Analysis of recent events

15 02 2019

PPT has refrained from mentioning much of what passes for analysis of the events of the past week. One reason for this is that most of it has been highly speculative and bound in rumor.

Some self-styled analysts and quite a few academics have produced speculative accounts. Several managed to come up with different interpretations of the same events. Some have seemingly reproduced other accounts. Some of the more careful have come up with possible scenarios, allowing readers to choose the version that suits their perceptions and biases.

Perhaps that’s why PPT found New Mandala’s “Q&A: Supalak Ganjanakhundee on Thailand’s week of chaos” useful. Supalak is editor of The Nation. We highly recommend reading it, and we only present some highlighted bits and pieces here.

Supalak says that both Thai Raksa Chart and Puea Thai are under threat and the former will be dissolved by the Constitutional Court according to the so-called Royal Command:

The court will probably rule against the law, as the courts often do—the appeal to something outside the law, to make judgements on the law. If we are to make a clear argument, there is no legal status to the royal command.

The “election” campaign will now be dominated by the junta’s party attacking the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra parties as disloyal:

[Palang] Pracharat will try to create a political discourse against the Thaksin camp, by arguing that he brought the royal family into Thai politics—this is a dirty thing in Thai society. It’s not appropriate to have high society running in dirty politics. Now Pheu Thai is in a very awkward position indeed.

It is noted that Thaksin’s gambit was  not supported by many progressives who believe that there’s no place for royals in democratic politics. Supalak doesn’t rule out a pro-royalist alliance between Palang Pracharat and the Democrat Party.

The comment that “Thaksin underestimated the King” seems self-evident:

the royal command on Friday night was not a law. A royal command can only be applied within the [royal] house, not to people outside the house and particularly not in the political sphere. So it was logical for Thaksin. He might have calculated that this outcome was possible, but he underestimated the King. The other possibility is that the King changed his mind—otherwise Prayuth might not have shown his confidence by jumping into the game.

Later Supalak adds:

The royal command is an interpretation of the law…. The royal command has implied that if you’re born into the royal family, you cannot resign. I think that’s a very ambiguous interpretation to establish the monarchy above the law.

Supalak dismisses analysis that has the king commanding the military and opposed to the junta:

I don’t buy the theory that the King is so strong. I understand that he is trying to build the influence of his faction in the military…. His power is not—well, he could not have consolidated his power already. It will take time to have everything under his control. From my understanding, the military wants to have their own voice…. Now we live in a situation where the monarchy and the military are in tension over who will control who. It will take a few years for a clear picture to emerge….

The King commands loyalty from some factions of the military but people like Prawit and Prayuth want to be like people like Prem—middlemen between the palace and the military. They’re building their own regimes but this might also take time as they each hedge their bets.

In moving forward, Supalak is, in our view, making a good point in observing:

If you combine the idea of network monarchy and the deep state together, we might say that the overall effect is the emergence of some new regime that combines the military, the monarchy and capital. Big capital is always willing to support the monarchy, willing to support the military. Pracharat is the perfect model for combining royalty, the military and capital. The difficulty [in consolidating a model] is the unpredictable character of the King.

On the king’s politics:

… the monarch is not interested in institutionalising its power, working through laws, custom, norms and tradition. We cannot simply say—refer to the constitution for the role of the monarchy. Every constitution in recent history has been designed to enhance, not limit, the role of the monarchy. The trend is towards a direct form of rule. The people surrounding the King are not trying to institutionalise the monarchy.

On the future of free and open discussion:

The trend will not be an opening up [of discussion]. It will be a closing. Look at what the King has done since he took the throne—the message has been that he wants the country to be in order, disciplined. Look at the way he dealt with the constitution. He amended the constitution after the referendum—that’s the standard by which he exercises power. It’s not the rule of law. I really have little hope and will be pessimistic that our country will be ruled by the rule of law…. We are living with fear.





How to “win” an “election” III

13 08 2018

On its webpage, the Bangkok Post says: “Unnamed, influential power holders tell legislature members to be quiet and stop attempts to change the selection process of election monitors.”

