After an “election”

14 07 2018

The Klong Dan convictions provide a timely reminder of what politics under the junta’s constitutional arrangements might look like following the junta’s rigged election.

In the linked story, readers are reminded that the saga began in 1995 under a Democrat Party-led coalition:

Suwat Liptapanlop, who served as science minister in the Democrat government headed by Chuan Leekpai, first proposed the wastewater treatment project in 1995. Prayoonvisavat Karnchang, one of the companies convicted in the case, was founded by Mr Suwat’s father Visava.

One of the other companies convicted, Seesaeng Karn Yotha, was founded by Banharn Silpa-archa, whose party at the time was a coalition partner with the Democrats.

Other cabinet-level supporters of the project were Vatana, who was then the deputy interior minister, and Yingphan Manasikarn, then minister of natural resources and environment, who died in 2003.

Like other rich persons who feel they are unable to negotiate a comfortable legal outcome, Vatana fled the country and has been “gone” for a decade, although we guess he arranges long periods at home.

The saga was so long that some readers may not have been born when it began. For background and for a reminder of how weak coalition governments worked under rules introduced by the military following the 1991 military coup, we provide a Bangkok Post investigative report from 2000 and a link to a Focus on the Global South Report from 2002.





The incapacity for self-reflection

31 08 2013

PPT has now had a chance to read English-language version of former premier Abhisit Vejjajiva’s The Simple Truth, which is a translation of his Thai-language book from several months ago. This account comes with a foreword by Abhisit’s  school chum Korn Chatikavanij, which is entirely laudatory and expresses a discernible personal affection for Abhisit. It was while reading the last few pages of the rather thin book that we saw this in The Nation:Abhisit Vejjajiva

The opposition Democrat Party is ready to hold talks with the prime minister’s representative on political reform, party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday.

“I’m ready to talk with Banharn [Silpa-archa] if he contacts me. I will tell him the root cause of the problems which, in fact, have come from the government itself. And the government has to end the conflicts,” Abhisit said.

That Abhisit decides that he “will tell him [Banharn] the root cause of the problems” is no surprise as Abhisit is remarkably arrogant. His next claim that all problems “have come from the government itself” is a re-run of his book, where he blames everyone but himself for all problems. Abhisit seems unable to see himself in a mirror.

Of course, all governments are flawed in various ways. Some, like Abhisit’s, are more flawed than others. However, the incapacity for self-reflection means the potential for one to dangerously misrepresent their experiences to themselves.





The end of the politics of old men

31 03 2012

At The Nation Constitution Court President Wasan Soypisudh is cited on politics and reflects a gloom that has enveloped that royalist camp as Yingluck Shinawatra’s government has negotiated several challenging months and appears to have managed to get even lese majeste out of the headlines in recent weeks (without doing anything much for those already jailed on this politicized charge).

Following the 2006 military coup, the Constitution Court played a major role in  the royalist ruling class’s political strategy of destroying the Thaksin Shinawatra regime. Of course, the court’s bias was clear and also played a significant part in mobilizing opposition to the royalist rulers and their puppet regime fronted by Abhisit Vejjajiva.

So it is ironic that the the court president is gloomy in his “analysis of reconciliation process” when the court’s politicized decision-making has been central to the political conflicts of the past 6 years.

As the report notes, Wasan is “probably only echoing many people’s opinions…”. We suspect that these people are mainly the royalists. That said, there are red shirts who will also be disappointed if reconciliation means that the Abhisit regime and its military backers are not held accountable for their actions in office.

The glum Wasan says:  “I can’t see how we can achieve peace…. Maybe this generation of political rivals have to die first.”

There may be something to this view. PPT has long pointed to the problem of old and exceptionally conservative men running Thailand. Back when we posted on this in 2009, we mentioned Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda (b. 1920), the king himself (b. 1927), the old men in the Privy Council, royalist and palace favorite Police General Vasit Dejkunjorn (b. 1929 or 1930), the Democrat Party’s Chuan Leekpai (b. 1938), and we could have added plenty more in their 70s or older: Prawase Wasi, Anand Punyarachun, Banharn Silpa-archa, Sanan Kachornprasart, Dhanin Chearavanont, Prasong Soonsiri, and so on. Most of these old men are out of touch with popular politics and ideas outside their own circle.

