Fearful, covering up or just thick?

30 08 2018

The military junta has emphasized Thailand’s “uniqueness.” Thailand is probably the world’s only military dictatorship, it “protects” the monarchy more intensely than almost any other constitutional monarchy, its lese majeste law carries higher sentences than anywhere else and more.

It is probably not unique that it has officials and appointed members of assemblies who say some of the dumbest things that could possibly be imagined. They do this with straight faces, without a smile and appear to believe the daft things that flow from their mouths, seemingly disconnected from anything resembling a brain.

Likewise, we don’t think it is unique when the main “anti-corruption” bodies prefer to obfuscate, lie and cover-up for their bosses/friends/dictators.

But combining those “anti-corruption” bodies with officials saying the dumbest things may be unique.

As a case in point is Surasak Keereevichiena, a member of the National Anti-Corruption Commission reportedly stated that “[i]t is difficult for the nation’s anti-graft agency to conclude whether there was any wrongdoing in the Bt1.13-billion purchase of fake ‘remote substance detectors’…”.

That’s bad enough, but what was the reason for this outrageous claim? Get this: Surasak “said it was likely that officials had decided to purchase the devices because they believed the devices would work.” Making this dopey statement dopier still, he babbled that “[s]ometimes, it is not about the value of devices. It’s more about belief, just like when you buy Buddha amulets…”.

Now what is Surasak prattling about? None other than the plastic handled scam wand, the GT200.

Wikipedia’s page says this:

The GT200 is a fraudulent “remote substance detector” that was claimed by its manufacturer, UK-based Global Technical Ltd, to be able to detect, from a distance, various substances including explosives and drugs. The GT200 was sold to a number of countries for a cost of up to £22,000 per unit, but the device has been described as little more than “divining rods” which lack any scientific explanation for why they should work. After the similar ADE 651 was exposed as a fraud, the UK Government banned the export of such devices to Iraq and Afghanistan in January 2010 and warned foreign governments that the GT200 and ADE 651 are “wholly ineffective” at detecting bombs and explosives. The owner of Global Technical, Gary Bolton, was convicted on 26 July 2013 on two charges of fraud relating to the sale and manufacture of the GT200 and sentenced to seven years in prison.

For Thailand, where the prices paid reached the maximum, this story goes back beyond the early days of this blog. Our first post was in early January 2010, when General Pathomphong Kasornsuk reportedly wrote a letter to then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to urge that a committee investigate the army’s procurement scheme for GT200 “bomb detectors.”

But the news reports of early 2010 point to an earlier purchase of the GT200, by the air force in 2004 or 2005.  Wassana Nanuam, writing in the Bangkok Post (18 February 2010) says future 2006 coup leader ACM Chalit Phukpasuk was commander at the time. 2006 junta boss Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, then army commander and chairman of the Council for National Security (CNS), was impressed with the device and it was used at that time by a unit which provided security for then prime minister Surayud Chulanont.

The Wikipedia page says this about Thailand:

The GT200 was used extensively in Thailand. Reportedly, some 818 GT200 units were procured by Thai public bodies since 2004. These include 535 bought by the Royal Thai Army for use combating the South Thailand insurgency and another 222 for use in other areas, 50 purchased by the Royal Thai Police for use in Police Region 4 (Khon Kaen), six bought by the Central Institute of Forensic Science, six by the Customs Department, four by the Royal Thai Air Force, and one by Chai Nat police. Other agencies such as the Border Patrol Police Bureau and the Office of the Narcotics Control Board use a similar device to detect drugs, the Alpha 6, procured from another company, Comstrac. According to the Bangkok Post, the Royal Thai Air Force first procured the GT200 to detect explosives and drugs at airports, followed by the army in 2006.[30] According to Lt Gen Daopong Rattansuwan, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Royal Thai Army, each GT200 bought by the army cost 900,000 baht (£17,000/US$27,000), rising to 1.2 million baht (£22,000/US$36,000) if 21 “sensor cards” were included with it. In total, Thailand’s government and security forces have spent between 800–900 million baht (US$21 million) on the devices. Figures updated in 2016 claim that the Thai government spent 1.4 billion baht on the purchase of 1,358 devices between 2006 and 2010. Even after the efficacy of the device was debunked by Thai and foreign scientists, Prime Minister Chan-o-cha, then army chief, declared, “I affirm that the device is still effective.” The Bangkok Post commented that, “The GT200 case was a unique scandal because the devices…seemed to fool only the people closely connected to their sale and purchase.”

Tests and experiments conducted in Thailand and in the UK showed that the GT200 and similar wands were an undisguised scam.

