Dictatorship and royalty

23 04 2018

The military dictatorship has proven itself to have the right attitudes and ideology for dealing with other authoritarian regimes, especially the party dictatorships of China and Laos and the Hun Sen regime in Cambodia. Most especially, Thailand’s military regime has felt most comfortable in dealing with military leaders in those countries.

It has had some issues with Laos, where red shirt and republican dissidents reside having fled the royalist military dictatorship following the 2014 coup. The military dictatorship has kept the pressure on, and we can assume some collusion in the enforced disappearance of Ko Tee from his residence in Laos. He’s presumed dead.

Thailand has a long history of political interference in its smaller neighbor’s politics, and there have been many ups and downs. So it is to be expected that all Lao regimes develop the relationship with some caution.

The current Thai dictatorship has been especially agitated about republican dissidents in Laos and has been seeking a deal to get them jailed in Thailand or, if that fails, to have them silenced.

Speaking in Vientiane, Lt Gen Souvone Leuangbounmy, chief-of-staff of the Lao People’s Armed Forces has “played down Thai authorities’ concerns about political fugitives and those wanted under Section 112 of the Criminal Code…” in Laos.

He says that “Thai political fugitives in Laos will be kept under strict surveillance to prevent them from engaging in lese majeste activities…”. He added that “Laos would be vigilant in trying to stop any acts which could affect Thai people” and soothed the military junta: “Please rest assured. You can count on us…”.

He made these comments as Thai military leaders visited Laos. We assume that he was saying this because the Thai military visitors had raised the issue (again).

Perhaps Lt Gen Souvone’s position is a compromise by his regime, under pressure from the “big brothers.” Will they accept this?





Part-time king and neo-feudal Thailand

5 03 2018

As recently mentioned, Thailand’s stay-away king recently returned to Bangkok after a couple of months based in Tutzing and enjoying the skiing.

While he’s been away, presumably he’s stayed in touch with his orders and how they have been implemented. Presumably he’s been happy with the Royal fair he ordered be held while he was away.

A bunch of Chinese outlets have run a story on this event, with our link to a version from China Global Television Network or CGTN, which is China’s international media organization, launched by the official China Central Television (CCTV) on December 31, 2016.

It reckons the king ordered the fair be held so that “people” have “a chance to celebrate their relationship with the royal, after a long period of sadness [the mourning for the dead king].” It adds that it was “[s]oldiers [who] put the finishing touches to exhibits ahead of the opening…”.

As with the previous king, Vajiralongkorn and/or his minion advisers know that the people-monarchy link is of enormous political value, so state resources are used to construct, mobilize and dazzle. The report states: “The fair, opened at the instigation of Thailand’s new King, celebrates the links between the Royal family and their subjects. And in the modern era, two monarchs are given particular prominence. The first, King Chulalongkorn, is revered as a modernizer and a reformer, who saw a future in the technological advancements of the West a century ago. The other is the father of current monarch, King Bhumibol, who died in 2016…”.

It may be a transparent propaganda strategy but the king is betting it will make him look good too.

In line with the military dictatorship’s winding back of the political calendar, the report observes that “[m]any of the exhibits … hark back to a simpler time 100 years ago when Thailand was far more advanced than its SE Asian neighbors but also life was much simpler. The political landscape wasn’t complicated by battling politicians and the people relied only on a kind and benevolent monarch.”

We get the feeling that this is the kind of neo-feudal Thailand that the king would feel most comfortable with. We have noted his plans for erasing the 1932 Revolution and re-establishing a huge royal palace area in central Bangkok. This has also recently been reported at the Asia Times Online.

As we know, visitors are urged to dress up in period costume to inculcate notions that the feudal past was the “good old days.”

The “good old days” were also a period when the modern military was brought into existance, and it was the royalist military under Chulallogkorn and Bhumibol that are celebrated when The Dictator is moved to the center of this neo-feudal world of monarchy-military alliance. This sees The Dictator getting fancy dress awards.





Updated: Why has the EU capitulated?