Of course, there are younger people, especially in the declining Democrat Party, who aspire to be old men too. After all, like Abhisit, they believe and know that they were born to rule. For most of this lot, despite differences in political position, reconciliation is restoring their right to rule over the people wealthy Democrat Party elitist Korn Chatikavanij once referred to as the “great unwashed.”

The striking thing – and perhaps the reason for Wasan’s poor mood – is that the “great unwashed” are rejecting these old men and their elitist proteges. This is seen in election results and a range of other areas including the questioning of the monarchy.





Updated: Kanit on lese majeste reform

2 01 2012

Update: Have fixed typos and doubled-up paragraphs.

It is no surprise that a gaggle of confused politicians oppose the  calls for lese majeste reform that PPT has mentioned in recent days (here and here).

Kanit

What is a bit of a surprise is that the Kanit na Nakhon of the Truth for Reconciliation Commission has strongly defended the TRC’s call for reform.

As reported at The Nation, Kanit has rounded on Banharn Silpa-archa, the real leader of the Chart Pattana Party, who spoke out against “any revision” to Article 112.

He said: “Former premier Banharn Silpa-acha should carefully study the proposed amendment to the lese majeste law before passing any judgement on it.”

Kanit added: “I don’t know if his mind is sound. But before making any criticism please read the proposal.

It is reported that Kanit said that TRC’s “proposal was founded on academic research and was part of an impartial attempt to forge national reconciliation”, and he “questioned Banharn’s logic in thinking that the lese majeste law can be left intact without a cost to society.”

It doesn’t get much more direct than that in elite circles.





Democrat Party standards

1 08 2010

A report in The Nation prompts PPT to once more direct attention to double standards as standard operating procedure in regime and ruling party.

The report state s that the father of Democrat Party double standards and spokesman Buranaj Smutharaks has “slammed Chaturon Chaisaeng, a banned executive from the disbanded Thai Rak Thai Party, for interfering in the justice process in relation to the court hearing of the party dissolution case – by saying that if the Democrats were not dissolved, it would be hard for the country to achieve reconciliation.” Of course, Buranaj was joyous when the Department of Special Investigation intervened and interfered.

But what about the political involvement of other banned executives of disbanded political parties? From this government’s nativity with military midwives, it has dealt repeatedly with such politicians. Banharn Silpa-Archa is regularly consulted and feted at Government House. Recent reports had the Democrat Party dealing with exiled convicted criminal and chief of the Matuphum Party Vatana Asavaheme. That party is nominally led by 2006 coup leader General SonthiBoonyaratkalin.

More directly, the regime includes, from birth, the banned political turncoat, vote-buyer and local mafia-like figure from Buriram, Newin Chidchob. Turncoat is probably the wrong term as Newin has a chameleon-like capacity to change color.

Most recently, the Bangkok Post: reports that Newin “does not like to lose…. The Buri Ram politician is preparing the [governing coalition member] Bhumjaithai Party for the next general election. He believes his party has a chance to overtake Puea Thai as the new champion of the Northeast, the region with the most seats and the popularity base of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.” The story is mainly about Newin’s expensively-purchased Buri Ram PEA football club, and at a recent game, reports that “[e]xtra officials from the Interior Ministry had been deployed at the stadium [that Newin visited] amid concerns that Mr Newin could be the target of a security threat.”

The Abhisit Vejjajiva government and the Democrat Party deals with Newin on a daily basis. Chaturon, who has recently been quiet, makes a comment and he is criticized and his banned status emphasized. Glass houses stuff as well as blatant double standards.

