Down the shute

4 03 2021

PPT doesn’t always post on rankings, but the Freedom House index struck us as telling of Thailand’s descent into a dark era. Freedom House’s report now ranks Thailand as Not Free. While one might dispute such indices, it is clear that the country now languishes with some sad companions in these “league tables,” looking far more authoritarian than democratic.

Freedom House’s report on Thailand begins:

Thailand’s status declined from Partly Free to Not Free due to the dissolution of a popular opposition party that had performed well in the 2019 elections, and the military-dominated government’s crackdown on youth-led protests calling for democratic reforms.

It goes on

Following five years of military dictatorship, Thailand transitioned to a military-dominated, semi-elected government in 2019. In 2020, the combination of democratic deterioration and frustrations over the role of the monarchy provoked the country’s largest anti-government demonstrations in a decade. In response to these youth-led protests, the regime resorted to familiar authoritarian tactics, including arbitrary arrests, intimidation, lèse-majesté charges, and harassment of activists. Freedom of the press is constrained, due process is not guaranteed, and there is impunity for crimes committed against activists.

Read it all here.





112 threatens Thailand

16 01 2021

The Nation has a report on a recent statement by Piyabutr Saengkanokkul as secretary-general of the Progressive Movement.

Referring to the youth who have been demonstrating for reform and lamenting the rise of lese majeste repression, he states: “We cannot leave the ‘future of our nation’ to be charged with violating Article 112…. They are sacrificing their freedom and lives to fight for democracy.”

He argues that Article 112 of the Criminal Code is “problematic in all aspects, including the severity of punishment, and its interpretation and enforcement by authorities.”

He went on to urge “members of Parliament, as representatives of the people, to use this opportunity to cancel the criminal offence of defamation, whether it covered royalty, foreign leaders, ambassadors, shrines, or ordinary people.” He believes that “[d]efamation should be made a civil offence rather than a criminal offence…”, which would be inline with international practice, adding “that no one should be jailed for exercising their freedom of expression…”.

Piyabutr added that the “Move Forward Party he co-founded in 2019 had decided to leave the lese majeste law off its agenda, but this had left a scar on his conscience…. However, the situation had now changed and it was time to support the popular push to revoke Article 112…”.

He’s right.





With 3 updates: The Dictator’s response I

21 10 2020

The Dictator, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, is tone deaf. So hard of political hearing that he’s doubling down against the students and other protesters, seemingly prepared to risk clashes and extreme violence.

Voice TV has been defiant on the court ordered shutdown. But Gen Prayuth has ordered state authorities to crackdown hard, especially on anti-monarchy statements and images, stating: “We are duty-bound to protect the country and eliminate ill-intentioned actions aimed at creating chaos and conflict in the country…”. He’s talking about the monarchy.

In a piece of good news, and in an act that goes against the judiciary’s pro-authoritarian bent, the Criminal Court on Wednesday “repealed a government order to close down a TV channel [Voice TV] who’s been broadcasting live coverage of the student-led protests…”.

Voice TV “representatives argued to the court that the shutdown order breached the constitutional protection of media freedom…. The argument was accepted by the court, who noted that the order did not cite any clear wrongdoing.”

But other parts of the judicial system acted against democracy. Many will have seen reports that several of those arrested had been bailed. Not so fast. A Bangkok Post report states:

Two protest leaders, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak and Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, were taken to the Criminal Court on Wednesday as Bangkok police pressed charges against them for their part in an anti-government rally at Sanam Luang on Sept 19.

Samran Rat police took the two pro-democracy activists from the Region 1 Border Patrol Police camp in Pathum Thani province to the court, ariving around 10.50am on Wednesday.

The two Thammasat University students were released on bail by Thanyaburi court on Tuesday afternoon, before police took them to the Region 1 Border Patrol Police camp in Khlong Luang district.

Mr Parit and Ms Panusaya were also wanted on arrest warrants from other police stations for their roles in anti-government rallies in Bangkok and other provinces.

In other words, the police and regime can continue to keep them on political ice.

More than this, the arrest continue, even in the fake case of “royal endangerment.” Suranat Paenprasert, a coordinator for children’s welfare and anti-drug advocacy group “Active Youth,” was charged with Article 110 of the Criminal Codes, which bans committing acts of violence against the Queen or [h]er [l]iberty.” It is a fit up, but the regime want to raise the temperature of ultra-royalists, while removing activists.

