Power

7 05 2018

Voranai Vanijaka is a columnist, Bangkok Post. He was once with The Nation and has a reputation for biting op-eds. His most recent outing deserves some attention.

He observes that there have been a series of scandals for the military regime over the last six months. We think there have been far more and over a longer period, but let’s go with his six months of troubles, “starting from November of last year. It began with junta leader Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha berating a fisherman down south for daring to matter-of-factly ask him tough questions. Next came deputy junta leader Gen Prawit Wongsuwon flashing his posh taste for luxury watches, which supposedly were borrowed from generous friends.”

What has happened about those watches? The National Anti-Corruption Commission has gone very quiet since Gen Prawit told them their case was over. We assume the NACC has done as it was ordered and there’s no case for the boss to answer.

Voranai then mentions “former national police chief Somyot Poompunmuang, who ‘borrowed’ 300 million baht from a massage parlour tycoon…”.

Somyos and some of his loot

What has happened there? As far as we can tell, the wealthy cop is off the hook. His sloshing about in other people’s money is a bit like the watch saga; it is just normal behavior for the powerful.

And so on.

Voranai observes, as we do, that “[n]one of these gentlemen [sic.] think they have done anything wrong.”

Of course they don’t. They are powerful, entitled and deserving.

He adds:

These aren’t isolated incidents to be treated separately, mind you. Here the common theme is that the rich and powerful, the elders or phu yai, who are leaders of society, do whatever they want, however they want — as has been done for decades and centuries before. The sense of entitlement is of medieval proportions.

But these men are not behaving simply as feudal lords did. This is a Thailand dominated by market capitalism dominated by “whales” who reward their political fixers. The entitlements of these whales far outweigh those of the police chiefs and political flunkies who do their bidding and put them on boards or pay them retainers for services to be rendered.

 

Where we distance ourselves from Voranai is when he makes claims that we are all to blame, that it’s cultural. It isn’t. It is a system of political and economic power that needs to be smashed.





Further updated: Sparks beginning to fly

28 01 2018

Quite some time ago we said that, as in the past, the spark that lights a fire under Thailand’s military dictatorship might come from something quite unexpected.

We think we might have seen that spark and it may be two events that have begun to tip the political balance. One is Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan’s luxury timepieces. It isn’t so much that he’s seemingly corrupt. After all the timid middle classes and the wealthy capitalist class “understand” corruption and it is a price they are ever willing to pay so long as they can continue to prosper. And, if the corrupt are “good” people, then it’s okay. What has led to a beginning of an unraveling of this political relationship is Prawit’s arrogance about his massive watch collection and the demonstration (so far) of cover-up and impunity. This taints the junta as self-serving, grasping and certainly not “good” people.

The second spark is the continual delay in the holding of an election that is neither free nor fair. The middle and capitalist classes were fully prepared to accept the junta’s manipulated constitution, its forcing of the constitutional referendum, the tinkering with the details, a senate that maintains military political dominance and human rights restrictions. However, as well as the political repression of the lower classes, they wanted something of a say in politics via that unfair election. By delaying numerous times, the junta is displaying arrogance and a craving for power “unsuited” to the middle and capitalist classes.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

The peeling away of support even sees diehard yellow shirts, the boosters for the coups of 2006 and 2014, criticizing the military junta it bet on for turning back the lower class political tide. It also sees cracks appearing in the junta’s domination and control both in events and institutions. We have posted on the “We Walk” march and its court victory. Some of the NGOs involved in that event were those that were present at the birth of the People’s Alliance for Democracy in 2006. For some of those yellow shirts, there is disappointment in the regime for not doing sufficient political cleansing. More disappointment comes from the decisions by the junta to allow legal pursuit of PAD and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee. Such legal cases are not just a disappointment but construed as a betrayal.

In this context, the re-emergence of political protest is telling. First We Walk and now the student activists. It isn’t that these students haven’t pushed the junta before. In fact, they have been regular opponents, but they have faced numerous legal cases, arrests, abductions and so on. The Bangkok Post reports their most recent event this way:

The Democracy Restoration Group, led by Sirawich “Ja New” Seritiwat and Rangsiman Rome, posted on Facebook on Friday asking people who share the same views to join them at 5.30pm at the BTS skywalk near the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre.

Pathumwan police said they did not try to stop the campaign so long as it did not block traffic.

Around 100 people came to the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre at 5.15pm while police stood by and took photos of the participants. Many of them showed the sign “Election 2018” or show its photo on their mobile phones.

