Prem dead III

29 05 2019

Sick of the buffalo manure about Gen Prem Tinsulanonda? If so, read today’s opinion in The Nation. In the junta’s Thailand, it is a remarkable piece of journalism. In case heads roll and censors get to work, we reproduce it all:

Prem was no friend of the people
opinion May 29, 2019 01:00

Hailed as the great statesmen of our era, Prem Tinsulanonda exploited unmatched connections to halt democratic progress

General Prem Tinsulanonda will be remembered for many things – but advancing Thai democracy will not be among them.

Soldiers-turned-politicians like General Prayut Chan-o-cha and Prawit Wongsuwan might admire Prem for his rise to the post of prime minister after a lifetime of military service.  He managed to hold the position for eight years without ever running for election. Neither did he need his own political party.

Prem exploited military power to climb the political ladder in the late 1970s, when a golden era of democracy ended with the massacre of students at Thammasat University on October 6, 1976. He was then a member of the coup led by Admiral Sangad Chaloryu that toppled the elected civilian government of the day.

Prem served General Kriangsak Chamanan’s government as deputy interior minister and later defence minister, while also holding his post as Army chief.

Kriangsak’s ideology was moderate compared with that of his predecessor, the ultra-rightist Thanin Kraivichien, but his Cabinet member and long-time close aide Prem differed from both. Prem was more conservative than Kriangsak, showing no faith in democracy whatsoever.

In February 1980, after losing public support over rising oil prices, Kriangsak resigned to, in his own words, save democracy.

Prem, in contrast, chose to punish politicians by dissolving Parliament whenever he faced difficulties in the administration or legislature. Neither did he have any faith in elections as a way of legitimising his premiership.

Instead he secured his rule via strong connections to the Palace, which he used to build his own charisma and influence over the military. Officers seeking career advancement needed Prem’s patronage. Only “louk pa” (Papa’s sons) would be recruited to the inner circle of the military elite. The resulting intrigues and tensions within the ranks led to military uprisings against his regime, but with the blessings of the Palace he was rescued from internal threats.

Military backing also boosted Prem’s bargaining power with political parties in Parliament. Until the Chart Thai Party’s election victory in 1988, no politician dared to challenge Prem for the premiership. The task of forming the government after elections was always left to military commanders. Top brass like General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh were keen to take on the job, mustering political parties to support Prem as government leader.

Those parties unwilling to make deals would be consigned to the opposition benches – though not for their political platforms or ideology, but because Prem did not want them on board.

In stark contrast to elite establishment opinion, Prem’s regime did not address the needs of all citizens and stakeholders. By the late 1980s, as Prem propagandised via a bureaucracy network fanning out from the Interior Ministry, intellectuals, scholars, students and civil society were calling loudly for democracy.

The end of the Cold War, emerging liberalisation and domestic demands for change finally brought Prem’s regime to an end in 1988. The forward-looking Chart Thai Party leader Chatichai Choonhavan showed that Prem’s “military-guided democracy” no longer fitted the new circumstances.

An inside deal to kick Prem upstairs as an adviser to HM King Rama IX was offered, paving the way for Chatichai to take the national helm.

Belying his declaration of, “Enough, you can resume your democracy”, Prem retained his influence over the military and close links to the Palace. He was subsequently blamed for exploiting those links to engineer political setbacks, coups and political division over the past decade, as the establishment elite battled against the influence of Thaksin Shinawatra and democratic movements.

Prem’s legacy will be to inspire military top brass to maintain their strong influence in politics, to the diminishment of democracy in Thailand.





Army stuck in it past I

7 03 2019

Like so much of what has happened in Thailand in recent times, the sight of Army chief Apirat Kongsompong calling together some 700 officers to what was billed as “a special meeting” but was really a political rally, looks like a man of the past using the intimidating methods of the past.

With Apirat’s people saying that the “meeting” was about “the army’s role and peacekeeping responsibilities ahead of election day…”, it seems altogether too clear that Gen Apirat is positioning the Army to play a key political role into the future and to position himself to take over from Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha in a few years (if the junta’s and military’s election plans pan out).

Gen Apirat Thursday meeting at the army’s headquarters is also “a show of support for the army chief after officers shared an internal memo urging one another to defend the army’s honour.”

