Pressuring The Dictator

15 01 2018

2018 has begun in great style, with all kinds of people poking the dictators.

The Dictator is about to take another trip this week, this time to Mae Hong Son, saying it is “inspection trip.” Of course, it is more “election” campaigning, fully paid by the taxpayer. He leaves behind more attacks on the junta than we’ve seen for some time.

Without even saying much at all about the Deputy Dictator’s vast luxury watch collection, where even hardened yellow shirts are angry, the junta really wants to get this off the political agenda.

The Bangkok Post reports that red shirts have amped up, perhaps reminding The Dictator of his murderous past, with Nattawut Saikua turning up “at the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) on Friday to demand justice for victims of the deadly 2010 crackdown on protesters in 2010.” More than 90 died and thousands were injured.

Even the Democrat Party, which led the government that ordered the 2010 crackdowns, is poking the junta. Watchara Petthong said “he would seek action from the … [NACC] … against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha over what he alleged was malfeasance concerning ministers’ stock holdings.” He nominated foreign minister Don Pramudwinai as breaching rules.

Yellow and red shirts have almost come together in complaining about the junta’s failures, even if their reasons for this are located in different ideological and political locations.

And, political activists are rallying and campaigning against the junta’s efforts to embed its decrees.

This is just the warm up. The junta is going to cop plenty of political heat.





Push and shove on “elections”and a disingenuous junta

3 01 2018

Some commentators argue that the junta needs an election in order to embed all the conservative changes it has made. That would be so if its preferred people can actually “win.” Certainly the bigger political parties are dead keen for an “election,” even if conducted under the junta’s rules. More direct military rule in an extremely narrow political space does them no good at all.

The mainstream media is mostly pushing for an election. Even some activists reckon any election is better than a extension of the junta’s political nastiness.

All of these “pro-election” groups know that “the regime is paving the way for a military-backed political party which will draw members of existing parties to back it and support Gen Prayut[h Chan-ocha] and the regime to stay in power after an election expected in late 2018.”

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has questioned the (ever changing) election roadmap, doubting that an “election” can be held by November.

The Puea Thai Party’s Chaturon Chaisang reckons the “political landscape this year will be dominated by efforts to prepare for the NCPO [junta] to return to power after the poll” via a “nominee” party. He’s dubious the “election” will be held in November.

Former People’s Alliance for Democracy leader Suriyasai Katasila reckons its back to political polarization. He reckons an election will not take place until 2019.

As a kind of response, the Bangkok Post reports that “[e]lections for local administrative organisations (LAOs) are likely to be organised from May to July…”. The junta has used the local election card previously. This time there might be more to it. No parties involved and all the electoral bodies in the provinces firmly in the junta’s hands. The Post says General Anupong Paojinda “has been confirmed the LAOs elections would take place before the national poll…”. Maybe.

What is certain is that the military is determined to harass “politicians” (who aren’t members of the junta).

In a contrived event, all four regional army commanders “warned politicians against canvassing for support during the festive period while revealing soldiers have been deployed to shadow certain targets.”

One of the commanders, Lt Gen Wijak Siribansop, added that he’s most “concerned about academics, whom he said cannot be barred from voicing their views.” The military have been “talking” with academics in the north. The demand: “Do not try to touch on politics…”.

Lt. Gen. Kukiat Srinaka “revealed officials have been sent to secretly shadow targets in the 1st Army Region’s jurisdiction.” Lt Gen Tharakorn Thamwinthorn, “in charge of the Northeast, said his officers work with other agencies to monitor prime targets…”. He added that he disdained “politicians” and was keen to “apprehend them…”.

After all of this threatening and discussion of illegal acts by the deeply politicized military, Lt Gen Piyawat Nakwanich “insisted the army will act as a neutral player in the political sphere.” Jeez, what would it be like if they did insist they were taking sides? Probably not that different.

It’s a stitch-up.





“Election,” king and politics in 2018

3 01 2018

For the start of 2018, three academic commentators and a journalist have had a go at crystal-balling Thailand’s political future.

Academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun continues his recent lauding the dead king. We at PPT find this quite odd, but it seems Pavin feels that a good king-bad king scenario makes the bad king look badder still. We think he’s wrong to gild the previous reign.