Core leaders of the group took turns giving speeches.

Interestingly, the demonstrators emphasized not just elections but watches.

Update 1: A reader emailed us saying that we missed one of the most important bits of the linked Bangkok Post story. That reader is right that we should have specifically noted that the rally brought together stalwarts of both red and yellow shirts, with ultra-nationalist yellow shirt Veera Somkwamkid and red shirt iconoclast Sombat Boonngamanong. That is an unexpected alliance. Yet it is just this kind of unusual alliance that has underpinned anti-military movements in the past.

Update 2: An updated Bangkok Post report has more from Veera. He declared: “There are no colours right now…. It’s all about joining hands and removing corruption from the country.” He added: “The problem is we cannot rely on the government because they are in fact the ones who are not transparent.” The principal organizers, the New Democracy Movement declared “it will continue to pressure the government and Gen Prayut to dismiss Gen Prawit and to keep his promise to holding the election this year. They will gather again in the same spot on Feb 10.” Meanwhile, in Songkhla, “members of 19 civic organisations walked from Hat Yai municipality to Sena Narong army camp in Hat Yai to voice their grievances over several state projects in the South and to support the [People Go Network/We Walk group].”





Screw the workers or the junta is screwed

24 01 2018

Organized labor in Thailand is struggling to stay organized. For decades business and the state have worked together to ban and then repress organized workers. Labor laws are flouted, employers have officials in their pockets and on their payroll, and leaders of workers at the factory level are harassed and threatened.

Wage setting in Thailand, which revolves around the maintenance of what was once a daily national minimum and is now set for provincial zones is essentially a bipartite process as workers and state decide on what the minions in factories, shops, offices, malls, hotels, boats, fields and so on will be paid. It was only about a week ago that this committee set the new minimum wage.

The decision set seven wage rates from 1 April – 308 baht, 310 baht, 315 baht, 318 baht, 320 baht, 325 baht and 330 baht. The average minimum wage was about 316 baht with rises ranging from 2% to 7% above current levels. For workers in the provinces who will now be getting 308 baht a day, that’s a rise of thus see a wage rise of 8 baht since 2012 or about 0.4% a year or 1.3 baht per day. At the highest rate, it is 1.7% a year or 5 baht a day.  A bus ride on a regular non-a/c bus in Bangkok is 8 baht.

Calculated as a yearly rise, the highest rate for someone working every single day of the year on this new minimum wage would earn enough to buy 7.6% of one of General Prawit Wongsuwan’s watches (at the estimated average cost).

Those pitiable rises were due to be approved by the junta’s cabinet yesterday, with the “Ministry of Labour …[to] also propose an exemption from the wage stipulations for the provinces in the government’s flagship Eastern Economic Corridor development project…”. How that makes sense is beyond us. We would have thought that you would want your workers in your flagship establishments being your most productive and best paid. But this is a military junta making decisions….

Unfortunately, even these small wage increases (which many firms ignore anyway) are just too much for Thailand fattened business class. The Nation reports that the bosses are rebelling, demanding that the junta “go back to the drawing board on the recently announced rises in minimum daily wages [saying] that its members say do not reflect the different economic conditions across the country.” Kalin Sarasin, chairman of the The Joint Standing Committee on Commerce, Industry and Banking chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, says 92% of business owners “in all provinces agreed that the rises announced for 2018 are higher than the rates that had been proposed by the provincial wage committees. This meant that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and farmers could be hit hard by the higher wages, which they say are not adequately based on economic conditions in each area of the country…”.

Business owners are used to having cheap labor. That’s been one of the state’s main roles over decades of economic development. That’s why inequality remains at Latin American and African levels. That’s why, in 2016, the top 1% in Thailand controlled 58% of all wealth and why the top 10% gobbled up 80% of all wealth in the country.

Greed is one thing but we think the political threat from organized business is also clear. The message is: help us on blood-sucking wages and we will continue to support The Dictator and his men. If the junta fails, its political future is dimmer still.