Where the Democrat Party seems to maintain a standard is in its elitist perception of “the people.” The Nation reports that Prime Minister Abhisit has told his party’s MPs to “focus more on solving people’s problems than politicking. They must also help clarify and publicise the government’s policies.” He added: “If we ask what’s on people’s minds, the problems of expensive consumer goods, low prices for crops, and debts rank first among people’s problems…”.

Sounding reasonable as long as one ignores the premier’s self-selected concerns, but then he reveals his elitist position: “The PM said his government had effective policies to help people solve such problems, but people lacked knowledge and understanding about them.” He added: “People don’t know many things…”. This has been a standard line from the Democrat Party in describing why people don’t support it in past 2-3 elections and for the continued support garnered by pro-Thaksin parties. That standard, at least, has been maintained.





Democrat Party dissolution case

15 07 2010

PPT hasn’t been ignoring the dissolution case against the ruling Democrat Party. There’s just not much to say about it. However, this Chinese report is worth a read as background. It is, like most Chinese reports, derivative of others accounts and essentially pro-government, but this also allows an insight into events from the Democrat Party supporters.

One interesting point has to do with Abhisit Vejjajiva’s “calmness” which is said to be “justified as this is not the first time that a Thai political party faced a crisis of disbandment and the precedents had proved ‘disbanding did not bring about major change’.” Of course, this is simply not true, and the last dissolution case against the People’s Power Party brought down the government and allowed military and palace fixers to put the Democrat Party and its craven coalition in place.

At the same time, it seems that those who have faced dissolution and even 5-year bans get on okay, so long as they abandon Thaksin Shinawatra and sign up with the military-palace coalition of the willing elite. Think of the execrable Newin Chidchob. He was banned for 5 years, and remains the only politician ever caught on tape engaged in illegal electoral practices. But he jumped sides and brought money and members of parliament to the Democrat Party coalition. This allows him to daily engage in politics, meeting the premier regularly, running his own party on a daily basis and so on. He’s “calm.” So is Banharn Silpa-Archa, also banned, but now a government crony and running his party on a daily basis. The Democrat Party even deals with some politicians found guilty of corruption, in exile and banned – think Vatana Asavaheme.

As the Democrat Party already has its “back-up” party in place – most say it is the newly registered Thai Khem Kaeng Party – maybe they don’t need to worry. The only “problem,” as the report says, is: “is the bruising of some egos for the failure to sustain the oldest political party in Thai history.” But staying in power would probably be a soothing salve.





Order, reconciliation, repression

21 05 2010

The Bangkok Post (21 May 2010) reports “Order has been restored in Bangkok and other provinces…”. It then seems to contradict this by saying the government “will continue to swiftly restore normality throughout the country…”. They are reporting Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva so this is probably the reason for the confusion, for Abhisit is changing the meaning of words and events.

Take this for example: “You can be assured that this government has every intention of moving the country forward, restoring order, making sure that our recovery is well on track, and that we will do so in a transparent manner…”. He adds that there will be an “independent investigation into unrest in Bangkok will be held and rehabilitation will be part of the plan to bring the country forward.” All of this is classic Abhisit double-speak. What he really means is there will be more repression. He initially claimed there would be an independent investigation of the 10 April events, but that was buried as he used the events to blame the red shirts for the government’s actions.

Abhisit’s five-point “reconciliation plan” is a recipe for increased repression of, for example, the media.

Abhisit claims that he recognises “there are huge challenges ahead of us, particularly the challenge of overcomming the divisions that have arisen in this country…”. He’s said this time and again, but to no meaningful outcome.

Reconciliation means soldiers patrolling Bangkok “to end the last pockets of resistance from militants [sic.] in the red-shirt movement…”. It means blocking any website considered anti-government. It means a continuing curfew in Bangkok and 23 provinces, while emergency rule remains in place. It means definace by red shirts: “about 13,000 red supporters rallied in rural areas in defiance of a state of emergency declared in the region…”. That’s an army estimate, so the real number was probably far higher. It may mean, as Chart Thai Pattana Party chief adviser Banharn Silpa-archa said on Friday, that “those who were dissatisfied with the government might go underground, so local police would have to be vigilant.” Can we expect more arrests? Probably.

