It was sad though predictable, then, to see the Democrats’ Thepthai Senapong float the idea again, after his party suffered a huge setback in the March 24 election. Exploiting the Election Commission (EC)’s apparent inability to produce a clear result, Thepthai has sought to convince the public that a national unity Cabinet is badly needed.

His idea immediately fails the test of credibility with his proposal that former prime minister and Democrat [Party] patriarch Chuan Leekpai lead the “unity” government. No neutral observer believes that Chuan is non-partisan.

While the opinion writer still has some faith that an election result will emerge that is not concocted by the junta, it is stated:

The election was far from perfect, but the elite, military and notably the junta must accept the outcome of a situation that they themselves created. The junta should now allow its opponents the chance to form a government to run the country, as mandated by the people.

Using underhanded legal tactics and other dirty tricks to retain power is not acceptable. The people delivered their verdict via an election by whose rules all parties agreed to abide. That process and its outcome are the only effective solution to the deep and lasting political problems in this country.

That would be a breakthrough as the elite, military and anti-democrats have never accepted election results that don’t give power to them.

But, as veteran Puea Thai Party politician Phumtham Wechayachai points out,  the junta’s “Constitution and the legal framework had indeed been designed to cause complications and difficulties that would draw the nation down the path to undemocratic rule.” He added: “The political situation is on a course that shows we are going toward a dead end…”.

The dead end is manufactured crisis and continuing authoritarianism.

Rolling back 1932 II

28 12 2018

It was back in mid-2017 that we had our first “rolling back 1932” post. Since then, most of our posts on this topic have had to do with King Vajiralongkorn’s property grabbing in the so-called royal precinct.

That earlier post on 1932 was prompted by the property grabs but more especially by the 2017 theft of a People’s Party plaque and its replacement by a royalist plaque, seeking to erase memories and symbols of 1932. All of this was done in secret, at night and with no explanation at all. Rather, people who asked questions were jailed.

Now, another symbol of that historic period of anti-royalism has been secretly removed.First on social media and then at Khaosod, it is reported that the:

historic monument that commemorated government victory over a pro-monarchy rebellion eight decades ago was removed Thursday night without notice or explanation.

Activists and historians fear that the Constitution Defense Monument, which stood at the Laksi Intersection in northern Bangkok, could be destroyed after security forces were seen taking it away in the early hours.

The now missing monument celebrated 1932, the end of the absolute monarchy and specifically the defeat of rebellious royal forces by the People’s Party, its army and the people of Bangkok in 1933. Known as the Boworadej Rebellion, it was led by Prince Boworadej and supported by the anti-democratic King Prajadhipok.

Chatri Prakitnonthakarn, who teaches history of Thai architecture at Silpakorn University stated: “We don’t know where it is now. There’s a risk that the monument will be gone for good…”.  He worried that the monument has met the “same fate … as the plaque.”

According to Khaosod, those who should know what was going on claimed total ignorance:

Bang Khen district chief Somboon Homnan maintained he didn’t know anything about the removal. He said the monument was located in an area governed by the state railway, which is building an elevated railway nearby….

MRT deputy governor Surachet Laophulsuk, who oversees the railway construction project, declined to comment….

Junta spokesman Col. Winthai Suvari could not be reached as of publication time.

Pro-democracy activist Karn Pongpraphapan “went to the site Thursday night after hearing about the sudden operation.” Police monitoring the operation
“confiscated his phone at about 3am Friday just as he was trying to begin a live video stream via Facebook Live.”

Karn also said “one of the soldiers at the scene refused to tell him why the monument was being removed.” He just said “secret.”

Like many others, PPT can only guess that this is another deliberate plaque-like removal as part of the re-feudalization of Thailand.

Since the accession of King Vajiralongkorn there has been a rapid unwinding of arrangements regarding the relationship between crown and state that were put in place following the 1932 Revolution.

Since coming to the throne, almost everything the king has done has challenged decades-old arrangements that have long annoyed the royal family. It seems clear that he has imbibed the anti-1932 bile that has circulated in the family. He joins a long line of relatives who plotted and schemed against the People’s Party and its legacy. He’s being quite successful in this because he is supported by the royalist military junta and its authoritarianism.

Updated: Dissembling for Bahrain

12 12 2018

Late yesterday the Bangkok Post reported that the Criminal Court “approved the detention of a Bahraini footballer with refugee status in Australia for another 60 days, as Bahrain seeks his extradition.”

The Criminal Court allowed the Immigration police “a further 60 days to allow procedures for his extradition.”

The report adds that “[l]ast Friday, the Attorney-General’s Office submitted the AlAraibi extradition case to the Criminal Court on behalf of Bahrain, because there is an outstanding arrest warrant for him in the Arab Gulf state.”

A photo from The Guardian

And then it says. “… AlAraibi was stopped by immigration police on Nov 27 after arriving in Bangkok from Australia for a vacation with his wife, following a request from Bahrain,” while noting that “Thailand has no formal extradition agreement with Bahrain.”

