Chinese-style snooping

25 01 2020

In a report a couple of days ago, Zachary Frye at ASEAN Today considers how Thailand’s repressive state apparatus may seek to follow the Chinese and create a snooping regime that is far more intrusive than anything seen in Thailand so far.

He says that “China is exporting its AI-driven surveillance technology to Thailand.” In fact, (state-linked) Chinese firms selling facial recognition technology have set up in Thailand. Immigration in Thailand is using the technology. And, it’s not just the state, with Thailand’s largest conglomerate (outside the crown), CP, set to use the intrusive technology.

In China, as the article explains, “facial recognition technology, abetted by artificial intelligence (AI), forms a backdrop to citizen’s lives. Their faces are scanned in supermarkets, subway stations and airports, allowing the authorities to identify and track millions of people in real time.” All of this is claimed to be in support of anti-terrorism and to “reduce crime and fraud,” but, in fact, they about surveillance and control.

The Thai authorities, keen to stamp out anti-monarchism and to prevent all political unrest, have been looking at the Chinese technology and systems: “In 2019, Thailand struck a deal with the Chinese firm Megvii, which makes AI-enhanced surveillance and deep-learning software. The Thai government is also opening a 5G testbed with Huawei…”.

Thais have already “seen their digital freedom curtailed in recent years.” The military junta-cum-military-backed regime “goes to great lengths to keep tabs on its citizens online, especially surrounding delicate topics like the monarchy.” Its cyber laws are highly repressive. The Chinese technology (c)would restrict online freedom even further:

Surveillance technology is a powerful weapon. The government’s manipulation of cybersecurity laws and lese-majeste provisions have given no indication that [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government can be trusted to implement Chinese tech for the public benefit. While a surveillance state [like that in China] is still a long way off, the purchases will no doubt further government control.





With two updates: Junta politics of influence, dark influence and murder

25 09 2019

A quick look at the English-language newspapers over the last day or so suggests that there’s more than a little poor journalism going on.

One was the report that “the Charoen Pokphand Group (CP)-led consortium, winner of the bid to build the 224-billion-baht high-speed railway linking three airports, will be told to sign the contract on Oct 15 or face a fine for failing to honour the terms of the bid.” That “ultimatum was decided upon … at a meeting between Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who oversees the Transport Ministry, Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob, senior transport officials and the chief of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) Office.”

PPT has no brief for the Sino-Thai tycoons at CP, but we would have thought that someone at the Bangkok Post might have recalled that Anutin’s family are the major shareholders in CP competitor Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction. Perhaps it might have also been useful to note that the Chidchob family, Anutin and his father have been political bedmates for over a decade.

While on Sino-Thai tycoons, the Post reported that Viroj and Samrerng Suknamai, the parents of “former beauty queen and actress Nusara Suknamai,” have “filed a lawsuit with the civil court on Monday, demanding 300 million baht in compensation plus a 7.5% interest from the manager of Vichai’s estate and the King Power Duty Free company, which is owned by the tycoon’s family.” Nusara “died on Oct 27 in a helicopter crash outside the King Power Stadium in Leicester…”. When all of the eulogies were for Vichai, at the time of the accident, BBC Sport Editor Dan Roan was in a spot of bother after being caught “talking about Vichai[‘s]… personal assistant Nusara Suknamai.” He correctly identified her “the mistress who died in the crash, otherwise known as member of staff, i.e. mistress… [of the so-called] family man [Vichai]…”. The report does indicate that the fabulously wealthy King Power lot have been pretty tight-fisted in dealing with the “other woman.”

The ruling class’s military-backed regime is anything but tight-fisted when it comes to buying support. Puea Thai Party chief strategist Sudarat Keyuraphan claims to have “an audio clip that would show that Phalang Pracharat had tried to lure …[14] Pheu Thai MPs by offering to pay them certain benefits.” Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan denied this. But no one should believe Gen Prawit. He’s got form on this, having bought up former pro-Thaksin MPs all over the country before the election. That included heroin trafficker and standover man Thammanat Prompao. Now, Gen Prawit needs “to prop up the government’s slim majority.” This wheeling and dealing is expensive and leads to all kinds of policies that are designed simply to raise money for political shenanigans. The media should be more active in pointing out that it is the military junta’s constitution that (re)created the capacity for such political corruption.