Wassana Nanuam, writing in the Bangkok Post (18 February 2010) pointed out that it was Army commander Anupong Paojinda “who approved the purchase of more than 200 of these so-called bomb detectors at the price of 1.4 million baht each in 2009.” As we know, he is now Minister of Interior and part of the junta.

She says that the GT200 was first purchased by the air force in 2005, when future coup leader Air Chief Marshal Chalit Phukpasuk was commander. “After that, [2006 coup leader] Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, then army commander and chairman of the Council for National Security (CNS), became impressed with the device. He asked that two of them be sent for trial. They were used at that time by a unit which provided security coverage for then prime minister Surayud Chulanont.”

Despite the legal cases elsewhere and the tests, Anupong, Prayuth and others refused to acknowledge that the GT200 didn’t work. They mumbled about soldiers finding them useful. Questions were raised about the commissions paid.

In mid-2012, reporters asked “army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha if the GT200 had actually been taken out of service.” The response was an emphatic no. Then the now premier and more than fours years as The Dictator, stated: “I affirm that the device is still effective. Other armed forces are also using it…”.

Indeed they were, including in the south, where people were arrested based on “tests” using the GT200. Prayuth “insisted the GT200 has proven to be effective in the army’s operations in the past. But he would respect any scientific test if it proves otherwise.” Of course, those tests had already been conducted. The (future) Dictator believed the GT200 worked. Full stop.

He was supported by then Defence Minister ACM Sukumpol Suwanatat under the Puea Thai government. Dense and commenting on a report that the Department of Special Investigation was investigating whether the devices were purchased at exorbitant prices, he “said: “The GT200 detectors can do the job and they have already been tested…”. He also babbled that the DSI “should also ask those who are using the detectors because if they don’t work I want to know who would buy them.”

By April 2013, the Bangkok Post reported that investigations in Thailand have shown that “13 agencies to buy 1,358 GT200 and Alpha 6 detectors worth 1.137 billion baht.” It added that fraud charges are being considered by the NACC.

More than 5 years later, Surasak has come up with his ludicrous claims that mimic his bosses in the junta. He added that the junta-shy NACC would “come up with a clear-cut conclusion on the matter ‘at an appropriate time’.”

He said: “if soldiers in the field … have faith in the bomb-detectors and believe they work, then they would consider the equipment worth the money spent. But he admitted that there are people who question their worthiness considering the prices paid.”

We are tempted to conclude that Surasak is dumber than a sack of hammers, but that would do damage to hammers. We should consider that he may be fearful of The Dictator and his team of military thugs. He might love them and feels the need to cover up to protect them. Or some combination of these.

Updated: Junta member gives evidence to the junta’s court

6 07 2012

The Bangkok Post reports that:

Senator Somjate Boonthanom, one of the 16 witnesses for the petitioners against the controversial charter amendment bill, said he was confident he had provided crystal clear testimony backing up his cause during the court’s hearing of petitions against the government-sponsored bid on Thursday.

The Post tells us that:

Gen Somjate was speaking after being called to testify as a witness before the Constitution Court as it holds a two-day inquiry … into the legality of the charter change bid.

And then it explains that:

Gen Somjate, who was also one of the five people who petitioned the court, said he was not worried about the court hearing because he could respond to all of the questions asked by the bill’s proposers.

In all of this, the reporters at the Bangkok Post forget to tell their readers who this military general actually is, at least in this important story.

For one thing, Somjet is the former chief of the secretariat of the Council for National Security that toppled the government of Thaksin Shinawatra in the 19 September 2006 coup.

That is, Somjet was a member of the junta that first illegally conspired and then acted to overthrow and elected government and the 1997 constitution. This act was illegal. In other words, Somjet is alleging that others, using parliament and quite legal measures to find a broad method for altering the junta’s constitution, are doing something illegal. In fact, they aren’t, and Somjet is one of those who should be in jail for an illegal act that overthrew the government and constitution in 2006. Of course he and his junta buddies passed a law that made their action “legal.”

The Post might also add that an appointed senator and a leader of the Siam Samakkhi group. That means he is a senator appointed to the senate by his buddies in the military junta, under rules they invented and that he is the leader of a bunch of ultra-royalist fascists.

As a footnote, it is worth recalling that, back in 2009, the Bangkok Post (6 April 2009) reported that “military officers and businessmen who backed the 2006 coup that unseated Thaksin Shinawatra have offered a bounty of one million baht (about $28,348) for his arrest and return to Thailand.”

Somjet reckons that it is “Thaksin is the root cause of the [country’s political] problem[s].” Somjet has repeatedly used lese majeste accusations against Thaksin and red shirts.

That Somjet is a witness on the alleged illegality of a constitutional act is highly dubious. We can hardly think of a more disingenuous political act in recent times. We imagine that Somjet looks in the mirror each morning and tells himself he is not a lying, scheming fool. We guess he believes that voice in his head. But then he is giving junta evidence to a court that owes its existence to the military junta. It is a magic circle club.

