Coups and constitutions

13 09 2016

The Economist has a note looking at Thailand’s high number of constitutions and why they come and go, usually quickly.

The story begins:

IN AUGUST voters endorsed Thailand’s latest constitution in a tightly controlled referendum that offered no alternative to the draft put forward by the ruling military junta. It may take a year before the rubber-stamp assembly ratifies it. By the time it comes into force, it will be the country’s 20th constitution in 85 years. Why does Thailand keep changing its constitution?

The answer to the question:

In a word: coups.

Military coups. The military has been working with others:

It has usually wielded its power in symbiosis with a traditional elite comprising the monarchy, aristocrats and interrelated wealthy families. The civilian elites have provided a cloak of legitimacy and administrative skill, while the army has supplied the means of suppressing those who wish to be ruled by neither group.

The article’s worth a read.

Ji Ungpakorn calls for immediate elections, 9 April 2010

9 04 2010

Giles Ji Ungpakorn’s latest is posted below.  As with his prior statements, PPT is concerned that this will not be addressed in the mainstream media, which is why we have reproduced it in full.


“Friday 9th April, Thailand, time for immediate fresh elections

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

After the military-backed Democrat Party Government of Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency and issued arrest warrants for pro-democracy Red Shirt leaders, the Government has attempted to close down all internet and satellite media or websites which don’t tow the government line.

Since late March the Red Shirts have been holding peaceful and disciplined protests in Bangkok. They have not destroyed anything or held weapons of any kind. Their demands are for the dissolution of parliament and immediate fresh elections. The military-backed Government is totally opposed to elections, since the Democrat Party has never ever won a majority.

The Red Shirt protests are in stark contrast to the Yellow Shirt PAD demonstrators in 2008. The PAD used violence and carried weapons. They occupied and wrecked Government House and seized and shut down the international airports. No one has been punished for these criminal acts. The PAD demand that the democratic space be reduced because they believe that the majority of the people do not deserve the vote. The Democrat Party has worked hand in hand with the PAD and the army. Yet Hans van Baalen Dutch MEP, President of the Liberal International, supports the military backed government in Thailand and claims that a crackdown on Red Shirts would defend the Rule of Law in Thailand.

Abhisit justifies his state of emergency on the grounds that the Red Shirts are blocking shopping centres! This is a lie, one of many lies told by the Thai Prime Minister. Another lie is that the Red Shirt media is advocating violence. They have done nothing of the kind. Yesterday’s brief invasion of the parliament grounds by Red Shirts was in response to CS gas canisters being thrown at the peaceful crowd outside.

Today the Red Shirts went to their satellite TV station to ask for it back, yet foreign media like the BBC claim wrongly claim that the Red Shirts were trying to “occupy” the satellite station. What they wanted was for the transmissions to be reinstated.

The Red Shirts are a mass movement of workers and peasants. They are demanding a restoration of Democracy. Most support former PM Taksin because his government introduced Thailand’s first ever universal health care scheme and pro-poor policies. Foreign media often incorrectly portray the Red Shirts as rural people. They are poor people from urban and rural areas, including Bangkok. They represent the vast majority of Thai citizens. They proudly call themselves “serfs” in a class war with the authoritarian elites.

Record of the Abhisit Government

The Democrat Party took over the Government after:

  • Continuously criticising the Taksin Government for using state funds for the poor
  • Refusing to take part in the elections of 2006 because they knew they would lose
  • A military coup in September 2006
  • A military Constitution was introduced in 2007 which decreased the democratic space
  • They lost the December 2007 election
  • They supported the PAD violent demonstrations which seized Government House and closed down the international airports
  • The Royalist Courts were used twice to dissolve Red Shirt parties which won majorities
  • Corrupt politicians were bullied and bribed by the army to change sides and support the Democrat Party

A parliament “protected”?

25 03 2010

Update: After some limited media criticism, a fierce response from Peua Thai Party MPs, including a 2-day boycott of parliament, the government begun to reduce the huge military presence at parliament. Television news showed the troops withdrawing and razor wire and barricades being removed.

