Authoritarianism for royalists, monarchy, tycoons, and military

7 09 2022

PPT has been reading some of the commentaries regarding Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s suspension as premier. We thought we better post something on these as Prayuth’s case could be (almost) decided by the politicized Constitutional Court as early as tomorrow.

Prawit and Prayuth: Generals both

At East Asia Forum, academic Paul Chambers summarizes and lists the pedigree and connections that have led to his former boss, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, to become (interim) premier.

A few days before that, Shawn Crispin at Asia Times wrote another piece based on his usual anonymous sources, that assesses the balance of forces. He thinks the Constitutional Court’s decision to suspend Gen Prayuth was a pyrrhic victory and writes of:

… a behind-the-scenes, pre-election move away from Prayut by the conservative establishment, comprised of the royal palace, traditional elites and top “five family” big businesses, he has cosseted both as a coup-maker and elected leader.

One source familiar with the situation says a group of traditional and influential Thai “yellow” elites including an ex-premier and foreign minister, after rounds of dinner talks, recently delivered a message to Prayut asking him to put the nation before himself and refrain from contesting the next general election to make way for a more electable, civilian candidate to champion the conservative cause.

It is clear that the conservative elite are worried about upcoming elections. Pushing Prayuth aside is thought to give the Palang Pracharath Party an electoral boost. Crispin reckons that the Privy Council beckons if Gen Prayuth does as asked. That’s a kind of consolation prize for Gen Prayuth having done his repressive duty for palace and ruling class.

But, as Crispin makes clear, the ruling class and the political elite is riven with conflicts. Indeed, one commentary considers the contest between Gen Prawit and Gen Prayuth.

It may be that Prayuth comes back. Recent leaks suggest that one faction still wants him in place, “protecting” the monarchy as the keystone to the whole corrupt system.  If Gen Prayuth returns to the premiership, where does that leave the ruling party and its mentors in the ruling class?

On the broader picture, an article by Michael Montesano at Fulcrum looks beyond personalities to the system that the 2014 military coup constructed:

The function of Thailand’s post-2014 authoritarian system is to channel and coordinate the overlapping interests of a range of conservative stakeholders: royalists and the monarchy, the military, much of the technocratic elite, a handful of immensely powerful domestic conglomerates, and the urban upper-middle class. This channelling or coordinating function is the system’s crucial defining feature. No individual or cabal of individuals gives orders or controls the system. Rather, collectively or individually, stakeholders or their representatives act to defend a shared illiberal and depoliticising vision with little need for explicit or direct instructions.

He adds:

Understanding these realities makes clear that Prayut’s premiership of eight long years — so far — has not been possible because of his leadership skills, the loyalty that he might command, or his indispensability. Rather, the remarkable longevity of his stultifying service as prime minister is due to the fact that someone needs to hold that office and he has proved adequate. His premiership satisfied the collective interests that Thailand’s post-2014 authoritarian system serves. For all of his manifest inadequacies, keeping him in place has, at least up to now, been deemed less costly than replacing him.

Has that cost risen so much that Gen Prayuth can be “sacrificed” for the royalist authoritarian system he constructed?





Prayuth’s proposed plea

29 08 2022

The Nation reports that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s plea to the Constitutional Court on his tenure as prime minister is to argue that he became premier in 2019.

According to the source, the defence team will send a written statement to the court arguing that a prime minister must be appointed by the House of Representatives as stipulated in sections 158 and 159. Section 158 requires that the PM be appointed by MPs while Section 159 requires MPs to select the prime minister from a list of candidates submitted by political parties when they register for a general election.

In other words, the plan is to provide Gen Prayuth with an opportunity to remain premier until 2026.

Despite the illogical claims involved, and the fact that Prayuth was prime minister from the 2014 military coup, there’s a real chance the Constitutional Court will buy this argument.





Another royalist

27 08 2022

Reuters reports on Acting Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, the Watchman.

Its main point is that Gen Prawit “represents little substantial change from suspended Prime Minister [Gen] Prayuth Chan-ocha…”.

Certainly, the military’s dominance of Thailand’s politics continues. In addition, the chair shuffling means a period of relative stability for the regime’s Palang Pracharat Party, “until the Constitutional Court decides whether Prayuth’s time as a military leader from 2014 to 2019 counts towards a constitutionally stipulated eight-year term limit…”.

Gen Prawit, who seems much older than his 77 years, “is a longtime ally of Prayuth and was part of the military junta that ruled Thailand for nearly five years following Prayuth’s 2014 coup ouster of an elected government…”.

Both generals are known for their “fierce loyalty to the monarchy .” It has been Gen Prawit who “has long been seen as a power-broker both within the Palang Pracharat party, which he co-founded, and among the wealthy elite that align themselves with Thailand’s royal family and the military.”