Junta is illegitimate

22 02 2015

PPT is late posting this, and we thank a reader for sending it on.It is clear and concise. We earlier referred to primitive accumulation in describing the actions of the state and military under the dictatorship as it clears out opposition to the control of wealth in Thailand. Perhaps it is this kind of opposition that makes The Dictator angry?:

Statement of Assembly of the Poor
Condemning the Use of Violence against the Poor to Protect the Capitalists’ Interests

On 3 February 2015 Mr. Pianrat Boonrit, the president of an agricultural cooperative, a member of Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand, was summoned by the military for attitude adjustment and detained in a jail in Vibhavadirangsit Military Camp in Surat Thani Province until 5 February 2015. On the same evening the military demolished Permsab Community (a member of the agricultural cooperative, the Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand). The community locates in Chaiyaburi District in Surat Thani Province. The community members are struggling for land rights. They held a vigil not allowing the capitalist to enter and harvest oil palms in a national reserved forest of which the concession was expired for 14 years. Later on 11 February 2015 Mr. Chai Boonthonglek, age 61, also a member of the Federation was shot dead.

Yesterday (13 February 2015), the joint armed force of police and military officers guarded a private company’s transportation of the drilling equipment into Ban Na-moon Village, Doon Sad Sub-district, Kra-nuan District in Khonkaen Province to install the drilling rig. The drilling is continuously opposed by local people. Even the National Reform Council, hand-picked by National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) itself, voted 130 to 79 against the petroleum concession policy. But the NCPO [the military junta] does not listen and is stubbornly determined to use violence to clear the path for the capitalists.

Assembly of the Poor sees that these actions demonstrate the thoughtless and excessive abuse of authority, the disrespect of law and the leadership that acts like a doggish servant to the capitalists and is much more evil and wicked than politicians whom NCPO itself overthrew.

Assembly of the Poor condemns such actions of the NCPO. We see that the NCPO is not legitimate to govern the country. Its illegitimacy is even stronger than before. We do not have any demand to NPCO.

We would only like to call on to people from all walks of life to oust the NPCO if the NPCO does not immediately return the sovereignty back to people.

” Democracy where people can eat, Politics where the poor matter.”
Assembly of the Poor
14 February 2015





Which plot?

8 07 2012

PPT seldom cites anything much from Voranai Vanijaka at the Bangkok Post. This Sunday’s column, though, deserves some attention. It begins with this:

If you ever get into a haggling match with somebody, you should accuse that person of plotting to overthrow the monarchy. Street vendor try to pull one over on you? That’s a plot to overthrow the monarchy. A police officer tries to write you a ticket? Plot to overthrow the monarchy. Girl won’t give you her phone number? A plot to overthrow the monarchy. This is the surest way to get things to go your way….

That may seem true, but it is only relatively recently that the charge has had political traction. Yes, there was a time when the palace was in decline after 1932, and then there was a palace fear that the communists would consign the monarchy to history’s dumpster,  but not much in the way of an anti-monarchy plot ever surfaced. For an example of one alleged plot that came to nothing, see LM_5 Feb 1993.

Oddly enough the frantic claims of “plot” emerged soon after the moment when the monarchy was at its seeming strongest. That the meddling lot in the palace then screwed things up for themselves by very real plotting and implementing a coup with their military acolytes is well known.

Suddenly, with the recognition that the king in his dotage and the future looking bleak under Rama X, the ruling class is using the “plot” to gain time in their struggle to find a means to maintain their control when the monarchy’s symbolism collapses.

Voranai continues:

On June 1, the Constitution Court ordered parliament to suspend the third reading of the reconciliation legislation [it was actually a bill on how charter change should proceed] after accepting petitions arguing the charter amendment bill may constitute an attempt to overthrow the constitutional monarchy.

And he adds, appropriately enough:

But in the two-day hearings last week, no one came close to proving any plot to overthrow the monarchy. Why? Because there’s no such plot.

Of course there isn’t. Later Voranai explains that:

This then brings us back to the pending decision by the Constitutional Court. The wrangling over what the law says matters little. It’s for show. Written words in the constitution can be twisted, misinterpreted and distorted any which way we like.

That’s not quite accurate, for the Constitutional Court essentially only decides cases in favor of the royalist elite. That bunch of corrupt judges do as they are told. So there is no “we” involved; the court decides for the ruling class.

Voranai adds that there’s no plot against the monarchy, just a plot “to return Thaksin Shinawatra to power in Thailand and get back his confiscated wealth.” That’s not quite accurate either. Yes, there is a stated intention on the part of the current government to bring Thaksin back. It even ran an election that promises to do just this, and they won handsomely. So that doesn’t constitute a plot in the same sense as plotting the 2006 coup.

Is there a plot to give Thaksin his loot back? We don’t know. We are sure that he’d like it back.

In the end, the real plotters seem to be royalists, their capitalist backers and the military. But that’s how it’s been for a long time. And they are the ones who are desperate to protect their economic privilege and political power by means that don’t include winning elections.