Part of the criticism today came in an extremely emotional statement in parliament by the one Peua Thai MP who showed up, spoke, and then left.As we mentioned below, the senate speaker also made a plea.

The government, which had earlier seen that images of the prime minister surrounded by military personnel was poor public relations, appears to have woken up to that fact that making parliament look like a military base in a war zone is probably not the best message. That said, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva seems not to care all that much, and in parliament was grim-faced in making statements defending his government and the military.


How many military personnel does it take to make parliament feel safe for the Democrat Party? Quite a few it seems, and not a few barricades and lots of barbed wire. The Bangkok Post (25 March 2010) reports that “Soldiers yesterday blocked all roads but for the intersection of Rajavithi and Rama V roads adjacent to Dusit Zoo. They erected concrete barriers, barbed wire and parked heavy trucks across other access routes. Only one lane was open for MPs and ministers to pass through to parliament.”

None of these are the traits normally associated with an elected parliament. However, several senior Democrat Party members have stated that they fear a repeat of events in October 2008. Those events involved the Democrat Party’s allies in the People’s Alliance for Democracy trying to prevent parliament from meeting. To date, the red shirt rally has shown no such inclination, despite a Democrat Party claim that “without the presence of police and soldiers at access points to parliament, red shirt protesters would have rallied there.”

The Bangkok Post (24 March 2010) reports that “Puea Thai MPs did not attend the House meeting today because they viewed the deployment of troops and placing of barricades inside and around the parliament building compound as a threat to legislators…”. Puea Thai demanded the removal of the barricades. The party also proposed to “file complaints with the Crime Suppression Police, seeking legal action against Mr Abhisit and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban for ordering the deployment of soldiers at parliament, and against Mr Chai for allowing the military to station troops at the parliament.” The Peua Thai Party whip made the claim that the “parliament has now been seized by the army in a silent coup…”.

In response, government whips decided to “seek the impeachment of Puea Thai MPs for violating the law.” What law was that? “The opposition MPs gathered at the parliament’s entrance gate, obstructing House Speaker Chai Chidchob and government MPs from performing their duty at the parliament this morning…”. Recall that the people making this claim themselves stayed away from parliament just a few days ago. The government’s whips confirmed that the troops would stay at parliament.

The man who boycotted an election in 2006, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said “opposition MPs, who boycotted today’s House meeting, had attempted to obstruct other MPs trying to enter the parliament to do their duty. That was undemocratic…”. The Bangkok Post (25 March 2010) claims that the so-called blockade had little impact apart from a short delay, so the prime minister is exaggerating things considerably. He also denied a “quiet coup,” saying, “Who took power from who? Everybody is performing their duty.”

In another report in the Bangkok Post (24 March 2010), Abhisit expressed concern that “Col Apiwan Wiriyachai, the first deputy House speaker, went on the UDD stage and made careless remarks about Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda.”

Interestingly, the military “protection” of parliament comes just prior to the meeting of the International Parliamentary Union in Bangkok, which may also see the Internal Security Act in place. Some ironies there.

The military apparently agreed to open other access roads and this saw the parliament convene and the Puea Thai MPs end their protest and most then left for their party headquarters, boycotting the session. The parliament of mainly government members then passed key pieces of legislation without debate.

The bias in reporting this event is noticeable. While the Bangkok Post (25 March 2010) does point out that “many MPs of both the government and opposition camps appear to have neglected this obligation [ to attend parliamentary meetings].” That said, the editorial is convinced that the military blockade was “because of the barricade [was] set up by the government to prevent red-shirt protesters from storming Parliament.”

The post adds “Anyone with a modicum of common sense would see that the roadblock and the heavy presence of troops in no way constitute an insult to the honour of the legislators.” PPT wonders which common sense permits government members and ministers, including the premier to boycott meetings but causes the Post to consider a huge barricade around parliament with hundreds of soldiers a necessary and democratic move.