All of this sounded a bit contrived for PPT, so we looked a bit more for some details. It turns out that the regime in Bangkok is dissembling.

A report by Australia’s ABC News has these details:

“[The court] says the [Thai] Government is still waiting for the official extradition request, so during that process they cannot grant bail,” said Nadthasiri Berkman, one of the lawyers working on his case.

This contradicts a statement released by the Thai Government on Saturday.

That statement is reproduced in part:

“The detention was carried out in response to the red notice alert received from the Interpol National Central Bureau of Australia and the formal request from the Bahraini Government for his arrest and extradition,” said the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a statement that repeatedly misspelled Mr AlAraibi’s name as “Oraibi”….

It seems very clear that the military regime is acting for Bahrain. Indeed, it is dissembling for that country’s monarchy.

As well as spelling errors, the idea that a red notice came from Australia is unlikely and appears to contradict the NCB’s role. That’s not to say that an error might have occurred in Australia, but it was Australia that provided his refugee status and presumably scrutinized his travel documents and permitted him to leave Australia. In this context, the report states:

… His lawyer was at a loss to explain how the Interpol red notice might have come from Australia, when significant diplomatic resources are being mobilised to advocate for his safe return.

“I don’t understand that either … it’s contradicting information,” said Ms Berkman….

Interpol has a policy of not issuing red notices — effectively international arrest warrants — in the case of refugees, and withdrew the notice for Mr AlAraibi on December 3.

The ABC report has more:

Another lawyer working on the case — Somchai Homlaor — said the way Mr AlAraibi was detained suggested the Thai Government had acted because of diplomatic pressure, rather than international law.

Somchai stated: “This is a political case…”. We think it is more than a political case, involving friendly monarchies.

Update: It turns out that the Australians did tell Thailand that al-Araibi was visiting. The Sydney Morning Herald refers to this as “outrageous.” It seems that Australia’s “Department of Home Affairs [has now] attempted to distance itself from Araibi’s detention. The Department:

confirmed the Interpol National Central Bureau in Australia had “advised Thai authorities in relation to the scheduled arrival of a person who was the subject of an Interpol Red Notice”.

“The Interpol Red Notice was not put in place by Australia; the existence of the Interpol Red Notice would have come to the attention of Thai authorities when the person attempted to enter Thailand. Any action taken in response to the Interpol Red Notice is a matter for Thai authorities.”

This Department is headed by Australia’s most right-wing ministers who recently described parliament as an obstacle and disadvantage for government. PPT assumes that he would find kindred spirits in Thailandl’s military junta. In the past few days, a Greens Party senator in Australia, Jordon Steele-John, attacked the Department of Home Affairs secretary, describing him as:

a man of a dangerous right-wing disposition who has successfully created a department in his image and who now stands on the cusp of achieving a lifelong goal of empowering the Australian government with the ability to keep the general populace, who he regards as nothing more or less than helpless sheep, safe and sound….

While we don’t know much about Australia’s politics, but we get a picture of authoritarians working with authoritarians.

Monarchy, junta and a refugee II

4 12 2018

A couple of days ago PPT linked to a despicable tale of Thailand’s junta flouting international norms by detaining an accredited refugee from Australia. Hakeem Al-Araibi, a footballer, was detained at Bangkok’s international airport on an Interpol red notice issued at Bahrain’s request.

The Bangkok Post has noticed the case and has an editorial that states that “the detention is not just legal but conforms in all ways to international norms.” The are citing Immigration Police chief Big Joke (yes, that’s his nickname), Pol Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn, a junta minion, close to Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan.

We are not sure either the Post or Big Joke are correct on this claim about “legality.” After all, Big Joke has previously engaged in illegal and dubious international interventions. In addition, as the Post points out, “case is almost completely opaque.”

In addition, as the Post notes, “Interpol notices are not legally binding, but simply indicate a request from one country to all others for help with alleged fugitives,” meaning claims about “legality” are buffalo manure or a big and sad joke.

So why does the military junta do this? Here’s the reason, as explained by the Post:

The problem is that Araibi is a legal refugee in Australia who is wanted in Bahrain, where he was persecuted and tortured for his political views about the monarchy of that country.

It adds that Big Joke is an “agent of an attempt to merely curry favour with an undemocratic Middle Eastern government.” In fact, Bahrain is about as democratic as Thailand under the military dictatorship and both are more-or-less autocratic monarchies. That fact speaks loudly in this case.

Done and dusted?

29 11 2018

According to an opinion piece in The Nation, the military junta’s work on rigging the election is done and dusted.

Not unlike Soonruth Bunyamanee at the Bangkok Post, the unnamed author appears to have suddenly realized that the “election” is rigged, saying:

No one should have any doubts about Prayut Chan-o-cha’s future political path. Reading between the lines of his statements, it’s now plain that the function of the coming election is to legitimise and extend the general’s stay in power.

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has been given a free pass: “He has the backing of the junta-sponsored Constitution, which allows him to retain his post as prime minister without receiving a single vote from the people.”