While considering the military junta’s corruption, look to the report that the “Parliament’s Anti-Corruption Committee is gathering evidence in a fact-finding probe against Public Relations Department chief Lt-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd over accusations that he verbally and in writing ordered his subordinates to spread information allegedly helping the Palang Pracharat Party ahead of the March 24 national elections and attacking a former prime minister and his party.” Remarkably, the junta government’s former spokesman thinks that like a heroin smuggler, he can simply deny: “Sansern argued that he had never taken sides…”. Back when the junta moved Lt Gen Sansern to his position, the Bangkok Post observed that Sansern was in place to “control all government-run media and enforce censorship rules in the lead-up to the expected 2019 election.” While denying everything, Sansern ran back to the boss: “Sansern said he had briefed Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha about the case.” Of course he has.

And speaking of corruption, the National Anti-Corruption Commission is ever so careful when dealing with its masters the government. A report at The Nation advises that Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives from Anutin’s Bhum Jai Thai Party, Mananya Thaiset – yes, in there with Thammanat – “has not yet submitted her declaration of assets and debts to the anti-graft body within the required time frame…”. While the law requires all to declare their assets, NACC secretary-general Worawit Sukboon “said officials … would gather information regarding the matter and consider issuing a letter to Mananya requiring her to provide her reason for failing to file.” It gets worse as the NACC tiptoes around its masters: “If the NACC decided Mananya was required to submit the declaration, the NACC secretariat will issue a letter to notify her accordingly…”.

Back when the political dealing was in full swing, the Bangkok Post had a source who observed the obvious: “Because it receives a big budget, the ministry [of agriculture] can be used as a political tool…”. Money can be made, voters influenced and parties supported.And, as we know from the Thammanat case, “influential persons” get these positions because they are the party wheeler-dealers. And, Mananya is from a family of chao phor and chao mae. Not that long ago, her brother, Chada Thaiset, also a Bhum Jai Thai MP for Uthai Thani declared “I am an influential person.” Back in 2015 it was reported that. like Thammanat, Chada was considered a “dark influence”:

Crime suppression Division (CSD) police officers and commandos yesterday raided 11 locations belonging to alleged influential figures in Uthai Thani’s Muang and Sawang Arom districts.

Most of the targeted premises were those of former or local politicians. They included the house of former Chart Thai Pattana Party MP Chada Thaiset and a resort building under the care of Chada’s nephew.

The 200-strong “Yutthakan Sakaekrang” operation … seized 20 guns, four bullet-proof vests, two tiger skins, two pairs of wildlife horns and a clouded leopard carcass.

… the operation was part of the Royal Thai Police’s policy to suppress crime, crack down on influential figures and hired guns.

Then in 2017, it was reported that:

A former MP and four members of his entourage were released on bail on Sunday after being detained overnight for carrying firearms in public without permission.

Chada Thaiseth, a former Uthai Thani MP, reportedly has been on an official list of mafia-style figures.

More than 100 policemen, both in uniform and plainclothes, intercepted his convoy on a road in Uthai Thani province on Saturday afternoon.

Chada’s group was driving as many as eight vehicles and a search found several guns and illicit drugs in the cars.

A pattern? You bet.

Turning to the other side of politics, Khaosod reports that Nawat Tohcharoensuk, a Puea Thai politician was found guilty of “engineering the murder of a civil servant” and was “sentenced to death on Tuesday … [but] will continue serving as an MP for the opposition, his party said.” He’s appealing the verdict, so the case is not over, but even so, it might be considered prudent for him to step down. But with gangsters in the government, the opposition has them too. And a bit of reading suggests the modus operandi of a dark influence:

Prosecutors said Nawat hired two police officers to gun down Suchart Khotethum, an administrative official in Khon Kaen, in front of his home in 2013. Investigators cited romance-related vendetta as the motive.

And, just to finish off with state violence of the military kind, we see the remarkable report that “four red-shirt co-leaders on Monday … confessed to their roles in the violent protest outside the home of the late Privy Council president, Prem Tinsulanonda, in 2007.” Perhaps they confessed to get the case settled? Perhaps a deal has been done? We can’t help but wonder because Nattawut Saikua said:

he and fellow red-shirt co-leaders offered their apologies because the protest outside Gen Prem’s residence caused injuries among both protesters and police officers on duty.

“We are sorry for what happened,” he said, before insisting the red-shirt co-leaders harboured no grudge with the late Gen Prem.

