Further updated: Pots and kettles I

11 12 2017

There’s an English saying about the “pot calling the kettle black.” It means something like people should not criticize someone else for a fault that they have themselves. In Thailand, when discussing current politics, it is sometimes difficult to determine which is a pot and which is a kettle, and the blackness seems equally deep and sooty.

So when we read the Bangkok Post: and discover one confirmed and frequent liar being called out by another of similar ilk we do get to wondering.

Government spokesman Lt. Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd and (anti)Democrat Party rich leader and Korn Chatikavanij have been going at each other.

According to this report, by Veera Prateepchaikul, a former editor of the Bangkok Post sides with Korn:

Lt Gen Sansern, who is also acting director-general of the Public Relations Department, accused former finance minister Korn Chatikavanij, without naming him, of being an opportunist craving media space with an intention to lead the public into believing the government has not been doing anything.

The publicity which appeared to upset the spokesman was just Mr Korn’s recommendations to the government on how it could help rice farmers shore up rice prices during the months of November and December when the main crops were to be harvested.

We can understand criticism of Korn on rice policy; after all, he’s never been assigned any work in a rural area, although he now claims “four years” of work on a rich kid botique rice marketing scheme (read about it here, which begins with an incorrect assertion about what Thais think of rice. We think he means his rich brethren).

What was more interesting, though, was Korn’s licking of the pot:

Korn said the government should be more open-minded and receptive to divergent opinions as several policies could help farmers.

He lectured the spokesman and urged him to distinguish friend from foe and not to sow the seed of conflict.

He also reminded the lieutenant-general that there are people outside the government who are loyal and have good intentions toward the country.

Korn is reminding the dictatorship to be nice to its political allies, which includes the coup-loving and coup-provoking Democrat Party.

Apparently Korn has “discovered” and recommended a variant on the long-standing rice pledging scheme that pays a guaranteed minimum price for rice (a plan implemented by others in the past).

Even if Korn is recycling policy, he’s also telling the junta to be gentle with friends.

Seemingly to emphasize this, former Democrat Party leader and former prime minister Chuan Leekpai has demanded that party members not be “persistent” in “asking the regime to lift its ban on political activities…”.

Chuan and “other party executives agreed party members should not keep demanding political restrictions be lifted.” He stressed that if there are delays, the junta should be blamed. But he is also wary of poking his bear-like friends in the junta.

Chuan, who supported to military coups and judicial activism to bring down elected governments then banged on about “democracy.” The “real obstacle” to “democracy” is “people who do not uphold democracy…”.

As far as we can tell, the Democrat Party is chock full of people who do not uphold democracy, including Chuan himself. The Democrat Party has a long history of supporting royalist anti-democracy. Indeed, that was the reason the party was formed.

Update 1: Interestingly, Chuan seems keen to advise the junta on its political base (shared with the Democrat Party). Worried about that base, Chuan “appealed to premier [General] Prayut Chan-o-cha to address falling household income in the South.” Chuan showed that under the junta, average incomes had fallen substantially in several southern provinces.

His advice has been taken up, at least according to the report: “Based on Mr Chuan’s petition, the government had announced a policy of boosting people’s income in a bid to pull the country out of the so-called middle-income trap.”

Chuan worries that the junta makes the Democrat Party look bad as they are seen as political allies.

Update 2: In another political reminder to the junta, anti-democrat leader and “former” Democrat Party deputy leader Suthep Thaugsuban has re-emerged to announced “that he would release a video clip showing the group’s fight during 2013-2014 ‘to commemorate the fight that we fought together’.”

While he did not explain who the “we” were, his latest move suggested to some commentators that he wanted to address the junta. His group supported the junta and allegedly invited them to take office during the months-long protests.

Observers “believe Suthep wanted to remind the junta of their fight and the purpose of their fight” and to oppose the junta’s plan to establish its own political party, which is said to “contradict the PDRC’s initial purpose.” He’s also worried that the junta is “losing” the south.





A sham democracy

4 09 2017

It wasn’t that long ago that the anti-democrats were loud in their criticism of electoral democracy as no democracy at all.

