Army commander in charge of almost nothing

5 11 2017

Anyone following the reporting of the opening, quick closure and possible extended opening of the royal crematorium can be forgiven for being confused.

First it was open to the public, in orderly groups. Then the interior was closed by the Fine Arts Department which said “the new regulation was implemented after Princess Sirindhorn opened the grounds to the general public Thursday morning” and “after authorities on Thursday grew concerned it could be damaged by the multitude of daily visitors.” The Department seemed worried about “royal advice,” saying “the princess was satisfied with the overall exhibitions, but asked authorities that they keep order and discretion.”

But the Bangkok Post had a different take. It claimed vandalism as “inconsiderate visitors” took “mementos.” Obviously, this was a mater of the highest import. In fact, a mater of national security. The Fine Arts Department was brushed aside and Army chief General Chalermchai Sitthisart took command. It seems he is ” in charge of keeping order in the vicinity of the Grand Palace.”

It requires the most senior Army commander to establish order on the small groups of people visiting: “[a]bout 29,000 people visited the royal crematorium on Thursday. The site can accommodate as many as 56,000 people per day…”.

Updated: After the funeral, more of the same

30 10 2017

The funeral is officially over but the hagiographical syrup and royalist nastiness and threats continue to flow.

As in other periods where ultra-royalism is boosted by the military state, it becomes dangerous for anyone who might dare to express different opinions.

The military regime may also be emboldened by the continued rise of ultra-royalism, which obviously feeds into its political ambitions when it decides to call its “election.” Presumably the coronation will add to all of that political use of royalism.

In the meantime, we might also expect cowed and submissive politicians to become warily more active.

A Bangkok Post editorial has a bet each way. It drips royal loyalty for a couple of paragraphs, observing what should be obvious: “The expiration of the mourning period returns the country to a semblance of normality…”.

It strokes the military dog:

The members of the government under Gen Prayut deserve a respectful thank you for their care and attention to the events brought to a grief-stricken climax last Thursday. The preparations for the funeral of the great King Bhumibol Adulyadej provided impeccable grace, and splendour remarked on around the world. When he seized power three and a half years ago, Gen Prayut promised to unite Thais. Last week, Thai people were united as never before.

In fact, the funeral was fitting in that it marked a crescendo of military-backed monarchism that has defined one of the most politically repressive eras in Thailand’s modern history, with that repression being in the name of the monarchy and claimed to be protecting it.

The funeral was fittingly militarized but few have bothered to think about what this means for Thailand going forward (well, backward, under the junta).

(If one watches the Ananda Mahidol funeral and compares it with the recent event, the military dominance and precision of the latter is clear.)

The Bangkok Post then reminds the junta and its readers that the “funeral occurred in the midst of political questions which now will return to the fore.”

It adds that several of these “questions” are “urgent.”

It lists:

These include the running scandal of Rajabhakti Park‘s improvement plan. The Prachuap Khiri Khan site of the massive statues of the seven great kings has been under a cloud from its inception. The latest controversy is a two-part “improvement”. These consist of what seem to be the most expensive 52 toilets ever installed at a government-supported facility, and five shops. These will cost yet another 16 million baht in “donations” — a word which has become synonymous with “scandal”. In countering the allegations about massive overspending, army chief Chalermchai Sitthisad said the military is ready to disclose full financial details about the project which was investigated once by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). He should realise the public anticipates getting the details.

Then there is the ongoing corruption and pathetic excuses for abysmal decisions from former Army boss and Interior Minister General Anupong Paojinda. His latest mess is over  laser, speed-detection guns at hugely exorbitant prices.

But, really, is that it? Of course not. As the Bangkok Post itself reports, “[l]ocals in eastern Thailand are opposing the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)’s [the junta] order to reorganise city planning in Chachoengsao, Rayong and Chon Buri provinces to bring it in line with the government’s Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) policy.”

There’s plenty of other land and infrastructure deals and shady, opaque stuff going on. And in the corruption in-tray there are all those cases around Rolls Royce that have never seen an out-tray. Just stalling, burying, hiding.

But what about the political repression that has juveniles charged with lese majeste. There is the old man potentially charged with lese majeste for comments about legendary events. And there is the law student, singled out by the military dictatorship for lese majeste for sharing a BBC Thai story that was also shared by several thousand others. What of the mothers and others jailed for scores of years on pathetic lese majeste charges? Protection of the monarchy means crushing many and threatening everyone.