No grudge? Why’s that? He was one of those who perpetrated the 2006 coup and egged the military on in 2014. He supported crackdowns on red shirts that resulted in deaths and injuries to thousands. He dis this for the military-monarchy alliance that underpins the ruling class. With all the royalist buffalo manure that surrounds this creepy general, there’s no criticism allowed. No one has asked about his unusual wealth, revealed when he finally died.

What a week it has been for a political system designed by the military junta.

Update 1: Legal eel and Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam declared Nawat’s “tenure as an MP was now voided, even though the appeal process was not finalised…”. He said the “constitution stated clearly that MPs lost their status when convicted of a criminal offence.” While we think Nawat should step down and while Wissanu picks and chooses which aspects of the constitution he adheres to, we are not so sure he’s right on this. All sections in the constitution relating to convictions refer to final judgements. Indeed, Article 29 offers a general protection to those in the legal process, stating:

A suspect or defendant in a criminal case shall be presumed innocent, and before the passing of a final judgment convicting a person of having committed an offence, such person shall not be treated as a convict.

Despite this, and the fact that “appeal is automatic in the case of a death sentence,” the House Secretariat is advising a ruling from the Constitutional Court. Of course, the judgement of that Court will probably follow Wissanu.

Meanwhile, in another case of twisted ethics (see those above), the junta’s Palang Pracharath Party is “likely to field Krungsrivilai Suthinpuak in a potential by-election despite the Election Commission (EC) having issued him with a yellow-card for attempted vote-buying.”

The junta’s 5 years seems to have yielded an administration of goons and crooks.

Update 2: Being ever so gentle and flexible with junta party allies, the NACC has decided that Deputy Minister Mananya Thaiset “must declare her assets and liabilities despite her insistence she is under no obligation to do so.” But she’s forgiven for “interpreting” the law incorrectly and can take longer to get her assets list in order before submitting it. Can anyone imagine such leniency for the other side of politics? Of course not. The Post believes Mananya is known “for spearheading a mission to ban toxic farm chemicals.” We think they are gilding it. She’s best known for being from a family of dark influences.

Chada Thaiseth’s convoy stopped by more than uniformed and plainclothes police on a road in Uthai Thani province in 2017. Clipped from The Nation.





Opaque stuff

28 04 2019

Of course, under Thailand’s military junta, there’s been a lot of things that is not explained, are  opaque and behind closed doors. Like election results.

However, a couple of recent reports deserve mention for their lack of transparency.

First, the now more or less broke State Railway of Thailand has “decided to grant the concession for the 220 billion baht high-speed rail project linking three major airports to the consortium led by Charoen Pokphand Group (CP).” The decision means the SRT has only a couple of weeks to submit the draft agreement to its board of directors.

For CP, this is yet another triumph that will make it even more powerful and will drive the link to China, so close to the heart of its controlling family. Yet the project has been been criticized.

The story on CP, the junta and the EEC has not be fully explained. That the project is heavily promoted from the public purse requires investigation,

Second, there’s been some perplexed commentary on why the Ombudsman has become involved in making decision regarding constitutional matters. The links between that office and the junta need to be unpicked.

Third, no thanks to the junta, the Bangkok Post the Bangkok Post has shone some much needed light on the Election Commission’s recent fad for using “media ownership” as a means for eliminating some successful anti-junta candidates from the “election.” What remains unclear is how a candidate from Future Forward could be disqualified under these media provisions when his company did no media work.

If the junta gets its way, there’s another four years of wheeling, dealing and no transparency.





Updated: Censorship for the junta by big business

14 03 2019

PPT doesn’t usually spend much time considering the letters pages of newspapers. However, a few days ago, a letter to The Nation caught our attention.

A reader observed political censorship by True Visions, a CP company. Unfortunately, no one at PPT subscribes to True Visions, so we are unable to confirm the details. Readers might let us know.

The reader reckoned that “[f]ollowing the 2014 coup, subscribers of True Visions became accustomed to brief interruptions to international news stations, signalled by the on screen announcement, ‘Programming will be resumed shortly’.” Most of these interruptions were “triggered by reports relating to the Thai Royal Family … [and the] strict lese majeste law and the potential responsibility of broadcasters for airing content deemed inappropriate.”

But something has changed, says the reader. As elections approach, “the interruptions caused by the True Visions censors have become longer and more frequent.” These are not about the monarchy.

