Authoritarians and technocrats aligned

1 07 2020

One of the outcomes of the virus crisis around the world has been the rise of technocrats. They need to be watched as closely as the authoritarians, especially when their expertise is politicized. This is not just in Thailand; it is a global phenomenon.

Two examples will keep this post short. First, as a Bangkok Post points out, the medicos have developed big heads:

The Medical Council yesterday gave people a rather unpleasant surprise with its announcement detailing the obligations of patients seeking medical services….

Most important of all, the Medical Council is a professional body whose main missions are to register and regulate medical practitioners and maintain medical standards in the country.

In issuing the order, the council relied on the Medical Profession Act of 1982 which empowered it to “promote the studies, research, and professional practices in medicine” and “to assist, to advise, to disseminate and to educate the public and other organisations in matters concerning medicine and public health”.

The law does not seem to allow the council to “regulate” the public when it comes to medical services, however. That means the announcement’s status is questionable. Its content is also unclear and impractical.

The second case involves the authoritarian state and technocrats:

… all passengers boarding Bangkok’s MRT and BTS must check in and out via the Thailand Wins system. The new rule comes on the same day social distancing measures will be dropped and all seats made available.

In addition to recording their travel with the tracking app, commuters are asked to refrain from talking while riding the rails, the operators of both systems announced early this evening. The State Railway of Thailand has yet to announce that it will require the same aboard its Airport Rail Link system.

This means the regime can now track all of its Bangkok-based opponents more effectively, while hiding behind “medical advice.” The slippery slope is well lubricated and it is steep and deep.

Nepotism in Bangkok

11 04 2020

As we mentioned in a previous post, authoritarianism seems to be spreading faster than the virus. The latest diktat issued in Bangkok bans alcohol sales for 10 days.

On this, the Bangkok Post’s Ploenpote Atthakor says:

I, like many other people, am baffled about the latest move: How it can help the country, Bangkok in particular, fight the disease? Unfortunately, no one can explain this to me sensibly or rationally.

But the thing that caught PPT’s attention was that Capt Pongsakorn Kwanmuang, spokesman of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), announced the ban at the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration.

The spokesman, Capt Pongsakorn just happens to be the son of junta-appointed governor Pol Gen Aswin Kwanmuang.

It might be just another example of the nepotism that is so common in Thailand’s junta a post-junta regimes, but there should be questions asked. Or is nepotism now normalized?

Mad authoritarians

3 04 2020

Globally, we have seen authoritarianism expand at a pace never before seen. Many who are fearful of the virus approve of this and even demand more draconian measures.In many places, petty officials have grabbed opportunities to advance their power.

While we at PPT don’t often comment on what happens to foreigners in Thailand, a recent story at Khaosod revealed a mad authoritarianism at the notoriously hopeless Immigration Division of the police.

The dopes at Immigration, with nothing to do much now that the money tree at airports has been felled by the virus, are now looking for opportunities. But as a set of dullard authoritarians, they are bungling and threatening people’s health (and sanity).

A week or so ago, a strange report stated:

The Immigration Bureau (IB) is stepping up its crackdown on people who hoard medical supplies, engage in price gouging, and use bogus websites to solicit donations to help Covid-19 patients or hospitals.

It isn’t clear why the IB was doing this. Perhaps a money making venture by squeezing the small fry involved in such activities?

More to form is screwing foreigners. For some time, there have been criticisms of the IB for forcing foreigners to do all kinds of immigration activities during the virus outbreak. Other countries have ditched this in the interests of health, but not the dopes at Immigration. In Thailand, “overstayers” are being fined 500 baht a day.

Now, in a feat of unimaginable stupidity, the Immigration Bureau has decided that “[n]ine separate documents are now required for foreigners stranded in Thailand to extend their stay for up to 30 days…”.

Why? According to Immigration spokesman Pol Col Phakkhaphong Saiubon, the reason is “national security.” That’s an authoritarian’s best hiding place. This dill stated: “… national security is our utmost priority.”

Foreigners caught in Thailand and residents must now come up with “land deeds, rent contracts, and even selfies … with their accommodation…”. They also need the “TM7 application, copies of their passport, … applicant’s photos, … a certificate from their respective embassies, a copy of rent contract, document confirming their stay at the accommodation, a copy of landlord’s ID card and house registration, and a map showing the location of their residence.

What kind of police mind comes up with such ludicrous requirements in such times? Social distancing? Forget it.

Students rising III

29 02 2020

The student rebellion against the regime led by Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha continues, with rallies in many parts of the country.

As would be expected from a royalist and dictatorial regime camouflaged by a rigged election “victory,” the repression is ramping up.

As already mentioned in earlier posts, Gen Prayuth has warned students. In parliament, he “pointed out that some demonstrators were making other demands — some of which touched on the monarchy — in addition to pressing for more democracy.” Police followed up.

