Regime work: rigging elections, more security, spying on kids, and economic sabotage

8 07 2022

It has been quite a week. Below we link to some of the regime’s most recent machinations.

Perhaps the biggest story was the remarkable about face by government parties on party lists for the next election (if we get that far).

As Thai Newsroom reports, “lawmakers faithful to Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha today (July 6) dumped the mixed-member-majority system and instead endorsed the mixed-member-proportional system for use in the next general election, fueling the criticism that the executive branch has unduly interfered in the business of the legislative branch.” As the Bangkok Post explained it via a headline, “Parliament chooses MP calculation method favouring small parties.” This is little more than vote-rigging in the manner of the period before the 2019 election. More than that, even the deputy secretary-general of the Election Commission “said the calculation formula of dividing 500 would be problematic because it would result in the number of list MPs exceeding the official number of list MPs set by the constitution.” Constitutionalism seldom bothers the regime. Why is this being done, especially as the government parties had to backflip on their earlier position? The Bangkok Post is succinct: “The move came after the use of 500 received the green light from Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut…, in what is seen as a bid to prevent Pheu Thai from winning a landslide in the next poll, sources said.”

On “national security,” it is reported in The Nation that “Cabinet on Tuesday approved a draft royal decree to exempt enforcement of the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) on agencies related to national security, public safety, tax collection, international cooperation and legal procedures.” That means that “national security” agencies can continue to abuse the population. Added to this, the Royal Thai Air Force is expanding its capacity for cyber snooping. While this is said to be a move that “aims to enhance the RTAF’s non-combat operations, which include disaster mitigation, as well as search and rescue efforts,” in Thailand it can be expected that the cyber unit will target regime opponents and those it considers anti-monarchist.

While on “national security,” Thai Enquirer reports on police (and, PPT would add, military) surveillance of students. It refers to a recent event:

1. No Coup 2. Liberty 3. Democracy

On Monday, a uniformed officer was spotted inside Ramkhamhaeng University telling university students to change the questions on their survey.

The question that disturbed the officer was, ‘should Prayut continue to run the country?’

The answers were overwhelmingly, NO.

The police saw it as their duty to prevent this.

It got worse when some royalist regime supporting university “administrator” wander out “to ask the university students to conduct another activity that is more ‘creative’ than this.” And, worse still, “on Tuesday when two uniformed officers were spotted inside Triam Udom Suksa School.” In this instance, the police were there to support the royalist regime supporting administration in its increased repression of teenagers: “The officers were there to monitor a protest against uniform and hairstyle regulations.

It seems that all students are now threats to “national security.”

Did anyone mention independent central banks? Not in Thailand. Thai Enquirer reports that Finance Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith “on Wednesday told the Bank of Thailand (BoT) to prepare to address the weakening of the Thai baht, which has fallen against the US dollar to its lowest level since December 2015.” Dutifully, the Bank of Thailand immediately announced it “will hold a media briefing on the policy interest rate and the baht on Friday at 10.30am, as the local currency trades at its weakest level in more than six years against the United States dollar.” If the regime is controlling the Bank of Thailand, the country’s in trouble.

Holidaying elsewhere

An example of the regime’s economic “capacity” was provided with the quite bizarre Tourism and Sports Ministry thought bubble to introduce dual tariffs for hotels. In a situation where the regime is now desperate to get tourists back to Thailand, the ministry “plans to ask hotel operators to implement a dual-tariff structure under which foreign visitors may be charged rates similar to pre-pandemic days while locals may continue to enjoy discounted rates…”. A government spokesperson reckoned this would “maintain our standards of rates and services for foreign tourists, which affects the perception of country’s tourism brand…”.

We’d guess that if this addled idea goes ahead it would likely prove a disincentive for some tourists. We’d also guess that hotels are better at price-setting than the regime.

In royal service

20 02 2015

Readers may have noticed a report, mainly about a threat to Thailand’s airline industry on safety grounds, that was headlined “VIPs stranded as Nok Air cancels flight.” Discussants at New Mandala have pointed out that the “VIPs” were an interesting lot, accompanied by a hoard of reporters:

All 85 passengers, including many premium passengers and 40 news reporters, had to leave the aircraft and wait at Nan Airport while airline maintenance staff undertook repair work.