Those rants neglected the fact that the rules for elections in 2007 and 2011 that brought pro-Thaksin Shinawatra parties to power via the ballot box were conducted under rules set by military-backed governments packed by royalists.

Now it is PPT’s turn to complain about empty elections. There’s a ridiculous trend in some media suggesting that any election the military junta decides to allow will herald a return to “democracy” for Thailand.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

According to a report at the Bangkok Post, the latest to fall into this trap is Yves Leterme, the secretary-general of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA).

IDEA’s aims include this:

We develop, share and enable the use of comparative knowledge in our key areas of expertise: electoral processes, constitution-building, political participation and representation, and democracy and development.

So you’d think that its secretary-general would be able to distinguish real electoral democracy and sham democracy. But, no.

He says that “[a]s Thailand transitions towards a democracy, it is critical to keep in mind that not only the elections but the government itself must meet citizens’ expectations for leadership, security and socioeconomic development…”.

Leterme appears to praise Thailand, saying “that demonstrating a clear intention to reinstall democracy through electoral processes is a positive step for the country.”

How could a “democracy engineer” get it so wrong? After all, the military dictatorship has fixed any upcoming election to ensure that only its approved “politicians” can gain seats in government. It also seems highly likely that a general will be prime minister and may not even be an elected member of parliament.

Perhaps the reason for Leterme’s democracy clanger has to do with his Board of Advisers, where the chair is none other than the (anti)Democrat Party’s Surin Pitsuwan, who joined campaigns to bring down elected governments.

Make no mistake, no “election” under the junta’s 2017 constitution and the junta’s electoral rules can be free or fair.





It is still a military dictatorship

25 08 2017

Whatever happens today in the Yingluck Shinawatra verdict, Thailand will still be a military dictatorship tomorrow.

Strangely, The Dictator and his underlings express a warped – mad is a better term – view that Thailand is a “democracy” despite a military regime that came to power overthrowing an elected government and throwing out constitutional law and ruling largely by decree.

The Bangkok Post provided a platform: for The Dictator to present his form of this nonsensical blather:

“Everyone is well aware that over the past three years Thai society faced various problems. We can’t blame anyone because our country is a democratic one and there are elections. Therefore, we must implement political reform to get a government that is democratic, has good governance and is the government of all people…”.

Now, even if the first claim is a misprint, any claim that the dictatorship is paving the way for democracy is nuts. And, despite what American political scientists have tried to tell us, good governance is not necessarily about electoral democracy.

The junta chief also complained – he is an interminable whiner – that “some people are so unwavering in their beliefs. Some agree [with us] but others don’t. I’m not saying that people must agree with everything but everyone can share the common stance that Thailand must be freed from this trap.”

“Some people” consider the “trap” to be military dictatorship, military coups and royalist-capitalist control (by definition, “good people”) of everything.

He seems to mean the “middle-income trap,” a term we might suggest was invented by orthodox economists as a way of ignoring the political in political economy.

But General Prayuth Chan-ocha is not the only military man babbling about democracy. The Nation reports on the trial of anti-coup activists in Khon Kaen, including lese majeste prisoner Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa.

Military officer Captain Apinan Wanpetch told a military court on Wednesday that “holding a banner with a message against the coup d’etat – as student activists led by Jatupat Boonpattararaksa did in May 2015 – was an act of ‘destroying democracy’.”

Such a claim should lead to some kind of psychiatric assessment. But this is Thailand’s military and an officer before a military court, so no sanity could prevail. Captain Apinan, “who arrested the activists, said the 2014 coup to scrap the 2007 constitution and topple the elected civilian government was an admirable mission.”

As mad as a hatter, he babbled on:

“There is no reason to oppose the coup. Although holding a banner against the coup is freedom of expression, the act is destroying democracy, therefore they deserve arrest and attitude adjustment…”.

So the military thinks Thailand is democratic under the military junta and its dictatorship. Liars, murderers, corrupt and as stupid as hell, these guys are more dangerously deranged than we had thought possible.