He is right when he says: “Some analysts predicted that Vajiralongkorn would be a weak king dominated by a strong army due to his lack of moral authority and divinity. But the new King has proved these pundits wrong.” This assessment also seems correct:

King Vajiralongkorn has embarked on consolidating his power with the backing of the military. It appears that Thailand’s two most prominent institutions — the monarchy and the military — have attempted to establish a constructive working relationship in order to entrench their respective political standings (at least during this critical royal transition period).

The military king

That relationship has seen the “military … work[ing] towards achieving two goals: eliminating its political enemies and legitimising itself as a political actor.”

He concludes that “the future of Thailand is undefined. 2018 will test the longevity of the interdependent relations between Vajiralongkorn and the military. If such longevity is guaranteed, Thai democracy will be shouldered with another setback.”

Michael Montesano, also an academic, seems sure of a couple of things for 2018: a coronation and the junta’s “election.” But he backtracks on the latter, suggesting it may again be pushed back. He also gets into a bit of good king-bad king stuff, and like Pavin sees Vajiralongkorn as activist/interventionist:

Since the demise of his father, King Vajiralongkorn has been far from passive. But he has devoted his attention above all to matters relating to the management and reordering of royal affairs and to the relationship of the monarchy to the government…. He has not yet begun publicly to define an overarching mission for his reign.

His musings on the future of the monarchy are not particularly convincing to us. But his discussion of the military junta’s role is. He refers to “an ideological orientation” that has the military and junta seeking “to integrate Thai citizens into national affairs without reference to political parties and elections.” On the junta’s “elections,” Montesano sees them as a test of the military regime’s “effort to introduce a political order of lasting quiescence in Thailand.”

Academic Duncan McCargo, acknowledging that The Dictator is “always seems to be trying to wriggle out of it [the junta’s election],” is also unsure about the political future, suggesting five post-election “scenarios.” For all the rumors about new parties – the junta’s and splits from the Democrat Party – and the junta’s more than three years of attacks and repression, McCargo reckons the Puea Thai Party vote could hold up. Even so, “[t]he dice could be loaded the against a pro-Thaksin victory in 2018.” Strikingly, McCargo says almost nothing about the monarchy.

Journalist Shawn Crispin thinks that military regimes that try to stay on tend to be unstable and face civilian uprisings. While he tends to ignore military and military-backed regimes that have had considerable longevity in Thailand, he is the only commentator in this group who considers a civilian uprising against the military a possibility.

He is right that “Thailand’s enterprising but repressed media” seems prepared to “to press the current generation of military coup-makers to hold elections as promised in late 2018 and for coup leader cum premier General Prayuth Chan-ocha to refrain from clinging to power after the polls.”

Crispin notes that “while the media has exposed [the junta’s] massive irregularities” – corruption – the relatively united regime has been able to cover-up using repressive measures:

… the junta’s ironfisted grip on power, underwritten by a hard ban on political association that deems any meeting of more than five people illegal. Invasive state surveillance has also ferreted out and suppressed potential anti-junta agitators before they can mobilize and take to the streets.

He also sees “Thaksin is circling again” as an “election” is anticipated:

Prayuth and Prawit [Wongsuwan] clearly sense an electoral scenario where Thaksin’s coup-ousted Peua Thai is resoundingly restored at the ballot box and their plans to sustain a political role for the military are challenged as illegitimate.

While he says precious little about the monarchy, Crispin does foresee scenarios that involve the king in further delays to an election if the regime feels threatened.

2018 will be interesting.





Abhisit in the mirror

2 01 2018

PPT is not given to posting support for the military dictatorship, but in the case of criticism received from Democrat Party “leader” Abhisit Vejjajiva, we can’t help it.

2008: Newin and Abhisit as anti-democrat deal-makers, backed by the military

Abhisit is quoted in the Bangkok Post as telling the junta that it “should reflect on what it has promised to deliver to the people as this year is likely to be its last in running the country before a general election takes place…”. Abhisit says the military regime “promised to streamline national administration through reforms and return happiness to the people.” He went on to say that the junta “must conduct a self-evaluation to see if the reforms have made any headway or what it has done to convince people that the country under its rule is moving in the right direction.” He makes two more points: “If the NCPO fails to reflect on its performance, the military takeover will have gone to waste,” and “How the NCPO [junta] goes down in history depends on the NCPO itself…”.