Then there’s the missing/stolen/vandalized and enforced historical lobotomy of the “missing” 1932 commemoration plaque and associated lese majeste cases.

Military murders remain unresolved, with a recent tragic example of Chaiyapoom Pasae, shot by troops in very opaque circumstances and with the “investigations” adding farce to tragedy.

And who killed Ko Tee in Laos? We can all guess but probably the assassins, speaking Thai, will never be revealed. That’s the impunity that official murders enjoy.

We could go on and on and on…. After all, the ninth reign saw thousands of state crimes against the people.

Update: Readers will be interested in two views of the events and legacy of the ninth reign at New Mandala. Both are reasonably tame and the first quite lame.

On using funerals

26 10 2017

PPT has previously posted on the military dictatorship’s use of the dead king’s funeral for its political promotion, including neglecting huge flooding, except for diverting waters away from Bangkok, fearful that floods at the time of the funeral will be seen as inauspicious and will be a black mark on the regime. Flooding farmers for months seems a “sacrifice” the dictatorship demands.

Belatedly, the (new) king is also making PR of the event. He’s declaring himself a monarch concerned for his people. Army chief General Chalermchai Sitthisart is just one more official over the last few days who has spoken of the king’s “concern.” This time he’s “worried” about “mourners having to endure strong sunlight during the day that could be compounded by heat rising from the concrete pavements.” Magically, mats appeared!

The General says the king has “instructed officials to treat them nicely, not to scold them and not to be too strict…”. (So has The Dictator.)

But fears for the future continue to fester. Some royalists, like Sanitsuda Ekachai at the Bangkok Post writes of “fear and trepidation about the future.” She asserts that a “question is hanging heavy in many people’s minds: What will happen now the country’s last unifying force has gone?”

One might question why Thais should be anxious now. A king dying in a constitutional monarchy should be pretty much meaningless in terms of the nation’s future. But Thailand’s last king and his supporters, especially those in the business class and the military, were anything but constitutional and they propagandized so assiduously that a “fear” has been created. Making out that the dead king was “god-like” and a symbol of unity was so powerful because the state, at least since 1958 and even more heavily since the late 1970s, hammered it in cinemas, on state radio and television, in school and university texts.

The lese majeste law and “social sanction” allowed little thinking outside the approved narrative except in periods of democratization in the 1970s and 2000s, both periods shut down by military coup and repression, always supported by the palace. So when Sanitsuda says that “[g]rief has the power to plunge us into a dark pit of hopelessness,” it is all palace and elite-inflicted.

Yet Sanitsuda seems to mean another fear. The fear of King Vajiralongkorn and his reign. She simply doesn’t mention him and leans on the elite hope that Princess Sirindhorn will “rescue” Thais and the elite from a king they fear as dangerous, grasping and erratic. They hope her propaganda can fill the void created by the death of the king.

Sanitsuda and the elite buy the palace propaganda that Sirindhorn is the one most like her father, lodged in a dysfunctional family that for many years has looked like something between The Addams Family and The Munsters but without much family togetherness or the good humor of those television families.

Now that the eldest brother is on the throne, the elite is hoping that they might follow Sirindhorn as propaganda piece while hoping the brother will not be too much trouble.

Some of the problems Sanitsuda identifies for Thailand seem surgically removed from the legacy of the dead king. While it is said that one should not speak ill of the dead, it is an act of ideological gymnastics to allocate good points to him without looking at his and the palace’s role in these issues and problems.

For all of the guff about the dead king’s work for the people, “wealth disparity in Thailand is among the worst in the world. The third-worst, to be specific.” But don’t blame him for that. In fact, though, as wealth disparities have increased, the monarchy became the wealthiest on Earth. The Sino-Thai capitalists attached to the palace and pouring money into it also became hugely wealthy.

But don’t blame the dead king or the system in which the monarchy was the keystone. Just go on repeating the propaganda that is a fairy tale that permits the elite to ignore the things that benefit them (and the palace): corruption, political repression, exploitation, impunity, state murder and more. The elite’s fingers are crossed that the new king can continue this system without draining off more than an acceptable share. The other side of that coin is the eulogizing of his sister as the dead king’s replacement in the propaganda game. After all, if the propaganda cannot be continued, the whole system of exploitation, repression and vast wealth will be threatened.