Meanwhile, a military prosecutor “sought permission from the military court in Khon Kaen to amend the indictment, asking the court to hand down a prison sentence on top of the term Jatupat is serving for the royal defamation charge.”

Liars, murderers, corrupt, as stupid as hell and vindictive and cruel.





The Dictator unthaied

9 07 2017

The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the man who appointed himself prime minister after running a military coup in 2014, has spent the last three years arranging puppet assemblies, puppet agencies, purging the bureaucracy and drafting and re-drafting a constitution, changed after a referendum that allowed no opposition. More, he’s allowed no opposition to anything much that the military dictatorship has done or wanted.

So when The Dictator declares “that he didn’t consider those who believe the military junta will hold power for another 10 to 20 years to be Thai,” he is apparently including himself. We say this because he has clearly worked very hard to ensure that the military retains control of government going forward and has even established a framework for any future government. He and his junta have established, rules and laws that will be difficult to change.

When he says the junta “do not seek to be in power for 10 or 20 years as feared by opponents and critics,” however, he’s fudging. No critic is actually saying that the junta plans to stay for all that time. Rather, it is the regime they have put in place that is at issue.

When he says, “We do not wish to control politics or democracy for the next 10 to 20 years,” he’s lying, for that is exactly what the junta has been about. Controlling the shape of politics into the future.

So he really is not Thai if that is what he says of others who identify his junta’s work.

Critic Anusorn Unno is correct when he says that “the junta will try to maintain control for the next two decades through various means designed under the constitution…”.

As a footnote, Prayuth shows his lack of knowledge of Thailand’s history – as an unThai he’s probably not even interested – when he states “we have been a democratic country for 85 years.” But he does want to keep Thailand as it was during that period of (mostly) un-democracy.





1932 will be erased

16 06 2017

Remember that plaque, commemorating the 1932 Revolution that, for the first time, reduced the absolute power of the monarchy? It was either stolen or semi-officially removed (in secret) at about the time that the junta and the king came up with the idea of making the junta’s constitution a royal constitution by proclaiming it in a royal ceremony on Chakkri Day.

The two events appear related, which seems appropriate as the removal of the plaque was a symbolic rejection of constitutionalism as law and people’s sovereignty and the junta’s constitution similarly rejects those principles.

With the anniversary of the 1932 Revolution coming up on 24 June, activists were planning to mark that event, as they had previously, at the site of the (now missing) plaque.

In anticipation, the police have “warned democracy activists … that they will be arrested if they gather to mark the upcoming anniversary of the revolution that ended absolute monarchy, a historical moment that has taken on renewed significance.”

In particular, police said “they would not tolerate any attempt to gather at spot on this year’s anniversary…”.

The police, who are remarkably dull and mainly focused on managing their own corrupt incomes, are probably acting at the direction of the junta.

One of their spokesmen “explained” the “thinking” behind the ban: “This year we will not allow activists to come to lay flowers at the Royal Plaza because this is palace ground and it violates the NCPO (junta) order banning gatherings for political purposes…”.

That is a perfect illustration of how the monarchy and military have been intertwined in opposing electoral democracy and popular sovereignty. It is a statement that acknowledges the rollback of politics to a royalist authoritarianism that seeks to establish a royalist political system that is anti-democratic.





A story gone missing

3 06 2017

An interesting story seems to have gone missing. We do not know who the author is. Thanks to a reader for capturing it and sending to us:

Charismatic monarch, unstable institution

King Rama VII himself said that a system of absolute monarchy relies on a good king. However, nobody can guarantee the existence of good monarchs forever. Systematic over-reliance on one individual creates irresolvable insecurity in all absolute monarchies (and constitutional democracies where monarchies are above politics).

So we try to build political institutions that do not rely on individuals, such as democracy, so that we may enjoy lasting stability. One failure of our current system is that such institutions have failed to take root.

The transition from Rama 5 to Rama 6 was one of a few instances where, at first, succession seemed to pass smoothly, with little opposition and all arranged in advance. But with the hindsight of five to ten years, the transition proved to be a turbulent one: the new King was not a good fit with the system, causing a split amongst elites.