Titipol Phakdeewanich of Ubon Ratchathani University considers it likely that “Prawit will help stabilise the political situation and consolidate the ruling coalition and related business interests ahead of the election…”. Thitinan Pongsudhirak, at Chulalongkorn University, is not so sure: “Prawit will be embattled from day one…” and that he’s unpopular (not that that has been a political longevity problem for the Prayuth, who has long been unpopular).

The problem for the allied royalists is how to again manufacture another election victory.





Updated: Wissanu’s political onanism

23 08 2022

As we post this just before midnight GMT, its morning in Bangkok, on the 24th, the day that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha should constitutionally leave the prime ministership he took by force of arms in May 2014. We have no idea what he will do or what the royalist-military Constitutional Court may rule.

But we do know that the regime has been scheming. The legal plaything of the junta and its progeny, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, has said that if Gen Prayuth does step down as prime minister or is pushed out by the Court, he “may legally perform as defence minister, the post which he has concurrently assumed…”. The premiership would then fall to the corrupt, aged, and ill co-coup plotter Gen Prawit Wongsuwan.

Wissanu said:

Prayut may practically hold onto the defence portfolio and attend cabinet meetings at Government House while leaving the top post of government to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan to perform as a caretaker one if the Constitutional Court orders him to immediately stop performing as prime minister until a court ruling on his eight-year rule maximumly provided by law has been delivered, .

Given the fact that no law prohibits a prime minister from concurrently performing in other capacities, Prayut could continue to run the defence portfolio though he may be immediately stopped by court from running the country as premier….

However, Wissanu is not convinced the Constitutional Court will abandon its bosses and allies in the regime.

But this scheming does suggest some cracks in the regime and the ruling class about Prayuth’s position and that some judges and others may be thinking of the political consequences of yet another regime-friendly ruling. Regime schemers and ultra-royalists worry that Prayuth as a politically dead man walking may gift Puea Thai and the opposition an electoral landslide.

Update: Bangkok Post reports:

The Constitutional Court has voted 5-4 in ordering Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha suspended from duty.

The court’s order came after it ruled to accept the petition asking for a ruling on his eight-year tenure as prime minister.

We doubt the closeness of the vote is any cause for celebration given that the decision is only about suspending the general while the court takes its time considering a very straightforward case. Making the case anything other than straightforward is likely a measure of the Court seeking a way out constitutional requirements for Prayuth. Expect Wissanu’s above proposition to hold for the time that the Court is squirming.





Gotta love these young people

22 08 2022

On 21 August, at the Democracy Monument, around 38 activist groups from four regions called on illegitimate Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha to step down on Wednesday, “when he completes eight years in power…”, under the conditions clearly set out in his own constitution. Only royalists and other anti-democrats can’t count to eight.

The event at the Democracy Monument was moved there from Sanam Luang where they being blocked by police. Sanam Luang now saeems to belong to the king, so the police “protect” his patch of dirt.

Clipped from Thai Newsroom

The groups were “led by Panusaya Sitthichirawattanakul, or Rung, from Thammasat Coalition and Assembly together with other prominent activists including Ms. Thanaphon Wichan, from the Labour Network for People’s Rights, Mr. Thatchapong Kaedam, or Boy, and Mr. Thanaphat Kapheng from Thalu Fah group, Ms. Natanit Duangmusit, or Bai Por, and Ms. Netiporn Sanehsangkhom, or Nong Bong, from the New Workers Union and representatives from the Dome Revolution Party at Thammasat University.”

They displayed banners with messages calling on Prayuth to go: “Let it end at eight years” and “Prayuth get out.” Rung read out their joint statement for the coalition of political groups:

She cited the 2017 constitution which in Section 158 paragraph 4 says that the Prime Minister may not hold the office for more than eight years regardless of whether consecutively or not but this does not include continuing to perform duties after stepping down.

Section 170, paragraph two of the 2017 Constitution also states that the premiership ends as stated in Section 158 paragraph 4.

The groups “also sent a message to the president of the Constitutional Court to issue a ruling on the prime minister’s tenure according to the 2017 constitution by Wednesday August 24. If not then the court should issue an order for Prayut to stop performing duties until the ruling is issued.”





Prayuth’s future

10 08 2022

Coup leader Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has been on the campaign trail. For the military man, this has involved his royal-like “protection” and “progress.”

Recently, the general was in Kanchanaburi. Look at the photos at The Nation, and it looks like a royal visit-meets-politician. Other social media outlets report that schools were closed and streets cleared to allow the royal general’s progress.

But the people seem far from impressed, with a poll showing that about two-thirds of those surveyed wanting Gen Prayuth to leave office this month, when his own engineered constitution requires that he step down after eight years as premier. It is now up to the royalist backers of the military-backed regime that is the Constitutional Court to concoct a ruling that keeps the general in power.