The letter writer points out that “international news stations post their reports online, the more curious viewer is, in many cases, still able to access the missing content…”. What this demonstrates is that “most recent interruptions are of a strictly political nature.” He points to several stories censored to protect the junta.

He wonders how much this censorship extends from English-language reports to Thai cable television.

One can speculate why it is that the country’s richest richest non-royals are backing the military junta.

Update: We just posted this and went off to look at Prachatai where we found they had a story on this topic. It refers to “Al Jazeera’s news broadcast on True Visions cable TV momentarily stopped on the morning of 8 March.” It continues:

The BBC’s broadcast, also through True Visions, was also briefly cut both on 7 March and the morning of 8 March, and the same message was shown on the screen. Jonathan Head, BBC’s Southeast Asia correspondent, tweeted “It’s sadly routine now. Thailand is preparing for an election, but the climate of military intolerance persists.”





Updated: Things that make you go, hmm

15 12 2018

There’s a lot going on, so this is a catch-up on a few media stories worth considering. And these are all from the Bangkok Post!:

Watana gets off: The Criminal Court has found Puea Thai politician and junta critic Watana Muangsook not guilty in a quite ridiculous charge related to comments he made about the vandalism associated with the stealing of the 1932 plaque from the Royal Plaza.

The court said Watana’s comments:

were opinions that could not be deemed a computer crime. They posed no threat to security…. The court said his messages could be considered in the context of academic freedom and his criticism of authorities did not reflect ill intent.

The ridiculousness of the charge is that the junta has never done anything to find those responsible for stealing the plaque and replacing it with a royalist plaque that could easily have been composed in the palace. Of course, the authorities have done nothing because they know exactly who ordered its removal and replacement.

EC makes false promises: By now readers know that we think the Election Commission is totally compromised. So a promise to be clear about the election is simply impossible. Where it is closer to the truth it is in stating: “This is all about establishing credibility by generating information that is reliable and correct for the international community.” What EC president Ittiporn Boonpracong might have said was that the EC’s job is establishing credibility for the junta’s election by generating information that obfuscates. After all, that’s its track record to date. That impression of the EC’s bias is reinforced when Ittiporn mumbles that “foreign envoys did not appear to have any concerns about predictions by some critics of that the poll would be ‘less than free and fair’.” Of course, no one expects a free or fair election. Even the Bangkok Post has been forced to question the EC’s “independence” and “credibility.” Is the EC’s task just to give “credibility” to the junta’s rigged election?

Parliament has no home: The parliament building has been closed and will be given to the king. So the bureaucracy of the parliament and the puppet National Legislative Assembly is homeless. Why the Royal Household Bureau can’t wait for a few months is never explained by the fearful Thai media. Consider the fact that the NLA seems to have been caught unaware by this move and has only just begun to look for a expensive, temporary home. Why’s that?

The Eel jailed: The exceptionally slippery Tharit Pengdit and Suthep Thaugsuban used to be tight, at least when Suthep was managing the crushing of the red shirts. They later fell out and became enemies as DSI led investigations into Suthep’s role in the gunning down of protesters. The enmity was further deepened when Suthep accused Tharit of defamation in February 2013. This had to do with corruption over police buildings under the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime. In two court cases in 2015 and 2016, Tarit was found not guilty. Suthep appealed to the Supreme Court. So the question is why Tarit suddenly decided to plead “guilty” before the case was concluded and why is he now jailed for a year. That makes you think.

Guess who?: In a two horse race between consortia of some of the biggest and best-connected Sino-Thai tycoons for the contract to build a high-speed railway connecting three major airports, the one led by CP has won. As well as winning, they get a state subsidy of almost 120 billion baht. Makes you wonder how rich the richest non-royals can get.

Update: The authorities have assured Thailand that CP didn’t “win” the bid for the HSR. They just had the lowest bid and negotiations are now needed with the CP consortium in order to determine whether they will win. Funny way to do tendering, but we are willing to bet on the outcome, as we were before the two bids were opened.





Another lese majeste acquittal

15 11 2018

The change to the prosecution and conviction of lese majeste cases continues to move in a better direction.

Khaosod reports that “Sakan Saengfueng … walked free today [14 Nov] after spending nearly five years in jail…”.

He had earlier been convicted in an alleged bomb plot and spent 4 years in jail on that score. Sakan and two other alleged red shirts were arrested in April 2009 “on suspicion of plotting to bomb the head office of Charoen Pokphand…”.