13 12 2017

We are not sure why the European Union has, as reported at The Nation, “agreed to resume political contacts” with Thailand and “at all levels,” Which means it will deal with the military junta.

More than three years the EU suspended ties “in protest at the military coup in Bangkok.”

The EU claims that “developments in Thailand this year, including the adoption of a new constitution and a pledge by junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha to hold elections in November 2018,” now mean that it is “appropriate” to resume ties.

That is, of course, errant nonsense. If anything, the entrenchment of military political power and its repression have increased in 2017.

We figure that trade is the reason for dealing with the murderous and corrupt devils running Thailand.

Naturally enough, as The Nation reports, the junta and its minions are ecstatic as this “recognition” is a very public justification of military dictatorship.

With the Trump administration cashing in on dictatorship, following the Chinese, we guess the Europeans consider trade trumps human rights.

Update: Interestingly, a day after the EU Council capitulated to the military junta, Human Rights Watch issued a statement on “baseless sedition charges” against Sunisa Lertpakawat of the Puea Thai Party. HRW’s Asia director Brad Adams stated: “Bringing sedition and computer crime charges against a politician for criticism on Facebook shows the Thai junta’s growing contempt for fundamental freedoms…”.





Gotcha moments on “elections”

21 11 2017

Talk of “elections” continues. One report has a deputy premier – the hopelessly military entangled “legal expert” Wissanu Krea-ngam saying local elections would be “held within 45 days of bills to amend six laws relating to regional governing bodies being enacted…”. That’s meaningless, and anyway, it will be The Dictator who decides. And if it is done, is 45 days sufficient for an election? We guess it is under the military dictatorship, which prefers unfree and unfair polls where it knows the outcome in advance.

Another report is of the virtual impossibility of “qualifying” parties for a national “election.” Chart Thai Pattana Party director Nikorn Chamnong points out that “the political party bill raises concerns … as its Article 141 requires parties to report any change of membership to a not-yet-appointed registrar within 90 days of its enactment.”

In fact, that deadline “will be in early January, but no party has been able to file its report because they are restrained by the junta order that bans political gatherings of five or more people.”

Is this the plan? No parties can run candidates because the parties will be in breach of “rules”? Or is it that the “elections” are going to be delayed further?

Hun Sen seems to have decided that elections are rubbish, even for justifying his authoritarianism, and the Chinese have agreed and see authoritarianism in Cambodia as their win. It is an unusual direct intervention by China into domestic affairs but a step further in its “diplomacy” in the region.

Thailand’s dictatorship, too, could decide to be allied to China and be authoritarian for years to come. Elections wouldn’t need to bother the military regime at all.





Junta learning from China

31 10 2017

Over the years, there have been efforts to suggest that various Thai leaders in politics and the economy have turned to China in part for reasons of ethnic loyalty. Certainly, several Thai leaders have been of Chinese extraction and some Sino-Thai tycoons at CP and the Bangkok Bank (to name just two) have been early and long active in “giving back.”

But what does this mean in practice, especially when China’s economic rise has been noticeable for decades and its political sway has been increasing for some time? And, consider that almost all of Thailand’s wealthiest, including the dead king, were Sino-Thai. Chineseness has seldom been a hot political issue since Phibun’s time and a period when the OSS/CIA were worried about the “overseas Chinese” as a “fifth column” for Chinese communism.

The most recent effort we can recall was by Sondhi Limthongkul, in some accounts claimed to be China-born and the son of a Kuomintang general. Back in the days when the People’s Alliance for Democracy – dominated by Sino-Thais of the Bangkok middle class – declared that they too were loyal to the nation (and the monarchy).

When we look at the current military dictatorship, for some time shunned by the U.S. and by some major countries in Europe, the draw of China became important. While on a well-worn path, where China was already a major trading partner, the significance of China rose substantially for the regime as it sought to arm and boost the economy. But one of the attractions does seem to be, as one academic has it, mutual authoritarianism.