Update: The Nation has another report that cites the disreputable General Somjet. It says the General “the constitutional amendment bill to a coup d’etat that abolishes the charter.” He is reported to have said: “The only difference is that in a coup, guns are used…”. What more needs to be said? The dopey General can’t tell the difference between a process sanctioned by elections and parliamentary processes and a military coup that destroys that process.

The same report piles on the illogical nonsense that this biased court has agreed to hear, quoting an “academic” and “lawyer” stating that, well, yes, the constitution does allow amendment, but… hold on, let me make something up…

Although the amendment is in line with Article 291, it is meant to destroy the current Constitution and this goes against the principles of democracy. The representatives [MPs and parliamentarians] are attempting to overrule a decision made by the owners of sovereignty [the general public]….

And, oh yes, the “general public” is not the same as “voters.” It seems that when you become a royalist you are required to suspend logic and law. Pity his students. Pity Thailand.


Further updated: Wichien runs to Prem

30 08 2011

The Bangkok Post has an interesting account of the troubles facing national police chief Police General Wichien Potposri. According to the Post, Wichien was appointed less than a year ago. That’s a little misleading, for then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva first appointed Wichien as acting police chief in August 2009, for a short time, but he remained the most powerful cop as the incumbent just served out his time for a further year.

Wichien’s appointment by Abhisit was full of controversy. PPT’s first post was here, and there were others. A useful summary is provided at Bangkok Pundit where the Class 12 links between Wichien and now Army boss Prayuth Chan-ocha are noted.

As Bangkok Pundit notes, Wichien was previously head of the Office of the Royal Court Security Police. Also, under the junta-backed government of privy councilor-cum-prime minister Surayud Chulanond, Wichien was responsible for security and in particular for working with provincial governors to “curb possible violence throughout Thailand.” In other words, he worked with the junta – the Council for National Security – to crack down on potential demonstrations opposing the military-backed government, including limiting the freedom of movement of rural people. During the 2007 general election, he was “in charge of advance balloting.” Under Abhisit he was given responsibility for security and “special operations.”

Back then, Wichien made clear he was a royalist. As reported in The Nation, he said “his top priorities included safeguarding the monarchy, ensuring the job performance of the police service, and developing the police forces to become worthy of the public trust.”

With a new government in place and, as the Post has it (who didn’t know?), “Chuvit Kamolvisit’s exposure of illegal casinos in Bangkok and other complaints that the police have been unable to contain rampant drug abuse and gambling in the city,” he’s in trouble. Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung has called for a reshuffle of the police.

Wichien’s first public move to protect himself is to run to see chief of the royalist faction, Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda. Wichien claimed that Prem “offered him moral support during the meeting.” He added:

“[Gen Prem] said he is glad I’m the police chief and he acknowledged that I have tried my best and have sacrificed a lot, and he asked me to continue to do good…”.

Adding to the impression that Wichien’s replacement is going to stir up a royalist hornet’s nest, former Democrat Party Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said he “opposed any replacement of Pol Gen Wichean. He said Pol Gen Wichean was capable and good, and illegal casinos and drug abuse alone were not enough to justify his replacement.” Interestingly, Suthep made the good point that if drugs and gambling were reasons for removal, “no successor could stay in office either.” He’s right. Thailand’s police are hopelessly corrupt to the top. However, the battle over Wichien is really about loyalty to the elected government. It is absolutely clear that the royalist Wichien owes his position to Abhisit.

Going to visit Prem is unlikely to have been without Prem’s instigation. This marks a significant point in the relationship between Yingluck Shinawatra’s government and the anti-Thaksin palace.

In an interview conducted after he met Prem and carried in the Bangkok Post, Wichien stakes out his royalist political ground:

I have said it before: I have never considered resigning from the position….

As the national police chief, when I make decisions I think about the country, the people and especially the institution of the monarchy….

He [Prem] gave me blessings. It is a delight to receive blessings from a respected person. Gen Prem reiterated the importance of loyalty and how the police are obligated to provide protection to Their Majesties. He has also talked about the police’s duty to safeguard the general public….

… He talked about His Majesty’s concern for the people. It is the police’s job to protect the people and look after them. It is the service we are obliged to perform for His Majesty.

He told me it is good to have me as chief of police. He told me he has heard a lot of good things about me. He encouraged me to keep up the good work and be a role model for the police. He told me that I should be proud of myself and happy that I have devoted myself to the job and sacrificed myself for others.

Asked if Prem wants him to stay as police chief, Wichien was clear: “Yes.”

Prem is a master of the political game and his meeting with Wichien makes it clear the palace is heavily involved in politicking on this case. It would also seem that the palace has a lot to protect. The Abhisit government placed plenty of loyal royalists in senior positions. The new government knows that the loyalty of these people is always going to be to their real political masters and not the elected government. Moving them is going to pose real challenges and will be a point of conflict between the government and palace.

Update 1: Pressure on Wichien to leave has increased and The Nation reports that he seems to have decided to go. So does the Bangkok Post, noting that he has agreed to leave “under pressure.” Yellow-shirted media are unhappy.

Update 2: It seems the yellow multi-colors shirts led by Tul Sitthisomwong are unhappy about Wichien’s ouster. They are to rally at police headquarters. Tul states: “The rally is not meant for protect Wichean Potephosee but to safeguard the police service from the political meddling…”. That’s odd, PPT doesn’t recall them rallying when Abhisit was trying to hoist his preferred candidate for police chief into place in a vociferously political manner…. While political meddling in the police is to be frowned upon, the control the Democrat Party sought is now to be rolled back. What the police really need is a complete clean-up. It is a hopelessly corrupt agency. It seems unlikely that such a needed process can take place in a highly politicized environment. The promotion of Priewphan Damapong to the chief’s job will see continued political action around the police (readers might like to search our blog for Priewphan to see his links to Thaksin Shinawatra.

News about Da Torpedo

13 07 2011

Prachatai reports that on 8 July 2011, Darunee Charnchoensilpakul, who was sentenced to 18 years in jail on lese majeste charges on 28 August 2009, has seen her conviction and 50,000 baht fine “for insulting privy councillors and generals behind the 2006 coup” upheld.

It is claimed that in her speech during a protest rally on 31 May 2007 Darunee “attacked Chair of the Privy Council Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, then-Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont and leaders of the 2006 coup Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin and Gen Saprang Kalayanamit, blaming them for the coup and the damage it had caused the country.”

The fact that Darunee was correct in her analysis and that these coup planners and implementers broke several laws and overthrew the constitution in implementing an illegal coup seems not to matter.

Prachatai reports that the military junta, known as the Council for National Security, “assigned the Judge Advocate General’s Department to lodge a defamation complaint against her in June 2007.”

Darunee is being punished again and again for her refusal to plead guilty on lese majeste charges. It is, in fact, these scheming men – Prem, Sonthi, Surayud, Saprang – who should be in jail for their illegal acts that have led to such turmoil.


Why we are not surprised II

20 05 2011

The Nation has a brief report that states: “His Majesty the King has appointed former Air Force chief ACM Chalit Pukphasuk [ชลิต พุกผาสุข] a new privy councillor. His Majesty issued a command to appoint Chalit a member of the Privy Council on Wedne[s]day. Chalit used to be caretaker chairman of the Council for National Security.”

Translation? The king has appointed one of the former leaders of the 2006 military coup to be one of his trusted personal advisers. Readers probably don’t need to be reminded that that coup was illegal. That it threw out the 1997 Constitution. That it established bodies that applied new “laws” retrospectively. The appointment makes a mockery of idea about rule of law and challenges notions of probity.

Why are we not surprised? The coup was planned and implemented with palace knowledge, including the active participation of Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda. This is hardly a novel claim as several newspapers noted this at the time of the coup, several others involved have made the point.

This “elevation” of a coup maker suggests reward for loyal service. And, having a coup practitioner in the Privy Council will further strengthen the symbiotic relationship between the palace and military. It will also be functional as the elite squares up for another struggle with a subaltern class that seems intent on rising up each time it is beaten down.

Chalit’s Wikipedia page has this information: “Chalit was appointed a deputy chairman in the Council for National Security under coup leader, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin. Chalit was paid nearly 114,000 baht per month as an additional salary to his air force pay while he was deputy chairman.Chalit was named as acting chairman of the Council for National Security on 1 October 2007, succeeding Sonthi, who retired from military duty to enter politics.”

Corruption and the military

18 02 2010

Pravit Rojanaphruk at The Nation (18 February 2010) sees a good side to the GT200 scandal, covered extensively by various newspapers and Bangkok Pundit. Pravit thinks the “GT200 hoax is forcing scientists to encourage Thais to become more rational.” He thinks that “superstition trumps logic in this country.”

He asks: “How else can one explain Army chief General Anupong Paochinda and forensics department chief Pornthip Rojanasunand insisting on using the so-called bomb detectors even though a Science Ministry test had proved that they are basically useless?”

Perhaps another way of looking at the issue is to think that corruption trumps all. In the Thai military, getting a snout firmly lodged in the trough is the most important task for all good generals.

The GT200 and related device purchases have cost Thailand of probably close to 1 billion baht, and that’s not counting the cost of deaths, human rights abuses and harassment that have derived from the use of a divining rod.