Here’s the real kicker, as the Post states: “The government may have overreacted for fear that the red-shirt protesters might storm or lay siege to Parliament and hold all the attending MPs hostage inside the premises, despite promises by the protest leaders that they would not resort to such outrageous action.” In other words, it is only anti-red shirt bias allows the Post to agree with the government.

As a footnote to this post, there are now various reports of how many troops are now in Bangkok “maintaining security.” Last week it was widely reported that there were 48,000. Now it is reported that 13,000 to 17,000 have been added, with a similar number on standby. At a maximum that means 65,000 troops deployed in Bangkok. The minimum figure PPT saw was 49,000. If any of these figures are correct, that’s a heck of a lot. The U.S. had some 100,000 troops in Afghanistan at the end of 2009. Thailand is said to have some 300,000 active military personnel, meaning about a fifth of them might be “peace-keeping” in Bangkok, and thousands more in the provinces, with about another fifth in the south.

A quick round-up of important reports

10 02 2010

It’s a big news day, so PPT offers some summary and limited commentary.

Red in the provinces: Much of the media has been silent on big red shirt rallies held recently in the north and northeast. Some foreign journalists have been out and about and reporting. Marwaan Macan-Markar (IPS News, 8 February 2010) reports on a visit to the northeast. He writes of fund-raising events in and around Udorn where local people pay to attend and have a meal while listening to anti-government tirades delivered from a stage. One local states “These events are important to us. They are part of our learning to fight for democracy because it is being destroyed…. Right now the poor in this area know more about democracy than before. We come here to share this knowledge.”

Marwaan reports that “the increasingly politically awakened provincial voters [see Thaksin as]… a victim of an anti-democratic political machine in the hands of Bangkok’s aristocracy, monarchists and the conservative bureaucratic elite, which includes the country’s powerful army.” He adds that the “growing red wave of the UDD that is manifest in these nightly events is helping to sustain a view that Thailand’s social and political divisions are widening. Thaksin’s role has sustained this, for he is a much reviled figure among a cross section of the country’s well-heeled, the urban elite and the pro-royalist political establishment.”

Down the road in Khon Kaen, there was a rally on the last day of January that drew an estimated 100,000 people, and that estimate is from the government side. In Ubon Ratchathani, the next day, some 50,000 rallied.

Countering red shirts with scare tactics: Of course, the government cannot allow it to be thought that they red shirts might be raising their own funds. Leading the charge is the usual suspect, acting government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn. He’s reported in The Nation (10 February 2010) claiming that the “authorities” have managed to discover “unusually large sums of money” being transferred “from overseas and local sources to the bank accounts of red-shirt leaders.” The spokesman refers to the funds being “transferred to violence-prone people.” In case the frightened Bangkokians hadn’t got the message, the spokesman added: “If that is the case, we can be sure the situation is going to be violent…”.

No prizes for guessing where the alleged transfers are coming from: “the Middle East and somewhere in Asia…”. Panitan added that some “of the money was transferred from financiers in the country and some were smuggled through normal channels…”. In another report (below) Panitan claimed the “normal channels” were an “old soldier had also carried the money into the country via the Suvarnabhumi airport.” He stated that “security agencies were investigating the money transfers.”

PPT wonders how Panitan gets this information. We recall that Thaksin’s government was heavily criticized for using the Anti-Money Laundering agency for political purposes. Is it now legal and acceptable for the current government to do this?

Red-shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan has argued, contrary to Panitan’s alarmist allegations, that “red shirts would adhere to peaceful means in their fight.” He added: “We don’t want to take the same path as the April incident. The government passed the blame on us for the disturbance. So we have to declare our stance of never resorting to violence…”. Another red-shirt leader, Weng Tojirakarn said the “government’s security alert is an overreaction. He said plans to boost security forces in 38 provinces, including the setting up of 200 checkpoints in the capital, will cause unjustified anxiety.”

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post (10 February 2010) reports the Puea Thai chairman General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh as denying an “allegation that Gen Chavalit received money from former prime minister Thaksin…”. He is reported to have claimed that the allegation is “groundless.” The party claims “the government has been trying to slander its rivals.”