His supporters claim that Gen Prayuth’s 8 years as prime minister must be counted from 9 June 2019, when his premiership received royal endorsement under the 2017 constitution. This means he’d be able to serve until 2027. This is the ruling that they insist the Constitutional Court should issue.

Yet Prayuth is not only unloved by those Thais surveyed. Even within the ruling Palang Pracharath Party his support is lukewarm. For example, the best his elder “brother” Gen Prawit Wongsuwan can only say he wants Prayuth for another two years. Of course, Gen Prawit sees a chance for himself, no matter that he is decrepit.

With more on the current situation, Pithaya Pookaman at Asia Sentinel has an article on Prayuth’s desire to stay:

Prayuth has sent out feelers to the public and also possibly to the palace about his undisguised desire to maintain his stranglehold on power, imploring for an extension to fix all the nation’s problems, as if he was unable to do so during his previous eight years in office. He has often said that the nation cannot do without him, the kind of narcissism that is repugnant to most Thais….

During his eight years in power, the military has moved repeatedly to use the courts to snuff out popular youth movements, and to hold in check the appeal of Thaksin’s Pheu Thai opposition. Despite falling popularity, Prayuth is not expected to relinquish his power any time soon or in the foreseeable future. As he wrote his own constitution, he can also make amendments to it to allow him to extend his tenure or refer the matter to the subservient constitutional court to rule in his favor. If another general election is to be held, he can always rely on the support of his hand-picked 250 senators and manipulate the MPs by giving cash handouts and other incentives to vote him back to power.

He comments further on the king: “the king often plays an important, if not a decisive, role in determining the choice of the prime minister and other high-ranking officials.” Further on Prayuth and the palace:

Prayuth has served the palace well by providing lavish funds and amenities for the king and members of the royal family while safeguarding the monarchy by ruthless application of the country’s anti lese majeste law, considered the world’s most severe. But Prayuth’s eight years as head of government may be viewed by the palace as too long. Notwithstanding the favors he has showered on the king, his statecraft and performance have been an utter failure. Members of his family and his cronies have enriched themselves and occupied important positions in the country.

Based on its history of politicized decisions, we’d expect the Constitutional Court to (again) support Gen Prayuth. But what does the king want?





8 years is too long

1 07 2022

Yesterday, we mentioned that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha seemed to be expressing doubts about continuing in office.

Now there’s another expression of doubt.

Deputy Prime Minister and usually the general’s reliable legal backers, Wissanu Krea-ngam saying he has doubts regarding his boss’s tenure and premier. He reportedly included himself among the “doubters” on the general’s 8-year term when he “encouraged those who may wonder whether … Prayut … will have spent a maximum of eight years in power by the upcoming August to call on the Constitutional Court for judgement.”

The court spins in the wind following the ruling elite’s wishes and usually supports the status quo. all members of which were handpicked by a coup junta under leadership of Prayut as army chief who then named himself prime minister. The report observes: “all members [of the court] … were handpicked by a coup junta under leadership of Prayut as army chief who then named himself prime minister.”

But, is the elite turning against the general?

Wissanu reportedly said that “Prayut’s eight-year tenure as maximally provided by law will almost certainly raise a bone of contention, thus prompting those who may have doubts about it to file a petition to the Constitutional Court to judge.”

He also said that “government agencies including the Council of State and the Secretariat to the Prime Minister as well as public attorneys may be told by the premier to find out an answer to this question so that he could get himself well-prepared.”

Prayut’s 8 years is up in August.

The constitution’s section 158 states: “The Prime Minister shall not hold office for more than eight years in total, whether or not holding consecutive term.” Seems clear enough.





Targeting Move Forward

29 06 2022

The military-royalist regime rigged the 2019 election. As its political stocks plummet, the regime and its allies are continuing to work on yet another unlikely election victory.

While the Move Forward Party has been cleared of serious charges that might have led to its dissolution, there is still much effort going into a ban before the next election.

As Thai PBS reports, the Election Commission somewhat unexpectedly rejected former adviser to the Ombudsman Natthaporn Toprayoon’s fabricated complaint “accusing Move Forward of taking actions between August 2020 and January 2021 that were aimed at overthrowing Thailand’s rule of democracy with the King as head of state.”

According to the report, Natthaporn’s “petition outlined 10 actions by the party’s MPs and executives, including party leader Pita Limjaroenrat and secretary-general Chaithawat Tulathon, that he claimed had breached Articles 45 and 92 of the Political Parties Act, which prohibits political parties from encouraging or supporting anyone to create unrest, undermine social order or oppose the laws of the country.”

Natthaporn essentially accused Move Forward of anti-monarchism. He blasted “party MPs [for] using their positions to bail out arrested protesters accused of lese majeste or sedition” and he complained that “the party’s support for NGO iLaw’s draft bill to amend chapters in the Constitution regarding the monarchy and integrity of the Kingdom, as well as the party’s resolution seeking amendments to Article 112 of the Penal Code or the lese majeste law” were moves against feudalism the monarchy.