Wassana Nanuam (The Bangkok Post, 18 February 2010) points out that army commander Anupong Paojindawas the one who approved the purchase of more than 200 of these so-called bomb detectors at the price of 1.4 million baht each in 2009.

She says that the GT200 was first purchased by the air force in 2005, when future coup leader Air Chief Marshal Chalit Phukpasuk was commander. After that, [2006 coup leader] Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, then army commander and chairman of the Council for National Security (CNS), became impressed with the device. He asked that two of them be sent for trial. They were used at that time by a unit which provided security coverage for then prime minister Surayud Chulanont.

The devices are mainly used in the south where Wassana says the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) now employs about 60,000 personnel in the South. The army has put in about 40,000 soldiers from 55 battalions around the country. The budget for the southern operation is more than 100 billion baht a year. A lot of the money has gone into the procurement of weapons.

She then turns to the army’s recent 350 million baht purchase of an advanced zeppelin which the army has named Sky Dragon.” The airship was purchased from the US company, Arial International Cooperation. Wassana explains that the airship is the brainchild of Gen Anupong and his second-in-command, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha. They envision the airship as a sky-based surveillance and command station.” Leaving aside obvious questions about this assumption, the problem is that the airship can’t do what it is meant to, and there has even been trouble getting it into the air. The airship has seepage holes and it initially costs 2.8 million baht to inflate and then 280,000 baht a month to top-up. There has been considerable criticism.

The army decided to put on a show two weeks ago that was meant to deflect criticism. Thai PBS dutifully carried a long and generally positive report on this show. However, even the show flight was a failure and, according to Wassana, it remains in a hanger.

General Anupong had reportedly agreed to purchase three airships for the army. Wassana asks: is it a bigger sham than the GT200?” Maybe she meant “scam”?

At Bangkok Pundit on 6 February 2010, a comment was added by Reg, encouraging Bangkok Pundit to look into the zeppelin case. “Reg” stated: Why this machine and not drones as used almost everywhere else for this kind of recon work? What’s the track record of this model? What’s the price paid elsewhere? Have you seen dirigibles used in other insurgency situations? Seems like there’s a smell there as soon as it is wheeled out. A quick Google seems to suggest that this is a Thailand first (a manned airship for counter-insurgency).

Correspondent “Reg” then turns to the company involved and its website. He says: “Note its last stock trade was 1 cent. Have a look through the site and see if you have doubts about the company founded in mid-2008 and with 12 employees. How on earth did the RTA [Royal Thai Army] even know about them? It seems that one of the principals had previous experience with the RTA. According to their press releases, the RTA is their only client. It also seems that they are agents for the real manufacturers .

Reg concludes: “I remain suspicious, but maybe that’s just because everything the military buys involves commissions etc. But, hey, you might want to congratulate the RTA for a 10 million dollar gamble that might show the world of counter-insurgency the way forward via a penny company.

PPT agrees with Reg; there is a smell and the odor is money and corruption.

On a broader note, these are just examples of what happens when a military is politicized, when it runs a coup, and then has its budget increased by leaps and bounds. This is why there are so many very wealthy generals. This is what happens when a government owes its position to the military. The generals are in charge and they are hauling in the loot as fast as they can.

There are plenty of other examples. Just today the navy is reported to want two used submarines. Maybe they can dock them next to the used and idle aircraft carrier they bought several years ago, with planes that no longer fly.

Forget superstition, the beliefs driving these events are power, arrogance and filthy lucre.

A country for old men?

22 09 2009

Also available as ประเทศนี้สำหรับคนรุ่นเก่าหรือไง

With so much happening in Thailand’s politics in the past few weeks, it has been difficult to keep up. Seeing the bigger picture is a challenge.

Following our retrospective on Thailand three years after the 2006 palace-military coup, where we attempted to be positive, we now offer some observations regarding the current situation.

We begin with the police chief debacle. Why has this appointment been so drawn out and so conflicted? Of course, there are the related views that Thaksin Shinawatra controls the police or that the police support Thaksin. Another view is that there was a tug-of-war going on between coalition partners. There is truth in both perspectives. However, PPT suggests that there is more to this dispute.

Reports suggest that Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda (b. 1920) is at work. We won’t go into great detail for Bangkok Pundit has collected some of the comment on the police chief saga and most especially on the latest debates on who should get the job, including from ASTV/Manager and the Bangkok Post (17 September 2009: “New twist in police drama”) where there were guarded comments “new influential players.”

Police General Jumpol Manmai, the “alternative” candidate is known to be close to Prem and The Nation (17 September 2009: “Top Cop : Deadlock remains”) had stated that Jumpol “is known to have very strong backing outside the Police Commission, and lobbying was said to have reached fever pitch in the past few days.”

