Students rolling, royalists reacting

23 08 2020

As demonstrations continue, it might be expected that the young students and their supporters might be losing some support by demanding reform of the monarchy and calling for an end to the military-backed regime, both seen by conservatives as the cornerstone of the status quo.

In fact, this doesn’t seem to be happening. The Bangkok Post reports two surveys, one by the seldom trustworthy NIDA Poll with 1,312 respondents and another by the Suan Dusit Poll which claims 197,029 respondents. Go beyond the headlines, and it seems that a large majority support the students and their headline three demands. It also seems that support for the regime has dropped even more.

In the most recent demonstration in Khon Kaen, a statement was issued and called:

for an end to intimidation of the people, the government’s legal action against people with different opinions, inequality in education, inequities in the justice process and the plunder of natural resources.

“We want rights and freedom and human dignity because we are not slaves. We want a democracy which belongs to the people. We want equality in education and true justice in the judicial process. We want the decentralisation of power and the right of communities to manage their own resources. We want a new democracy….

Interestingly, several of these demands have ideological continuities with the rights demands heard during red shirt rallies a decade ago. That seems organic in the sense that many of today’s protesters were very young when the red shirts rose.

When the military has its government pad out its budget through rubber-stamping in parliament, the students get more supporters.

Regime and royalist reaction is pretty much what might be expected. As well as giving the military more kit, the regime is shoring up its support among the top brass. An example it Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s likely pick for next air force boss. Apparently, the job requirement is that the appointee must be “intelligent, ethical, dedicated and loyal to the monarchy.” We doubt the first two criteria can be fulfilled along with the last requirement. The other loyalty must be to the regime’s leaders.

Rightists are straggling along, as yet not well organized. This means they flop back on old tactics. For example, the “independent” agencies are used to undermine those various rightists think are “behind the children.” So it is that serial complainer Srisuwan Janya “says he will petition the Election Commission (EC) to look into whether the Move Forward Party (MFP) broke the law on political parties by proposing to amend the constitution’s Chapters 1 and 2 which contain general principles and sections associated with the monarchy.” Who pays him?

And surveillance and repression continues. As would be expected, “[s]ecurity agencies are keeping an eye on political activities ahead of a planned student rally on Sept 19 to prevent protest actions that may lead to violence and unrest…”, painting a picture of “Hong Kong violence,” obviously seeking to influence and agitate the Sino-Thais of Bangkok and linking to yellow-shirt ideologues who follow Russian troll sites on “color revolutions.”

They are also seeking to limit protest growth through political alliances with groups like the Assembly of the Poor. Hence last week’s arrest of the Assembly secretary-general, Baramee Chairat, for alleged offenses at the 18 July rally.

We doubt that these military and police spies are about preventing violence and are more about preventing protest and agitating against the “children.”

There’s a long road to be traveled.

Further updated: Bombs, “elections” and anti-democrats

27 05 2017

No diehard anti-democrat wants the military junta to hold an “election,” even one that is fixed in a way that allows the military to continue to control politics for years to come.

At the Bangkok Post, Surasak Glahan admits to being

mystified by [anti-democrat] Suthep Thaugsuban’s plea last week for Prime Minister and NCPO [junta] head Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to keep the top job for five more years without the need for elections. He must have drunk himself in oblivion, I thought, as critics and even some supporters of the regime started to voice their rebukes over its failure to deliver in key areas, from the economy to so-called national reform, security to happiness-making, as the NCPO marked its third anniversary on Monday.

But then, when trying to wear the hat of either the military or one of its No.1 cheerleaders like Mr Suthep, who led street protests in 2013-2014 that gave the pretext for the coup, I began to realise that the NCPO has delivered numerous achievements.

He goes on to list these “achievements”:

… there has been drastic political reform. A new constitution was drafted by accidental hero jurists, appointed by the military, and smoothly passed in the [rigged] referendum last year.

The new charter will entrench the military power for at least five more years, allowing it to select 250 senators who will be much more powerful than their predecessors.

Decentralisation has been compromised. Elections of local administrators have been frozen.

The charter and several NCPO orders have lurched Thailand backward into a political system applied four decades ago…. If you are nostalgic about the past, now it is your chance to live it.

… military-appointed lawmakers … know best what needs to be drafted to govern the ways we live without having to consult us or seek the nod from our representatives. Notably, they have invented and revised laws to save us from cyber crimes and other security threats. We just have to sacrifice our privacy and risk being branded as criminals.

The most outstanding … victory was its ability to successfully remove all the hurdles put up against the 36-billion-baht submarine procurement plans by previous elected governments.

The list is long and I have to stop here before feeling suffocated.

You get the picture. More and more military rule and political repression.

The prospect of the military staying in power for years also means that military factionalism is assured. Military factionalism is probably linked to recent bombings.

Yet the military is blaming others. So are the anti-democrats who see the bombing as an opportunity to extend military rule. For the military and the anti-democrats, as allied groups, the “natural” enemy is anyone considered Thaksin Shinawatra-related.

So Ko Tee or Wuthipong Kachathamakul is named. Naturally enough, he denies it and he “condemned those who were involved in the hospital explosion.” He adds that he “would have bombed Government House, not a hospital…”. His view is that the culprits are in the military.

That said, Ko Tee sought another opportunity to anger the bears in green, poking them with a claim that “he is mobilising resistance against the government.” He says these are “civilian warriors” training in the jungle. But, he says, his group is small and not yet ready to attack the “bandits [junta] out of the country…”.

**The other supposedly anti-regime “suspects” are a couple of former generals in their 70s and 80s, associated with Thaksin.

**Neither General Prayuth nor General Prawit Wongsuwan seem to have been particularly to be involved in cabinet discussions and considerations of the bombing. Indeed, that both have been away from Bangkok speaks louder than words.

Bombs might be about army factionalism yet the general interest of the anti-democrats and military is retained: no elections.

Update 1: We managed to garble a sentence or two and have rewritten and marked this with **.

Update 2: PPT was struck by a single line in an op-ed by Bangkok Post editor Umesh Pandey:

One has to consider who is the real beneficiary of these kinds of unrest. Is it the people who are looking forward to elections or is it the people who want to hold on to power?

Controlling the local

8 05 2016

The junta has been showing its blunt determination to ensure its preferred result in the charter referendum. It has been arresting, intimidating and repressing.

It has also been campaigning for a Yes vote in rural areas, sending out the military and local authorities. But, for the junta, the local is not trustworthy, so it wants total control.

When it seized power almost two years ago, local elections were scrapped. Elections were replaced by provincial panels, headed by the governor of each province, that selected councilors. This is insufficient for the dictatorship. The Bangkok Post reports that not even governors can be trusted: “the [junta’s new] order was made to prevent any conflicts of interest among provincial governors…”.

In fact, the junta’s puppet permanent secretary of the Ministry of Interior has confirmed that the junta will now control the selection and appointment of members of local bodies.

The permanent secretary will appoint a committee “to pick the councillors of the local bodies…”. All appointments will be made by this Bangkok-based committee of senior bureaucrats. The rollback to a regime that existed long before the 1997 Constitution.

The military’s selected bureaucracy is back in charge because, as puppets, they can be expected to do their masters’ bidding.

While the puppet permanent secretary claims the junta “wants to make changes that comply with good governance practices.” Most observers recognize that the members of the junta could not spell “good governance,” and that they certainly favor nepotism and political subservience over anything that might reek of principles.

The permanent secretary’s disclaimer can be read as an admission: “This also has nothing to do with the preparations for the referendum…”. Of course, it has everything to do with the referendum and what follows that event.

Less cake, not much eating either

31 07 2015

The old saying is you can’t have your cake and eat it too. The military dictatorship’s puppets seem to be reinventing this to be you can’t have much cake and you won’t be eating it either.

At The Nation it is reported that the National Reform Council (NRC) has “approved the decentralisation and local administration reform proposed by its panel with 149 votes in favour and 4 against.” It is said that the approach is to “strengthen the people.”

Chairman of the Local Administration Reform Committee Pongpoyom Wasapooti says this will come from “boosting people’s participation in the local administration and allowing them to check the work of the agencies…”.

Sounds reasonable until he adds that some local administrations “might be abolished or merged with others.” The “logic” of anti-democrats then comes into play. One of these so-called reformers is that “local administrations should be more independent…” but these “independent” local administrations can’t be independent because they may become “corrupt.” Hence, “independence” still means the good and great in Bangkok play a paternalistic role, where “the provision of budget should be carefully watched…”.

The local officials can’t be trusted because of “vote-buying and election fraud” even when “the number of local administrations [is] decreased.”

In other words, “corruption … might take place when the local administrations became more independent…”, so reduce the number of them and restrict budgets and limit voting.

Reform means anti-democracy, illogical nonsense and paternalism.

Undemocratic centralism

7 12 2014

PPT missed this story/interview at The Isaan Record a few days ago and thanks a regular reader for drawing it to our attention. It is a story about the Governor of Khon Kaen province and his work for the military dictatorship, based on an interview. We do not know if the interview was conducted in English or Thai, and the language used may explain some of Kamtorn Tawornsatit’s sometimes strange responses. Even so, the intent of his answers describes authoritarian Thailand today in revealing terms. PPT simply reproduces snips from the interview below:

On color-coded conflict: “I’d like to inform you that the word ‘colored-shirt villages’ was a measurement to address the critical atmosphere caused by the differences in information and beliefs of the people. The NCPO therefore came and took control of the country. First, we have to look at the people as Thai, that we are all Thai. This idea eliminates division and violence. When we are divided, we think of others not as Thai, but as opponents. Thus, this crisis could be peacefully resolved if we looked at others as Thai.” General Sarit Thanarat would be pleased. H e adds: “Today, I have managed to eliminate the colored shirts in each community.” Kamtorn explains how this was done: “[We had to] stop the flow of information that has caused division; this is the most important.” He says that junta-directed reform has eliminated the “disease” afflicting Thailand and that “reform” by the junta will solve all problems.

Authority and control: “Previously, governors had no authority in these areas [justice processes] but did have the power to call people in for questioning if necessary. But now, they have power to command [these areas]. The authority to command has now been unified in seven or eight areas, such as in forests, where the governor can take command for more efficient law enforcement.” He says that orders are centralized: “At the moment, command orders [go out] to all officials in the province, thus even local officials from the central government [have to obey] if the governor asks them for their cooperation to solve a problem.” This takes Thailand back to the 1980s.

Justice and following The Dictator: “What state officials can do is deliver on justice. Justice comes from good governance observed by state officials. After all officials observe good governance, work can be fast and accurate, [and with that] then comes fairness and justice. Justice is about how the legal process is enforced. The last part, fairness, is how well the political rights, the duties and power of the people, are taken care of. In the long term, it is about having a peoplecentric and problem-solving approach. To address problems of the people in this case, the government has announced the 12 Core Thai Values policy. This shows that people come before the structure and the system.” Presumably this means all people will be happy.

Decentralization: The real answer is, “No way!” He babbles a lot, but that is the answer. For example: ” There are three mechanisms in the administration: centralization, authorization, and decentralization.” He declares: “There has to be one government for the whole country. For a government to occupy the whole of Thailand, [local central government offices] have to be the government’s eyes and ears…. If one asks, “Who is a governor?” the governor is the ears and eyes for the government in each province. Who is the district head? The district head is the [central] government in a district. Imagine what would happen to the country if the government was not in Bangkok, in Isaan or in the South—there would no one from the central government [in those places].

Freedom and electoral processes: Forget it. “[B]ecause [people] misunderstand the nature of a unitary state of Thailand, people might think the word ‘freedom’ must be used. With Thai democracy, it is impossible to talk about rights and freedoms by the book because rights and freedoms are related to the quality of the people. If we don’t have democracy yet, then the quality, perspectives, and knowledge of our people should be taken into consideration. I’m not complaining, but these are all obstacle to democracy.”

Local elections: Forget them. “It is within my authority to appoint [new] members [to formerly elected local bodies]. While we are [in a period] when we do not have confidence in the electoral process and the election system is being reformed, we use appointments as authorized by the NCPO. The procedures and rules are already defined. [Appointees] must be a bureaucrat who has served in the position in the area for a certain period as legislatively defined.”

The future: In a word, bleak. Rule by autocratic officialdom. “The bureaucracy is the mechanism of the government. Taking care of the people’s welfare is the duty [of the bureaucrat]. When bureaucrats do their job with good governance and with responsibility to the people, the faith and trust of the people [in us] will provide the energy for us to move together. Without trust, the country cannot develop. Come and work together [with us].”

The military coup was was meant to return authority to unelected bodies. The governor seems to be saying it has been successful in Khon Kaen. We are sure that he deludes himself and his bosses, yet the direction is clear.

Anti-politician sentiment

16 09 2014

Atiya Achakulwisut is a contributing editor at the Bangkok Post. In a recent op-ed she looks at The Dictator’s claim that “his reform plans may take a lifetime to complete.” She refers to his policy document as a “31-page dream for Thailand…”.

She finds General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s “official statement” reasonable in some aspects: “Reducing inequalities, improving Thai people’s competitiveness or promoting sustainable use of natural resources have always been staple issues in the country’s development agenda.”

Yet Atiya also sees problems and items missing. She asks about decentralisation and about military and police reform, all missing. The latter two items seem too controversial for Atiya and she concentrates on decentralization. Her view is that:

Decentralisation is necessary because it’s the only way for us to get away from the cycle of corrupt politicians, biased laws that benefit the wealthy, inert bureaucrats that only serve people in power and the military that can always push democracy back by staging a coup.

She argues that:

The only way for Gen Prayuth to realise his own dream is for him to empower the people. He has to turn them into informed and engaged citizens and give them room to make decisions about their own future. Unfortunately, the PM [she means The Dictator] in his policy statement was more content to make the cumbersome bureaucracy the master of the citizens’ destiny. It is easy to foresee how he will fall short.

This is reasonably forthright criticism in a newspaper that usually fawns over military dictators, at least in their early days, and in an atmosphere of repression and censorship. However, the plight of decentralization is one that requires local voice. It is exactly this that has been suffocated by the military dictatorship. Atiya notes this: “I want administrative power to be decentralised and local communities to elect their own representatives and influence policies that affect them.”

But so bent is the notion of elections, especially amongst the Bangkok-based elite, that she must make this claim by stating: “I am not pro-politician…”. Yes, that is what it has come to in Thailand. You are pro- or anti-politician! A politician is one who is elected. Atiya can’t have her cake and eat it too. Empowerment means some form of representation, and we can think of no other way of arranging this than through free and fair elections.

Atiya goes further than being anti-politician, declaring: “I support the junta’s attempt to balance out the overwhelming power of elected representatives with effective monitoring systems.” That is not what the junta is doing. The junta is designing a political system that makes elections and elected politicians politically irrelevant.

She makes a little more sense when she notes:

Decentralisation, however, is not possible without the military and police reform. As long as these two forces are allowed to function the way they have and retain their usurping powers, there is no room for citizen-based organisations to grow.

Citizen-based organizations also represent interests, whether selected or elected. Being “anti-[elected] politician” and anti-military is a lonely place. Elections challenge the power of the unelected.

We are reforming, not

22 09 2010

With considerable amusement, PPT read a Bangkok Post report thatquoted the head of the government-appointed National Reform Committee, Anand Panyarachun.

Anand apparently came up with a list of things his committee is not doing. Not included are: political and military reform – “… politics and the military would be left to change by themselves since this would mainly require changes in the attitudes of those involved”; no constitutional reform and no attention to corruption. No focus on decentralization.

Despite all these negatives, Anand has 21 committee members and believes he needs more than 3 years to complete his commission’s work. But what is it?  Anand says: “We are trying to provide an environment for fair play in society.” His panel is to “provide political space for people to have their voices heard, to be able to bargain and stand up without being sidelined or belittled by local and national politicians.”

Let’s get this right. Anand’s committee is going to try to control politicains by creating a space for a civil counterweight. Isn’t that what he tried to do during the drafting of the 1997 Constitution? And why are politicians the problem and not corrupt officials, military leaders, police and their huge weight of power?

The committee is to hold its very first public hearing on 17 October at Thammasat University but not on these issues but on “how problems of inequality and injustice in society could be resolved.” None of the inequality and injustice has to do with corrupt officials, military leaders, police and a self-centered ruling class?

The committee might also “gather views on socio-economic issues, land rights and resource distribution, opportunities, people’s rights and bargaining power…” which can’t involve corrupt officials, military leaders, police and the ruling class.

Is this even worth the effort? Anand is no dumbie, so PPT assumes that there is something going on that remains behind a screen, but, really, what a waste. Or was it always just Abhisit’s window-dressing?

“We have been talking about reform in various dimensions, the process of which is owned by the people in society and is timeless. So it might take longer than three years,” Mr Anand said.

King, country, chaos? – Part I

19 03 2010

The Economist (18 March 2010) includes a leader on politics and succession and a feature story called “The battle for Thailand.” As several other blogs have already said, this issue will not be available in Bangkok. However, the electronic links noted here were still working as PPT wrote this. If they become blocked, readers should let us know, and we’ll post the stories in full. In this post, we comment on the leader, and we’ll follow-up on the longer article later.

PPT agrees entirely with the view that for “decades Thai politics suffered from a surfeit of pragmatism. Indeed, grimy compromises were dignified as ‘Thai solutions’.” So we wonder why the editorial argues for this: “Thailand urgently needs to rediscover its lost flair for pragmatism and to rebuild a functioning political system.” Why rebuild the grimy politics of the past? With the Economist, those academics and Thailand watchers lamenting the apparent loss of the slimy compromise seem oddly conservative and lost for ideas. That said, a sleazy compromise remains possible in the current circumstances.

