Protecting the politicized constitutional court

27 11 2017

Prachatai reports that the junta’s puppet lawmakers have approved a junta law that will give “more power and protection to the Constitutional Court.”

Why would 188 of the dutiful National Legislative Assembly members vote as a block (with just 5 abstentions and not a single opposing vote) for this law?

From Ji Ungpakorn’s blog

Apart from the fact that the NLA slavishly slithers after the junta, the Constitutional Court is considered an important bulwark of conservatism, royalism and anti-democracy. Since King Bhumibol’s political activation of the courts in 2006, the Constitutional Court has often played a king-like role, being the institution to “sort things out.” Its decisions have been highly politicized.

 

Giving the Court more powers is in line with ideas about establishing an interventionist institution that can proactively and retroactively punish political oppositions challenging the established order.

The NLA also “protected” the Court from “people who make ill-intentioned criticism of the Constitutional Court, including those who post such criticisms online.”

There has been criticism of the NLA’s work.





Fear and unintended consequences I

18 04 2017

Yet another strange media event highlights the politics of the new reign.

Yesterday it was reported that the dead king’s funeral would take place on 26 October. Later in the day, Khaosod has published this, with the black nothingness being in the original:

Note to Readers: Removal of An Article About a Palace Announcement
Khaosod English
April 18, 2017 6:41 pm

From the Editors of Khaosod English.

Khaosod English has deleted an April 18 article about a certain statement made by the royal palace.

The story was removed because the announcement was not yet released formally by the palace, and Khaosod’s editorial management feared that the content in the article might lead to legal action.

As a news agency based in Thailand, Khaosod English is obliged to comply with Thai law. However, we strive to serve the public interest by presenting objective, accurate news reports.

That the newspaper is unable to present “objective, accurate news reports” due to the monarchy is nothing new. However, the fear that is seen in bizarre news reporting like this, under the new reign, is now part of a commentary.

We have briefly mentioned a New Mandala op-ed by Pavin Chachavalpongpun on fear in the new reign. Earlier we mentioned an op-ed by Claudio Sopranzetti also writing of fear.

While we agree that fear now seems central to the new reign under the erratic and violent King Vajiralongkorn, we do not agree with their contrasting references to the previous reign as one that was one of love and reverence. Idealizing the previous reign is a political mistake based on an incomplete reading of history.

In fact, the previous reign was also one that was defined by patronage and a feeling of impending danger, leading to bizarre politics. Yet for the earlier period of the reign there was also a political struggle as the palace sought to revive monarchy and royalism, along with its wealth and power.

It is in this sense, that the last 10 years marked the political success of that strategy, even if the king was not particularly involved, being hospitalized for the last decade or so of his reign.

Yet his proxies demonstrated a bizarre pattern of rightist and royalist politics that were a direct result of the monarchy’s manufactured position, power and influence. They fought the ghosts of the past and what they perceived as the threat to their position and power that had come from monarchism. That threat was seen in popular sovereignty.

It is in this sense that the current reign is the true and real outcome of that struggle and its politics.

Royalists have always known that Vajiralongkorn is a thug and unstable yet they now seem  somewhat confused that they have aided and abetted a new reign that sees monarchism moving towards an absolutism that they may not have contemplated.

Confusion will lead to bizarre politics and bizarre acts as those who consider themselves part of the royalist ruling class maneuver for influence.

Yet this is also a dangerous time for both the ruling class and for the monarchy as missteps in this small circle of the rich and powerful can have unintended consequences that threaten both.





Updated: A royalist’s royalist

26 08 2016

If you are a royalist, after the near-dead king, your favorite figure must be General Prem Tinsulanonda. The aged general and president of the Privy Council has turned 96 and, according to a remarkably syrupy article in the Bangkok Post, remains remarkably important for the current military junta.

Some commentators argue that the grand old man has been pushed aside by the regime, yet it is clear that the regime continues to provide the prim and interfering “boss” with the attention and supplication that Prem craves.

For over 30 years, Prem has been at the center of Thailand’s politics, and this has reflected his long alliance with the palace. Prem returned palace support by doing more for the political and economic domination of the monarchy than any premier since General Sarit Thanarat.