Meanwhile, the royalists are getting organized, with support from the state. Seeing the students and other protesters as “misled” and “duped” – terms also use when denigrating red shirts – Warong Dechgitvigrom warned of “the plot”: “pro-democracy protesters’ demands were not legitimate, especially those concerning the monarchy.” And, he added that there were hidden backers: “group leaders did not want to show themselves to avoid legal action.”

Helping him out, “Labour Minister Suchart Chomklin yesterday spoke about his Facebook post urging people in Chon Buri to exercise their power to protect the monarchy.” That’s a call to action and probably arms.

The state is now actively engaged in mobilizing royalists. The Bangkok Post reports:

Crowds estimated to number in the tens of thousands led by local administrators gathered in several in provinces on Wednesday in a show of loyalty to the royal institution.

The royalist demonstrations, staged in response to recent calls by some student protesters for reform of the monarchy, took place in provinces including Chiang Mai, Chon Buri, Lampang, Nan, Narathiwat and Songkhla….

Similar gatherings were planned in provinces before the end of this month.

Bangkok Post: An estimated 20,000 yellow-clad people march in Sungai Kolok district of Narathiwat on Wednesday morning to show their loyalty to the royal institution. (Photo by Waedao Harai). The Post always downplays and vastly underestimates the size of student rallies.

The states involvement is a dangerous turn of events and The Dictator seems to be digging in. We are not sure that can save him. How desperate can he become?

Update 1: The Bangkok Post appears to be aiding the regime. One of its latest “stories” is about continuing protests and the ultra-royalist marches mentioned above. It reports that “authorities are worried about possible clashes between the two groups in the future.” Again, the post goes full ultra by not pointing out that it is the authorities who are mobilizing the royalists. Indeed, many of those who marched were in civil service uniforms! The Post, by playing dumb, is aiding and abetting any violence that the state unleashes.

Update 2: The Nation makes it clear that the royalists were mainly officials.

Update 3: Social media reports that the first attacks on protesters by yellow shirted royalists took place at Ramkhamhaeng University around 5-6pm today.





The Guardian on Thailand’s absolutist monarch

16 10 2020

The Guardian has an editorial on Thailand that deserves to be widely read. With apologies to the publisher, we reproduce it here in full (including hyperlinks):

The Guardian view on Thailand’s protests and the king: the end of deference

Demonstrations reflect a longstanding appetite for democracy – but challenging the monarchy breaches a taboo

Thailand is often described as coup-prone, given the numerous military takeovers since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932. It would be as accurate to call it democracy-hungry. Thais have periodically fought to determine their own future, despite the risks.

Early on Thursday, the government declared a “severe” state of emergency in Bangkok, in response to months of protests culminating in a mass rally on Wednesday. It banned gatherings of more than four people and the publication of information that could “create fear” or “affect national security”. Thousands immediately surged into the streets, angered by the arrest of protest leaders. The fear of a harsher crackdown is well-founded given the brutal repression of previous movements, including the 1976 massacre at Thammasat University. The UK and others must press the regime to respect the rights of protesters.

Prayuth Chan-ocha’s administration, a military junta that laundered itself into an elected government via a rigged system, is both incompetent and authoritarian. Even dissidents who have fled the country have been harassed, disappeared or killed. Unhappiness has been fuelled by Covid-19’s destruction of the tourism sector, on which the country is heavily dependent. Protestors demand the prime minister’s resignation and the redrafting of the constitution. But they have also broken new ground by demanding reform of what was previously taboo, thanks to heavy penalties for discussing it: Thailand’s royalty. Anon Nampa, the lawyer who helped kick the movement off and is now detained, warned: “If we don’t fix the monarchy, we can’t fix anything else.”

While his father, who died in 2016, was seen touring provincial development projects, King Maha Vajiralongkorn is better known for his personal life, including the ruthless treatment of ex-wives. He resides largely in Bavaria with a female entourage; Germany’s foreign minister says it has “made it clear that politics concerning Thailand should not be conducted from German soil”.

But the king has also centralised both wealth and power, taking direct command of troops, insisting on constitutional changes and taking personal ownership of the Crown Property Bureau’s holdings – estimated at $40bn [PPT: way too low]. While millions are unemployed, $1bn of this year’s government budget will go to the monarchy. Cue previously unthinkable scenes, with protestors giving a three-fingered salute to the royal motorcade in reference to the Hunger Games and to liberty, equality and fraternity.

Yet the institution’s revered status had already begun eroding. While the last king was seen as a pillar of stability, he consistently sided with the forces of conservatism. Anti-monarchism began to emerge among the largely poor and rural “red shirts” who supported the ousted and controversial prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. Strikingly, however, there now seems to be a nascent realignment between this movement and another with which it has often clashed: the urban, largely middle class pro-democracy movement often rooted in universities and NGOs, and which most recently swung behind Future Forward, a now-dissolved pro-democracy party.