More coup talk: The latest talk from the coup rumor mill is that there might be a coup to support Abhisit Vejjajiva as prime minister if it is found that one of the smaller government coalition partners is going to decamp and join the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra Peua Thai Party. That would lead to the fall of the government and is unacceptable to the anti-Thaksin coalition. For some news surrounding this, see the Bangkok Post (9 February 2010).

Politicizing Chinese New Year: Even Chinese New Year festivities are in the political cauldron. The Bangkok Post (10 February 2010) reports a “campaign to urge people in Yaowarat to wear pink clothes to celebrate Chinese New Year…”. The Post states: “Red is the auspicious colour traditionally worn to usher in Chinese New Year. The campaign to switch to pink has spread confusion among garment sellers and other people planning to join the festivities in Chinatown.”

This campaign “was launched after Amorn Apithanakul, chairman of the Chinese Thais Association, urged people to don pink instead of red to pay tribute to His Majesty the King during the celebrations.” He has the backing of “two leaders from the local Chinese community, Prapan Santhanati and Charoen Sritrakulkitja.” These Chinese leaders claim that “Red has become a symbol of social division in the country…”. Actually they are wrong. Red is now a color of dissent.

The campaign has, however, “caused confusion among retailers in Yaowarat, the epicentre of Bangkok’s Chinese New Year festival.” Pinit Kanjanachusak, a city councillor for the Samphanthawong district, “strongly criticised the campaign to wear pink. Most people in Yaowarat would wear red as it was a tradition, he said.” That said, it has to be admitted that the Chinese middle class has been in the forefront of opposition to the red shirts.

Coup talk, security preparations

9 02 2010

Readers may find a new piece at Asia Sentinel (8 February 2010) of some interest. The report begins with the continuing buzz about a coup – and PPT has to confirm that this is the main topic of conversation in political circles – and then discusses the Thaksin Shinawatra asset case.

The article states: “Getting rid of Thaksin’s influence completely would presumably be the rationale for another coup. The military would take over and obliterate him once and for all.” Later it says: “The biggest beneficiaries of the coup talk are the pro-Thaksin group that needs to build momentum before a court rules Feb. 26 whether to seize about $2 billion in proceeds from his family’s 2006 sale of telecommunications firm Shin Corp. to Singapore’s Temasek Holdings.”

PPT is not sure how to reconcile these seemingly disparate statements. In fact, red shirts seem intent on preventing a coup – taxi drivers are on alert to surround tanks and armored personnel carriers if they come onto the streets. The government appears to think the coup talk is a red shirt attempt to destabilize the government. Some red shirts believe that the coup would be to stabilize and strengthen the government, with the military continuing to stand behind the Democrat Party but maybe not Abhisit Vejjajiva. The Asia Sentinel writer seems to think that Abhisit remains the military’s “best bet for the moment.

On the Thaksin assets case, the article has this to say as background: “Like most of the court cases brought against Thaksin after the coup, the assets seizure case is more about politics than law. It’s anyone’s guess how it will turn out. Ever since head of state King Bhumibol Adulyadej instructed judges to solve the country’s political problems in 2006, nearly every legal decision has gone against Thaksin. Courts have nullified an election that he won, dissolved two parties linked to him, banned him and some 200 lawmakers associated with him from politics for five years, and slapped a 2-year prison sentence on him for abuse of power, should he actually ever reappear in Thailand. Prosecutors have at least three more criminal cases against him that they are keeping in the bag.

The political chatter is about how much he will lose: all, some or none. On the latter, it is said that: “If the court were to exonerate Thaksin and give him the money back, it would undermine the whole rationale for ousting him in the first place and instantly boost his war chest for the next big election fight.

The author thinks the court won’t take it all because that would cause political chaos and favors an outcome that sees Thaksin keeping half of the money. The author thinks this was the king’s message: “the king urged judges last month to stay in the middle’.” PPT guesses that Thaksin will lose the lot. There are stories of a deal being negotiated between Thaksin and the palace, but the rumor is that these talks were ineffective. The palace seldom forgives its enemies.