So is it Prem who is lobbying? Probably. Why? We suggest it is because, for some years, the palace and Privy Council have been trying to get increased control over the legal system. There has been a heightened urgency to this in the battle to root out Thaksin and his “regime.” Retired judges have been brought onto the Privy Council.

In what has clearly been a deliberated strategy, five of the last seven appointments to the Privy Council have been from the courts. The odd ones out were Admiral Chumpol Patchusanont (Former Commander of the Royal Thai Navy) and General Surayud Chulanont, who was appointed after he left the army and stepped down to be premier appointed by the military and then went back to the Privy Council when that guest appearance ended.

The former judges on the Privy Council are: Sawat Wathanakorn (appointed 18 July 2002 and a Former Judge of the Supreme Administrative Court); Santi Thakral (15 March 2005, Former President of the Supreme Court of Justice); Ortniti Titamnaj (16 August 2007, Former President of the Supreme Court of Justice); Supachai Phungam (8 April 2008, Former President of the Supreme Court of Justice); and Chanchai Likitjitta (8 April 2008, Former President of the Supreme Court of Justice and Minister of Justice). That so many judges are appointed send a clear message regarding intent. The king’s speeches to judges confirm the palace’s intentions. That such links to the judiciary have been put to use in the battle against Thaksin is seen in the ample evidence of meddling in the courts.

The palace has also been keen to have its people at the top of the police. In recent years, Police General Seripisut Temiyavet was said to be a palace favorite. When the military took over in 2006, Seri was made acting and then Police Commissioner and became a member of the junta’s Council for National Security.

At about the same time, long-time palace favorite Police General Vasit Dejkunjorn, once the Chief of the Royal Court Police for the Thai royal family, was put in charge of a review of the police force. At the time, this was reported as an attempt to clean up the notoriously corrupt force and to break Thaksin’s alleged political hold over it. As late as just a week or so ago, the Democrats had Vasit look into corruption in the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority.

Michael Montesano says this of Vasit: “Briefer of CIA director Allen Dulles during the latter’s late-1950s visit to Thailand, veteran of anti-Soviet espionage in Bangkok, long the Thai Special Branch’s leading trainer in anti-Communist operations, and palace insider at the time of his country’s most intensive counter-insurgency efforts, Police General Vasit Dejkunjorn ranked among Thailand’s most important Cold Warriors.” His own background in the shadows of the Cold War did not prevent him from being of an office holder at Transparency International in Thailand. Vasit remains a warrior for the palace in his columns in Matichon and as a royalist speaker. For a very short time Vasit was deputy interior minister for Chatichai Choonhavan being raised from his position as deputy police chief.

Vasit is 79 or 80 (thanks to a reader for this information), been “retired” for years, but keeps popping up in strategic locations. His political views reflect the position of the palace. For examples of his royalism and extreme views, see here and here.

Meanwhile, over at the Democrat Party, at present it seems that chief adviser Chuan Leekpai (b. 1938) is the power behind Abhisit. In recent years, Chuan has been increasingly outspoken in support of Prem. In recent days, Chuan has become the link between Prem and the government. For example, just a few days ago, as PAD fired up on Preah Vihear, Prem became involved, with the Bangkok Post reporting that “Gen Prem is reportedly concerned about the possibility of tensions spinning out of control if it is not attended to properly. A source said former supreme commander Gen Mongkol Ampornpisit, one of Gen Prem’s closest aides, paid a visit to Chuan Leekpai, the former prime minister and chief adviser of the ruling Democrat Party, at the party’s headquarters in August, to convey Gen Prem’s concern over the border developments.” The Post considers that Prem’s concern nudged Abhisit to send Foreign Minister Kasit to arrange a broadcast “assuring the Thai public that the country has not yet lost a single inch of land area in regard to the Preah Vihear dispute.”

As PPT shown in recent postings, Abhisit has been promoting increasingly nationalist and royalist causes. We won’t detail all of this again, but it is clear that Abhisit is not stupid. His emphasis on right-wing, conservative and nationalist strategies is a reflection of the views of his strongest backers. We see this backing as involving Chuan, Prem and the palace more generally. It seems Abhisit doesn’t have much support within his own party, so this backstopping, is keeping him in his position, has to be acknowledged. So Abhisit, with the support of important and highly conservative and royalists, adopts measures that hark back to a darker past.

Of course, the recently launched project called “Thai Unity” reflects the views king (b. 1927) and currently in hospital. His call for “unity” is a conservative refrain heard since the days when the king feared he might lose his throne to communists.