Royalist calls for capitalists to be overthrown

7 04 2012

Royalist Amorn Chantarasomboon, a former secretary-general of the Council of State, seems the wrong person to be calling for capitalists to be ousted. And yet he has been consistent in blaming capitalism for Thailand’s ills, including its political crisis.

Of course, while his call may sound radical, it is actually based on a deep conservatism. What they want is not some form of socialism but a monarchy presiding over commoners working away in sufficiency economy villages where people are kept well away from political decision-making.

Back in 2009, Amorn joined with a gaggle of royalists and People’s Alliance for Democracy-aligned sham academics to call for “comprehensive political reform. This was a “call for [the] removal of root causes of problem haunting the country” and to reassert that Thaksin Shinawatra is “funding unrest.” At that gathering of royalists, Amorn declared the political system “a dictatorship by capitalists…”.

Amorn, like many royalists, stated that “political reform should be undertaken by politicians, because they had a conflict of interest…”.

Nothing much has changed for Amorn, and at the Bangkok Post he now declares that the “courts of justice are facing mounting pressure from political parties that wield dominance over parliament…”. He referred to a “parliamentary dictatorship” of “parties which in turn are controlled by financiers.”

Here Amorn is being careful to denote a particular type of capitalists, but if “financiers” is the term used, we wonder if there are flutters of concern at the major financial institutions such as the Bangkok Bank and the Crown Property Bureau-controlled Siam Commercial Bank?

We doubt it, as these are royalist banks are unlikely to be included in Amorn’s attack on renewed attack on Thaksin. But it is interesting that the attack on capitalists – and Amorn is only one of the yellow extremists making this call – ignores the largest capitalist conglomerate in the country that is the CPB. That’s because Amorn has long called for royal powers to be increased. But then Amorn’s convoluted logic also includes a call for “the judiciary to … ensure their verdicts can benefit people and protect the private sector.”

Amorn had a role in the drafting of the 1997 constitution, and PPT has to wonder why Amorn is so unhappy with the 2007 constitution, which the military junta ensured that the judiciary had more power and an vastly expanded political role. Did their “fixing” of the constitution not go far enough or did they screw up?

As far as we can tell, the answer for Amorn is that any constitution that allows an electorate to choose their politicians is a problem. Amorn has been unable to believe that an electorate can consistently elect pro-Thaksin parties if they are not stupid, duped or paid.

The thing that motivates the diehard royalists is a political position that is based on a desire for rule by a few. They can’t abide any notion that the ruled should count, for they believe there are great and good ones who know best how a country should be administered. Amorn would have felt at home in the nineteenth century, and his pocket watch seems broken at about midnight on 23 July 1932.





Anti-democratic academics and others

26 03 2012

PPT has been reading some of the recent commentary by an apparently reinvigorated bunch of yellow-hued academics and we have found, all too  predictably, that nothing much has changed for those who seem to delight in acting as the anti-democratic mouthpieces of the royalist elite.

A few days ago the aging and often theoretically incomprehensible middle class “radical” Thirayudh Boonmee came out with statements reported at the Bangkok Post that seemed to trouble the military (because he mentioned a coup) and some of Thaksin Shinawatra’s acolytes (because, as ever, the crumpled academic was critical).

Thirayudh

The academic is director of the Sanya Dhammasak Institute for Democracy at Thammasat University. Sanya was a prime minister appointed by the king in October 1973 and never held elected office. PPT notes that this is yet another institute in Thailand commemorating “democracy” as a royalist invention rather than a result of long political struggles.

Thirayudh is reported to believe that “the ongoing political conflict in Thailand derives from the fact that people do not respect the opinions of others who belong to a different political colour.” Well, yes, there is a “lack of respect,” but this tells us nothing about the interests that underlie “different opinions.” It is a fallacious position influenced by postmodernist positions that consider opinions, ideas and ideology the basis of politics. It is as if ideas float in thin air, disconnected from material interests. In other words, such Thirayudh’s observation is useless to any deep understanding of Thailand’s politics.

Thirayudh’s main point, though, is a critique of electoral politics. He says Thailand is “dominated by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, grass roots politics and populist policies.”

He may be partly right to identify Thaksin as “one of the three most influential political figures since 1957.  The other two are former military strongman Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat and Gen Prem Tinsulanonda,” but forgets the king and the palace as a major political actor.