Updated: Yet another anti-monarchy “plot”

3 10 2017

Thailand’s recent politics has been awash with rightist and royalist claims of “plots” against the monarchy. The military dictatorship claims to have “discovered” another such “plot.” This time the plot is claimed to be a plan to disrupt the funeral for the dead king.

PPT can only express disdain for this political ploy and we can only wonder if anyone still believes such nonsense. As much as we’d like to see an an anti-monarchy plot in Thailand, we haven’t seen any evidence that there is one in the works now.

One of the first “plots” was the entirely concocted “Finland Plot.” The claim peddled by many associated with the People’s Alliance for Democracy and fabricated by notorious royalist ideologue Chai-anan Samudavanija and others. It claimed that Thaksin Shinawatra and former left-wing student leaders had met in Finland and come up with a plan to overthrow the monarchy and establish a communist state. These inventions were published in the Sondhi Limthongkul-owned newspapers and repeated many times by PAD.

As bizarre as this nonsense was, Wikipedia notes that the allegations had an “impact on the popularity of Thaksin and his government, despite the fact that no evidence was ever produced to verify the existence of a plot. Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai party vehemently denied the accusations and sued the accusers. The leaders of the 2006 military coup claimed Thaksin’s alleged disloyalty as one of their rationales for seizing power.”

Back in 2015, even the politicized courts held that ultra-royalist Pramote Nakornthap had defamed Thaksin with these concoctions. Not surprisingly, many ultra-royalists continue to believe this nonsense.

The anti-monarchy plot diagram

Equally notorious was the anti-monarchy “plot,” replete with a diagram, that the Abhisit Vejjajiva government concocted when faced with a red shirt challenge in April 2010.

The government’s Centre for the Resolution to Emergency Situations claimed to have uncovered a plot to overthrow the monarchy and said “intelligence” confirmed the “plot.” Indeed, the bitter Thawil Pliensri, the former secretary-general of the National Security Council “confirmed” the “plot.” The map included key leaders of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, members of the Puea Thai Party and former banned politicians, academics and hosts of community radio programs. Then Prime Minister Abhisit welcomed the uncovering of the “plot.”

CRES spokesman and then Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd, who just happens to be the current dictatorship’s chief propagandist, repeatedly declared this plot a red shirt effort to bring down the monarchy.

We could go on, but let’s look at the current “plot,” which not coincidentally comes from the same military leaders who were in place in when the above “mapping” of a republican plot was invented. It is the same coterie of coup plotters (and that was a real plot) that repeatedly accused Ko Tee or Wuthipong Kachathamakul of various anti-monarchy plots and he was “disappeared” from Laos, presumably by the junta’s henchmen-murderers.

In the new “plot,” Deputy Dictator General Wongsuwan has declared:

Anti-monarchy cells are conspiring to disrupt the funeral of His Majesty the Late King this month, deputy junta chairman Prawit Wongsuwan said Monday.

Gen. Prawit described the alleged agitators as those who “have ill intentions toward the monarchy.” Although he gave no details, he said full-scale security measures would be implemented throughout the rites to place over several days culminating with the Oct. 26 cremation.

Prawit added that “[a]uthorities have learned of threats inside and outside the country, especially from those who oppose and have negative thoughts about ‘the [royal] institution’…”. He put “security forces” on “full alert.”

Careful readers will have noticed that the first mention of this “plot” came from The Dictator General Prayuth Chan-ocha almost two weeks ago.

Army chief General Chalermchai Sitthisart “refused to elaborate in detail on the supposed threat in the latest intelligence report” but still declared that “[t]hose involved were among the ‘regular faces’ abroad wanted on lese majeste charges, but who still incite negative feelings towards the monarchy among supporters through social media.”

The fingerprints on this concoction are those who have regularly invented plots for political purposes. That’s the military. They read all kinds of social media and put 1 and 1 together and come up with anti-monarchy plot.

We tend to agree with Pavin Chachavalpongpun, who is reported as saying:

The cremation provides an opportunity for the security forces to strengthen their position politically using critics of the monarchy as an excuse to increase the state’s heavy handed policy to control society more tightly…. Critics of the monarchy hardly pose a threat considering how much they have been suppressed since the coup….