When he was to be released, “Sakan was then held in custody after other inmates accused him of royal insult.” In 2014 these inmates allegedly “complained to guards that Sakan insulted the monarchy while watching a TV documentary on King Rama IX.”

This led to a lese majeste charge and Sakan was “detained shortly after his release in 2017. He was denied bail and sent back to jail for the next seven months.”

Interestingly, like Tom Dundee, Sakan initially pleaded not guilty but agreed to cop a guilty plea. However, the court did not accept this. Remarkably, the court “said Sakan’s remarks ‘needed interpretation’ and were not evidently critical of the Royal Family as alleged by the plaintiffs.” Because of this and a lack of evidence, like Tom, Sakan was acquitted.

The state may appeal, but in the current climate this seems unlikely.





King and Privy Council

14 10 2018

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is a well-known critic of the monarchy. He has a new article at The Diplomat. Most of it, though, will be familiar to PPT readers. However, it is worth remaking some of his points.

He focuses on the recent reorganization of the Privy Council and notes that the:

king’s decision to evict old members of the Privy Council close to his late father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the stripping of the power from its president, General Prem Tinsulanonda, as well as the appointment of his close confidants as new Privy Councilors, suggests that, more than just a process, this is part of the growing aggrandizement of political power of Thailand’s new King….

In fact, the king has not really done anything that should not have been expected. Any new king would want to have his most trusted advisers in place.

The dead king made sure he had pliant royalists as advisers “working outside the constitutional framework to compete with other elite groups for administrative and political power.”

They protected and advanced the king’s and monarchy’s positions:

Successive coups have over the years strengthened the partnership between the Privy Council and the military. The Privy Council played its part in endorsing past coups, including the most recent one in May 2014. Prem, in the aftermath of the coup, openly praised the coup makers for being a force that moved Thailand forward. This underlined the quintessential role of the Privy Council as an engine behind the Thai politics.

In the past reign, the link with the military mostly revolved around Gen Prem Tinsulanonda and, to a lesser extent, Gen Surayud Chulanont. The Privy Councilors

… constructed a complex web of relationships as a way to sanctify the royal power above other institutions outside the constitutional framework. In his overt intervention in politics, Prem placed his trusted subordinates in key positions in the bureaucracy and in the army. He had an influence on the defense budget, and dominated national security and foreign policy, and thus the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Pavin also notes that the:

Privy Council under Prem also had its members seated on boards in major conglomerates including Bangkok Bank, Charoen Phokphand, the Boonrawd group, and the Charoen Siriwatanapakdi business group. For the Privy Council, reaching out to these powerful factions was as crucial as allowing them to reach in, thus consolidating a network of interdependence. The Privy Council’s strong ties with the bureaucracy, the military and businesses effectively circumscribed the power and authority of the government of the day.

The new king wants similar influence, but he’s been busy pushing the old duffers aside. Prem is infirm, doddery and being made essentially powerless:

On October 2, Vajiralongkorn added three more Privy Councillors to its team: Amphon Kittiamphon, currently advisor to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha; General Chalermchai Sidhisart, former army chief, and; Air Chief Marshal Chom Rungsawang, former Air Force chief. This latest move can be regarded as Vajiralongkorn’s plot in strengthening his political position by setting up a new trusted team to replace the old one—the team that has its links with the current military strongmen.

At present, 10 of the 16 councilors have been appointed by the current king. He can appoint another two. At the same time, he has already ditched three he appointed, presumably because they annoyed him about something or other. So the “trusted team” is being put in place, but there’s still some work to do or dying to be done.

Pavin also mentions the “law was enacted in regard to the ownership of the rich Crown Property Bureau…, [where] crown property assets reverted to the ownership of the king with the bureau’s investments now being held in Vajiralongkorn’s name.”

He might have mentioned that the king is now personally the largest shareholder in both the Siam Cement Group and the Siam Commercial Bank, the latter ownership having been seen in stockholder information fairly recently. (We also think Pavin should update the $30 billion assets of the CPB/king. That was from data collected in 2005 and imperfectly updated in 2011. We would guess that the real figure is closer to $50-60 billion.)

Pavin is undoubtedly right that while “many predicted that Vajiralongkorn, perceived as having lacked moral authority, could become a weak king.” As he now says, “He is quickly proving them wrong.”