Media, students and monarchy II

23 08 2020

The Bangkok Post reports on a backlash against the ultra-royalist Nation TV (warning: clicking the link opens rabid rant). Khaosod has a related report.

According to the Post, those rallying against the regime have mounted social media campaigns against the rabid ranting television broadcaster, calling out those businesses that advertise with them. It says the boycott of Nation TV and its advertisers began from deceptive reporting:

In this case, it started with a lapse of professional ethics by a journalist assigned by the pro-establishment TV station to cover the youth-led rally for political change at Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue last Sunday.

When she asked a demonstrator for an interview, the suspicious protester asked: “What news outlet are you from?”

Fearing she would be turned down given the pro-democracy tone of the demonstration, she lied, saying she came from a little-known news outlet.

The interview showed up later that day on the TV station of the well-known media group to the surprise, and then rage, of the interviewee who refused to keep quiet.

Reporting this as a “lapse” seems to downplay the fact that Nation TV regularly “reports” in biased and deceptive ways.

The parent Nation Multimedia Group defended deception by claiming “its reporters have in the past been intimidated, verbally abused and pressured by protesters at several rallies.” It attacked pro-democracy rally goers as “opponents” while fibbing that the station always reported the “facts”and criticizing them for “hate speech,” which is actually Nation TV’s brand.

The campaigners quickly circulated lists advertisers and these were widely shared: the companies and brands included Unilever, Osotspa, the CP Group, Central Group, Muang Thai Life and Foodpanda. Twitter users wanted companies to “acknowledge their Thailand branch is supporting dictatorship…”.

The quick outcome was that the “companies on the list have since issued statements denying involvement with the TV station and insisted they are politically neutral.” In the report it is stated that “only insurer Muang Thai Life said it would stop advertising with the group.”





Helping themselves

7 05 2020

In another of the uncritical reports vigorously polishing the posteriors of the filthy rich, it is reported that the Chirathivat family’s Central Group, best known for its hotels and retail stores, is reported to have “ approved 2.3 billion baht to boost the sustainable grass-roots economy…”.

There’s a bit of a theme going on among the rich, seeing a win-win in cheering the monarchy, royal projects, sufficiency economy and the like while portraying a concern for farmers.

But in this, at least based on the reporting, it seems Central is helping itself as well, allocating “1.5 billion baht to buy products directly from growers and community enterprises, including farm produce and SME products, for sale in stores …”. Cheeky accounting here because we aren’t told how much it already buys in this way. At the same time, two-thirds of its “giving” is shoveling goods into its stores for sale, presumably at a profit.

Of course, Central trumpets this as “support [for] 25,000 farmer households in 42 provinces.”

They say that their “contribution” is a response to the letter from Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chano-cha.

Meanwhile, the rich seem to be finding ways to make the poor feel even more insignificant and unimportant. According to one report, the well-heeled can get gourmet take-out delivered by a butler in a black sedan.

As the report observes, “the super-rich have not forgone luxury during a pandemic which has locked the country down, crushed the economy and left millions unemployed.” It continues:

Thailand is one of the most unequal nations in the world and the chasm between rich and poor is widening as the coronavirus eviscerates jobs, leaving 22 million registering for a government cash hand-out.

Hundreds line up daily for food donations across Bangkok, a grim sign of an economic contraction forecast at more than 6% this year — the worst since the Asian financial crisis in 1997.

It concludes:

For rich Bangkokians the pandemic has brought the inconvenience of restricted movement — with an overnight curfew still in place despite some businesses reopening — but no end to the lifestyle of plenty.

Perhaps the claim of allocating millions to Gen Prayuth’s recovery (non)plan is a kind of insurance in case the poor, unemployed lower classes get uppity.

 





The junta and big business

18 05 2018

The Nikkei Asian Review has an article by Marwaan Macan-Markar that begins the much-needed task of unraveling the military dictatorship’s business dealings.

Over almost four years, the junta has quietly gone about reshaping the relationship between the military and business, both state enterprises and Sino-Thai conglomerates.

The article refers to a “cosy relationship between Thailand’s business-minded generals and powerful Thai-Chinese conglomerates.” It refers to junta-supporting companies as the Central Group, Thai Bev, Mitr Phol, Thai Union and the Bangkok Bank.

The report cites academic Veerayooth Kanchoochat who argues that the junta’s Pracha Rath project that brings the blue suits and khaki together represents the “collective endeavors of Sino-Thai conglomerates to replace competitive markets with hierarchy, rather than encouraging SMEs to catch-up with them.”

The report states that: “Conglomerates have been enticed to sign up with Pracha Rath with generous tax breaks and hopes for previously elusive project approvals.” It adds: “Officers in and out of uniform are meanwhile finding their way on to corporate boards and being given shares in return for acting as ‘fixers with authority’.”