But we don’t think we have ever seen such an enthusiastic embrace as that provided by the junta’s 4th generation Sino-Thai Wissanu Krea-ngam in an interview with the official Xinhua news agency on the day the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China concluded.

Speaking of the amendment to the CPC Constitution that made “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era a new component of the party’s guide for action,” Wissanu was enthusiastic, declaring:

Xi’s thought makes “Chinese characteristics” more prominent, the Thai deputy prime minister said.

He praised China for being very good at accomplishing its goals efficiently as can be proved by the anti-corruption campaign that started five years ago.

He said he believes that the new goals set at the 19th CPC National Congress will be accomplished as before.

“The Chinese set long-term goals and ask people to do it together. That is something we can learn from, as we are also working on a 20-year national strategy to guide the development of Thailand,” Wissanu said.

“It is just magical that we have consistent policies or strategies as China put forward the Belt and Road Initiative. We have Thailand 4.0 and ASEAN … has ASEAN Connectivity,” Wissanu said, adding that China and Thailand can still find a lot of aspects to cooperate in the future.

Maybe he’s just noticing economic opportunities? But those have been evident for decades. Wissanu seems attracted by the Chinese model of marrying authoritarianism with markets. That seems pretty close to the junta’s aims.

 





Black deals I

30 06 2017

Remember all that stuff from the Obama administration about Thailand’s military junta and how it was shunned? Remember the lines about no military trading?

Seems like all of that was for public consumption and that the USA continued to deal with the corrupt and repressive regime. Of course, that’s what you would expect – think Egypt – and the US has seldom had any problem dealing with dictators. Its history in Thailand is of supporting military dictatorship. But all that American rhetoric about “democracy” was strong.

Then there were all those journalists and commentators who got excited, declaring that Thailand’s junta had been ditched by the US and had cuddled up to the Chinese. It seems that is not so accurate.

At Khaosod, there’s a report that should alter all of those views. The news yesterday that the Trump administration was selling more Black Hawk helicopters to Thailand had “US embassy spokesperson Melissa Sweeney [saying] … the latest development is part of the two nations’ ‘strong defense relationship’.”

Sweeney added that “US military sales to Thailand since the 2014 coup amounted to approximately USD$380 million, including Black Hawks and Harpoon Block II Missiles.”

$380 million is about 13 billion baht. That’s one Chinese submarine. Of the military sales data we have seen, the junta’s purchases from China are about the same level as all other purchases. In other words, half of arms and equipment purchases since 2014 have gone to China.

While this is a change, the details on the US’s sales and the junta’s gratification that Trump has looked their way suggests that the China tilt has not been as acute as previously suggested by the regional watch commentators.





Arresting one as a threat to many

25 06 2017

This military dictatorship has established a pattern of threat to repress.

In its early days, the military regime arrested hundreds and directly threatened thousands more, the latter mainly in the countryside. That level of mass repression is costly in political terms and a strategy emerged of arresting or high-profile threatening one activist as a way of threatening and repressing similar activists.

One high-profile example was Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa. He was charged with lese majeste and jailed for sharing a BBC Thai story that thousands of others had also shared. Yet the regime went after Jatuphat because he is an activist with links to other activists, several causes and relatively poor villagers.

The most recent arrest is of activist Rangsiman Rome, who was taken into police custody late on Sunday afternoon. Reporting of his arrest are at Khaosod and the Bangkok Post.

Police in Bangkok “detained the New Democracy Movement member on Tao Nao Road near the Oct 14 Memorial, where he was to attend a fund-raising event organised by the group to help political prisoners.”

Yet it seems that it was not this particular event that caused an “arrest warrant for him and 12 other activists for launching a campaign for voters in the area to throw out the draft charter in the referendum held on Aug 7, 2016” was suddenly activated.

Rangsiman expects to be taken before a military tribunal.

He has stated that he “believes the arrest was ordered because he was going to petition the military government to disclose information about the deal it struck with China allowing it to build a high-speed rail connection between Bangkok and Korat.”