VIP guests included privy councillor Palakorn Suwannarath, [puppet] National Reform Council president Thienchay Kirananada, PTT chairman and former Thai Airways president Piyasvasti Amranand, and Bank of Thailand Governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul.

Helpfully, another discussant points out that this gaggle of “VIPs” and the trailing reporters were all there to cover a gross royal event featuring the burly Princess Sirindhorn trailed by The Dictator, who has ordered that her birthday be the subject of nationwide “celebration.”

Even with a flagging economy and seemingly important political tasks to be completed, the “VIPs” remain little more than servants of the royals. They buff royal posteriors, wasting billions in taxpayer funds because the monarchy is the keystone of their political and economic dominance.

Wikileaks: Coup good for business

2 03 2012

U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce was happy enough to support the 2006 military coup that ousted Thaksin Shinawatra, a leader Boyce had earlier described as “delusional.”

In a Wikileaks cable sent a day after the coup, Boyce is happy to report “near universal agreement among Thai and US businesspersons and RTG civil servants … that any economic fallout from Thailand’s military coup will be shallow and short-lived.” Boyce was remarkably upbeat, seemingly reflecting his elation about the coup and informed by businesspeople who wanted Thaksin out.

Boyce reports that the Governor of the Bank of Thailand expected no major problems but stood ready to intervene if required. More politicized was an “official from the Federation of Thai Industries” chortled that the coup was “good news for business…”. The FTI expected a government of “highly qualified technocrats.” They were soon disappointed but unbowed politically. Thai exporters were said to be “positive on the political developments, saw no real downside to their export business and looked forward to greater economic stability.”

The “Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Bangkok advised us that … they had no particular concerns about business conditions going forward.”

Boyce summarizes that “the feeling among most Thais is that overall uncertainty is reduced because of the coup, and less uncertainty is better for business.” How he felt he knew is anybody’s guess. Boyce concludes: “The optimism of the business community, even in the face of martial law, is striking. One foreign brokerage has actually recommended a double-weighting for Thai assets in the wake of the coup.”

In two further cables on the same day (here and here), Boyce details how the United States would respond to the coup. Most of its actions were mandated by U.S. legislation. The Embassy mentions this as involving Section 508 of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act. The Embassy stated that it supported the

immediate suspension of obligations or expenditures of funds under programs such as International Military Education and Training (IMET), Foreign Military Financing (FMF), the Economic Support Fund (ESF), International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INL), and others until the President determines and certifies to Congress that a democratically elected government has taken office. Post further proposes that those military programs that are similar to initiatives subject to Section 508, but not part of the Foreign Operations Act, also be suspended until the installation of an acceptable interim civilian caretaker government. These programs would include our comprehensive military exercise program, and programs already funded for maritime security under Section 1206 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2006.

Note that the highlighted words indicate nothing more than a nominal suspension of these addition programs. Indeed, Boyce declares that these “additional sanctions might only be in place for a brief period…”. He argues that they would allow him to pressure the “Council for Democratic Reform under the Constitutional Monarchy (CDRM) to take necessary intermediate steps resulting in a freely elected civilian government.” Note the contradiction between “elected government” and a “caretaker government.”

There were many exemptions: “the Peace Corps, or those aimed at providing disaster assistance, HIV/AIDS programs and other programs not benefiting the military…”. At the same time, Boyce argued that:

[s]ome of our security assistance programs in Thailand are vitally important to U.S. interests. Included among these are the Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES) being implemented at Thai ports of entry to monitor travelers entering and exiting the country, the U.S. Military Information Support Team (MIST) with Civil Affairs augmentation developing a psyops strategy for Thai soldiers countering insurgents in Southern Thailand, and discreet bilateral training to assist Thai soldiers rotating to the South to identify and disarm IEDs….  The Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI) is another program we should continue to support, as Thailand is scheduled to host the GPOI CAPSTONE event in May 2007, with participation from five other countries.