Since his appointment by the king as a privy councilor, Prem has also been at the center of palace politics. Palace politics under him became intimately aligned and interconnected with national politics.

The Post states that “[n]early three decades after he left office, the country’s 16th prime minister remains as powerful and commands a great deal of clout among the ruling generals and other military top brass.”

The brass, as almost all of them have done for decades, showed up to provide birthday wishes to Prem “at his leafy Si Sao Thewes residence.” (As we have said several times in the past, “his residence” actually belongs to the state and Prem “resides” at the taxpayers expense, despite the fact that he has become quite wealthy.)

Prem held the premiership for almost 8.5 years. These were not years of political stability. He retained power through frequent cabinet reshuffles, with the support of military-appointed senates, neglecting parliament and politicians and, most significantly, the palace’s backing.

The Post suggests that Prem “stepped down as prime minister” but this neglects the bitter struggle that took place, with Prem refusing to budge and with opponents threatening to reveal his “private life.” Eventually, the campaign for an elected premier won out. Prem has been bitter about this ever since; he detests elected politicians.

His bitterness was somewhat reduced by the fact that “[d]ays after his political retirement, he was appointed by … the King as a member of the Privy Council.”

According to the Post, Prem is “recognised as working closely with the monarchy and following an important mission to protect the revered [sic.] institution.”

Prem is known for his capacity for “eliminating disloyal subordinates and disrespectful foes.” Respect is something that makes Prem feel special. He feels he deserves to be considered special and important.

The Post suggests that those who put him offside include General Suchinda Kraprayoon and his group of Class 5 graduates from the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy. They apparently sidelined Prem. Class 5 lost.

The other big loser is Thaksin Shinawatra. Prem came to hate Thaksin who he felt paid him insufficient respect and “crossed” him and the palace. Thaksin lost.

The military regime troops to Prem’s taxpayer-funded home three times a year and “offer[s] … good wishes and receive Gen Prem’s blessings.” As the Post also adds, the “Burapha Payak (Tigers of the East) and Queen’s Guard military units, which are known to play an influential role in the armed forces, also have to beat a path to the Si Sao Thewes residence, which has become a symbol of power.”

As expected, Prem has consistently provided the public support the regime requires from the palace. As the Post observes, “[t]his is a crucial time when the Burapha Payak and the Si Sao Thewes residence must stand united to weather possible political turbulence.” The alliance seems set to have a general become unlelected premier when an election is held, and Prem appears to support this.

Prem made it clear that he fully backs Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s leadership. He stated:

I trust the prime minister and that all of you can work for the country, with royalty [the monarchy] and make sacrifices….

No matter how big or small the difficulties are, I ask the prime minister to feel at ease that the armed forces and people will give encouragement to the prime minister.

He said he has always told others about how important it was that Gen Prayut and his comrades had to step in during this turbulent time.

I told “Tu” [Gen Prayut’s nickname] that old soldiers like us will do all we can to help Tu achieve the great mission for the country….

Sounds like Prem’s “vote” is in.

Royalists will listen.

Update: As a mark of the royal house’s appreciation of Prem’s loyalty and political works for it, he was given a special merit-making ceremony, “sponsored” by the king and queen. As these two are very ill and barely able to express anything, the show of respect for loyalty comes from the other members of the royal family and Privy Council. The report states that the “ceremony was held at Wat Rajabopit with Royal representatives, and some high ranking public and private officials also attending.” It was “Privy Councillor General Surayud Chulanont, who represented Their Majesties, and Air Chief Marshal Kasem Yoosuk, chief of HRH the Crown Prince’s Private Secretary’s Office, represented HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, also appeared at the ceremony to give Gen Prem bouquets and best wishes.”