Abhisit’s calls to nationalism and patriotism may seem anachronistic and even dim-witted but they are an accurate reflection of the fact that the conservatives are bereft of new ideas. Hence, we have loyalist Anand Punyarachun (b. 1932) promoting nonsense like the interview with Stephen B. Young, the “Patronizing White Man With Degree Reassures Thai Elites With Unexamined Rhetoric” upon Thailand and believing that he makes sense and has something to say. What he actually says is that these old men haven’t a clue what the new Thailand is about.

The result is that all they can do is fall back on projects that are emblematic of the military-authoritarian governments of past generations.

Related, the huge effort to protect Prem in recent days is also to be understood as a part of this conservative project (see here and here).

Add in the remarkably expensive efforts to “protect the monarchy” through the use of lese majeste and computer crimes laws and the debt to the elders adds up to a government that is becoming increasingly conservative, more repressive and is normalizing authoritarianism.

While PPT points to this authoritarian slide, we also celebrate and support the courageous struggles of those within Thailand who continue to speak out even as they are watched by the current surveillance state. In 1997, Burmese Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi urged those outside Burma to “Please use your liberty to promote ours.” Comparing the current waves of royalism and the increasingly repressive Democrat Party-led state to the Burmese military regime would be factually incorrect and politically dangerous, yet there seems a determination to take Thailand back.

Thailand is now at a precipice between, as we noted in our coup anniversary post, the potential for deepening democratization, and the potential for unbridled repression at the hands of state, para-state, and royal actors. It is important to continually observe and criticize repression, and call for justice – especially for those jailed by repressive laws and those awaiting trial. A democratic Thailand will be a place where these old authoritarian men have a place, but it won’t be a place that celebrates their anachronistic ideas through government programs that enhance repression.


Darunee guilty of coup defamations

16 09 2009

Original post: A short story in The Nation’s “breaking news” (16 September 2009: “Da Torpedo fined Bt50,000 for defaming coup leaders, former PM, Prem”) states that Darunee Charnchoensilpakul has been convicted in the Criminal Court and fined Bt50,000 for defaming 2006 coup leader General Sonthi Boonyaratklin, coup conspirator and PAD behind-the-scenes advisor General Saprang Kalayanamitr, Privy Councilor and former post-coup premier Surayud Chulanont and Privy Councilor and former prime minister and known coup co-conspirator Prem Tinsulanonda during a red shirt rally in   2007. She is said to be set to appeal the conviction.

Update 1: The MCOT News Agency (16 September 2009: “Red shirt activist fined for defaming king’s chief advisor”) also carries a report, making the point that the important conviction was for “libeling the Privy Council president at a protest in 2007.” In addition, it says she was convicted of “defaming … members of the then Council for National Security (CNS) in a speech at a UDD protest at the Ministry of Education on May 31, 2007.”

In her defense, Darunee “claimed her speech was made using the facts and that she had never had personal issues with Gen Prem or CNS members.” The court, however, “ruled that the libelous nature of the content and the manner of the language used were inappropriate and crossed the line of the limit of criticism according to democratic principles.”

PPT will seek out more information on this. We have to admit that while we knew she was charged with defaming Saprang, we hadn’t heard of this list of names for this case. Any information from readers would be appreciated.

Update 2: The Nation (17 September 2009) now has a longer story on the sentencing, where Darunee is reported to have been “happy” with a fine rather than a further prison term and to have regained some confidence in the judiciary. Hard to believe that the latter should be a conclusion based on her horrendous treatment in the lese majeste case. PPT readers will find the report interesting. In essence, the report seems she is convicted of using bad language against royalist big shots….

Contining this theme, the Bangkok Post (17 September 2009: “Da Torpedo fined for defamation”) has it that the “prosecution said Daranee verbally attacked the CNS by saying the military coup had caused great damage to the country.” Is this really giving confidence in the judiciary?

Weekend humor from coup leader

11 09 2009

In an earlier post, PPT stated that we were not nominating weekend humor today because nothing could be more humorous that reading The Nation’s interview with royalist puppet Stephen B. Young.

We were wrong. We have found an even funnier story. Well, it would be funny if it wasn’t so pathetic.

The Bangkok Post (10 September 2009: “Gen Sonthi to enter politics”) reports that 2006 military coup leader and former chairman of the coup-makers’ Council for National Security, General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, has again said he is “interested in getting involved in politics.” Nothing new there, but the leader of the “good coup” observes that the “country is now facing the problem of social division and thus I want to join a political party that is impartial. It must be a party that the people can rely on…”. The General added that one “of his major aims was national reconciliation.”

Sonthi also said that he “agreed that articles in the constitution that cause problems or are obstacles to the government in the performance of its duty should be altered.” He added, “But a referendum on the changes must be held, to seek opinions from the general public. The people must be allowed to take part in any change made to the country’s supreme law.”