Prayuth has even been bragging about this: “I talked to the legal team: I don’t need to be a member or anything…”. He can choose later which party is “honored” to make him premier.

It will be one of the devil parties, despite the fact that “… Prayut wants to be viewed as an angelic presence, hovering above the evil election fray before eventually incarnating when the winners invite him to rule the country.”

This “angelic” position will also mean that Gen Prayuth as PM can “ignore whatever campaign policies and promises are made to voters by parties.” In other words, any campaigning by the devil parties is a lie because the General-cum-new/old-PM can do whatever he wants.

As the author puts it, the “votes of Thais will be rendered meaningless.”

Further, the “hands of the people have already been tied ahead of the election. The junta’s 20-year strategic plan offers parties a stark choice: toe its policy line or be thrown out of government.”

What can Thais do in such a powerless position caused by an unfree and unfair election?

The author suggests that all that the junta’s devil parties will “win,” and the only thing left is that “Thais still have power of a protest vote.”

The recommendation is to vote against devil parties, including the Democrat Party, so as to “pull the country in a direction away from the military-backed and authoritarian regime of the last four years.”

When the military is on top XXVII

2 09 2018

Khaosod’s Pravit Rojanaphruk has an op-ed and a story that deserve attention.

In the stroy, Pravit points out that the “head of a private anti-corruption organization has been silent on its decision to award full marks to junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha in its annual assessment.” He refers to a press conference where Chairman Pramon Sutivong celebrated the Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand’s 7th anniversary by declaring that his “organisation has helped save 25.1 billion baht of state funds that could have been lost to corruption over the past seven years.”

As it turns out, they don’t mean over seven years but since 2015, when ACT partnered with the military junta.

Pramon claimed lots of “outcomes” that can’t be verified, but correctly touted ACT’s “involvement in the development of their 2017 constitution which the organisation implemented as an ‘anti-corruption constitution’.”

At the media circus, Pramon stated: “I give Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the prime minister, full marks. But I admit that there are still a number of people around him that have been questioned by the public…”. He means Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, where ACT has made a comments, but didn’t get into nepotism and military procurement.

When Pramon was asked to “explain how its score was calculated to award the highest possible ranking to a regime that has been marred by corruption scandals, …[he] did not respond to multiple inquiries.”

One activist pointed out that Pramon and ACT gave The Dictator “full marks” when international rankings had Thailand wobbling and had a lower ranking now than in 2015.

A reporter’s questions were said to have included one on whether Pramon considered “staging a coup and monopolizing state funding through the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly as a form of corruption or not.” No response.

Pravit points out that a source at ACT “defended the announcement by saying Pramon, who was appointed by the junta leader to his National Reform Council following the coup, only gave full marks to Prayuth for his ‘sincerity’ to tackle corruption.” That ACT employee flattened out, saying: “He [Pramon] must have heard something that made him feels that His Excellency [The Dictator] Prayuth was sincere…. He may have had some experience from meeting [Prayuth].”

Of course, nothing much can be expected of ACT. It was a royalist response to the election of Yingluck Shinawatra and was populated by royalist “advisers” including Anand Punyarachun and Vasit Dejkunjorn, both activists in opposing elected governments. (By the way, ACT’s website still has Vasit listed as Chairman despite his death in June.)

Pravit’s op-ed is on China in Thailand. Chinese and Chinese money are everywhere, he says. Tourists, property buyers, investors are seen in everything from high durian prices to military authoritarianism.

It is the latter that Pravit concentrates on, citing academics who “publicly warn how the rise of China bodes ill for human rights and democracy in Thailand and Southeast Asia.” PPT commented on this seminar previously. One thing we said was that the emphasis on China, blaming it for the resilience of the military junta seemed a little overdone for us.

But Pravit is not so sure. He notes that China is unlikely to promote democracy, but that hardly needs saying. He does note that Japan and South Korea have “failed to put any pressure on the [2014] Thai coup-makers as well. To them, it’s business as usual.” As it is for China.

Pravit seems to be pointing to the West that was, for a time, critical of the 2014 coup. But, then, some in that  same West were pretty celebratory of the 2006 coup – think of US Ambassador Ralph Boyce and his commentary in Wikileaks.

But Pravit says that “the difference is that China has become much more influential in Thailand compared to Japan or South Korea.” Really? We have previously pointed out that it doesn’t take much work to look up some data to find out which country is the biggest investor in Thailand. But here’s a problem. Pravit cites a deeply flawed book, riddled with errors, that makes more than a few unfounded claims.

We might agree that “[d]emocracy, human rights, press freedom and free speech are at risk if we ape the Chinese model of politics and administration…”. But think, just for a few seconds about this statement. Thailand’s democracy, human rights, press freedom and free speech are not at risk from Chinese supporters but from Thailand’s military. Under the junta, they have been mangled.

Thailand’s generals don’t need Chinese tutors on how to undermine democracy, human rights, press freedom and free speech. They have done it for decades. It comes naturally, whether “relying” on the support of the US as many military leaders did or with China’s support.