Warning the conservative elite II

1 03 2016

PPT has never had much respect for former ambassador, anti-Thaksin foreign minister, defender of human rights abuses and lese majeste, PADster, coup supporter, anti-foreign media, etc. Kasit Piromya. He’s often sounded lazy, bizarre and loopy. So what can we make of an op-ed he is said to have penned at the Nikkei Asian Review that actually seems to make some sense?Kasit

We suggest it be read because, if he wrote it, he seems to have had a light turned on, at least for a moment. He begins:

Thailand’s conservatives, the real power behind the country’s military-backed government, have neutralized the political opposition and consolidated their authority behind a facade of constitutional reform. But they should beware. New proposals to entrench their position permanently risk conflict and perhaps chaos. The people cannot forever be denied a role.

He goes on to identify a power structure that he seems to fit into:

Thailand’s political structure can be characterized as a bureaucracy with a military spearhead, supported by an entourage of place seekers and hangers on such as academics, media personalities, white-collar workers and professionals.

Has he been reading PPT and like-minded blogs and articles? It seems so when he says:

These modern aristocrats are conservative in their thinking, their perceptions and their behavior. They seek order and stability in society: these are their top priorities in the affairs of the state. They perceive themselves as the natural leaders and rightful protectors of national institutions, especially the three main pillars of Thai society — the nation, the Buddhist religion and the monarchy. They adhere to a belief in the unique characteristics of Thailand, reflexively embodied in what they call the “Thainess” of traditional values, of discipline, and of authority relationships. Most importantly, they sit at the apex of the system…. They love the authority they have, and the discretion it conveys to use power as they see fit, and they shy away from concepts of transparency and accountability.

He might have added that they hate electoral politics, and always have. As a “good” anti-democrat, Kasit reckons that “[c]omprehensive reforms of political and social structures are being canvassed; a new constitution is proposed that will supposedly lay a firm foundation for democracy to take root and more forward in a sustainable manner.”

He’s worried that these anti-democrat reforms are being derailed. Somehow he’s forgotten that this is what he and his ilk supported and wanted. To suggest that he and his mobs wanted to “reform” in a way that was “about sharing of power, a more equitable distribution of wealth [and] access to equal opportunities.”

This was never the aim, and if he thinks it was, the light is off again.

Kasit and his buddies got what they wanted and now get what they deserved. Those who suffer are the people who just wanted a chance to vote and have that respected. The elite, conservative and fascist, can’t get their heads around this notion.





Revised: Warning the conservative elite I

1 03 2016

In an editorial at The Korean Herald, Thailand’s conservative elite gets a warning on media freedom. The editorial begins:

Thai policy makers, dictators, military leaders or what have you, have never learned how to handle criticism from the international press and the recently issued regulation for foreign media reflects that long-standing mindset.

The junta’s demand is that:

foreign media representatives must demonstrate their attitude towards the monarchy and political development in the country – eats into one’s personal space…. It is like the government is trying to delve into the heart and soul of a person and make it a requirement before they be granted visa and permit to work in the kingdom.

The military dictatorship is seeking to “prevent negative reporting about Thailand.” The editorial observes that “to try to engineer this outcome is somewhat absurd…”.

It continues:

A free and independent media environment generates a positive atmosphere for the country.

But sadly, Thai policy makers, especially the current junta, do not have the sophistication to deal with criticism. So the bottom line of this absurd regulation is that if you’re not going to be nice to me, I’m not going to let you live here.

Sadly, when the editorial states, “We really hope that is a temporary thing and that soon the authorities will come to their senses, and realize that what they are doing will cause more harm than good,” we think they misunderstand the junta and its backers. When it comes to the monarchy and maintaining elite rule, there’s no sense, just nonsense.





Replacing the king I

12 01 2016

Article 7 of the 1997 and 2007 constitutions has been controversial. This has been because it has been a rallying cry for every anti-democratic movement since the People’s Alliance for Democracy.

Article 7 of the 1997 charter was used by anti-Thaksin Shinawatra protesters in 2005 and 2006. PAD pushed the use of this article very strongly. As Michael Connors explained it in his well-known Journal of Contemporary Asia article, the call for royal intervention was persistent and became a plea for the king to sack Thaksin, supported by both PAD and the Democrat Party. He also notes that the Democrat Party was prepared to use Article 7 in other circumstances in 2006. They made another call for its use in 2012 and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee tried again in 2013-14.

