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.





On making a silk purse

24 01 2019

Yesterday, we posted on how the Bangkok Post had been slapped down by the judiciary. Today, we were surprised to see that the Bangkok Post, now back to a real editorial, appears to be engaging in junta petting.

Banging on about the election now having a date that is probably unlikely to change, it declares: “All stakeholders … have a duty to ensure the freedom, fairness, and therefore the success of the election.”

This is granting the junta’s election more legitimacy than it deserves. This “election” is as rigged as it gets. While the junta’s preferred outcome – The Dictator and pro-junta parties ruling for years to come – may not be fully realized, this does not mean that the election is anything other than but free, is unfair and very much rigged in the military junta’s favor.

Yes, we understand that the Post is seeking to make a silk purse of a sow’s ear and warning against even more blatant cheating, this is a dangerous strategy. It risks having people think that the poll was not rigged. It may even allow the junta to claim legitimacy following the “election.”

And, using a new logo for the “election,” the Post seems to claim that a junta’s election equals a return to “democracy.” That is a cart load of buffalo manure.

As a footnote, without ever having questioned the real reasons for the most recent delay, the Post suggests that the “circumstances” warranted this. Such pandering to a palace that is testing the usual boundaries of what is right and lawful for a monarchy that is meant to be constitutional is also a grave error, albeit understandable given Thailand’s horrendous lese majeste laws and the recent torture and murder of several who were anti-monarchy.

The Post’s final word is also worrying. It declares that a return to “normalcy” will be achieved if “all stakeholders agree to give democracy a chance and are willing to do their best to ensure the election is fair, the goal is within reach.” That is all but impossible. And, it says nothing of post-election rigging of the rules and the coup threats made by the current military boss.





The “educate” on democracy

2 12 2018

We already knew it, but recent World Bank data briefly reported at The Nation confirms it. Thailand’s most highly “educated” – those with tertiary education – are less supportive of democratic politics than those of primary school education levels. More than 62% of the lower educated strongly support democracy while only 53% of “educated” university graduates feel the same.

That will worry the military junta for several reasons. First, like the rest of the anti-democrats, it considers the poor as uneducated, ignorant and gullible. After all, the junta’s current “electoral” strategy is based on this idea, so if those of lower education are more likely to support democracy, then that electoral strategy may be flawed. Second, the junta has sought to promote a notion of Thai-style democracy that is no democracy at all, and it may be that this spurious “democracy” will be rejected. Third, the result suggests that those of lower education levels may reject all of the anti-democratic rigging and fixing the junta has done over its several years of dictatorship.

 





Junta “democracy”

26 11 2018

A short story at the regime’s official “news” bureau is ostensibly about the junta’s mud map being on track, despite repeated changes to that “map” over more than four years of military dictatorship.

What we found more interesting were The Dictator’s musings on “democracy.”

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha let it be known that “the people [should]… be aware that true democracy is to ensure peace in society, maintain public benefits, and protect the nation, religion, and monarchy.”  The Dictator was also claimed to have said that

… some people might have understood democracy is a limitless state where anyone can do anything freely, but the truth remains all actions must stay within limits of the law, with acceptance to the majority and respects to the minority, and not using any group of people as tools to perpetrate conflicts or violence.

Clearly, he’s defining Thai-style democracy, eschewing notions of representation, free and fair elections, constitutionalism including a truly constitutional monarchy, basic freedoms (assembly, speech, etc.) and a depoliticized military.

 





When the military is on top XXVII

2 09 2018

Khaosod’s Pravit Rojanaphruk has an op-ed and a story that deserve attention.

In the stroy, Pravit points out that the “head of a private anti-corruption organization has been silent on its decision to award full marks to junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha in its annual assessment.” He refers to a press conference where Chairman Pramon Sutivong celebrated the Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand’s 7th anniversary by declaring that his “organisation has helped save 25.1 billion baht of state funds that could have been lost to corruption over the past seven years.”

As it turns out, they don’t mean over seven years but since 2015, when ACT partnered with the military junta.

Pramon claimed lots of “outcomes” that can’t be verified, but correctly touted ACT’s “involvement in the development of their 2017 constitution which the organisation implemented as an ‘anti-corruption constitution’.”

At the media circus, Pramon stated: “I give Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the prime minister, full marks. But I admit that there are still a number of people around him that have been questioned by the public…”. He means Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, where ACT has made a comments, but didn’t get into nepotism and military procurement.

When Pramon was asked to “explain how its score was calculated to award the highest possible ranking to a regime that has been marred by corruption scandals, …[he] did not respond to multiple inquiries.”

One activist pointed out that Pramon and ACT gave The Dictator “full marks” when international rankings had Thailand wobbling and had a lower ranking now than in 2015.

A reporter’s questions were said to have included one on whether Pramon considered “staging a coup and monopolizing state funding through the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly as a form of corruption or not.” No response.

Pravit points out that a source at ACT “defended the announcement by saying Pramon, who was appointed by the junta leader to his National Reform Council following the coup, only gave full marks to Prayuth for his ‘sincerity’ to tackle corruption.” That ACT employee flattened out, saying: “He [Pramon] must have heard something that made him feels that His Excellency [The Dictator] Prayuth was sincere…. He may have had some experience from meeting [Prayuth].”