Thailand’s establishment has so far proved incapable of grasping that the age of deference is over. It is not surprising that the elites resist change in a country with possibly the highest wealth inequality in the world, where the richest 1% control almost 67% of assets. But nor is it feasible that the rest will be content with their meagre lot. Until a better political and economic settlement is reached, the strains will continue to grow. The monarchy’s position is now one of them.





Reform demanded

20 09 2020

In wrapping up the student-led rally on Sunday morning, a large group moved from Sanam Luang to an area near the headquarters of the Privy Council to deliver their 10 demands for the reform of the monarchy.

Initially, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul “had asked to submit the demand with a representative of the Privy Council but after negotiations with the police agreed to leave it with the metropolitan police chief.”

The rally leaders had read out the demands at the rally site.

In part, the letter accompanying the 10 demands stated:

The purpose of these demands is not to overthrow the monarchy…. Instead, it is with good intentions to honor and maintain the monarchy … under the democratic system, to sustain [the monarchy]… in the context of the modern world. The monarchy … must not have political powers, must be subjected to checks and balances, must be opened to criticism, and must not burden the people. Therefore, the monarchy … shall exist honorably under an internationally accepted democratic system.

Protest leaders have called for another rally on 14 October.





10 demands

13 08 2020

As reported by Prachatai, the students at Thammasat made 10 demands for the reform of the monarchy.

The context: “These demands are not a proposal to topple the monarchy. They are a good-faith proposal made for the monarchy to be able to continue to be esteemed by the people within a democracy.” The demands:

1. Revoke Article 6 of the 2017 Constitution that forbids any accusation against the King. And add an article to allow parliament to examine wrongdoing of the King, as was stipulated in the constitution promulgated by the People’s Party.

2. Revoke Article 112 of the Criminal Code, to allow the people to exercise freedom of expression about the monarchy and amnesty all those prosecuted for criticizing the monarchy.

3. Revoke the Crown Property Act of 2018 and make a clear division between the assets of the King under the control of the Ministry of Finance and his personal assets.

4. Reduce the amount of the national budget allocated to the King in line with the economic conditions of the country.

5. Abolish the Royal Offices. Units with a clear duty, such the Royal Security Command, should be transferred and placed under other agencies. Unnecessary units, such as the Privy Council, should be disbanded.

6. Cease all giving and receiving of donations by royal charity funds in order for all assets of the monarchy to be open to audit.

7. Cease the exercise of the royal prerogative over the expression of political opinions in public.

8. Cease all public relations and education that excessively and one-sidedly glorifies the monarchy.

9. Investigate the facts about the murders of those who criticized or had some kind of relation with the monarchy.

10. The king must not endorse any further coups.





Students rising III

29 02 2020

The student rebellion against the regime led by Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha continues, with rallies in many parts of the country.

As would be expected from a royalist and dictatorial regime camouflaged by a rigged election “victory,” the repression is ramping up.

As already mentioned in earlier posts, Gen Prayuth has warned students. In parliament, he “pointed out that some demonstrators were making other demands — some of which touched on the monarchy — in addition to pressing for more democracy.” Police followed up.

Prayuth also repeated a common royalist-conservative mantra: that the students are pawns of politicians. As an example of this buffalo manure, the Bangkok Post reports that “experts”- we can only see one and question the use of the word “expert” for him – who admonish the students, declaring that: “Students at anti-government rallies risk becoming a tool of politicians who are seeking ways to attack the Prayut Chan-o-cha administration…”.

They are falling in line with conspiracy theorists. For example, writing for a Russian outlet, a notorious foreign yellow shirted agitator declares the students – every one of them – as pawns of USA-loving politicians and Western plotters. Such claims are avidly consumed by yellow shirts, the military brass and the regime’s leaders.

The problem for the conspiracy theorists, Thai and foreign alike, is that the students have made up their own minds that they oppose authoritarianism and are actually dragging the politicians along. The extent of the rallies have surprised many, including the politicians. While there are antecedents and sparks, these student rallies represent and organic opposition to the regime.

Sadly, if the regime reacts as it has before to challenges – when it was the military junta – there will be more repression. If the military engages, expect arrests and the use of thugs against those identified as leaders of the protests.

More broadly, because there are rallies, we can probably expect criminal charges against the Future Forward leadership to be pursued.