The cremation and the coronation that will follow are critical political events for the military dictatorship. They want to be seen to be ensuring that everything runs smoothly for both events as the junta moves to stay in power, “election” or “no election.”  Finding a “plot” can make them look even more like the “protectors” of the monarchy.

Update: We don’t know why, but Khaosod’s most recent report on this “plot” seems to be supportive of the the junta’s claims. The claims this report makes amount to little more than reporting chatter. Similar chatter has been around for some time, encouraging individual acts that do not amount to anything like rebellion or disruption.

Some of the material that has been circulated may well derive from the state’s intelligence operatives seeking to disrupt and identify red shirts.  The thing about concocting a plot as a way to discredit your opponents is that there has to be elements in it that seem, at least on a initial view, feasible and believable. That was the point of the diagram produced above, naming persons known to be anti-monarchy. Putting them in a plot is something quite different.

The search for Yingluck

2 09 2017

As we have pointed out in several posts, Yingluck Shinawatra is actually missing. In the absence of any statement from her, commentators have been guessing as to where she is. Most follow the unnamed Puea Thai Party sources that said she was in Dubai. The military junta initially said this as well.

In recent days, this narrative have been wound back.

Police now say that are “investigating” her disappearance and that those “investigations” are  “making progress.”

The police are diligently making DNA tests – something they are usually not very good at – of “suspicious vehicles,” one of which is one of their own vehicles, guessing that one of these vehicles spirited her away.

The police also say they have “investigated” Yingluck’s online posts prior to her disappearance and have interviewed persons close to her.

Their conclusion at this stage is that “[t]here has been no evidence so far to show she has fled or is still within the country…”.

In other words, she could be in Thailand or somewhere else in the world…. That is what the police call “making progress” on “investigations.”

The police do say that “Interpol officers in Cambodia, Singapore, and Dubai” have “confirmed they had no evidence of Yingluck entering these countries” and that “border police had not found any trace of her slipping through the borders…”. They mean official border posts.

Meanwhile, Army chief and junta member General Chalermchai Sitthisart “said the junta had not abandoned their hope of finding Yingluck and he was not worried that the ongoing inquiry would cause [political] unrest.”

Yingluck’s family remain mum and the “investigations” have an air of Keystone Cops, but the mystery surrounding Yingluck’s no-show and her invisible political presence is a fillip for her supporters.

Updated: Yingluck and the junta

30 08 2017

We at PPT are continuing to follow the reporting of Yingluck Shinawatra’s no-show at her scheduled court appearance last Friday. There’s plenty of speculation about her “escape,” who may have assisted her and where she is.

All we know for sure is her non-appearance and, despite all the claims that she’s in Dubai, she has not appeared on social media or any other media since then.

So what is being claimed? The most surprising report is that the junta is not currently moving to remove her Thai passports:

… Yingluck holds two Thai passports, one regular and the other diplomatic, and is also thought to hold a third, foreign one.

“The issue has not reached the foreign ministry yet,” Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai told reporters when asked if the ministry would revoke her passports.

“This foreign minister is not yet handling this.”

It was less than 48 hours ago that it was reported that her passports would be removed. Perhaps the passports will still be canceled, but it strikes us as very strange that the foreign minister makes this claim to the media.

At the time that The Dictator declared that the passports would be revoked, it was also reported that deputy police chief General Srivara Ransibrahmanakul had “ordered the police foreign affairs division to seek cooperation from Interpol … in locating fugitive former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.” (Much faster than the search for Red Bull’s fugitive killer.)

Meanwhile, police have “confirmed with other people in the house [Yingluck’s main Bangkok residence] that she no longer lives there…”. Srivara told the media that “Yingluck was last seen at the house on August 23, around 2pm…”.

What happened after that? According to one report, “security officials could not figure out how Ms Yingluck escaped out of the country and through which channels.” Even so, The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha said he is “confident that authorities will be able to track down former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra but this will take time.”

He added:

Soon, it will be known how she fled the country and whether anyone helped in the escape.  But we at the NCPO and the security did not help her definitely except there might be some bad people….

Prayuth “vowed punishment against anyone who abetted in the escape.”

At about the same time, Army boss General Chalermchai Sitthisart was sent out to “explain” Yingluck’s “escape,” complaining about her deviousness: “As of now we learnt that she abandoned all of her phones and changed her cars, so it was hard to trace her using the same methods we did before…”.