Honor? Thety mean power. After all, what honor does a corrupt institution that has killed tens of thousands of citizens have? Oh, yes, the “honor” is being the protector of the military-monarchy alliance, which requires that murderous politics.

The (old) boys’ club that is the Army has gotten upset that its acces to the political trough and to impunity may be limited. Hence it writes in circulars to itself:

If someone, whether he is a soldier or not, does something that undermines [our] dignity, we must have the determination to protect our honour and dignity…. If someone makes inappropriate remarks about our supervisors or troops, it is an attack on the dignity of soldiers.”

The last time we recall such a show of military “honor” was back in the Chatichai Choonhavan years, when on more than one occasion, officers were called to “meetings” to demand the ouster of prime ministerial adviser Sukhumbhand Paribatra. One of those meetings was captured by The Nation on 13 August 1989 (see above).

This was followed by another intervention where Gen Apirat’s father Gen Sunthorn Kongsompong demanded that certain critical cabinet members be silenced, reported in The Nation on 8 December 1990 (see below).

We guess that rotten fruit doesn’t fall far from the corrupt tree.

The military actively intervening in the election and snooping on and threatening politicians who are not pro-junta/pro-military may appear as something from the past, but this is where Gen Apirat has positioned himself and his forces. We suspect that the next coup, should there be one, will be his and will be even more royalist and backward-looking than anything we have seen in recent decades.





The election splurge II

3 12 2018

Just days after shoveling taxpayer funds out to shore up its electoral appeal, and soon after the devil party more-or-less officially stated that The Dictator is their man for the premiership after the election, the junta has come up with even more electoral giveaways.

This means that the de facto leader of the Palang Pracharath Party is Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha. So when The Dictator has his minions throw more money after votes, he does it for his party.

His latest scheme to pour funds into the party’s direction is seen by The Nation as blatant:

In a bid to garner popularity ahead of the election scheduled for February, the government has finalised plans to give more than 11 million low-income people free Internet SIM cards and other state subsidies that will together cost taxpayers billions of baht.

Mimicking Pansak Vinyaratn when he was with the Chatichai Choonhavan government in the late 1980s,

Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong said it would benefit farmers, for example, who could access market crop prices and other useful data in real time.

He said farmers would be able to follow price trends on low-cost smartphones so they could make more informed decisions on what and when to plant, avoiding issues like oversupply. The NBTC would work out the details, Apisak said, and low-income people other than farmers would also benefit from online access to improve their individual economic well-being.

As well as helicoptering cash, the new taxpayer-funded handout is the free internet access.

How much more will the junta shovel into the electorate in order to maintain its political control?

Yellow shirted anti-democrats reckon there’s nothing wrong with all of this. Look at Yingluck Shinawatra’s rice subsidy, they say. But they then forget that they demanded and got people jailed for years for this scheme. But no one is about to “investigate” the junta in they way they hounded Yingluck. Double standards? You bet.

 





The other Vichai story

31 10 2018

With all the eulogies for Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha being wholly laudatory, BBC Sport Editor Dan Roan is in a spot of bother after being caught “talking about Vichai[‘s]… personal assistant Nusara Suknamai.” He said: “As opposed to the mistress who died in the crash, otherwise known as member of staff, i.e. mistress… family man…”.

Nusara has been described as a “[f]ormer beauty queen who was runner-up in Thailand’s Miss Universe.”

Fans of Leicester City attacked Roan, variously describing him as despicable and an enemy of the club. He was told by some that he was no longer welcome at the club. These fans lauded Vichai and hated the fact that the BBC editor had, well, told the truth.

The claims by others were uncritical and blur truth. It was Britain’s Prince William who stated:

My thoughts today are with the family and friends of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and all the victims of the terrible crash at Leicester City Football Club…. I was lucky to have known Vichai for several years. He was a businessman of strong values who was dedicated to his family and who supported a number of important charitable causes.

Vichai is next to the tall lad in red

There’s no evidence that Prince William’s claims are anything other than a repetition of the spin that has been associated with Vichai and King Power in recent years. The BBC mistress slip is just one aspect of this.

Lauding Vichai as something of a hero in the context of Leicester and Leicester City is understandable. Spin from a royal polo partner are also no surprise.