Now all those who have been challenging the military junta’s use of Article 44 to push through the rail project know that they are under threat. As Rangsiman stated, “Now we have to postpone it [the petition], otherwise my friends will risk facing the same fate…”.

Or, they could go ahead and see if they do join Rangsiman in jail and ignore the junta’s strategy of repression by example.





When the military is on top VIII

21 06 2017

The Dictator has asked for “public support for the Thai-Chinese high-speed railway project to help it get off the ground, while reiterating that his Section 44 order to speed up construction is in the country’s best interests, not a special favour to China.”

Has anyone asked how a high-speed rail line, which will be a passenger service through reasonably sparsely populated areas, is economically viable? Freight to Laos, Vietnam and China might be, that wouldn’t be high-speed.

Yet this is kind of a side issue when the military dictatorship simply decides and decrees that its will be done.

Let us remind the anti-democrats, so driven by (crocodile) tears over “corruption,” that you do get exactly what you whistled for.

An op-ed at the Bangkok Post makes some useful points:

… [Q]uestions over transparency and possible breaches of ethics have come to the fore.

… Of the total nine laws that will be sidestepped, seven were promulgated to ensure transparency and fairness in state procurement and two others involve the employment of foreigners in the project.

… The invocation of Section 44 prompts some people to compare the [General] Prayut[h Chan-ocha] project to the one proposed by the Yingluck Shinawatra administration.

Like it or not, it’s obvious the project proposed under the Yingluck government, which encompassed the same 256-kilometre route, seemed far better in terms of efficiency and transparency.

The Yingluck version, as handled by former transport minister Chadchart Sittipunt, would have cost 140 billion baht, against [G]en Prayut’s 179 billion. Under the Yingluck administration, the rail track was included in a mega-infrastructure development package and proposed to parliament for consideration….

The difference between the train project of this government and that of Yingluck’s is that the previous administration’s project was open to all legal examination mechanisms and underwent international bidding, which would provide the country with the best offer.

You get what you whistle for: a military dictatorship that is opaque, repressive and corrupt.





Updated: Trains, land and all that money

18 06 2017

PPT likes trains. We like public transport generally. We acknowledge that Thailand’s public infrastructure has been neglected and that many of the public transport developments that have taken place have been for the middle class in Bangkok. When it comes to rail other than the subway and skytrain, the infrastructure is a crumbling mess.

In short, rail links to the region and across Thailand can have considerable benefits. That was illustrated, in part, by the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime wanted a rail link to China. It is why the Yingluck Shinawatra government established a high-powered team investigating and seeking to move the project forward.

So what is the military dictatorship up to?

As we know, after years of failing negotiations with the Chinese, The Dictator has used Article 44 “to expedite the Thai-Chinese high-speed railway line between Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima and enable work to begin this year.”

Only between Bangkok and Korat and high-speed. That means, so far, no links regionally and suggests a passenger service. It also doesn’t say what “high speed” means. But because the military junta is doing it, precious few details are available.

The junta’s decree “aims to clear technical and legal problems for the delayed 252-kilometre railway.”

It is a remarkable decree in that it “instructs the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) to hire a Chinese state enterprise to supervise the construction of the Thai-Chinese railway.”

That Chinese company “will oversee the design of the railway infrastructure as well as rail and electrical systems. It will serve as an adviser for the project’s construction and provide training in system-related knowledge for the project staff.”

In other words, the junta is establishing a kind of Chinese monopoly for Thailand on this huge project. It is not just rail because all such projects are also about land. (Yes, we know other contracts for other lines have been considered with the Japanese.)

The contract “must be ready within 120 days,” suggesting that there’s already a preferred contractor. After that, “Thailand and China would then be able to sign an agreement for the design contract…”.

As Khaosod says, using Article 44 will “remove all legal obstacles preventing China from taking charge of every step in the construction of the high-speed railway project.” It says ten “relevant laws and junta orders involving government procurement…”. It also said that “Chinese engineers and architects are also exempted from professional licensing requirements.”

