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…”.





A few other things

12 08 2018

While the junta is busy censoring us, they might find some of these things of interest, several supplied by readers:

1. A couple of doctoral dissertations: Claudio Sopranzetti’s “Owners of the map” is available as a free download from Harvard, http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:11169780; and Sinae Hyun, Indigenizing the Cold War : nation-building by the Border Patrol Police of Thailand, 1945-1980.

2. Readers may find this site of interest: Music of Thai Freedom. Songs from the Thai Pro-Democracy Movement Translated for the English-Speaking World.

3. National Security Archive has accessed 16 documents on Thailand Black Site and (now CIA director) Gina Haspel describing extended sessions of physical violence and waterboarding; CIA cables detail contract psychologists working for Haspel. It is disturbing stuff.





Democracy as defined by anti-democrats

29 06 2018

It may be that the reporting is not complete, but we found a revealing statement by an ex-Democrat Party MP opposing the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration plan to “drop its plan to dissolve the city’s district councils and replace each one with a so-called civic committee, an elected body.”

Atthawit Suwanphakdi declared he opposed the change from elected councilors to an elected “civic committee” for particular reasons:

The district councillor is the only elected position that is least prone to being involved in corruption because the councillor doesn’t hold any authority to propose a project or make decisions in any budget allocations of the BMA….

Councilors receive a paltry salary to act as “an adviser to the district office director and a general inspector with good connections with both the BMA and the voters in each district…”.

Atthawit’s support for elected district councilors may be seen as slap to the military junta that has prevented elections at all levels since its coup, but his reasoning is classic anti-democrat.

In his view, elected politicians are only useful where they have no power to do anything, leaving the important decisions to bureaucrats and technocrats.





Stealing an election VIII

18 05 2018

The Economist comments on The Dictator’s denial that he’s a political vacuum cleaner.

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha made the denial “responding to the accusation that he was trying to hoover up support from political powerbrokers in anticipation of the restoration of democracy.”

Huh? What “restoration of democracy” has the newspaper imagined?

The one conducted by the military dictatorship with rules that “deliberately weakens existing political parties”? The one that will likely produce “a chaotic coalition, perhaps with Mr Prayuth, pretending to be surprised and reluctant, staying on as prime minister”?

We guess they mean the faux democracy foisted on the country by yet another military dictator.

The one where “the army, although notionally committed to free elections, seems determined to make sure that voters are prevented from repeating their past mistakes.”

Huh “notionally committed”?

Committed like establishing rules and practices that allow no free and fair election? Perhaps that kind of notional commitment.

The commitment made by generals who “have presided over widespread human-rights abuses; economic growth is relatively wan; workers are burdened by high personal debt and foreign investors have been scared away.”

That’s the commitment. And its for a faux election that the generals plan to “win.”

The same generals who have “smother[ed] the existing parties” and prevented them from doing anything much at all. The generals who have smothered news they don’t like or want.

The same generals who “passed [a law] last month bans policies that are intended to improve the government’s popularity but that may cause long-term damage to the economy or society—a definition so sweeping as to encompass nearly any government decision.” That’s while dishing out billions in election buying by the generals.

The junta wants to “win” and stay, for years and years. That’s the generals’ notional “democracy.”





Weird and freaky I

11 05 2018

That’s a title clipped from an article about Harit Srikhao’s art work. We have posted on him before. His art reflects his discovery “that his life was built on the lies of state propaganda. Returning to temples, museums and schools, he quickly learnt that everything he was taught growing up pushed Thai nationalism, and heralded Thailand’s longstanding monarchy.” He found it an absurd fiction.

What drew us to another story about his art and the absurdism of military junta’s and monarchist politics was another story, at Khaosod, that demonstrates how expressing politically inappropriate thoughts about the monarchy is defined as a madness.

The newspaper reports on a woman “held involuntarily for three nights and drugged at a state-run mental hospital after encouraging the monarchy’s support for the people at a recent pro-democracy rally.”

Encouraging this intervention suggested to police that she was mentally ill and they escorted her away “for a psychiatric test at the hospital.”

We have no idea of this woman’s state of mind, but is it not absurd that the police have not thought that calling on the monarchy to support anti-democratic actions and military coups – as has been common for yellow shirts – has not resulted in similar police action.

The thought of state hospitals packed with royalists having their mental fitness assessed for their calls to the monarchy seems absurd. We imagine that the powers that be and associated royalists consider the idea of the monarchy supporting democracy a crazy idea.





Rallying on ending the military dictatorship

10 02 2018

The pro-democracy rally near the Democracy Monument drew hundreds of activists on Saturday.

The authorities tried to prevent the rally in various ways, including a childish effort to cover open areas at the monument with potted plants, forcing hundreds of protesters onto footpaths.

In the end, the rally went ahead with speeches by several people including some of the MBK39.

As well as demanding an election that they said would mean the end the military dictatorship, speakers demanded that the Democracy Monument and what it stood for be given back to the people:

People seeking to cast ballots are blocked by police. A monument has been turned into a garden. No matter what this country has become, this monument still has meaning and significance. Let’s make today the beginning of an end to dictatorship….

Rangsiman Rome declared:

We meet today to demand an election and the end to the power succession. We show a three-finger salute today — first for the election, second for the end of dictatorship and third for democracy….

He also demanded that “politicians” get off their fat behinds and do something to support the pro-democracy activists.

The rally concluded with three of the the MBK39 co-leaders taken away to a police station. Rangsiman, Sirawich Serithiwat and Arnon Nampa were taken to the Saran Rat police station and then the Pathumwan police station. Earlier, Akechai Hongkangwarn, another co-leaader, had been whisked off by police before he could attend the rally.