Buffalo manure “democracy”

27 01 2020

A few days ago the Bangkok Post included a report that “Thailand was the biggest mover in The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2019 Democracy Index, rising 38 places in the global rankings…”. That was a surprise. More astounding though, The Economist Intelligence Unit considered that the military junta’s “conversion” of itself into a military-backed regime with a government manufactured out of what should have been an electoral defeat makes Thailand a “flawed democracy” rather than what was previously a “hybrid regime.”

PPT has been a collective fan of The Economist’s coverage of Thailand’s politics in recent years. However, this “ranking” suggests that its Intelligence Unit has lost its IQ.

How on earth does The Economist Intelligence Unit decide that: “The biggest score change in Asia occurred in Thailand, which finally held an election in March 2019, the first since the military coup in May 2014. Voters had a wide array of parties and candidates from which to choose, and this helped to restore some public confidence in the electoral process and the political system…”. It seems that the “election led to improvements in the scores across all five categories of the Democracy Index, but the sharpest increase was recorded for electoral process and pluralism.”

How on earth does The Economist Intelligence Unit decide that Thailand is a “flawed democracy”? It defines these in this manner:

These countries … have free and fair elections and, even if there are problems (such as infringements on media freedom), basic civil liberties are respected. However, there are significant weaknesses in other aspects of democracy, including problems in governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation.

This puts Thailand in the same category as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Italy and Indonesia. This is nonsensical, but that’s what the “numbers” say to The Economist Intelligence Unit.

Thailand is a country where political repression is widespread, an election was rigged over several years, opposition parties were dissolved, the courts have been made political bodies, “independent agencies” made tools of the military-backed regime, activists are beaten, arrested, threatened, disappeared and murdered, the military has a parallel administration and operates outside the law and with impunity, the Senate was selected and appointed by the junta and operates for it…. Do we need to go on? And need we say that for four months of 2019, the country was a military dictatorship.

Thailand is no longer a “hybrid regime,”which The Economist Intelligence Unit defines as:

Elections have substantial irregularities that often prevent them from being both free and fair. Government pressure on opposition parties and candidates may be common. Serious
weaknesses are more prevalent than in flawed democracies—in political culture, functioning of government and political participation. Corruption tends to be widespread and the rule of law is weak. Civil society is weak. Typically, there is harassment of and pressure on journalists, and the judiciary is not independent.

That sounds like Thailand. More academically-based definitions seem to fit Thailand too, as summarized at Wikipedia:

A hybrid regime is a mixed type of political regime that arises on the basis of an authoritarian as a result of an incomplete democratic transition. Hybrid regimes combine autocratic features with democratic ones, they can simultaneously hold political repressions and regular elections. The term “hybrid regime” arises from a polymorphic view of political regimes that opposes the dichotomy of autocracy or democracy…

So we ask again, how on earth does The Economist Intelligence Unit come up with this stuff?

According to one account:

How did the EIU come up with a scoring system that is supposedly accurate to two decimal places? What it did has the semblance of rigor. It asked various experts to answer 60 questions and assigned each reply a numerical value, with the weighted average deciding the ranking. Who are these experts? Nobody knows.

The Economist Intelligence Unit has responded to such criticisms, but, in fact, still gives the unnamed experts 60 questions with a 3-point scoring system: 0, 0.5, 1. It also claims to use other measures:

A crucial, differentiating aspect of our measure is that, in addition to experts’ assessments, we use, where available, public-opinion surveys—mainly the World Values Survey. Indicators based on the surveys predominate heavily in the political participation and political culture categories, and a few are used in the civil liberties and functioning of government categories…. In addition to the World Values Survey, other sources that can be leveraged include the Eurobarometer surveys, Gallup polls, Asian Barometer, Latin American Barometer, Afrobarometer and national surveys. In the case of countries for which survey results are missing, survey results for similar countries and expert assessment are used to fill in gaps.

With all of this (pseudo-)science – such as the Asian Barometer – The Economist Intelligence Unit gave Thailand a score of 6.32.

PPT did the 60 questions (see the appendix to the report) and came up with a score of 4.50, which would have Thailand ranked closer to Pakistan, a so-called hybrid regime.

We’d suggest that The Economist Intelligence Unit might spend a little more time reading The Economist on Thailand’s democratic failure and efforts at re-feudalization.





Faking it

7 06 2019

The Bangkok Post reports that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and his minions are claiming some kind of democratic process and mandate from the rigged election and the even more obviously rigged vote for The Dictator as premier.