In its story, the Post states that those National Legislative Assembly (NLA) members who are “seeking a legal amendment on the selection of inspectors is being lobbied to back down…”.

Who could the ” influential power holders” be? After all, The Dictator supported them. Or at least he did a few days ago.

Now, someone or some people are telling the NLA members “to review their move out of concerns that it will trigger criticism because the amendment plan involves an organic law.”

We are not sure we follow the “argument” being made, but it seems that this is not about worries that the junta’s “election” may be delayed.

Rather, it seems that the unnamed powers worry about “precedent.” The concern is that if this NLA can change an organic law, nasty politicians may have a precedent for “seeking to amend the election of MPs law to do away with election primaries.”

As we understand it, even under the junta’s anti-democratic constitution, MPs are empowered to do this. However, the “unnamed powers” don’t want this to be morally possible.

So the “unnamed powers” sound like those who have had “independent agencies” and the puppet judiciary bring charges against MPs under the Yingluck Shinawatra government for engaging is constitutional activities such as seeking to change the charter.

Is this the Deep State, some form of the “network monarchy” or some other group that can bring enormous pressure?





2006 military coup remembered

19 09 2017

2006 seems a long time ago. So much has happened since the palace, led by General Prem Tinsulanonda, the military and a coterie of royalist anti-democrats (congealed as the People’s Alliance for Democracy) brought down Thaksin Shinawatra’s government on 19 September 2006.

Yet it is remembered as an important milestone in bringing down electoral democracy in Thailand and establishing the royalist-military authoritarianism that has deepened since the 2014 military coup that brought down Yingluck Shinawatra’s elected government.

Khaosod reports:

Pro-democracy activists are marking the 11th anniversary of the 2006 coup on Tuesday evening on the skywalk in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.

Representatives from the police and BTS Skytrain were ordering them to clear the area because it belongs to the rail operator.

The location, frequented by commuters and tourists in a highly visible location, has become a de facto location for protests since the 2014 coup.

“It’s unbelievable how far back we’ve gone for the past 11 years,” said Siriwit Seritiwat, the prominent activist known as Ja New. “The country doesn’t suck by itself, but it sucks because of the wicked cycle.”

The 2006 coup was no surprise given that Thaksin had faced determined opposition from PAD and from General Prem, who reflected palace and royal household dissatisfaction with Thaksin. The coup came after Thaksin had been re-elected in a landslide in February 2005 with about 60% of the vote.

Thaksin had many faults and made many mistakes often as a result of arrogance. The February 2005 election reflected Thaksin’s popularity and this posed a threat to the monstrous egos in the palace. Of course, they also worried about Thaksin’s combination of political and economic power and his efforts to control the military.

Thaksin’s reliance on votes and the fact that he accumulated them as never before was an existential threat to the powers that be. The elite feared for its control of political, economic and social power.

Behind the machinations to tame Thaksin lurked the real power holders in the military brass, the palace and the upper echelons of the bureaucracy who together comprised the royalist state. Some referred to this as the network monarchy and others identified a Deep State. They worried about their power and Thaksin’s efforts to transform Thailand. Others have said there were concerns about managing succession motivating coup masters.

We are sure that there were many motivations, fears and hallucinatory self-serving that led to the coup. Wikileaks has told part of the story of the machinations.

Coup soldiers wearing the king’s yellow, also PAD’s color

A way of observing the anniversary of the military-palace power grab on 19 September 2006 is to look again at Wikileaks cables that reflect most directly on that coup. Here they are:

There are more cables on the figures circling around the coup and the events immediately before and after the coup, giving a pretty good picture of how the royalist elite behaved and what they wanted the U.S. embassy to know.

The royalist elite came to believe that the 2006 coup failed as pro-Thaksin parties managed to continue to win elections. The result was the development of an anti-democracy ideology and movement that paved the way for the 2014 coup and the military dictatorship that is determined to uproot the “Thaksin regime” and to eventually make elections events that have no meaning for governing Thailand.