There’s much to be said about this statement. For a start, it is appalling that Abhisit calls on the junta to reflect on its time in power when his own regime violently cracked down on civilian protesters on three occasions, in 2009 and twice in 2010, and he seems never to have truthfully reflected on his own role in a murderous regime. Sure, he’s concocted excuses and blamed others, but that’s self-delusion. This is a person who refuses to look at himself in the mirror.

Abhisit and Suthep as anti-democrats calling for a coup

Second, how the junta does down in history depends on who writes the history. If we look at Abhisit’s time as premier, he’s likely to be remembered as a weak and self-centered politician who could not win elections. Worse, he will be remembered for having boycotted elections and trashed parliament while he and his supporters boosted and cajoled thuggish protesters who brought down several elected governments (2006, 2008, 2013-14) through military and judicial coups. He gained the premiership only through the actions of anti-democratic protesters, politicized courts and the actions of the generals. He will be remembered as an enemy of electoral democracy in Thailand.

In this story it is the anti-democratic Abhisit calling on the military to finish the job it began in 2014 – getting rid of the political party that has been Abhisit’s nemesis. He seems to be projecting the possibility of a Democrat Party in coalition with a military-backed party is some distant “election” if the military can crush and destroy the Puea Thai Party.

At the same time, he reflects the views  – even plagiarizes them – of General Prem Tinsulanonda, another anti-democrat.

Our view is that Abhisit is deeply flawed has little future as a leader of a political party that seeks electoral support, even if he is prepared to lick military boot. He’s so tainted that even the military will have to think twice before washing him off.





The junta’s “election” stitch up I

27 12 2017

The junta and The Dictator are working hard on what they assume will their “election” victory, whenever they decide to allow one. The campaign has been underway for a considerable time.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s provincial campaigning has continued. After a bit of a cock-up in the south, the junta managed to orchestrate things better in the northeast.

His most recent provincial trip was to Phitsanulok where his campaigning again involved animals. As reported, Prayuth conversed with an award-winning fighting cock. His message? “Don’t be scared of the NCPO…. The NCPO won’t be hard on you.”

Clipped from The Nation

Meanwhile, the junta is handing out goodies that are incentives for voters. The utilities bills that were a part of earlier elected regime’s and their election campaigns, and trashed as “populist,” are there for the poor.

For the middle class and the rich there are new tax deductions of up to 15,000 baht per taxpayer for taking a holiday. The Bangkok Post reports that:

Tax breaks for tourism spending in secondary provinces from Jan 1 to Dec 31, 2018 will go before the cabinet today. The move is intended to distribute income to these provinces and make the recovery more broad-based.

How “populist” is that! A really cheap holiday thanks to the junta. (Remember to vote for their party!)

While the Democrat Party is disturbed by The Dictator’s use of Article 44, fearing that it will be decimated, that is indeed the junta’s aim. The party that has not been especially critical of Article 44 in the past:

will file a petition with the Constitution Court to determine if the latest National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) order to extend deadlines required for political parties to follow under the Political Party Act is unconstitutional under the charter approved in last year’s referendum.

At the same time, the junta is busy stitching up the “independent” agencies that oversee politics and elections and enforce the rules. This bunch of junta puppets will now include “allowing unqualified anti-graft commissioners to continue working as members of the National Anti-Corruption Commission…”. The courts and independent agencies are likely to dance to the junta’s tune, now and into the future.

While all of this is going on, the political repression of red shirts continues unabated, seeking to silence and disintegrate this pro-Puea Thai Party coalition.

And when the junta decides to have its “election,” its puppet Constitution Drafting Committee has decided to make it illegal to criticize another candidate when campaigning for election. Goodness, the junta doesn’t want any of its candidates being criticized!

It’s a giant stitch up.