As Connors explains it, Article 7 was introduced to the 1997 constitution by conservative royalists just before it was promulgated, and after public hearing were completed. He argues that “the effect of Article 7 was to limit the reach of all … new [democratic] claims by empowering a traditionalistic and royalist interpretation should one be so required” (pp. 150-1).

While the 2005 plea was rejected by the palace, it led to the king’s call on the judiciary to intervene following the abortive 2006 election, which eventually led to the 2006 military coup and the political struggles that have continued to this day as the royalists prefer the intervention of unelected and unrepresentative powers against elected and popular political regimes. Article 7 pits the elite against the people.

Today The Nation reports that the current Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC) says that it has “removed the highly controversial Article 7 from the draft charter yesterday as the commission entered its final week of work.” According to the report, the CDC “expressed the opinion that it was inappropriate that the revered [sic.] Royal institution would make such a decision, so power was transferred to the Constitutional Court to make the final judgement in cases of deadlock.”

In effect, the power that has resided with the conservative monarchy is now to be transferred to an unelected body that it arguably the most conservative, royalist and politicized of all such institutions. It does this to insulate the royalist elite from both elected governments and from a doddery king and from any future king who may not be as predictable and trustworthy as the elite would want.





The Dictator’s world of authoritarianism

8 01 2016

No one can confuse General Prayuth Chan-ocha for a democrat. He’s been involved in two military coups overthrowing elected governments. He was the leader of the 2014 coup. He has established a repressive regime, and for all of the talk of a “roadmap,” that leads to a regime that political scientists might have euphemistically thought of – in the 1980s and 1990s – as a “semi-democracy.” He’s also more comfortable with royalism than constitutionalism, rule by law rather than rule of law and he abhors personal freedoms and liberties. That’s why we call him The Dictator.

Dictators come in various shapes and forms, although it must be admitted that, worldwide, there are fewer of them these days. Some might consider Thailand’s supreme leader as a throwback to the Cold War era of military dictators, and he certainly does look like that at times. As many have pointed out, though, his regime, with its enhanced royalism and the associated personality cult that is still promoted for an almost dead king, does look a bit like North Korea with advertising and a capitalist class. We are pretty sure that The Dictator admires aspects of the North Korean regime.

HairThe other likely model is China. There have been plenty of reports on how the military regime under Prayuth has moved closer to China. There are also indications of admiration based on style and program. Like a good many vain senior Thais, Prayuth would fit neatly into the Chinese Politburo, with rich, dyed black hair.

Like Chinese leaders, Prayuth manages to come up with slogans and aphorisms (as well as songs) that express his views and which are apparently meant to “motivate” others. His most recent is scrolling across the top of a leading state propaganda site: “The Prime Minister has given the motto for the National Children’s Day 2016 …: ‘Good child, diligent, learning, towards a bright future’.”

Appearance and self-obsession aside, there is more sinister learning and emulation at work that is mixed with the Thai military’s great capacity for repression, terror and murder. Controlling, restricting and banning all events it sees as “political” and “oppositional” is something else the Chinese regime does with brutish efficiency. Like the Chinese regime, Prayuth’s seeks to threaten and cajole political opponents. When that fails, it locks them up, often with sedition and lese majeste charges.

At the state propaganda site and also reported by Khaosod is something that is still short of the Chinese approach, but getting there: “The government announced yesterday that it has asked Facebook and Youtube to ban the accounts of users that distribute any offensive remarks about the monarchy on the internet.”

Both companies have previously managed to bow to state pressure on the monarchy, so the response this time will be a test of company backbone. We expect it to crumble, as Microsoft appears to have colluded with The Dictator’s regime. For the moment, both companies have “declined to comment.”

Officials say there are “almost 100 accounts on Youtube and 20-30 accounts on Facebook” that they want banned. There may be more as the dictatorship further encourages “[m]embers of the public … to report any website considered to violate the royal defamation law…”.

Minor prince and military flunkey Panadda Diskul, who chaired the meeting on Wednesday, declared that the “urgent discussion” was a response to concerns expressed by Prayuth. Follow the leader is a well-known Chinese game.

Prayuth’s world is authoritarian. He learns from China, North Korea and plenty of past Thai autocrats.