Reconciliation means the continued hunt for and continued detention of red shirt leaders. And it means widespread arrests and repression of average people now considered dangerous and suspect. On the latter, the Bangkok Post reports: “Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) is setting up a special task force to ensure security for the people of Bangkok in the wake of Wednesday’s political violence…”. In fact, these are forces similar to those set up after the 2006 coup to keep an eye on suspected areas of  potential anti-government action. The task force “comprises police, members of the three armed forces, civilians and disaster relief officials of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration. Their task is to return peace and order to communities in Bangkok…. Units would then patrol the  various communities to prevent unrest, acts of sabotage and other unlawful activities.” Says it all really….

And the legal charges will flow thick and fast: “Col Sansern [Kaewkamnerd] said the CRES would  tomorrow begin inform the people of the legal action to be taken against those arrested in connection with the unrest, arson and seizures of weapons.” This will extend to the rural regions – in fact, this has already begun, with the military seeking to arrest almost 100 red shirts in 3-4 northeastern provinces.

Reconciliation means a huge effort by the government to once again sanitize its role in the events: “The CRES had  sufficient information and evidence to properly inform the Thai people as well as diplomats and foreigners of what had happened during the past week…”. As PPt has said previously, some will buy this propaganda and ignore the deaths and injuries. In any case, it is only the government that can say how many were killed this time. Where have the independent reports gone?

Reconsiliation will mean a huge increase – yes, it’s possible – in propaganda being ground out through the now almost totally state-controlled broadcast media and via all government agencies. We wonder if they’ll use the monarchy again, as they did in the past?

PPT expects that this process will go on for some time and will extend well beyond Bangkok.





Further updated: Another bomb attack

25 04 2010

Only The Nation has so far reported – with few details – a bomb and gunfire attack on Banharn Silpa-archa’s residence with deaths and injury.

Updates: The Bangkok Post now reports this grenade attack (no gunfire), the second on Banharn. It says there were several injured but no deaths. The Nation has a story that suggests how weird reporting the current crisis has become. If any reader can make sense of it, let us know.





Anand and others offer advice

7 04 2010

Former prime minister Anand Punyarachun, who as far as PPT can recall has never faced an election has advice on… elections.

He doesn’t think a dissolution and election would resolve the current political conflict. Like Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, he feels that time needs to be taken to “prepare the groundwork so that the next election results will be acceptable to the majority of people…”. This is an odd view given that an election would presumably produce a result where the majority of voters would be represented in government. We think Anand is saying that the people who might lose need to be convinced that they could live with an elected government.

Anand said “snap polls would not be helpful because the conflict started even before the last election was held.” Well, yes, but because the losers in previous elections have not been able to accept the results and have used all means to overturn the results. Anand seems to think that it is necessary to workshop the whole conflict: “All Thai people, not just the government and protesters, have a stake in the conflict so there must be forums for people to speak out and settle differences before holding the next election.”

Meanwhile, Chart Thai Pattana Party chief adviser Banharn Silapa-archa, who wants  dissolution in 9 months admitted that with “a snap election, the tension will likely ease…”. And Deputy Prime Minister Sanan Kachornprasart “floated his idea for brokering peace between the government and the red shirts by using Pheu Thai Party chairman Chavalit Yongchaiyudh as a go-between.” He called on the red shirts to also talk with the coalition parties – maybe Abhisit’s worse case scenario as he cannot control them and doesn’t trust them.

Things are looking a little ragged for the government. Unfortunately, a lot depends on where the military leadership is locating itself.





With 3 updates: Reaction to reds and talks

30 03 2010

Update 1: It seems that the Bangkok Post’s usually reasonably reliable military affairs reporter Wassana got it wrong in her article cited below on the location of the cabinet meeting. Channel 3 shows the cabinet meeting at the Ministry of Public Health, surrounded by soldiers and police.