The article concludes this way: “With the military and coalition partners unlikely to abandon him, Abhisit looks like he can ride out any protests over the next month.” Further: “Abhisit will likely be able to muddle through 2010 without any major disasters before he’s forced to call an election next year.” That seems a reasonable guess but Thailand’s politics remains exceptionally volatile and bitter.

Meanwhile, the Abhisit government is preparing for red shirts not a coup. The Washington Post has an AP report (8 February 2010) that reports on the deployment of “about 20,000 security forces to brace for protests ahead of a widely anticipated court ruling on the Thaksin [assets case]…”.

The remarkably supercilious acting spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said more than 13,000 army, police and civilian security officers will be deployed across Thailand’s 38 provinces. About 6,000 additional security will be deployed in the capital, where 200 checkpoints will be set up at ‘every entrance into Bangkok’…. PPT recalls that the military used this roadblock tactic after the coup to prevent the free movement of citizens.

This deployment has begun and will expand next week. As PPT stated previously, we think the movement of 22 armored personnel carriers was part of these preparations.

Panitan explained: “We don’t want a repeat of what happened last April when the troops came out a little late…”. He added that would invoke his baby, the Internal Security Act, if required.

One year since Giles Ji Ungpakorn fled Thailand …

6 02 2010

It has been one year since Giles Ji Ungpakorn fled Thailand. He has written the following reflection and analysis on his case and the broader context of repression and injustice. PPT has reproduced it in full in English below. You can also find it posted on his blog here: 5 February 2010, “Who are the real people who avoid justice in Thailand?” and ภาษาไทยที่นี้: 5 ก.พ. 2553, “ผู้หนีคดีตัวจริงไม่ใช่ผม”


Who are the real people who avoid justice in Thailand?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The 6th February is the anniversary of the day when I had to leave Thailand and seek political exile in Britain. I left Thailand because it had become a dictatorship with no regard to international standards of justice, democracy or human rights. I was charged with lese majeste for writing a book which criticised the illegal military coup in 2006. In the book I questioned the role of the King and the relationship between the army and the monarchy. I asked whether the monarchy should have defended the constitution and democracy. The perverse thing about the lese majeste law is that a person can still be “guilty” for telling the truth. It is a law which tries to prevent open discussion. Court cases are heard in camera in a kangaroo court. Da Torpedo was sentenced in such a court to 18 years in prison.

The Thai government has failed to show how I made any untrue statements in my book. Yet they accuse me of “avoiding justice”. The same accusation is made against Jakrapop Penkare. Yet, who are the real criminals in Thailand who avoid justice? They are the military and conservative elites who use bully-boy tactics to destroy justice.

Sonti Boonyakarin and his fellow junta members, who stage the illegal coup in 2006 and committed treason against the Thai people, are avoiding justice for the crimes committed.  He and his mates are avoiding justice on charges of “conflict of interest and corruption”. They staged an illegal coup and then appointed themselves to lucrative state enterprise and governmental positions. They wrote their own constitution which made sure all governments must increase military spending. They even used public money to stage the coup.

Ex-Prime Minister Surayut Julanon is avoiding justice for his violence and brutality in the May 1992 military crack down against pro-democracy demonstrators. He is also avoiding justice on charges of taking over land in a national park. He is corrupt because he took a position as an illegitimate Prime Minister after the coup, drawing a salary from public funds.

King Pumipon is avoiding justice and has been doing so for decades. He knows how his brother died because he was there and yet he gave false testimony about it. He allowed innocent people to be executed. More recently he has become “unusually rich”, arising from his public position. He is now the richest man in Thailand and the richest monarch in the world. He is avoiding justice for this and for “failing to do his duty” in protecting democracy.

Prem Tinsulanon is avoiding justice for corruption. He still lives in a state owned house despite being retired. He “abused his power” by becoming an unelected Prime Minister in the 1980s and “neglected his duty” to properly advise the King to protect democracy.