While the aura of the revered late King Bhumibol Adulyadej still casts its light on the new King, this shadow is a double edged sword. At first, memories of the late king linger in a ‘honeymoon period’ where the populace welcomes his successor, with the expectation that he will continue the greatness of his father. But as the honeymoon period comes to a close, citizens will compare Vajiralongkorn with Bhumibol, and find him sorely wanting. It is not possible for the new King to be comparable with the late King — because hyper-royal enchantment with the late King causes him to transcend reality, to the point of being super-human.

Dissatisfaction and opposition is inevitable.

Or do we still live under absolute monarchy in disguise?

I think that most Thai people believe that succession impacts their lives. What does this mean? It means that a great number of Thai people share an understanding that we do not allow to be expressed — in other words that we are fooling and lying to ourselves. Though we may think this and that, we say out loud the opposite: that the King is not relevant to politics, only important to our lives. Yet that everybody is so concerned and questioning [about succession] shows that succession affects life, society and politics more than Thai people will admit.

I wish to request everybody reading to please ask yourself this question: What is the King’s role and importance to the country? If he is of little importance and his role is of little importance, then he doesn’t have to adapt much, because he doesn’t affect us. But that everybody is so concerned [about succession], it’s because he affects us all. So, please answer yourself: what influence does his have and why does he possess such influence?

The other questions I want to pose are: didn’t Thailand evolve beyond absolute monarchy a long time ago? Then what kind of system are we living under now? What is the actual role of the monarchy, such that it has such a large influence on society and politics? Or are we still living under absolute monarchy in disguise?

The network monarchy

One important characteristic of the monarchy is what many call the ‘network’. When I speak of the monarchy’s role in politics, ‘monarchy’ refers to more than just one individual or the monarchy itself — I am referring to the many people who benefit from the monarchy, who have vested interests, whose ideology is tied to the existence of a strong monarchy. The people who make up this network are many, and are not merely the King’s family. The network includes ordinary people just like us — with ideologies, beliefs, good intentions, bad intentions. Some are enchanted, infatuated with the monarchy while others have material interests. Whatever it is, they all desire a strong monarchy who has a role in the country’s political affairs.

In other words, if a King does not have sufficient charisma, engages in poor behavior and activities, or has a personality that causes people to doubt his virtue, the ‘royal hegemony’ will cease to exist. There is no ‘core’ that can form the foundation for the network, and which can provide the legitimacy needed to grow royalty’s influence in Thailand’s politics. So full circle back to this over-reliance on one individual — now we can see why succession is rising in importance. It’s not just about the King alone. The behaviour of the King is connected to the political system, to other institutions and on and on.

To sum up, succession would not be fatally important were it not for the current political context, and the conditions of Thailand today.

The king and the constitution

I think that the latest constitution makes it clear that we now live under a system of governance that is exactly what Rama VII wanted, but which the People’s Party opposed. What should we call this system? (laughs). More than 80 years later after the reign of Rama VII, he finally got what he wished for.

In conclusion, Thailand’s current political system depends on the monarch having great charisma. The constitution as it stands is based upon a king, whose own legitimacy is based on the belief that kings must be good. But nobody can guarantee this. As such, there is inherent contradiction in the system.

Will this contradiction erupt? Of course it will, one day. But nobody can say when.

This is an excerpt from an interview published in Prachatai’s new book A Molten Land: The Mandatory Transition. The book can be purchased here. It is in Thai.





Get ready for even more regressive “reform”

1 06 2017

The Bangkok Post reports that the puppet “National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) has approved a series of political reform proposals intended to form a key part of the 20-year national strategic plan.”

As usual, the puppets are acting as wooden dolls on strings, voting “158 against 2 to accept the reforms their proponents believe will pave the way for cleaning up Thai politics.” They mean roll back electoral politics and make it subject to the military and the “great” and the “good.”

The puppets babble about “good governance” and “strong democracy,” but these are simply words that conceal their anti-democratic mindset.