Deputy government spokesman Werachon Sukondhapatipak conveyed Gen Prayuth’s buffalo manure babbling that Gen Prayuth, the political crook who rigged both votes, “stressed that the majority votes first came from House of Representatives and then were combined with the votes from senators, creating a total of 500 votes. This goes along with a conventional rule…”. This seems to mean that Gen Prayuth is claiming to have been democratically elected.

Of course, this is utter nonsense, but the general has always craved the opportunity to make such a (banal) claim. Like a babbling but loyal dolt, The Dictator “promised to do his best for the country, religions, the monarch and the people.” We are not sure how anything is different from yesterday or a week ago, but there it is. As usual he demanded loyalty and order.

For a more realistic assessment of the rigged election and the rigged vote for premier, try the editorial at Khaosod, “Prayuth’s PM Victory is a Sham” or the Bangkok Post’s editorial “This is not democracy.”

The Khaasod piece is particularly good as it lists many of the efforts by the junta to rig the election and Thailand’s political system.

It gets more dangerous now as the irritable general seeks to ignore parliament or to buy off MPs while his minions use violence against opponents. Prayuth will need to rely heavily on the king’s support, so look for all kinds of ingratiation and a king with a big appetite.





Prem dead III

29 05 2019

Sick of the buffalo manure about Gen Prem Tinsulanonda? If so, read today’s opinion in The Nation. In the junta’s Thailand, it is a remarkable piece of journalism. In case heads roll and censors get to work, we reproduce it all:

Prem was no friend of the people
opinion May 29, 2019 01:00

Hailed as the great statesmen of our era, Prem Tinsulanonda exploited unmatched connections to halt democratic progress

General Prem Tinsulanonda will be remembered for many things – but advancing Thai democracy will not be among them.

Soldiers-turned-politicians like General Prayut Chan-o-cha and Prawit Wongsuwan might admire Prem for his rise to the post of prime minister after a lifetime of military service.  He managed to hold the position for eight years without ever running for election. Neither did he need his own political party.

Prem exploited military power to climb the political ladder in the late 1970s, when a golden era of democracy ended with the massacre of students at Thammasat University on October 6, 1976. He was then a member of the coup led by Admiral Sangad Chaloryu that toppled the elected civilian government of the day.

Prem served General Kriangsak Chamanan’s government as deputy interior minister and later defence minister, while also holding his post as Army chief.

Kriangsak’s ideology was moderate compared with that of his predecessor, the ultra-rightist Thanin Kraivichien, but his Cabinet member and long-time close aide Prem differed from both. Prem was more conservative than Kriangsak, showing no faith in democracy whatsoever.

In February 1980, after losing public support over rising oil prices, Kriangsak resigned to, in his own words, save democracy.

Prem, in contrast, chose to punish politicians by dissolving Parliament whenever he faced difficulties in the administration or legislature. Neither did he have any faith in elections as a way of legitimising his premiership.

Instead he secured his rule via strong connections to the Palace, which he used to build his own charisma and influence over the military. Officers seeking career advancement needed Prem’s patronage. Only “louk pa” (Papa’s sons) would be recruited to the inner circle of the military elite. The resulting intrigues and tensions within the ranks led to military uprisings against his regime, but with the blessings of the Palace he was rescued from internal threats.

Military backing also boosted Prem’s bargaining power with political parties in Parliament. Until the Chart Thai Party’s election victory in 1988, no politician dared to challenge Prem for the premiership. The task of forming the government after elections was always left to military commanders. Top brass like General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh were keen to take on the job, mustering political parties to support Prem as government leader.

Those parties unwilling to make deals would be consigned to the opposition benches – though not for their political platforms or ideology, but because Prem did not want them on board.

In stark contrast to elite establishment opinion, Prem’s regime did not address the needs of all citizens and stakeholders. By the late 1980s, as Prem propagandised via a bureaucracy network fanning out from the Interior Ministry, intellectuals, scholars, students and civil society were calling loudly for democracy.

The end of the Cold War, emerging liberalisation and domestic demands for change finally brought Prem’s regime to an end in 1988. The forward-looking Chart Thai Party leader Chatichai Choonhavan showed that Prem’s “military-guided democracy” no longer fitted the new circumstances.

An inside deal to kick Prem upstairs as an adviser to HM King Rama IX was offered, paving the way for Chatichai to take the national helm.

Belying his declaration of, “Enough, you can resume your democracy”, Prem retained his influence over the military and close links to the Palace. He was subsequently blamed for exploiting those links to engineer political setbacks, coups and political division over the past decade, as the establishment elite battled against the influence of Thaksin Shinawatra and democratic movements.

Prem’s legacy will be to inspire military top brass to maintain their strong influence in politics, to the diminishment of democracy in Thailand.