Troubles for the junta II

19 12 2017

If the junta plans a transition to a slightly different form of rule following its “election,” it seems to be struggling to maintain political control and direction. Yesterday we posted on some of these issues and challenges. Today we look at how some of these are playing out and some other issues and challenges.

A big issue is when the military dictatorship will ease the ban on political organizing in order to permit the junta’s “election” and how the junta will arrange the military’s continuing political domination. After claims of the formation of a “military party,” those involved have denied that anything is planned (well, sort of).

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, one of the few civilian’s in the military’s government has denied claims that he’s going to lead a military political party. At the same time, the be-watched Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan seemed less sure. Checking his new Casio watch, he said “he had no idea if a military-back political party was being set up or if Mr Somkid would lead it.”

Prawit’s penchant for pricey horographs threatens the junta by showing that it is corrupt, practices double standards and maintains impunity. All of this worries the middle class. It is that class that has been the bedrock of junta political support.

One of the most poignant demonstrations of military cruelty and its institutional impunity has been the death of cadets and recruits. The family of Pakapong “Moei” Tanyakan has rejected a meeting with the military to be told of a military inquiry “investigation” into their son’s death in which the military had already publicly exonerated itself. Such brutality and its sweeping under the carpet are increasingly seen as unacceptable, not least by the middle class.

Then there are the splits within the anti-democrats and with the junta. The usually supine Abhisit Vejjajiva, while still refusing to attack the junta, wants an election, even if it is the junta’s election. So he’s attacking his former deputy and Democrat Party alpha male Suthep Thaugsuban for proposals that might delay an “election” and/or might presage a Suthep-supported alternative political party in the south, gobbling up support that might have gone to the Democrat Party. Any pro-Suthep party is likely to throw weight behind a junta-dominated government post-“election.”

The junta appears befuddled in dealing with political allies of the past although splits in old parties might be considered to benefit any new military party. It is more “comfortable” repressing red shirts.





Troubles for the junta I

18 12 2017

The military dictatorship, keen to extend its political role into the future, is running into a series of problems that suggest struggles over power will intensify as political jockeying for position deepens.

Corruption cases, previously ignored, swept under the rug or “investigated” to exoneration are now getting under the junta’s skin. One recent case is the death of a military cadet where the usual excuses for such deaths are not being accepted.

More challenging because it targets the Deputy Dictator is General Prawit Wongsuwan’s extensive  watch collection. His latest attempt at explaining his unusually expensive watches is about a dead “friend”:

According to Gen Prawit’s close aide who asked not to be named, Gen Prawit is under pressure as he does not know how to make the public believe the Richard Mille watches belonged to his friend.

If his “friend” is dead, then Prawit’s story of “borrowing” watches is unlikely to be verified. If the “friend” existed but is now dead, we assume Prawit might claim to inherited the watches.

The point, though, is that the scandal and chatter won’t go away.

More revealing are the splits that seem to be appearing in the yellow-shirted alliance of anti-democrats who have supported military dictatorship.

While Suthep Thaugsuban continues to support military rule and seeks its extension, his Democrat Party and the broader yellow shirt movement have become critical of the junta and its attempts to entrench its rule.

The Bangkok Post reports the former PAD leader Somsak Kosaisuk as railing against a “military party.” Somsak and Democrat Party MP Watchara Phetthong reckon there’s a “plot to set up a new party in support of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.” The vehicle is claimed to be “a military party which will support Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak as party leader while the name of the party will include the word Pracharath, the government’s public-private collaboration…”.

Somsak warned that “military-backed parties of the past, including the Manangkasila and Samakkhitham parties, had failed because the people did not accept them.”

Somsak’s history is not all that comprehensive, but leaving that aside, Watchara mangles it when he says “Gen Prayut should follow the example of Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, who said ‘that’s enough’ when he was invited by parties to take the premier’s post once again.” He seems to forget the huge pressure to get rid of Prem, including threats about “revealing secrets.”

Even if their history is a bit off, the idea for a military party may not stymie a Prem-like reign for The Dictator. As in the Prem period, the Democrat Party may not be opposed to that.

But the kerfuffle also shows that the regime remains troubled. It is seeking ways to cement its influence but finds the political alliances and parties cumbersome and confounding.