Sonti Limtongkul, Jamlong Simuang, Somsak Kosaisuk, Pipop Tongchai, Somkiat Pongpaiboon, Wira Somkwamkit, Suriyasai Katasila, Kasit Pirom and the entire PAD gang are avoiding justice for  “violent acts, using weapons” on the streets of Bangkok. They are avoiding justice for “wrecking Government House and blocking the airports”. They are avoiding justice for “aiding and abetting an illegal coup” and for “causing a disturbance of the peace” on the Cambodian border.

Government politicians Abhisit Vejjajiva, Korn Jatikavanit, Sutep Tuaksuban and Satit Wongnongtuay are avoiding justice for “aiding and abetting an illegal coup”, “murdering” demonstrators in Bangkok in April 2009, “abusing their power and relationship with the military” to set up an illegitimate government, “illegally abusing their power” to instigate widespread censorship and they are also avoiding justice for a “conflict of interest” because they all stand to gain personally from the illegal coup in 2006. Newin Chitchorp is also avoiding justice for “gangsterism” by setting up the Blue Shirt thugs.

Yellow shirt academics and NGO activists are avoiding justice for “aiding and abetting an illegal coup” and “libelling” the Thai electorate for being stupid. They are avoiding justice for having a “conflict of interest” in receiving wages from public funds for accepting positions on bodies set up by the illegal junta. Members of the illegal junta government are also avoiding justice for this crime.

Mainstream Thai media moguls are avoiding justice for the continuous libel of Red Shirt activists, who are usually too poor to sue them.

The list of those avoiding justice goes on…. top politicians, army generals and police commanders who killed people in the South at Takbai and Krue-Sa, in the war on drugs, in the 1992, 1976 and 1973 bloodbaths. Those who killed defence lawyer Somchai and social movement activists and the capitalists who caused serious industrial accidents like the Kader fire etc etc etc…

Compare the above crimes with what I or Jakrapop or Da Torpedo did.

One day when we win democracy, we shall have to bring all those who are avoiding justice to court to be tried by a jury of people randomly selected from the population. The old corrupt judges, who are also avoiding justice, cannot be trusted.

Statement of the Students’ Federation of Thailand on a Possible Coup

3 02 2010

A reader forwarded us this statement of the Students’ Federation of Thailand — and we are posting it here for your information. As with other statements posted here, posting does not necessarily reflect the position of PPT.


1 February 2010

A Forewarn of “People’s War”

Due to the recent movement of the army, there exists a concern that it will eventually lead to a coup and a demolition of demonstration for democracy. Threats and intimidations, direct as well as indirect ones, towards people movement have dispersed widely among the army. These are nicely done through expressing political opinions to call for peace and defending the country but behind those words are a cruel message to the people not to build up any movements with the same old excuse about ‘national security’, even though the dispute and the unstable situation right now are all caused by the inappropriate role of the army by supporting the bureaucratic elites into the power. People movement who are fighting for democracy can absolutely not tolerate this.

Until today, the army still insists their old role to defend the ‘security’ of the bureaucratic elites more than that of democracy and the people. They even claim in harmony their readiness to protect the bureaucratic elites and demolish the people who call for democracy all over the country that can come to be an obstacle. These actions leave us interpret no other but that they have made themselves clear that they are ready to do everything even a coup.
To this situation, the Student Federation of Thailand holds a concern towards the country, the democracy, the people and even to the army themselves that if a coup really happens again, ‘people’s war’ or the resistance of the people all over the country who want democracy will occur for certain and it will be a war which continues until the very end until the army has to surrender.
Accord to this concern, we would like to call the army and declare our intention towards the current situation and in the future as following:
1. We would like to the army to concern about the consequences that will follow if there is a coup to demolish the people. The consequences will not be as convenient as the previous coups in the history. People whose moral and conscience are lifted have crossed beyond the point of ignorance like before and will therefore object until the absolute.
2. We, the Student Federation of Thailand, together with our student networks all over the country, have a clear stand to act against the coup and stand besides the people’s struggle for democracy, including the ‘red shirts’. If there is eventually a coup, we are ready to mobilize students and people who want democracy to fight with the coup until the end.

Forewarning to the People’s war
Democracy will eventually win!

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