Update 2: The Nation (31 March 2010) has a surprisigly fair account of the second round of talks. This is an interesting point:

Veera [Musikapong] tried to befriend the youthful premier by saying: ‘We are the same, we are all victims of the military coup’. ‘Not exactly,’ Abhisit should have said, before he began justifying the 2006 military coup, the junta-sponsored Constitution and his government that took the power in accordance with the Constitution. Instead, he implied: “If there was no Thaksin, there would have been no coup.”

PPT can confirm from our own meetings that most senior Democrat Party members have this same view, blaming Thaksin Shinawatra for everything and believe that the “fight to the death” is justified in keeping Thaksin at bay. See our earlier post about Kasit.

And this also: “As the Oxford-educated Abhisit continued lecturing about the philosophy of democracy, Jatuporn Promphan, another red-shirt leader, decided to fight back like a pit bull, breaking up the philosophical debate and dragging the negotiators back to the real issue. ‘We are here to talk about the dissolution of Parliament. If the government will not accept this, should we all stop now and go our different ways?’ he said.”

Another point seldom made: “People keep saying that Jatuporn is fighting for former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, but in actual fact, this red-shirt leader is no stranger to the fight for democracy. He started fighting for the principle from the uprising against the military in May 1992. Yet, as he says, he has nothing more than a Toyota Fortuner to show for his decades in the political field.”

Update 3: Wassana Nanuam explains the change of the location of the cabinet meeting on Monday. She reports in the Bangkok Post (31 March 2010) that “The cabinet also opted to relocate the cabinet’s meeting venue yesterday from the prayer room at the 11th Infantry Regiment to the Public Health Ministry.  A CAPO source said army chief Anupong Paojinda ordered the relocation late on Monday night.  The order was made after a number of cabinet members said they did not want to enter the barracks because the government had already been accused of being propped up by the military, the CAPO source said.

It was stated that “another important reason was the criticism of holding a meeting in a prayer room in the presence of a huge Buddha image, which is inappropriate…”. Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said “many cabinet members preferred to meet at the Public Health Ministry because they felt it was a more convenient location with several entrances and good services.”  And, the “number of soldiers guarding the venue of the cabinet meeting was reduced from about 5,000 troops to 1,200 to avoid panicking staff at the Public Health Ministry…”.

**

On the first day of the talks, red shirt co-leader Veera Musikapong said: “”Our request is simple and direct. We would like Parliament dissolved to return power to the people, so they can make their decision…”. This, however, is the stumbling point. The government believes that it cannot win an election, so its negotiating point is on “constitutional reform” and hence delaying an election for a further 9 months.

The government side and its supporters and backers are also firmly of the view that elections cannot solve the problems created by the political contestation that has continued for several years. Given the response of the military, palace, royalists and their yellow-shirted supporters to elections in 2005, 2006 and 2007, this position may well be correct for these forces can never accept a government that they cannot control or which they believe is linked to their hated enemy, Thaksin Shinawatra.

On Tuesday, The Nation (30 March 2010) reported that the talks between red shirts and a Democrat Party team led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had “reached an impasse yesterday as both sides failed to find a common stance to end the ongoing stand-off.” In fact, PPT’s taxi driver earlier on Monday had already said that the talks were dead because of the government’s unwillingness to consider a dissolution in the near term (on the news of this, see the Bangkok Post). At the same time, the taxi driver continued to listen to the live broadcast of the second round of talks.

The two sides initially appeared to agree on further talks after Abhisit returned from a trip to Bahrain. The Nation reports, however that the red shirts “suggested the talks be suspended indefinitely as the stances of both sides looks unlikely to change.” There’s no indication why this trip is more critical for Abhisit than the political negotiations with the red shirts.

On Monday evening, Abhisit had demanded that there be no dissolution until “late this year after a referendum on amendments to the Constitution. Abhisit also said the government needed time to pass the budget bill for the next fiscal year. His finance minister later appeared on television news programs opposing any dissolution and arguing  for keeping the economic recovery on track.