Junta’s political strategy II

2 06 2016

The Dictator has “clarified” his statements that he doesn’t desire power or want to hold it or that he intends to stay on or have the military stay on in power. As the Bangkok Post reports it, General Prayuth Chan-ocha has “threatened his critics … that he would hold on to power … until peace has been fully returned to the country.”

We guess that suggests that the “loosening up” might have already gone too far for The Dictator.Prayuth gunning for democracy

Oddly, the erratic general was reportedly making these comments on the junta’s domestic political strategy to “a group of 134 developing countries known as G-77 at a forum in Bangkok.” He added that “he would use the 200,000 soldiers at his disposal to continue to lead the country.” The Dictator was clear still: “Without soldiers, Thailand can go nowhere. Nowadays, we are using soldiers to steer the country. Our troops aren’t meant to fight anybody or to persecute politicians…”.

In one sense, we agree with Prayuth. The military is not a conventional armed forces. It is a political agency that has for decades repressed and murdered the citizens of the country.

While the Post worries that the “general’s latest outburst flies in the face of repeated pledges to restore democracy through elections next year,” it should look more closely at the political rules the junta has set that will bound and corral any elected civilian regime to such an extent that the elite’s and military’s representatives in (non)independent agencies and the royalist judiciary will be what one academic calls the Deep State.

Prayuth’s rant continued as he said that “there are still some politicians expressing their opinions.” That’s a pretty clear statement of what Prayuth and the regime think of “politicians” and he is clear on what their subordinate, dominated and unrepresentative position must be. On his own extraordinary powers as The Dictator, Prayuth “explained” that “[m]artial law and Section 44 are crucial for Thailand keeping peace and moving towards the elections…”.

That all seems pretty clear, but the erratic Prayuth then played dumb, claiming he has no “thirst for power.”

Finally Prayuth defended non-democratic politics:”Western democracies” should not urge elections or people’s sovereignty. The Dictator said a one-size political “shirt” does not fit everyone. He declared: Dictators of the world unite, trumpeting, “We countries in the G-77 should have the liberty to select which shirt we want to choose to fit our people.”

That’s exactly what he’s doing in Thailand. The Dictator is defining the people’s political shirt. It is small, narrow and uncomfortable.

All hail The Dictator.





Academics on post-coup Thailand

8 05 2016

PPT has snipped this post from the Journal of Contemporary Asia. We have previously posted on a couple of these articles. Most are behind a paywall, with two articles being free:

RJOC_COVER_46-02.inddIssue 3 of Volume 46 (2016) has gone to print and the issue is available electronically at the publisher’s site (with two articles available for free download). This is a Special Issue titled: Military, Monarchy and Repression: Assessing Thailand’s Authoritarian Turn. The details are:

Introduction: Understanding Thailand’s Politics” by Veerayooth Kanchoochat & Kevin Hewison (free download).

The 2014 Thai Coup and Some Roots of Authoritarianism by Chris Baker.

Inequality, Wealth and Thailand’s Politics by Pasuk Phongpaichit.

The Resilience of Monarchised Military in Thailand by Paul Chambers & Napisa Waitoolkiat.

Thailand’s Deep State, Royal Power and the Constitutional Court (1997–2015) by Eugénie Mérieau (free download)

Thailand’s Failed 2014 Election: The Anti-Election Movement, Violence and Democratic Breakdown by Prajak Kongkirati.

Rural Transformations and Democracy in Northeast Thailand by Somchai Phatharathananunth.

Redefining Democratic Discourse in Thailand’s Civil Society by Thorn Pitidol.

The issue includes five book reviews.





Embedding the military state

31 03 2016

In recent times, academics have written about Thailand’s Deep State and about a parallel state and monarchized military. They haven’t been writing of the military state, which by all recent reports is what the military junta is now seeking to achieve.

Establishing a military state involves a militarization of the state. Uniforms, hierarchical order, laws that make the military prominent in civil affairs, the use of military courts, military privilege, the subordination and/or partnership of the military with other classes and government dominated by military leaders.

Once the preserve of banana republics and fascist regimes, the military state looks increasingly like the state arrangement preferred for Thailand’s post-succession state. It is also useful for establishing the (anti-)law framework of authoritarianism that the junta hope is marked by a resounding “victory” for its ridiculous charter. That the charter may be approved in a bogus “referendum” will be used by the junta to justify its military state.