Prayuth also repeated a common royalist-conservative mantra: that the students are pawns of politicians. As an example of this buffalo manure, the Bangkok Post reports that “experts”- we can only see one and question the use of the word “expert” for him – who admonish the students, declaring that: “Students at anti-government rallies risk becoming a tool of politicians who are seeking ways to attack the Prayut Chan-o-cha administration…”.

They are falling in line with conspiracy theorists. For example, writing for a Russian outlet, a notorious foreign yellow shirted agitator declares the students – every one of them – as pawns of USA-loving politicians and Western plotters. Such claims are avidly consumed by yellow shirts, the military brass and the regime’s leaders.

The problem for the conspiracy theorists, Thai and foreign alike, is that the students have made up their own minds that they oppose authoritarianism and are actually dragging the politicians along. The extent of the rallies have surprised many, including the politicians. While there are antecedents and sparks, these student rallies represent and organic opposition to the regime.

Sadly, if the regime reacts as it has before to challenges – when it was the military junta – there will be more repression. If the military engages, expect arrests and the use of thugs against those identified as leaders of the protests.

More broadly, because there are rallies, we can probably expect criminal charges against the Future Forward leadership to be pursued.

Buffalo manure “democracy”

27 01 2020

A few days ago the Bangkok Post included a report that “Thailand was the biggest mover in The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2019 Democracy Index, rising 38 places in the global rankings…”. That was a surprise. More astounding though, The Economist Intelligence Unit considered that the military junta’s “conversion” of itself into a military-backed regime with a government manufactured out of what should have been an electoral defeat makes Thailand a “flawed democracy” rather than what was previously a “hybrid regime.”

PPT has been a collective fan of The Economist’s coverage of Thailand’s politics in recent years. However, this “ranking” suggests that its Intelligence Unit has lost its IQ.

How on earth does The Economist Intelligence Unit decide that: “The biggest score change in Asia occurred in Thailand, which finally held an election in March 2019, the first since the military coup in May 2014. Voters had a wide array of parties and candidates from which to choose, and this helped to restore some public confidence in the electoral process and the political system…”. It seems that the “election led to improvements in the scores across all five categories of the Democracy Index, but the sharpest increase was recorded for electoral process and pluralism.”

How on earth does The Economist Intelligence Unit decide that Thailand is a “flawed democracy”? It defines these in this manner:

These countries … have free and fair elections and, even if there are problems (such as infringements on media freedom), basic civil liberties are respected. However, there are significant weaknesses in other aspects of democracy, including problems in governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation.

This puts Thailand in the same category as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Italy and Indonesia. This is nonsensical, but that’s what the “numbers” say to The Economist Intelligence Unit.

Thailand is a country where political repression is widespread, an election was rigged over several years, opposition parties were dissolved, the courts have been made political bodies, “independent agencies” made tools of the military-backed regime, activists are beaten, arrested, threatened, disappeared and murdered, the military has a parallel administration and operates outside the law and with impunity, the Senate was selected and appointed by the junta and operates for it…. Do we need to go on? And need we say that for four months of 2019, the country was a military dictatorship.

Thailand is no longer a “hybrid regime,”which The Economist Intelligence Unit defines as:

Elections have substantial irregularities that often prevent them from being both free and fair. Government pressure on opposition parties and candidates may be common. Serious
weaknesses are more prevalent than in flawed democracies—in political culture, functioning of government and political participation. Corruption tends to be widespread and the rule of law is weak. Civil society is weak. Typically, there is harassment of and pressure on journalists, and the judiciary is not independent.

That sounds like Thailand. More academically-based definitions seem to fit Thailand too, as summarized at Wikipedia:

A hybrid regime is a mixed type of political regime that arises on the basis of an authoritarian as a result of an incomplete democratic transition. Hybrid regimes combine autocratic features with democratic ones, they can simultaneously hold political repressions and regular elections. The term “hybrid regime” arises from a polymorphic view of political regimes that opposes the dichotomy of autocracy or democracy…

So we ask again, how on earth does The Economist Intelligence Unit come up with this stuff?

According to one account:

How did the EIU come up with a scoring system that is supposedly accurate to two decimal places? What it did has the semblance of rigor. It asked various experts to answer 60 questions and assigned each reply a numerical value, with the weighted average deciding the ranking. Who are these experts? Nobody knows.

The Economist Intelligence Unit has responded to such criticisms, but, in fact, still gives the unnamed experts 60 questions with a 3-point scoring system: 0, 0.5, 1. It also claims to use other measures:

A crucial, differentiating aspect of our measure is that, in addition to experts’ assessments, we use, where available, public-opinion surveys—mainly the World Values Survey. Indicators based on the surveys predominate heavily in the political participation and political culture categories, and a few are used in the civil liberties and functioning of government categories…. In addition to the World Values Survey, other sources that can be leveraged include the Eurobarometer surveys, Gallup polls, Asian Barometer, Latin American Barometer, Afrobarometer and national surveys. In the case of countries for which survey results are missing, survey results for similar countries and expert assessment are used to fill in gaps.

With all of this (pseudo-)science – such as the Asian Barometer – The Economist Intelligence Unit gave Thailand a score of 6.32.

PPT did the 60 questions (see the appendix to the report) and came up with a score of 4.50, which would have Thailand ranked closer to Pakistan, a so-called hybrid regime.

We’d suggest that The Economist Intelligence Unit might spend a little more time reading The Economist on Thailand’s democratic failure and efforts at re-feudalization.

Further updated: “The Threat” II

19 01 2020

Like some mid-20th Century Hollywood B-grade movie, The Threat emerges from the (authoritarian) political sludge to try to undermine and crush Thailand’s monarch and the monarchy. Yes, even when almost all the supporting actors are military and the regime is military-dominated and military-backed, The Threat is always there, eating away at authoritarian monarchism.

The Threat is most usually from those who oppose the military and its never-ending efforts to control politics. Under the current regime, where the military is in the hands of ultra-royalists and, in fact, where the king has a firmer hand on the military than at any time since 1932, “threats” are most often associated with Thaksin Shinawatra because of his electoral popularity in the first two decades of this century.

Royalist rightist Rientong

Anyone who attended the recent rally for the regime at Lumpini Park would have noticed the placards linking the Future Forward Party and its leaders to Thaksin. Also noticeable was the claim that FFP represented a threat to the monarchy and, ipso facto, the nation. These demonstrators for the regime and those who organized them consider FFP’s popularity and the urge for democratization to be a threat to the monarchy. We have no doubt that, scared witless by the red shirt rising of a few years ago and associated anti-monarchism, the palace and the royalists in government worry endlessly about how to turn the tide, especially among the younger generation.

Opposing The Threat involves not just all kinds of electoral cheating, constitution rigging and shoveling increased power to the king, but bellicose ultra-rightist thugs and expensive, taxpayer-funded displays of military power and loyalty to the king and throne.

On the rightists, the Bangkok Post has an unusual electronic headline (right) that seems to indicate that the recently unleashed royalist attack dog Maj Gen Rientong Nan-nah was thinking he might be king. It turns out he was just thinking of following the regime and its opponents and organizing a run/walk not for the regime per se, but “a run to ‘save the king’…”. Yes, so great is The Threat from FFP, a party in opposition, that the barking Major General feels the need to “save the king.” He’s been told to reign that idea in for a while. But watch his space. Once unleashed rightist royalists become murderous thugs.

All of this agitation plays into the bizarrely concocted Illuminati “case” against FFP at the regime’s Constitutional Court. Somehow we don’t think that this “case” will be the end of FFP – even the hopelessly biased Constitutional Court and its mentors could not be this ridiculous, maybe, perhaps. Betting seems to be that the Court will dissolve FFP in another case, where the Court will miraculously define a loan as a donation to a political party. In the end, the plan is to do away with Thailand’s third most popular party.

For the displays, even in his so far short reign, King Vajiralongkorn has had plenty, and he’s not even in the country all that much. He’s also had the Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong doing his bidding and a bit of his own in also barking about The Threat. He’s sees FFP as a bunch of Commie rats.

Clipped from Khaosod

An AP report on the most recent (waste of taxpayer money) display of defending the king from The Threat came when the king, queen and the most senior of his children (from wife #1) Princess Bajrakitiyabha “presided over an oath-taking ceremony Saturday at an army base where almost 7,000 soldiers and police paraded to mark Armed Forces Day.”

The report notes that “Vajiralongkorn’s presence at the ceremony was unusual, as Thai monarchs have rarely, if ever, attended the occasion, even though the royal palace and the military are closely linked.” The regime – and presumably the palace – linked the parade to the king’s coronation last May.

As ever, the military brass groveled and frog-marched to show their willingness to face The Threat, declaring: “I pledge my life to honor and sustain the greatness of the king. I pledge my loyalty to Your Majesty and will serve and guard Your Majesty till the end of my life…”.

The monarchy, military and regime are making clear their intention to destroy upstarts who comprise the contemporary “threat.” The broader ruling class – which should be worried about this concentration of power – is probably willing to go along with it so long as the regime that maintains the ruling class’s wealth is maintained.

Update 1: Leaked documents appearing at Somsak Jeamteerasakul’s Facebook page suggest that the taxpayer has been hit with a bill of at least 340 million baht for the Army’s display for defending the king.

Update 2: For an example of how “The Threat” causes great fear among regime supporters, try former Bangkok Post Editor Veera Prateepchaikul’s most recent op-ed. Veera’s a hack, but writes op-ed’s essentially for the broad yellow group that supports the military-backed regime. He’s been running a campaign against FFP since they did so well in last year’s election, and he’s obviously very frightened that, should FFP do well and not be dissolved, electoral democracy might make a comeback. Veera and his ilk fear that.

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.