Of course, nothing much can be expected of ACT. It was a royalist response to the election of Yingluck Shinawatra and was populated by royalist “advisers” including Anand Punyarachun and Vasit Dejkunjorn, both activists in opposing elected governments. (By the way, ACT’s website still has Vasit listed as Chairman despite his death in June.)

Pravit’s op-ed is on China in Thailand. Chinese and Chinese money are everywhere, he says. Tourists, property buyers, investors are seen in everything from high durian prices to military authoritarianism.

It is the latter that Pravit concentrates on, citing academics who “publicly warn how the rise of China bodes ill for human rights and democracy in Thailand and Southeast Asia.” PPT commented on this seminar previously. One thing we said was that the emphasis on China, blaming it for the resilience of the military junta seemed a little overdone for us.

But Pravit is not so sure. He notes that China is unlikely to promote democracy, but that hardly needs saying. He does note that Japan and South Korea have “failed to put any pressure on the [2014] Thai coup-makers as well. To them, it’s business as usual.” As it is for China.

Pravit seems to be pointing to the West that was, for a time, critical of the 2014 coup. But, then, some in that  same West were pretty celebratory of the 2006 coup – think of US Ambassador Ralph Boyce and his commentary in Wikileaks.

But Pravit says that “the difference is that China has become much more influential in Thailand compared to Japan or South Korea.” Really? We have previously pointed out that it doesn’t take much work to look up some data to find out which country is the biggest investor in Thailand. But here’s a problem. Pravit cites a deeply flawed book, riddled with errors, that makes more than a few unfounded claims.

We might agree that “[d]emocracy, human rights, press freedom and free speech are at risk if we ape the Chinese model of politics and administration…”. But think, just for a few seconds about this statement. Thailand’s democracy, human rights, press freedom and free speech are not at risk from Chinese supporters but from Thailand’s military. Under the junta, they have been mangled.

Thailand’s generals don’t need Chinese tutors on how to undermine democracy, human rights, press freedom and free speech. They have done it for decades. It comes naturally, whether “relying” on the support of the US as many military leaders did or with China’s support.





Academic discussion of democracy

25 08 2018

Khaosod reports on an event at Chulalongkorn University that summarizes the outcomes as being:

China’s growing influence in Thailand, middle class support for the junta, a royalist ideology and the West’s declining interest in human rights abroad have led to the ruling junta’s long stay in power….

We were immediately somewhat dismayed. Some of these things may have had an impact but one of them – royalist ideology – disappeared from the report. All we get is the statement that the junta has been:

“manipulating” … “royal-military authority” as an alternative power structure. Prajak [Kongkirati] called the issue of the monarchy the elephant in the room, while Puangthong [Pawakapan] said she could not discuss the issue…. “You see it, but you cannot discuss it openly,” Puangthong said.

We were also dismayed that other “major factors” were simply missed (at least in the report): repression, the bringing down of the red shirt movement and the militarization of almost everything, not to mention the power of the military’s armed threat.

So this report is a bit ho hum, but we are still going to write on it because even the fact of having an academic meeting on the future of democracy is something of an achievement in the junta’s Thailand!

That China gets some of the blame for the resilience of the military junta seems rather overdone. After all, contrary to the daft comments of the American commentator Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at Hoover Institution, who miraculously appears in a range of places “advising” on how to be more democratic, Thailand has long experience with authoritarianism and authoritarianian principles are deeply embedded in many institutions.

Much of that was achieved when Thailand leaned heavily on the US. And as Thitinan Pongsudhirak of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University observed, “China said whatever government you have is okay with us…”.

It is true that, initially, China was important for Thailand because, as Prajak Kongkirati of Thammasat University, the junta had to “lean on China as it came under pressure from the United States, European Union and Australia in the immediate aftermath of the coup.”

But all that has since changed, and the junta has been enthusiastic on the nations of Europe and the US. Watch these countries accept the rigged election results when the junta decides it can “win” it.

Still on China, Puangthong Pawakapan of Chulalongkorn University, said “China has become the biggest investor-donor in Southeast Asia, provide uncritical support to oppressive regimes in Southeast Asia and has become a model for authoritarian rule in the region.”

Only some of that is true.It is true that China provides uncritical support of oppressive regimes. It is also uncritical of the governments that are not so repressive in the region. We also think that China’s successful marrying of authoritarianism and rampant capitalist development is seen as something of a model.

At the same time, a significant part of the rise of that “model” has to do with the failures of democracy in the West, where citizens have been economically disenfranchised and politically marginalized and the plutocrats and their states have moved sharply to the political right.

What isn’t right is the reported claim that China is the “biggest investor-donor in Southeast Asia.” More research is needed on this. But it isn’t true for Thailand, where the data do show China as the biggest trade partner, even before the junta, but the data up to a year or so ago show China a relative minnow in terms of investment.

As reported, Diamond’s commentary is uninformed on Thailand and rather too formulaic on electoral politics. The claim that: “It’s hard to imagine a long authoritarian rule being stable here,” seems too focused on recent years. Authoritarian rule has been remarkably stable in Thailand since WW2. And, as Prajak points out the junta is now “the longest-ruling regime since 1973…”. He means military regime, because Gen Prem’s regime was in place for a longer period (1980-88).

Prajak is right to observe that “support from the middle class and big capitalists would keep the military in power.” And Puangthong is probably right to say that “Thailand was the worst in Southeast Asia when in comes to the rise of support for authoritarianism among the middle class, though she did not cite any evidence of this.” She added that this support “is the strength of the military regime now…”.