Interestingly, the use of Article 44 “shielded the project from going out to international bidders and exempted it from a mandatory process to estimate costs.” The order states that an “unspecified amount of funds [is] to be approved by the interim cabinet.”

The order would also “allow construction to take place on protected lands…”.

What isn’t stated is that the line will involve the compulsory acquisition of land from landholders and will gobble up land that was previously allocated with limited title, exactly the kind of land the junta has been so agitated about in other areas such as national parks.

That Dictator Prayuth Chan-ocha is “due to visit China to attend the ninth BRICS Summit in September,” might add something to the use of Article 44, recalling that he wasn’t invited to a recent meeting in China, seen as a snub.

Another Bangkok Post report has the World Bank urging “the Thai government to hold an open bidding for the long-delayed Thai-Chinese high-speed railway project linking Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima to ensure transparency.”

Transparency may be important but it won’t happen in this project, just as it hasn’t in all major projects and purchases by the junta. Most infrastructure projects involve 30-40% “commission” payments. Junta-related interests are salivating.

And the land! So much land! It will be appropriated and then rented or sold to the tycoons for all kinds of projects that will further enrich them.

Bangkok Post’s Umesh Pandey grumbles that the use of Article 44 by a “caretaker” regime is wrong: “In any given scenario the job of the caretaker government is to look at maintaining the status quo and not undertake major policies that involve committing the country’s resources for years if not decades to come…”.

He keeps forgetting that this is a military dictatorship and that it has no intention of fading away.

He asks: “who is going to be responsible for the transparency of the multi-billion-dollar project.” The idea is that wealth generation for the few is built on monopolies and opaque arrangements. That’s Thailand’s history, and not just under juntas.

And Umesh notes that The Dictator’s order also “silences opposition to any project, overriding the system of checks and balances that would make sure Thailand gets the best deal.”

Thailand is a loose concept. We know from wealth data and from details about the unusually rich who gets the best deal. And they define themselves as “Thailand.”

Umesh continues: “People like myself are all for the project but I wonder how clean the process is going to be, especially as rumours swirl of kickbacks to contractors.”

He isn’t wondering, he knows. Then he raises another point:

Then there is the issue of a possible election late next year. As any economist would tell you, the time between green-lighting a project and seeing the money flow in can be anywhere from nine to 12 months — around the time the election is expected.

Is that a coincidence? Certainly, signs of economic growth right before the polls could be an advantage to some.

We remain unconvinced about an “election,” but we see his point. But what of the land? All that land.

Update: Prachatai has two stories on the train line, one that is about middle-class concerns regarding safety where professionals raise this issue. The other is interesting in that in a review of the week, it raises the issue of the use of Article 44 to create “extraterritoriality,” but only in the title. It is an interesting issue and harks back to the decades it took to roll back the extraterritoriality enshrined in the Bowring Treaty.





Loot and hierarchy make coups

6 05 2017

Khaosod has an unusually long story on the Chinese submarines and Navy propaganda on them. It is a story worth reading on debates over submarines and the quite simplistic statements from a recently retired admiral responsible for submarines.

Yes, we know that Thailand hasn’t got subs, but the story begins: “For seven years, Adm. Suriya Pornsuriya commanded a submarine division which didn’t have a single submarine.”

Yes, indeed! Thailand has Navy officers paid to be responsible for non-existent infrastructure.

In introducing Admiral Suriya, PPT was struck by asides about his lifestyle as a recently retired official. It says a lot, in a few words, about the reasons Thailand’s military is so utterly hopeless.

Not only do senior ranks become remarkably and unusually wealthy, but they get to use lower ranks as slaves.

The report says: “now retired at 61, said from his home, which boasts its own soi and a staff of army recruits.” It continues: “Suriya spoke from the living room in one of many residences in his estate.”

Suriya owns a suburb! Many residences. Many slaves.

These are the things that every military coup protects. This is why military officers crave hierarchy. And they legitimate it by being attached to the monarchy.








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