In addition, academic Napisa Waitoolkiat is cited as saying “this symbiotic relationship has again become the ‘norm’.” PPT can’t recall hearing this since the 1970s. She added that state-owned enterprises have again become a sinecure for generals. She says that of “56 state-owned enterprises, 42 now have military directors…”. She adds that the movement of generals onto boards is beginning to include the private sector.

Those generals and their business “partners” are keen to protect this corrupt system, just as they were in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.





CPB and more shopping

24 08 2017

A major reshaping of Bangkok’s Lumpini area is planned. The Crown Property Bureau is about to make another fortune. Yukako Ono reports on this at the Nikkei Asian Review.

The CPB has made several prime pieces of real estate available for large major urban redevelopment projects.

The biggest of these is with the TCC Group, “the family-owned conglomerate known for brewery subsidiary Thai Beverage,” owned by Sino-Thai tycoon and heavy investor in royal futures, Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi and his family.

The CPB is leasing land to TCC for up to six decades for its One Bangkok project, “the nation’s largest-ever private redevelopment project, valued at 120 billion baht ($3.6 billion).” Ono says this “vast mixed-use complex will cover 167,000 sq. meters along Witthayu Road, an area home to Japanese, U.S. and British embassies as well as luxury hotels. That prime location drew redevelopment proposals from 21 bidders.” It will include “[f]ive office buildings, five hotels, three condominiums and a shopping mall will take over the location, which used to field a Thai boxing stadium and a night market.”

Part of this land is an area that was an area that was taken from the royals after 1932 but returned to them at an undisclosed time.

Up the road, “hotel operator Dusit International has joined hands with Central Pattana, a property development unit of retail giant Central Group, to close the … Dusit Thani … hotel and replace it with a 36.7 billion-baht mixed-use project that is to include a new Dusit hotel and shopping mall. In extending its property bureau [CPB] lease for the land, Dusit was able to gain an additional 8,000 sq. meters of real estate.”

The property bureau [CPB] itself is participating in the redevelopment boom through fully owned subsidiary Siam Sindhorn. Its first project, an 89,600-sq.-meter hybrid facility, is set for full completion in 2019.

Siam Sindhorn opened a condo at the site earlier this year, which the company says contains interior furnishings and utilities from across the globe. A 30-year lease commands an average of 240,000 baht per square meter, about twice the average going rate for Bangkok’s city center. Siam Sindhorn has begun marketing the development to investors in China, Japan and Western nations.

More upscale shopping, more luxury condos, more luxury hotels. Remember the CPB propaganda about helping small shophouse owners?





No populism here II

4 10 2014

Populism under Thaksin Shinawatra, at least when he was first elected in 2001, was very popular. As the Asian financial crisis lingered and as the Democrat Party-led government fumbled recovery and did the bidding of the IMF, the struggling rich saw Thaksin as a political savior. His reflationary “populism” boosted consumption. Of course, as he became more popular, many of the Sino-Thai tycoons went back to their “natural” habitat, tying themselves to the military’s boots and the boostering for the palace.

When PAD and then the anti-democrats associated with the Democrat Party were on the streets opposing “populism,” many of the big Sino-Thai capitalist class threw their money behind them. They cheered the two military coups in 2006 and 2014.

It can be no surprise, then, to read in the Bangkok Post that the “nation’s business tycoons are being urged to help play a crucial role in stimulating the country’s economy in order to restore foreign confidence in Thailand.” Some of the business whales attending a friendly meeting with the General masquerading as Commerce Minister to celebrate the military dictatorship included:

Business leaders including Dhanin Chearavanont, chairman of Charoen Pokphand Group, Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, chairman of Thai Beverage, and Tos Chirathivat, chief executive of Central Group, and Vathit Chokwatana, director of Saha Group. These are the most powerful capitalists in the country.

The General, not to be confused with The Dictator, said “the government had called on the tycoons’ cooperation in the government’s reform attempt as well as to boost the quality and add value to Thai products.” It was reported that they also “discussed strategies to restore the confidence of foreigners in Thailand and the Thai economy and how to boost the country’s trade and investment.”

Not coincidentally, the military dictatorship undertook some payback: “The government [it means the junta] also pledged to accelerate amending more than 20 existing laws and regulations that are deemed obstacles to trade and business.”

Sounding like a member of the Chinese Politburo, the General chortled about the great success of getting his business allies to a meeting: “The meeting also marks a new dimension, as the business tycoons agreed to join the meeting and offer their valuable opinions.” He triumphantly declared that the “private sector is also patriotic. The business leaders agree with the government’s efforts and are ready to team up with the government sector to improve the country and the economy…”.

The General claimed that the big capitalists “agreed with the government’s new economic stimulus packages while suggesting the government let market forces work in handling farm prices.”

Naturally, the commercial capitalists at Saha and Central will be pleased with the junta’s economic stimulus.

Tos Chirathivat was happy. He said the “joint meeting between the Commerce Ministry and business leaders was a good start to underlining cooperation between the government and the private sector.”