Thirayudh seems disturbed that “political parties under Thaksin consecutively won power,” because he sees Thaksin as having “no true intentions of building democracy for the grass roots.” This is because he think the “grassroots” are a bunch of dullards who are vulnerable to Thaksin as “a marketing leader” rather than “a democracy leader.” They can be mobilized by Thaksin for his purposes. Like many middle class academics, for Thirayud, “Thaksin’s aim is more to make the grass roots his clients than to make them a sustainable foundation of the Thai economy.”

Part of that marketing push involved elections and “populist policies.” For him, “populism” is some kind of political sin as it makes electoral popularity paramount and what Thirayudh sees as necessary is to “uplift Thai society to be democratically strong, with strengthened rights, freedom and responsibility in which the people respect the feelings of others.”

While few would disagree with some of this, the point is that this is a deeply politically conservative position that hankers for some kind of “united” people, free of conflicts. Think here of the king’s repeated calls for unity and order. Essentially the ideas expressed by the king and Thirayudh spring from the same conservatism.

That same conservatism prompts Thirayudh to see the “current conflict in the country derives from Thaksin’s insatiable desire for wealth and power…”. In other words, the “desires” of the people are ignored.

More recently, and more obviously royalist in perspective, are the recent comments by the deep yellow-hued Chulalongkorn University political scientist Chaiyan Chaiyaporn. Chaiyan has long been a People’s Alliance for Democracy supporter and anti-Thaksin activist.

Like his colleagues in PAD, Chaiyan has a warped notion of electoral democracy. At The Nation he adds to the long history of PAD’s and his own anti-democratic cravings. There, Chaiyan makes the extraordinary proposal that any “national referendum on the Constitution should require the backing of two-thirds of voters before the charter can be adopted.”

Chaiyan

For PPT, the idea of a referendum on a constitution is silly and suggestive of exceptionally shallow thinking. Take the 2007 constitution and the military junta’s idea of having a referendum on it. Voters got to cast a vote of Yes or No for the draft constitution. That basic law contained 309 articles. What was a voter who had read the thing to do if he or she strongly objected to one article but kind of liked 308? Vote No? What would the voter who agreed with 155 articles but disagreed with 154 to do? Vote Yes? In any case, the junta’s team made constitutional change a task for parliament.

But politically, Chaiyan is doing something else. He is proposing the two-thirds requirement simply because it “is not easy to achieve.” The proposal he makes is to prevent the current government changing the constitution. He makes this crystal clear:

The Pheu Thai and government coalition did not get that many votes in the 2011 election. They will have to campaign more to get approval for the new charter while the opposition might campaign for people to oppose or abstain.

Chaiyan is anti-democratic to the core. But we guess his anti-Thaksin panelists found such proposals just fine and dandy.

We are not suggesting that all academics are simply the ideologues of the elitist royalist regime. For alternative perspectives, this story at the Bangkok Post is worth reading.

Retired Thammasat University history professor Thanet Aphornsuvan said:

We know that there is social inequity in our country, but what makes the people no longer tolerate this and why are the factors that used to make them accept the situation not being sustained anymore. It’s clear that of late the authority of those in power is being questioned….

PPT doesn’t agree that people “tolerated” inequality previously, but Thanet’s questions are worthy of consideration.

Porphant

At the same event, Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University Professor Porphant Ouyyanont noted that mammoth economic structural changes had “created a new political economy in Thailand,” and that, post-1997, “old capitalist groups, such as the banks, seeing their share … [in the economy] reduced while new businesses in telecoms and media have emerged.” He also noted the integration of farmers with markets and a range of new provincial players. He observes that: “New economic players have new political demands.”

But, as Attachak Sattayanurak of Chiang Mai University’s history faculty notes, the current power structure has not been giving way to new demands. Attachak refers to “capitalist groups colluding with the military and aligning their legitimacy with the monarchy…”. He added:

The co-operation between the military and capitalists in controlling the socio-political landscape in the country has clearly been featured with a monarchy-loyalty flavour. The monarchy has been issued a new role of sustaining and legitimising the political entities in the country….

Pruek Taotawil of Ubon Ratchasima University also picked up on new economic groups that “have challenged the traditional conservative power structure…”. He adds that:

The old power groups have created new political discourse that the king is the community leader and anything opposite or against the discourse is not legitimate or accepted. The recent political conflicts are clashes between the networks of old and new powers galvanising grass roots masses as their support….

Pruek warned that the new political players would “not tolerate being only cosmetic accessories to the power structure.”

The future is clear, even if the conservatives – academics, military bosses, politicians and royalists – can’t accept it.