The general went further, declaring that “fugitive Thaksin Shinawatra was behind the escape of his younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra.” He believed that “Yingluck had planned her escape in advance with her brother’s personal jet standing by…. The escape plan was well prepared but just awaited for the right and appropriate time to go…”.

Those close to Yingluck deny the planning:

“She chose to leave because she heard from her sources that the court would give her a heavy sentence and would not grant her bail,” said one source close to Yingluck. “She’s not a last minute person. She always plans things very carefully. This was a last-minute decision.”

But another of General Chalermchai’s statements is worthy of note. He stated:

For the time-being, there is still no clear evidence to confirm whether Khun Yingluck has fled the country and how. However, all circumstances lead to the belief that she has fled the country. To the question why she escaped, it is a matter for further analyses….

Further complicating the narrative, The Nation reports that the junta’s government has “contacted Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates in the hunt for former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra as they believe she travelled through one of the countries to escape.”

General Prayuth “said Thailand did not contact the United Kingdom – where Yingluck is speculated to have sought political asylum – as he doubted she would qualify for that status.”

The report adds: “Yingluck’s current whereabouts remains a mystery…”.

We should add that none of her family has expressed concern for Yingluck. Various reports also suggest that, if she did “flee,” she was not accompanied by her husband or son.

Meanwhile, the fallout of Yingluck’s no-show and “flight” or “disappearance” is still being assessed. One measure is the big rise at the SET, suggesting that investors assume a continuing political quietness under the junta. The moneyed seem to feel that a crisis has been avoided. However, in the report on passports, linked above, The Dictator “said Ms Yingluck could rally the opposition from abroad.”

He may be right, if she is abroad. After all, it was Thaksin’s exile that saw the further rise of the red shirts as a mammoth political movement. But with Yingluck currently missing and silent, such potential and the Shinawatra’s stomach for further struggle cannot be assessed.

Update: In another remarkable admission, Foreign Minister Dom revealed that more than a week after Yingluck allegedly fled, “the ministry has not yet been contacted by other authorities concerning Yingluck’s whereabouts as they have their own processes.”

Updated: Junta repression mounts I

16 08 2017

A report at The Nation suggests that the yellow-shirted paranoia over Yingluck Shinawatra’s court appearance is reaching fever pitch among the members of the military junta. That Yingluck fever leads to deepening political repression.

The nine judges hearing the case at the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders are under guard, as are their residences. Rumor has it that some decamped to hotels but now worry that Yingluck supporters may stay in the same hotels. Horror!

Army boss General Chalermchai Sitthisart “called a meeting of security forces to assess expectations about the situation on the day of the verdict.” His task is to ensure that as few Yingluck supporters as possible are able to get to the court. His men reckon “1,000 to 2,000 people will show up to support Yingluck at the court.”

The military dictatorship has been “closely monitoring movements by Yingluck’s supporters ahead of the verdict” and this surveillance is being ramped up.

The surveillance is concentrated on the northeast and Pathum Thani, Nonthaburi, Samut Prakan and Ayutthaya, “where there are strong bases of Pheu Thai Party and red-shirt supporters…”. It is stated that “security officers had been instructed to closely monitor local leaders in other areas in the North and Northeast who might mobilise supporters.”

They are searching for a “plot.” Usually the junta is able to manufacture “evidence” of one. This time they are saying that “the total cost of all the passengers in a single van visiting the capital would amount to Bt100,000,” implying that there’s a plot.

In fact the figure is ludicrous. We think the military is using its own experience of arranging travel and supporters to come to this figure.

The surveillance is being expanded to cover trains and regular tour buses.

The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha continues to fluster and bluster, threatening to “punish” anyone who broke the law. But, as we know, the junta makes up law on the run, using it for repression, so this is likely meant to threaten.

Interestingly, as we predicted, Interior Minister General Anupong Paojinda “said there had not been any irregularities found in the spending of local administration organisations in connection with possible trips to support Yingluck.” We did say that the Attorney General’s office was just reflecting yellow shirt social media fluff.

Update: Reliable social media reports from various provinces in the north and northeast show photos of armed soldiers being deployed in urban areas and entering villages to further intimidate any person considering traveling to Bangkok for 25 August.