But the failure of the media to investigate more is disappointing.

After all, Vichai’s business history is of virtually inexplicable, very sudden and huge wealth. Yes, King Power is known, but the company and its founder are secretive. What is known suggests he may have grifted his way to great wealth, not least by polishing the right posteriors. Once he had great wealth, he selectively polished his own posterior by carefully managing his and the company’s limited media profile.

On the mistress claim, it is not at all odd to learn that a Sino-Thai mogul would hire an “assistant” who is a former beauty queen. That she might be a mistress is also pretty much “normal” in Thailand. Most Sino-Thai tycoons have a stable of mistresses.

And, of course, not just tycoons and not just Thailand.

But in Thailand, there’s a normalization of such relations. Politicians and military types are good examples. Gen Sarit Thanarat had a bevy of mistresses. Whispers about other leaders are only sometimes revealed, usually in squabbles over their ill-gotten gains. Examples included Gen Sunthorn Kongsompong, Chatichai Choonhavan and Chavalit Yongchaiyudh.

And, of course, there’s the massive official silence in Thailand about the current king’s “troubled relationships with a succession of wives and mistresses.”

It is about power. For the tycoons, wealth means power and having a mistress is “normalized.” But that link between wealth, power and mistress should not be ignored.





The Dictator on the campaign trail

23 08 2017

When the military junta ordered the media to do more to promote the junta-cabinet, it was seen as an effort to manipulate the media. We said it was a neutering of the media.

What we neglected was that The Dictator was moving back into campaign mode and seeking to promote his premiership both now and into the future. We also neglected the regime’s desire to outshine Yingluck Shinawatra; it’s no accident that The Dictator and friends were in the northeast in the same week that Yingluck gets a “verdict.”

As a report in The Nation points out, General Prayuth Chan-ocha is not only copying ideas – mobile cabinet meetings – from two former prime ministers who were hugely popular, Chatichai Choonhavan and Thaksin Shinawatra, but he is promoting an anti-politics populism.

He’s also taken on a style of political campaigning that draws on Thaksin’s At Samart trip in 2006, featuring villagers, local transport, laughing old ladies close to him, along with various farm animals. The pictures here tell some of the story.

Certainly, The Dictator, Thailand’s anti-politics politician and the only politician permitted to campaign, is campaigning like there’s no tomorrow.

He declared:

“I’m not like those corrupt politicians. I’m not a politician. I’m only here to help end a political stalemate.” This is what Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha always says, trying to differentiate himself from the political class.

As The Nation notes: “However, like ‘those politicians’ that Prayut looks down on, the premier always manages to turn the spotlight on himself wherever he goes.”

But he also threatened – he is a dictator – saying that his term as premier would, eventually end, maybe: “If I can go, I will. Just don’t shoo me away. The more you do, the more I’ll stay on…”.

Like Thaksin in 2006, Prayuth was the “common man” and a man of the people as he “filled … his roller-coaster talks full of jokes, sarcasm, flattery and no-nonsense utterances.”

And, out-populist-ing Thaksin and Yingluck, “[self-appointed and unelected] Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha [The Dictator] and his govern­ment [military junta] have approved a hefty 68-billion-baht infrastructure package to rev up the Northeast’s economy…”.

It is a kind of you-love-Yingluck-but-we-can-be-generous-too move. It says, Yingluck may be gone, but the military dictatorship loves the northeasterners despite all the repression. It says, be good children and we, the military paternalists, will give you projects.

When The Dictator wanted to promote his team for an “election,” he decided to rewrite history; others might say he lied. “Who wants an election, put your hands up,” he demanded.

Silence.

The Dictator told them how they should vote: “we have got only bad people [from elections] so far because good people didn’t go to vote…. [D]on’t go back to the wrong guys again.”

Clearly he thinks northeasterners are dopes. They have always voted in large numbers, usually with far higher turnouts than in Bangkok. In other words, he’s a liar, trying (again) to tell people who to vote for. (He did this in 2011, too, and the electorate spurned him.)

The Nation also reports that The Dictator had more “advice.”

With a huge mobilization of troops and other junta thugs, Prayuth warned against “unrest.”It seems only the regime that is unsettled.

Officials have been “deployed to suppress red-shirt activists in the provinces from travelling to the Supreme Court…”.

Fear of “unrest” means quite unprecedented restrictions on freedoms of speech and movement. “Target” villages have been flooded with soldiers to prevent people from traveling to Bangkok.

Meanwhile, some red shirts worry that a “third party” might instigate violence so that red shirts are blamed, further enhancing The Dictator’s campaign for his premiership.





The authoritarian future II

23 06 2017

While we have long said that The Dictator craved being in power for longer and longer, it is useful when our perspective is confirmed, even if that confirmation appears to have been loose blabbing by a general who forgot he’s supposed to keep this quiet.

The blabber was 2nd Army Region commander Lt Gen Wichai Chaejorhor who declared that there’s “widespread support in the Northeast for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to stay in power…”.

Lt Gen Wichai then went on to express blatantly racist – i.e., widely held Bangkok yellow-shirted – attitudes towards people in the northeast. He stated that “Isan people easily believe others. They love sincerely and they are loyal to those they love. They are also grateful…”.

Forget that the northeast has long been one of the most politically progressive regions of the country. But remember that the Bangkok royalist elite has looked down on these people. The anti-democrats in over the past 15 years have – and continue – to look down on those in the northeast as “buffaloes” but this is just the most recent contempt for northeastern progressives, democrats and politicians.

After looking down on northeasterners, the dopey general then claimed “many people in the region have expressed their desire to have Gen Prayut … continue guiding the country forward as it chases national reconciliation and development.”

The general said the bigger general had real support: “They spoke their mind, saying they ‘want Uncle Tu to stay on’. And they meant it, I can reassure you of that…”.

Buffaloes they are: “On many occasions I have had to help them understand the truth and not believe the distorted information being spread in some areas,” but he “convinced” them of his “truth.”

Or, this particular dopey general convinced himself of his “truth.” In all of this, he’s made it clear that the military’s plan is to have The Dictator continue as The “elected” Dictator.

The Dictator’s campaigning is likely to continue in other regions as the junta feels it has stumbled on a strategy for getting “votes.” They are to revive “mobile” cabinet meetings. Thaksin Shinawatra had those and so did Chatichai Choonhavan, but both were elected prime ministers.

We imagine that a political strategy from the late 1980s is considered an innovation by these knuckle-draggers. We know they plan to stay on in power. We have been able to watch them prepare for it for three years.





Footballing oligarchs II

24 05 2016

Less than a week ago, PPT posted on the penchant of oligarchs for football and snapping up teams that promote their interests and, if things work out, make them even more money.

As everyone in the world knows, Leicester City recently collected some silverware as outsiders made good. As we noted in that earlier post, the club has been owned by football-loving, polo-playing oligarch, monopolist and royalist Vichai Raksriaksorn (who has a royally-bestowed moniker, Srivaddhanaprabha). Vichai made oodles of money through his monopoly on duty free at Thailand’s airports, through his company King Power.King Power

Thailand’s airports have long been the property of the military. They are now part of a listed company, Airports of Thailand. Now the Ministry of Finance controls 70% of AOT’s stock but four of the 14-member Board of Directors continue to carry military ranks. As far as we can tell, only one of the directors of AOT is not a serving or retired official or worked for AOT. The senior executive of AOT continues to have quite a few military ranks listed.

In other words, gaining a monopoly on duty free requires high-level political support and close relations with the senior brass. Exactly how Vichai managed this in the beginning has never been made clear. He went from unknown to billionaire in a relatively short time. King Power began in 1989, with a license granted for Thailand’s first downtown duty free shop at Mahatun Plaza. How it was that King Power got the Chatichai Choonhavan government to award the license isn’t easily seen, but as Chatichai opened to the former enemies across the border, King Power got a license in Phnom Penh soon after. By 1993, King Power had Don Muang airport under its wing. All of this during a period of civilian versus military political tussling.

In a story linked to below, The Nation states:

In addition to the ruling junta, the wealthy businessman has managed to build good ties with both politicians and military figures in powerful posts. And thanks to these cosy relationships, his company has managed to win coveted deals from influential people at key times, including a concession to operate duty-free shops at major airports that has grown into a Bt68-billion-a-year business.

Now that he and his kids – the Sino-Thai tycoon model of family business – are on top of the world, what does this mean for Vichai and Thailand’s politics. Some measure of this comes from recent press reports on Leicester City in Thailand.

An AFP report states that the “Premier League champions Leicester City received a royal seal of approval … at Bangkok’s Grand Palace, with the Thai-owned team presenting its trophy to a portrait of the king before a bus parade through the capital.”

Leicester 2

To most people in the world, this sentence will seem very odd. How does one present a trophy to a portrait and how does a portrait provide “a royal seal of approval”? Why would they present a trophy to a king of another land be he real or a portrait?

In royalist Thailand, however, most things associated with the monarchy are very odd. It has become normalized for sports champions to “present” their medals or trophies to the king as a sign of loyalty. Not doing so becomes disloyalty. At the same time, the businessmen and businesswomen who manage and profit from big sports (and gambling on sport) in Thailand get the reflected royal aura. That’s good for business.

So when Leicester City “present” the silverware to the king’s portrait, “[l]ocal television showed billionaire club-owner Vichai …, alongside his son Aiyawatt and manager Claudio Ranieri, presenting the trophy to a portrait of the king as they and the team then took a deep bow.” In fact, they got on their knees, another “tradition” reintroduced in this reign.

Leicester 1

The team later went on an open-top bus parade through Bangkok. More on that below.

And, oh yes, Vichai’s King Power brand was everywhere. The parade “wound its way from a King Power-owned shopping and hotel complex through Bangkok’s downtown commercial district.” Continuing the royalist theme, “[d]uring their title celebrations at the King Power stadium, a portrait of Bhumibol was held aloft as players…”.

For the company King Power, the seal of approval is also coveted. According to Chulchit Bunyaketu, listed at the company website as a “Counselor,”The fact that the company was awarded the Royal Decree and is under the patronage of His Majesty the King clearly reflects on the integrity, capability, and honesty of our company and staff members.”

The Mail Online has more on the parade, noting Vichai’s commercialization and use of pliable monks: “Vichai is a regular devotee of Phra Prommangkalachan … and took the monk to Britain to bless the stadium and the team.” So the players trooped of to the royal Emerald Buddha temple.

It is The Sun that made most of the “thousands of Thais [who] were paid to pose as Leicester City fans for the club’s Premier League victory parade in Thailand…”.

Many of those dressed in club colors were there having “responded to a social media advert offering to pay people for a ‘Leicester parade job’. They were to get 500 baht…. They were asked to meet at the Bangkok HQ of the King Power company … [and] were also given free club T-shirts and urged to clap and chant during the celebration.” King Power employees were also mobilized.

All of this is obviously good for business, but thetre is also political speculation. The Nation explains some of this. It says that Leicester City’s “well-connected billionaire owner, Vichai … has … been linked to an alliance with political friends and the ruling generals that could result in a new political party…”.

It says that “his massive wealth and strong connections” mean that “Vichai is seen by some as having the potential to be the ‘last piece in the jigsaw’ needed for the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the junta] to retain power via a new political party.”

Prawit, Suthep and King Power

Prawit, Suthep and King Power

Vichai is said to have good relations with “many key figures’ in the military junta, naming “Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, one of the most influential figures in the ruling junta.”

The story goes on, saying Vichai is close to “Bhum Jai Thai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul and Newin Chidchob, the former Cabinet minister and political broker who owns Thailand’s leading football club Buriram United.”

Anutin is rumored to have close links with the palace, and it was his father Chavarat who worked with Newin and the generals in 2008 to make Abhisit Vejjajiva prime minister and Bhum Jai Thai the military’s party as it went to the 2011 election. The military and the party failed spectacularly as Yingluck Shinawatra and the Puea Thai Party won in a landslide.Newin and King Power

This time around it is stated that an “alliance between Vichai, Newin and Anutin, plus support from Prawit -in the background, would be a coalition between a financial group and a power clique set for the new political landscape…”.

Newin and Vichai have a mutual interest in football and politics and blue pervades Buriram as much as it does Leicester, not to mention a group of blue-shirted thugs organized by Newin and Suthep Thaugsuban in 2009 to oppose red shirts.

Vast stocks of cash, royalism, political savvy and skills in the “dark arts” of vote-buying and great influence are just what a military party will need (if an election is ever permitted).