All the talk of constitutional reform and a referendum remains somewhat mute as the Bangkok Post reports that the coalition parties have agreed to dissolve parliament by the end of the year after the government amends the constitution but reject a referendum.

There was more spark in the discussions, with Abhisit repeatedly talking over the red shirt leaders and trying to rebut their statements. Red shirt negotiator Jatuporn Promphan stated that the “government and Prime Minister Abhisit had no legitimacy to stay in the power, because the government was set up undemocratically.” He added fuel to this fire by mentioning corruption, double standards and pointing to hypocrisy: “You used to call for the late prime minister Samak Sundaravej to dissolve Parliament when the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance’s for Democracy protested in 2008, so why don’t you apply the same principle today…. Just simply follow your own words, and you’d be a great leader.” A series of other allegations got Abhisit upset – these tend to be the more personalized attacks on him – and relate to violent actions last April during the Songkhran Uprising.

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post (30 March 2010) reports on an “historic first when it is held in a prayer room at the 11th Infantry Regiment compound surrounded by 5,000 troops.” The image of a cabinet meeting being held and guarded by 5,000 troops is astounding. It is reported that more than “1,500 [soldiers] have been assigned to undertake foot patrols. Armoured vehicles, personnel carriers and water trucks are also on alert.”

But it gets better. Apparently, the cabinet is to “discuss national affairs before a statue of Phra Phutthachaisirinimitpatima [also called Luang Phor Cherd]. A government spokesman said it was hoped the move would boost morale among MPs disheartened by the continuing political turmoil.” Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban “said it was the first time he would attend a cabinet meeting in the presence of a giant Buddha statue.”

Readers may notice that when the government resorts to ritual and religion, it is termed “historic,” but that when red shirts do the same thing, albeit far more spectacularly, they are rounded on as superstitious Neanderthals. Weak-kneed, middle-class academics wince and cry foul because the pouring of blood is “gruesome” and they consider it some kind of “violence” against people’s state of mind. Perhaps this government ritual is meant to show the difference between black and white magic.

Some of those weak-kneed academics are the core of NGOs. Today they also seem to be the main constituency of these organizations. The Bangkok Post reports that NGOs, academics and senators “have welcomed negotiations between the government and red shirt protest leaders but doubt they will solve any problems.”

The “Network of Non-governmental Organisations yesterday praised representatives of the government and the …UDD … for talking to each other…. The network called for a dissolution of the House in six months, public participation in constitutional amendments, a referendum on any amendment, public participation to work out solutions to social inequality and corruption and an end to unreasonable accusations and threats through the media.”

While Somchai Preechasilpakul of the online education forum Midnight University sounded reasonable when he, “criticised Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for trying to buy time by demanding the constitution be amended before he would dissolve the House,” others lined up to support the government with statements about dissolution not solving problems and needing to be delayed.

Senator Prasarn Marukhapitak saw dissolution as unlikely to “lead to any solution,” Senator Somchai Sawaengkarn “said a dissolution was not the only problem,” Senator Surasak Sri-arun “said red shirt protest leaders were always changing their demands. Initially they battled for constitutional amendments but later turned to demand a dissolution of the lower house.”

The real leaders of the minor coalition parties, none of them actually in parliament, want different things. Newin Chidchob favors constitutional change but no referendum. Banharn Silpa-archa election rules amended. Suwat Liptapanlop wants a dissolution but no constitutional change. There are also differences within the coalition parties on the sections of the constitution to be amended. The Democrat Party has no desire to “change the section regarding the election system from multi-representative to single-seat constituencies.”

It seems that the talks have been used more or less to reduce pressure on the government and to buy time, still hoping (what are seen as) the horrid peasants occupying Bangkok will tire and go home, leaving the government free to continue in office. Such a perspective draws on beliefs about who is born to rule and the perception that most of the red shirts are Thaksin proxies and duped or paid. These attitudes run very deep and have been reinforced – rather than shaken – by recent events and the language of class warfare. The elite understands that they are in a war that their class and allies must win.