Giant capitalist and huge landowner Charoen “agreed, saying closer cooperation and connectivity between the private sector and state bodies would streamline the private sector in running their business, eventually helping to raise the quality of life of low-income earners.” He probably means his drivers, gardeners, maids and other servants.

We said the military junta was proposing populism for the middle class. It seems that the coup is for the rich too.





More on those behind the anti-democratic movement

16 12 2013

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.”Charn Issara

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.

It adds:

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.





Rich, rich, rich I

4 07 2013

Only a day or so ago, PPT posted about inequality and the political power of the rich. Interestingly, this coincided with Forbes posting its list of Thailand’s billionaires. The top 10 are:

1. Dhanin Chearavanont & family worth $12.6 B, from agribusiness and more, and ranked in the top 60 richest on the planet.1000baht

2. Chirathivat family worth $12.3 B mostly in the retail sector

3. Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi of beer, liquor and property, worth $10.6 B

4. Yoovidhya family of Red Bull fame and fast car notoriety, worth $7.8 B

5. Krit Ratanarak, of Bank of Ayudhya and with television interests, worth $3.9 B

6. Chamnong Bhirombhakdi & family, worth $2.4 B, mainly from beer, and with a scion in the Democrat Party

7. Vanich Chaiyawan, worth $2.1 B, in insurance and a big shareholder in Charoen’s Thai Bev

8. Vichai Maleenont & family in media and entertainment, worth $2 B

9. Prasert Prasarttong-Osoth, worth $1.8 B from medical, health and aviation investment

10. Thaksin Shinawatra & family, worth $1.7 B, from various investments in property, mining and more.

Most of the list are paid-up monarchists and some have been active politically, using their wealth in various political ways. PPT isn’t sure if politics earns money for Thaksin or costs him a pile of loot at present. It certainly cost him plenty under various royalist governments.

Of course, the richest tycoon family in Thailand is actually the king and his family. With the stock market rises and boom in tourism, PPT’s back of the envelope calculation will have the rich royals at about $35-45 Billion this year.

PPT will have a follow-up post on the Forbes stories on these tycoons.





Appealing arson acquittal

22 06 2013

Back at the end of March, two red shirts who had been charged in the arson of the CentralWorld shopping complex in May 2010 were acquitted. Khaosod reports that the two men – Saichon Phaebua and Phinit Channarong – are to face court again as an appeal is made. Both men already spent more than two years in jail while awaiting trial.

It can be recalled that the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime had long claimed that the burning of the shopping mall was a planned act of red shirt defiance. The Democrat Party has continued to campaign against red shirts and the current government as aiding and abetting arsonists.

It remains unclear why the state is appealing given that the case it made against the two was so flimsy.





More on CentralWorld fire

1 03 2013

A week or so ago PPT posted on continuing court case on the CentralWorld arson in May 2010.  The South Bangkok Criminal Court is scheduled to deliver its ruling in the case against the only two remaining defendants after two juveniles were earlier acquitted. In another case related to the event, The Nation has a very short account.

The Civil Court has ruled that Deves Insurance, a company owned by the Crown Property Bureau, “must pay the compensation plus interest of 7.5 per cent per annum from March 31, 2011 to Central Group, following the 15-month lawsuit.” In addition it had to pay the Central Group’s legal costs. Apparently Deves claimed the burning of the department store was “an act of terrorism” and thus exempt from an “all-risk insurance policy.” The court ruled that the arson was not a result of terrorism.

The report states that the total claim against Deves was “Bt2.7 billion for property damage and another Bt990 million for loss of income as CentralWorld was closed from May 19 to September 28, 2010…”.





Wealth and the floods

17 11 2011

The Bangkok Post reports that those good souls at the country’s biggest conglomerates are doing their bit for the victims of the flooding.

The Post reports that Thai Beverage Plc, Advanced Info Service, True Corp, Central Group, GMM Grammy, Muang Thai Life Assurance, ICC International, Bangkok Bank, Major Cineplex, Thai Union Frozen Products, BTS Group Holdings and Mitr Phol Sugar are getting together and planning to raise 100 million baht over eight months.

That sounds like a lot, right? Well, not really. Thai Beverage had sales of 121.7 billion baht in 2010 and a net profit of 10.7 billion baht. The boss of the company, Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, was reported to have a net worth of $4.3 billion in March 2011. The unlisted Central Group had total sales turnover over 119 billion baht in 2010 and probably pretty neat profits too. So 100 million from a dozen companies starts to sound a tad mean.

But wait, it isn’t all coming from them: “each business would contribute seed money and fund activities to raise more funds.” Yes, we know some of these companies have done more than this in recent days, but all this palaver in the Post is about public relations.

We suspect this statement from the Major Cineplex Group Chairman Vicha Poolvaraluck is much closer to a statement of how the big boys in town really think. He is reported to have stated: “We haven’t seen much impact in the short term [from the current floods]…. The massive flood is still better than the 1997 financial crisis when many millionaires went bankrupt. The flood disaster has affected middle- and low-income people the most.”

Better the lower classes take the hits than all those nice millionaires!