Boyce reckoned these were “benign and non-lethal programs” – in the south?? – and asked that the all be exempted. That is these security programs were to continue, despite the coup. In other words, Boyce was keen that the U.S. do little more than give the military junta more than a mild slap on the wrist.

The rising baht

27 04 2010

A few days ago PPT asked a question regarding the ever rising baht in amongst a falling stock market and a political crisis of mammoth proportions. We asked why the baht remained high. Now Bandit Nijthaworn the  deputy governor of the Bank of Thailand  has confirmed that the “escalating political crisis has not affected the value of the Thai currency…”. He said that the “baht’s value has not been hit by the political turmoil as there are no capital outflows at this time….  In contrast, the Thai currency has appreciated as a result of continuous capital inflows to the Thai stock and bond markets…”.

Our earlier post made an undergraduate economics error when we asked if the baht was being sold and this was keeping the value up – dumb. But why is the baht, stocks and bonds so attractive just now to international buyers who have seldom shown a deep interest in Thailand events and have usually herded?

Reuters (27 April 2010) reports that yesterday the “Thai baht THB= fell 0.3 percent to 32.26 per dollar. A Bangkok-based dealer said: “The baht is weighed down by both external and local factors. With no more negotiations in sight, the red shirt protests look likely to drag on and on…. But I still see 32.50 as a fairly strong support for the baht given the bullish sentiment for Asian assets.” Reuters says that the “baht is still up 3.3 percent against the dollar this year, despite the political turmoil.”

Abhisit cranks up the fear

7 03 2010

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was initially reported, late yesterday, at the Bangkok Post’s breaking news website as claiming that there was a “terrorist” threat to Thailand. No details were provided. Now The Nation (7 March 2010) has a longer report where Abhisit has said that “recent intelligence reports had pointed to the possibility of sabotage taking place on March 14.”

He is reported as adding that these actions were “aimed at creating chaos” and that the “government was closely monitoring the situation and would make sure no weapons are smuggled out of military barracks.” He also claimed that the government’s Security-Related Situation Monitoring Committee was the body that had received this intelligence. Then the kicker: “He did not give any details about the nature of the sabotage, or who might be behind such a plot.”

PPT thinks Abhisit is really quite frantic and is attempting to convey fear to the population. These might be seen as desperate tactics, especially as Army spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd has said that the army, which is represented on the committee “had no information about the possibility of sabotage…”.

Why does Abhisit mention the army and weapons? A later report claims the government believes that military weapons have been “stolen.

Looked at another way, if the premier really does believe that sabotage is likely, why is he just scaring people with outrageous claims and not providing any details? Is this act of a responsible political leader?

Just for good measure, Abhisit decided to also claim that “his administration was not a puppet of the bureaucratic elite (amataya).”

Adding to the fear and appealing to the preconceptions of the frightened elite and middle class huddled in Bangkok, Abhisit’s own spokesman, Thepthai Senpong claimed “Thaksin [Shinawatra] has given red-shirt leaders Bt50 million. He said the leadership had first asked for Bt100 million, but was only given half the sum to organise the rally and was now seeking an additional Bt20 million.” As usual, Thepthai provided no evidence for his claim.

The money transfer claims are made daily, although a Bank of Thailand spokesman stated on Channel 7 news two nights ago that they had seen no evidence of transfers that might be considered unusual.

Thepthai also seems to have intelligence and security reports – the same as Abhisit’s? – that claim “100,000 vehicles of various types would enter Bangkok and as many as 1 million protesters would converge on the capital on March 14 with a view to peacefully overthrowing the government within three days. If they failed in that objective, protesters would as a fallback position try to oust the administration by March 20…”.

If Abhisit and Thepthai believe this – PPT thought it was just red shirt huffing and puffing – then their frantic fear mongering is possibly to be expected. At the same time, PPT reiterates that responsible political leaders would not be simply cultivating unreasonable fears with no indication of the source of the information or of the threats faced.

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