PPT notices that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has blinked. There are now widespread calls for “talks,” even with ex-prime minister and Montanegran, Thaksin Shinawatra. Even the largely discredited National Human Rights Commission has come out offering to “mediate”. Quite why the red shirts would want to have NHRC head and Chulalongkorn University professor Amara Pongsapich mediating talks with the government is unclear. She has a long been known to pop in and out of General Prem Tinsulanonda’s army-provided residence.

For all the criticism on the blogs, in the mainstream media and from weak-kneed academics concerning the red shirt “blood sacrifice” (that the Economist depicts as “was a creepy stunt”), one thing is clear: it has had an impact on the political climate and gained huge media coverage. Perhaps more challenging for the government has been the widespread support provided to the red shirts by Bangkok’s working class and elements of what might be considered the lower middle class.

The Economist ties contemporary events and the longer-term malaise of Thai politics back to the monarchy and succession – hence its “banning”: “Presiding over a messy but largely functioning polity has been a revered king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose admirers have no difficulty in reconciling the contradictory ideas that he is both ‘above politics’ and also the guarantor of stability.” With the king in hospital for unknown reasons, it states: “Thailand needs to start thinking about what will come when his reign ends.”

Actually, some of what’s going on now is about this thinking. And some of it is thinking that is certainly out loud. Almost everyone talks of the palace, privy council and aristocrats as integral players in current events and wonders what it all means for the future. The army seems to want to control the period of succession, but in doing so has opened a huge can of worms that includes a republicanism that does not, as the Economist says, “lurk in the wings” but is now more highly visible than at any time since the 1970s.

On the red shirts, the Economist states: “the red shirts do enjoy considerable popular support, and not just in the poor north-east from which so many hail.” For PPT, one of the things that was noticeable at last Sunday’s rally were the large contingents from the central provinces.

On a way forward, it says: “the political system has all but broken down, as the government itself tacitly admits when it argues that an election would not solve Thailand’s problems. It may well be right. Democracy works only when the parties that lose an election accept the outcome. And if, as might well happen, Mr Abhisit’s government lost an election to proxies for Mr Thaksin, the same alliance of military and civilian elites that toppled him in 2006 and his allies in 2008 might again reject the popular verdict. Instability would persist.”

On succession: “The king, who has reigned for six decades…. His anointed successor, the crown prince, is … widely disliked and already shows signs of meddling in politics. Although, in theory, the monarchy inhabits a realm far above the murk of daily government, it has been an important source of legitimacy for the unelected prime minister.” The paper continues to state: “the king’s death will remove a moderating influence that has kept irreconcilable political differences in check.”

This view is commonly expressed but there are also many who see such statements as merely part of the monarchy’s myth building. Critics suggest that active participation in several major and less than moderate political events tell a different story. Most especially, these critics point to the king’s role in the horrendous events of October 1976 and the extremism foisted on the country by the king’s privy councilor made prime minister Thanin Kraivixien, who proved too extreme, right wing and divisive even for the military. The events of 2006 and since do not demonstrate a moderating influence. Rather they suggest a protection of interests. PPT wonders if the government has been keeping track of movements of money out of Thailand? Has the palace been salting loot away in the event of a worst-case scenario for the monarchy? How much?

Of course, the Economist is right to point yet again to harsh lese majeste laws that ensure that the “future of the monarchy is a matter of private gossip, not public debate. This leader, and our article considering the succession in some detail, could not appear in Thailand. Indeed they will cause great hurt and offence in some quarters there. We regret this. But to discuss Thailand’s future without considering its monarchy is itself to belittle an important national institution.” It is added: “to endure, the monarchy has to win a debate, not suppress one.”

The Economist then looks to a way out of the “present political quagmire.” It argues for an “early election, producing a government with popular legitimacy. It would probably also entail a decentralisation of power away from Bangkok so that citizens of regions such as the north-east feel less alienated from their rulers—a sense of alienation that, more than ethnic or religious tensions, underpins the long-running, bloody insurgency in the Muslim-majority southern provinces. And a true ‘Thai solution’ would also imply a monarchy genuinely above political meddling or manipulation.” That’s a huge agenda that would undo much of the control of the establishment and may well prove impossible. After all, when they were convinced that they were challenged by a moderate but highly flawed Thaksin, they panicked and went for the guys with guns. Can they ever be convinced to share power in a system of representation?

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