He was following up on his earlier successful petition that the Constitutional Court accepted, making monarchy reform treasonous.

The quite mad Natthaporn’s response to the complaint being ditched was to threaten “to sue the election commissioners and seek a ruling on whether their decision to dismiss the complaint was lawful.”

But there’s more to come:

Along with pressure from Natthaporn, Move Forward is also facing other complaints seeking its disbandment, including one filed by Ruangkrai Leekitwattana, a politician from the ruling Palang Pracharath Party. In August last year, he filed a petition with the EC to disband Move Forward on grounds that its proposal to reduce the budget allocated to the crown for 2022 was a hostile act against the Thai democratic regime with King as head of state.





Silencing the media I

16 01 2022

The regime has congratulated itself on its ability to repress anti-government/anti-monarchy protests. The king must feel confident returning to Europe later in the month.

But at what cost? In its annual report, Human Rights Watch says:

Thai authorities have prosecuted dissenters, violently dispersed peaceful protests, and censored news and social media…. Respect for human rights in Thailand has gone from bad to worse while the government’s promises of reform remain unfulfilled.

Read HRW’s World Report 2022. We assume that HRW is in the regime’s sights for repression next year.

The regime’s moves to shut down political expression has been going on for several years, and much of this has been posted by PPT. Of late, we have had several asides regarding the apparent constricting of the media. Some of this has to do with business decisions – look at the Bangkok Post where the “news” is obliterated by advertorials and “stories” that are promotional. Some of it has to do with the political proclivities of owners.

But much of it has to do with repression, censorship and self-censorship. That screw has been being wound down for some time, but the Constitutional Court’s support of the regime in its ludicrous judgement on political reform now seems like a turning point, sending the country further down the repressive royalist rathole. That decision silenced much of the media reporting on monarchy reform.

With that stimulus, as Khaosod recently reported, the regime has conjured “a draft law that would allow suspension of media license on grounds of publishing contents deemed against ‘good morals of the public’.”

The bill,  formally called “Draft Media Ethics and Professional Standards Promotion Act,” was proposed by the government’s Public Relations Department and approved by the Cabinet on Tuesday. The department is chaired by Lt. Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, who served as the spokesman for the junta….

We all know how the regime defines “good” and “good people.” It has nothing to do with goodness, but with supporting the regime and monarchy. And, we also know that morals have no meaning for a regime full of shysters and murders, not to mention a convicted heroin trafficker. Of course, they are all “good.”

The new law establishes a new licensing and watchdog agency called “Press Profession Council.”

The law will limit press freedom: “It stipulates that while freedom of the press is guaranteed, ‘the exercise must not go against the duties of Thai people or good morals of the people’.”

The Bangkok Post reports that the “draft bill on the promotion of media ethics and professional standards has cleared the cabinet…”.

Supporters of media repression

Regrettably, the Post is already under control, choosing to suggest, in Orwellian style, that an obvious effort to silence the media is, about “the rights, freedoms and independence of media organisations and practitioners.” This is buffalo manure, and the Post’s owners know it, but they have chosen to support repression.

Chavarong Limpattamapanee, chairman of the National Press Council of Thailand, is equally supine, describing “the bill as the best media-related piece of legislation to date.”

With the backbones of jellyfish, such support bodes ill for Thailand’s political future.





Tenure trouble

4 01 2022

Bubbling away in the background of recent politics has been the very large question mark hanging over the regime’s plan to keep Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha in the premier’s seat for another 4 years following the next “election,” which the military-backed rulers think is already in the bag.

Yesterday the Bangkok Post had an editorial on the matter, observing that “a legal team [sic] from the House of Representatives claimed that he is entitled to serve as premier until 2027.”

That team reckons “Gen Prayut’s term technically began when his premiership received royal endorsement under the 2017 constitution on June 9, 2019.” They say this means his constitutionally-limited term could run another 4 years. How convenient!

This bunch “rejected the views of those who argue that Gen Prayut’s tenure began in 2014, when he took over in a coup as the head of the National Council for Peace and Order. Under this interpretation, his term would end in August this year.”

The 2017 constitution bars an individual from remaining in office for more than eight years: “The Prime Minister shall not hold office for more than eight years in total, whether or not holding consecutive term., regardless of whether the four-year terms are served back-to-back or not.”

The 2007 constitution simply stated: “The Prime Minister shall not serve in office more than eight years.”

There’s considerable guff in the editorial for it is perfectly clear that both constitutions limit the premiership to 8 years.

It seems likely that the question will go to the partisan Constitutional Court. Based on its previous capacity for fudging the constitution and supporting the regime, we can expect the coup master to be around until 2027.








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