Yet it would be wrong to understand the referendum and charter as the end product of the 2014 coup. In fact, it is looking increasingly like a sideshow in a broader embedding of the military in society.

One of the scariest stories ever published in the Bangkok Post is about this process. It reports that “[s]oldiers from the rank of sub-lieutenant and up have been given police powers to summons, arrest and detain suspects in a wide range of crimes including extortion, labour abuse and human trafficking, and will also be allowed to search property without a warrant…. [T]hey are authorised to search any place, seize assets, suspend financial transactions and ban suspects from travelling.”

In addition, “soldiers would also act as interrogators and they were taking the crime suppression role because there were not enough police to tackle crime.”

These sweeping powers replace the police in a range of criminal areas. Everyone should be worried. Such powers, once given are difficult to remove, and draconian power feeds the military’s addictions to repression, murder and corruption.

Self-appointed military dictator and prime minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha issued these draconian powers for “preventing and suppressing certain crimes that pose a danger to public order and peace or could sabotage the economy, society and the nation.” It is sure to be used for targeting political opponents and are quite obviously a preparation for possible mass arrests around the referendum over the draft charter.

The rule of law is dead under Thailand’s military state. Law becomes what the military wants it to be.

Another Bangkok Post story states that “[h]uman rights advocates have slammed the regime’s decision to give soldiers powers, on par with police, to deal with crime, which they say could lead to unrestrained actions and abuse of power.” Such voices will be ignored. Worse, the military state may well expunge such voices.

Human Rights Watch researcher Sunai Phasuk identified a “trend by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [he means the junta] to enforce unchecked powers with total impunity…”. He added that this was “very alarming … especially since the NCPO does not tolerate any form of scrutiny or criticism.”

Like us, he names the outcome: “It reaffirms that Thailand has become a military state … as many tasks are being transferred into the hands of soldiers…”.

Yaowalak Anuphan, director of the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights stated: “The NCPO is returning us to the dark ages…”.

It is far worse than that.





2014 and the (further) rise of authoritarianism

6 03 2016

A reader points out that PPT has neglected a couple of academic articles at the Journal of Contemporary Asia. We have now looked at the papers, apparently the first to come out in a special issue of the journal. The issue is to be titled: “Military, Monarchy and Repression: Assessing Thailand’s Authoritarian Turn,” edited by Veerayooth Kanchoochat and Kevin Hewison. Both articles at the publisher’s website are of great interest.

The first is available for free download. Eugénie Mérieau contributes “Thailand’s Deep State, Royal Power and the Constitutional Court (1997–2015),” which the JCA blog says “is an important article assessing the way in which a conservative elite has ruled Thailand and how it seeks to manage succession.”

The abstract for the article is as follows:

This article challenges the network monarchy approach and advocates for the use of the concept of Deep State. The Deep State also has the monarchy as its keystone, but is far more institutionalised than the network monarchy accounts for. The institutionalised character of the anti-democratic alliance is best demonstrated by the recent use of courts to hamper the rise of electoral politics in a process called judicialisation of politics. This article uses exclusive material from the minutes of the 1997 and 2007 constitution-drafting assemblies to substantiate the claim that the Deep State used royalists’ attempts to make the Constitutional Court a surrogate king for purposes of its own self-interested hegemonic preservation.

The second paper is by Chris Baker, titled “The 2014 Thai Coup and Some Roots of Authoritarianism.” Unfortunately, it is behind a paywall. His abstract states:

Thailand is the only country currently ruled by a coup-installed military government. The 2014 coup aimed not only to abolish the influence of Thaksin Shinawatra but also to shift Thailand’s politics in an authoritarian direction. While the army authored the coup, the professional and official elite played a prominent role in engineering the coup and shaping political reforms. This article examines some historical antecedents of this authoritarian turn, first in the broad trends of Thailand’s modern political history, and second in the emergence and political evolution of the Bangkok middle class.








%d bloggers like this: