In earlier posts PPT had some information on those behind the anti-democratic movement, with some emphasis on the so-called academic support. Much of this indicated that the support base in that area was pretty much constant from the first days of the People’s Alliance for Democracy. In addition, it is clear that the leadership of the federated unions associated with state enterprises have remained solid in support of the anti-democratic movement that is now in action as a scion of PAD.
The leadership of the current incarnation is now focused on Suthep Thaugsuban and members of the Democrat Party. In past movements, this lot tended to remain in the background, leaving campaigning to the PAD types. Yes, certain members of the party spoke on stage, with the unpredictable Kasit Piromya appearing on the stage during the 2008 airport occupations. Of course, for a while there were some debates between the Democrat Party and PAD, with the latter demanding more radical action. That demand finally won through when the Democrat Party showed itself incapable of winning an election.
In terms of financial support for the anti-democratic movement, rumor has it that the major sponsors of Suthep’s have been the Bangkok Bank, the Singha Beer, and some add in the Central Group.
But rumors aren’t facts. So two stories by Reuters are of some interest, and we realize that these have been well-circulated, so we just highlight some bits and pieces from them.
The first story at Reuters is regarding “prominent Thais” who have joined the protests. First mentioned is the selfie-photogenic Chitpas Bhirombhakdi who at 27 and with nearly 2,000 Instagram photos of herself posted, is not just a self-indulgent and self-important upper class youngster, but is also “heiress to a $2.6 billion family fortune and, according to high-society magazine Thailand Tatler, one of Bangkok’s ‘most eligible young ladies‘.” The report notes:
Chitpas, whose family owns the Boon Rawd Brewery that makes Singha Beer, had dismounted the machine [a bulldozer that was to bust police barricades] long before police pelted it with rubber bullets and gas canisters. But her gung-ho act showed how members of Thailand’s most celebrated families are discarding all past pretence [sic.] of neutrality to hit the streets in the hope of toppling Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
We understand that several tubes of expensive moisturizer helped after the bulldozer scamming for headlines. Chitpas may be young for Thai politics, but her interests are with the old men who want to keep their hands on the political tiller. She supports harsher lese majeste laws – her family’s beer interests were initially co-invested with the then king back in the early 1930s.
Naphalai Areesorn, editor of banal Thailand Tatler, has also been spotting celebrities and hi-so opportunists at the anti-democratic protests. She is reported to have said:
“People you would normally see in the society pages were out there… All the people from big families used to be called the silent minority. Well, they’re not silent anymore.”
Spot market prices for sunscreen and cosmetics with high ant-sun indices have shot up.
Chris Baker is cited saying: “Banks, construction companies and other big Thai businesses have often openly supported Thaksin-backed parties or the opposition Democrats…”. True, but the big money has been with the anti-democrats for this movement is seen to best protect its interests.
Reuters reports that another “prominent Thai hitting the streets was real estate tycoon Srivara Issara, who along with her husband Songkran runs Charn Issara Development PLC. She led her own protest march from her company’s Bangkok headquarters to the nearby offices of the ruling Puea Thai Party.”
Srivara claims no party affiliation. “I really hate politics,” she said. Her march was inspired by her disgust for Thaksin (“that runaway criminal”) and her faith in protest leader Suthep, a former Democrat politician.
A friend in the PR business helped her dream up a protest slogan: “Moral righteousness comes above democracy”. Srivara publicised the march through Facebook and by personally handing out leaflets in the street the night before.
Thousands of people joined her peaceful rally, which she saw as an extension of Charn Issara’s corporate social responsibility programme. “It’s our duty to do something good for the country,” she said.
Here’s the company’s statement on CSR:
Charn Issara’s main principle is to differentiate the innovated projects and deliver only high quality product to exceed customer’s expectation. The Company ‘s ideology is to present only the best property development project to elevate better social responsibility and grant satisfaction to both the developer and its customers.
PPT has seen plenty of blarney in CSR, but this is pure marketing. She even dresses as she thinks a peasant did or would linking her to the religious base of the sufficiency economy nonsense that the elite embraces in ways that allow them to maintain their corporations and profits. So the company can build estates with golf courses and gobble up beaches. Its 2012 report can be obtained, with a 12MB download as a PDF, showing it as publicly-listed but family-controlled.
Another of Thailand’s wealth at the demonstrations is” Petch Osathanugrah, who along with his brother Ratch has an estimated fortune of $630 million. They own the energy drinks producer Osotspa and 51 percent of Shiseido Thailand.” It is known that the family has sponsored rightist NGOs and the report states that:
Petch believed it [another election] will only install another Thaksin-backed government, which will spark further protests.
His opinion of the mainly rural Thais who voted for Yingluck is unsparing but typical. They are ill-educated, easily swayed and greedy, he said, and their willingness to sell their vote to Thaksin-backed politicians renders elections pointless.
“I’m not really for democracy,” said Petch, who was educated in the United States. “I don’t think we’re ready for it. We need a strong government like China’s or Singapore’s – almost like a dictatorship, but for the good of the country.”
“I am longing for a Lee Kuan Yew,” he said, referring to former prime minister who oversaw Singapore’s economic rise.
We assume that he supported Thaksin Shinawatra when he wanted to be like the aged LKY.
The Sino-Thai business community, at least the big capitalists, have long felt comfortable with military dictatorships and see the monarchy as part of their created identity and a protector of their interests. They tend to see LKY’s conservative “Asian Values” ideas, which laud Chineseness as necessary for their prosperity.
Equally dismissive of voters is “Palawi Bunnag, a scion of a celebrated family of Persian descent who served Thailand’s early kings. Palawi, a qualified lawyer and frequent visitor to the protest sites,” and says:
Educating the electorate begins with people such as “our own drivers and maids,” said felt people from northeast Thailand should be made to understand the limitations of short-term populist policies such as easy credit.
“They just want their lives to be comfortable, but they don’t think that in the long run they will have debts,” said Palawi. “Thaksin’s regime makes everyone have a lot of greed.”
Clearly, they have no conception of rural life or the changes that have taken place in the countryside.
But do they know the elite better?
Many in Thailand’s elite publicly excoriate Thaksin and his clan. But they also occupy the same rich lists – Forbes places the Shinawatra family 10th with a fortune of $1.7 billion – and move in the same rarefied circles.
Srivara Issara’s oldest son Vorasit, who recently vowed on his Facebook page to “beat the living crap” out of red shirt leaders, told Reuters he was friends with Thaksin’s son Panthongtae.
“Everyone knows each other,” said Palawi Bunnag, who – proving her point – is married to Vorasit and went to the same British university as Thaksin’s nephew Rupop.
Such proximity to the Shinawatras also affords a privileged insight. “They’re nice friends,” said Palawi. “But we also know their hidden agendas, their hidden businesses.”
They seem to be saying that the whole elite is a bunch of crooks. Few who vote for Thaksin are likely to disagree with that assessment. The subaltern judgement of politics seems to be that electoral democracy can produce some control of the elite, whereas the rich see it a nuisance for their profits and lifestyle.
The second story at Reuters: is not about the business elite but about the darker forces behind Suthep’s anti-democratic ranting:
But behind Thailand’s fiery anti-government protest leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, are two powerful retired generals with palace connections, a deep rivalry with the Shinawatra family and an ability to influence Thailand’s coup-prone armed forces.
The forces behind Suthep are led by former defense minister General Prawit Wongsuwan and former army chief General Anupong Paochinda, towering figures in Thailand’s military establishment, said two military sources with direct knowledge of the matter and a third with connections to Thai generals.
The report is clear on these two:
Although retired, Anupong, 64, and Prawit, 67, still wield influence in a powerful and highly politicized military that has played a pivotal role in a country that has seen 18 successful or attempted coups in the past 81 years…. It is unclear how far that influence goes, or how decisive they could be. But both have close ties to army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha. And all three have a history of enmity with Yingluck’s billionaire brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who they helped oust in a 2006 coup.
Anupong was a leader of the military coup that removed Thaksin in September 2006 and two years later recommended on television that the Thaksin-allied prime minister step down. As army chief, he oversaw a bloody crackdown on Thaksin’s red-shirted supporters in 2010 in which 91 people, mostly red shirts, were killed. Anupong made Prayuth his heir apparent.
A former army commander, Prawit was a mentor of Anupong and a defence minister under the previous government replaced by Yingluck in the 2011 election. He’s also a close associate of former general Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, leader of the coup against Thaksin….
These older men are linked to a generation of soldiers nurtured by Privy Councilor Prem Tinsulanonda:
Anupong and Prayuth served with the Queen’s Guard, an elite unit with greater autonomy from the rest of military, with its allegiance foremost to the monarchy rather than the direct chain of command….
The report claims that:
As [t]his reign gradually draws to a close, long-simmering business, political and military rivalries are rising to the surface, forcing Thailand to choose sides between supporters of the Bangkok establishment or those seeking to upend the status quo – a constituency associated with Thaksin.
The king has now demonstrated his incapacity for political intervention as he is degraded by age and the interventionist queen is off the stage too. So the miltiary and the members of the Privy Council who can suck up their own drool step into the breech:
Prawit and Anupong had expressed readiness to intervene if there was a security crisis, such as a crackdown by police on protesters or clashes between pro and anti-government demonstrators, and if Suthep’s plan for an interim government was constitutional, said the source with military connections.
This even if “Suthep’s bid to upend Thailand’s current political order looks far-fetched.” But the military, while divided “has provided little security for her caretaker government at protests…”. The report adds, from a government source: “Once a lot of violence takes place and the government cannot enforce the law, then this country becomes a failed state. Then there can be a pretext for the military to come in…”. The report adds:
“Suthep is playing the game on the outside while Prawit tries to play the game on the inside,” said a senior military official who could not be identified because he was not authorised to speak to the media. “General Prawit has been clear about his aspirations to become prime minister.”
The calling of elections is a last-ditch effort at a constitutional solution for the crisis.
For the moment, the military brass seems to favor elections. This leads to a dangerous situation where Suthep, with the Democrat Party now sidelined as a normal political party, needs violence and a coup if electoral democracy is to be rolled back.