All of this was apparently said with a straight face. It is pretty good seeing this coming from the man who ran the coup for the royalist-military alliance, tore up the 1997 Constitution (did he have a referendum first?) and then he helped organize the 2007 Constitution and a referendum that the military and its royalist government manipulated into acceptance.

Maybe Sonthi and Young can get together as a double act. It’d be hilarious. Well, maybe not.

When in trouble, threaten a crack down

24 08 2009

Worryingly, as Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his Democrat Party come under pressure, they seem to favor actions that challenge people’s rights. PPT has regularly posted on the Democrat Party’s ready and enthusiastic acceptance of lese majeste and computer crimes laws. The issue addressed in this post involves the use of the Internal Security Act.

Claiming that he would never cling to a political post – presumably, the prime ministership – Abhisit said in the Bangkok Post (24 August 2009: “Abhisit willing to accept political change”) that he was prepared for any political changes that might come, adding he would remain with the Democrat Party until  he leaves politics – perhaps he is responding to rumors that he might jump ship (to the PAD’s New Politics Party?) or that the Democrat Party might be dissolved.

Abhisit was speaking to a course group studying political development run by the Election Commission, including 2006 coup leader and Council for National Security chairman General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin. Hopefully Sonthi might be learning that military coups are not appropriate in promoting political development, but probably not.

Abhisit is reported to have given “a strong indication the government will impose the Internal Security Act to control the planned red-shirt demonstration on Sunday. The prime minister said the government has the legitimacy to apply the law if problems were foreseen.” Abhisit added that “trying to negotiate with the red-shirt leaders was unlikely to produce any significant result.” He and Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban had discussed enforcing ISA or declaring a state of emergency.

Suthep said, “We are worried about the demonstration and are considering whether a special law should be used to keep order in the country. We believe people do not want to see more violence or rioting in Bangkok as it would further damage the country…”.

With Abhisit and Suthep under pressure and using threats of violence and the ISA to shore up their position, Senate Speaker Prasopsuk Boondej “expressed concern on hearing that the government may impose the Internal Security Act to ensure peace and order…”. He said the “situation is unlikely to turn violent because all concerned have learned their lesson from the Songkran riots…”.

In The Nation (25 August 2009: “Govt may have to invoke security law”) , Suthep is reported as being emphatic, explaining that the “government had no choice but to invoke the Internal Security Act to maintain peace during the red-shirt rally on Sunday…”. He added: “… I don’t think society will tolerate any more mayhem…”. Suthep blamed red shirt leaders and accused them of planning violence: “Judging by remarks made by certain red-shirt leaders, he said, the protests were being organised as a pretext to cause disturbances instead of making genuine demands.” Suthep also suspected “that the red shirts might try to repeat a blockade of Government House because they planned to gather at the Royal Plaza nearby.” Abhisit said that “protesters should in no way be allowed to disrupt work at Government House.”

Recall that there was also considerable speculation of violence when the UDD presented their petition last week. It is fair to say that some government supporters were disappointed that that event was entirely peaceful. Recall also that Abhisit personally visited PAD demonstrators during their long seige of Government House.

Double standards, certainly, but the Democrat Party leadership’s continual predictions of violence are a political device to allow for measures that limit rights. Worse, they reflect a propensity to limit people’s rights.

Update: The Bangkok Post (25 August 2009: “Govt to impose Internal Security Act this weekend”) reports the predictable decision by the government to use the ISA. Abhisit announced “that use of the the act was aimed at preventing unrest. The government had received information that the UDD may prolong the rally.” Sounding like he did justa couple of weeks ago when also predicting violence at the red shirts petition presentation, he asserts: “Although the UDD leaders assured us that the rally will not cause a repeat of the troubles in April, intelligence reports suggest the government should be alert as there could be a third party stirring up unrest…”. So the government is using the ISA to “prevent chaos.”

Supporting Abhisit, the long invisible Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij supported the use of the ISA, claiming it would “help create public confidence that the anti-government rally would not escalate into violence.” He added that: “The business sector and the general public will have more confidence that the government is in a position to keep the situation under control and that a Songkran riots-like situation will not occur again…”. Further, “Without a law giving the government special authority to maintain peace and order, there would not be such confidence…”. Maybe Korn is right and this is about building the government’s authority. At the same time, his tune has changed from when he supported PAD’s demonstrations.

The same kinds of arguments for opposing the red shirt rally to present the “royla pardon” petition are being ranged against the upcoming UDD rally (see here). While it is admitted that the law allows for UDD to rally and to protest, unease is expressed, along with the view that the UDD is driven by concern for Thaksin rather than for broader issues of democracy. However, the real question for the government is why use the ISA now? Is its use simply motivated by the need to gain political merit and advantage?

%d bloggers like this: