A politically contorted judgement

25 02 2020

Criticizing the Constitutional Court can easily lead to prison as the court is protected by laws that prevent even reasonable criticism. In this context, the Bangkok Post story on a “group of 36 law lecturers at Thammasat University … issu[ing] a statement voicing disagreement with the Constitutional Court’s decision to disband the Future Forward Party (FFP) over a campaign loan” caught our collective attention.

From Ji Ungpakorn’s blog

The lecturers disputed several aspects of the Court’s judgement. Most significantly, they contended that “a political party does not meet three legal criteria that constitute a public organisation and should thus be legally defined as a juristic entity. As a juristic entity, a political party can lawfully obtain a loan.”

They also disputed the Court’s view that “the loan’s low interest rate and late-repayment fee” were an “unusual” business practice. The lecturers pointed out that “a lender and borrower were free to agree on the rate.”

That point mirrors Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s defense of his father’s big land deal in 2014: “Prayut said the company has the right to buy his father’s land at whatever price they see fit.”

The lecturers contend that the loan “did not qualify as a ‘donation or other benefits’ as the court ruled…”.

They also observed that “Section 72, which was used to disband the FFP, did not apply in this case since it deals with money acquired from illegitimate sources or suspected illegitimate sources such as the drug trade or criminal activities.”

They make excellent points, but the Court and regime will remain confident that their double standards and politically contorted judgement cannot be reversed.





Is the regime in trouble?

24 02 2020

Shawn Crispin at Asia Times had a few things to say before the Future Forward dissolution that deserve some attention. He was writing of the military and its regime after the Korat massacre.

He says the “killings have cast the military’s persistent overarching role – including over ex-coup-maker [Gen] Prayut[h Chan-ocha]’s elected coalition government – in a new dim light as critics blast the brass for being more engaged in politics and business than overseeing their barracks and ensuring security.” He adds:

If that criticism gains momentum while the economy tanks and the government’s big business backers visibly thrive, a new era of political confrontation pitting the conservative forces now propping Prayut and new genuinely progressive ones coalescing in the political opposition could break into the open sooner than most expect.

While a political crisis might be seen off in the usual repressive ways, an economic decline would test the resolve of the big businesses that prospered under the junta. Thailand’s big banks “are unevenly exposed to a handful of big borrowers, namely the ‘five family’ corporations that contributed generously to Prayut’s Palang Pracharat Party’s (PPRP) election campaign…”. At the time of writing, Crispin argued that:

Those corporate links will come under scrutiny if the opposition Peua Thai and Future Forward parties deliver as avowed at an upcoming no-confidence debate that will target PPRP ministers, including Prayut, while looking past other parties’ ministers who, with a shift in political winds, could jump to join a future anti-PPRP government.

That might be less likely now that the Constitutional Court has done its job, but the threat remains that deals done with the Sino-Thai tycoons could be revealed.

Matching Ties: Prayuth and CP Group chairman Dhanin Chearavanont (2nd R) and ThaiBev founder billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi (L). Photo: AFP Forum/Chanat Katanyu (clipped from Asia Times)

Some of the deals included “a land deal involving an alleged subsidiary of ThaiBev created just a day before it purchased Bangkok land from Prayut’s family for 600 million baht ($19.2 million), a sum [that] … far exceeds the land’s underlying market value.”

The Sirivadhanabhakdi family’s investments include “One Bangkok” an “integrated development being built in league with the Crown Property Bureau…. The 120 billion baht ($3.5 billion) development … is the largest ever undertaken in the kingdom.” The Sino-Thai tycoons, the military and the monarchy have dominated politics and business for decades.

Meanwhile, at The Nation, economist Anusorn Tamajai, the director of the Economic and Business Research Centre for Reform at Rangsit University’s Institute of Economics, commented on the dissolution of Future Forward:

He said that the case “showed that Thailand’s semi-democracy is being interrupted by anti-democracy elite.” He observed that “most democratic countries did not dissolve political parties because they were institutions of citizens that maintained the stability of the country’s democracy.” In Thailand, however, “[t]he anti-democracy elite’s attempt to maintain its authority shows that this country does not have the rule of law…”. He reckoned this “has caused a heavy impact on the economy and will cause more impact in the future, especially on investment.”

He further explained that “[t]he Constitution, laws, regulations, and independent organisations arose from the coup d’etat, so the legal form has been always questioned in terms of justice…”, adding:

If the Constitutional Court is able to rule based on justice and treats all parties equally, the conflict will be resolved. But if it is not, the dissolution of political parties and the revocation of political rights will occur continuously, resulting in conflict in society.

How much trouble is the regime in? Much depends a lot on the reaction of Future Forward’s supporters.





HRW on the dissolution

23 02 2020

Human Rights Watch has issued a statement on the Constitutional Court’s legal contortions: Thailand: Court Dissolves Opposition Party. Disbanding Future Forward Party, Banning Leaders a Blow to Democracy.

Preparing the Court’s decision

We are somewhat dismayed that HRW sees the dissolution as “seriously damaging the country’s return to genuine democratic rule…”. Given the organization’s experience, it should be well aware that the  military junta did not plan anything like a genuine democracy and that the role of the Constitutional Court has been to ensure that, working with partner partisans like the Election Commission.

HRW gets it right in stating:

Since its founding in 2018, the Future Forward Party has faced an onslaught of arbitrary legal actions and military intimidation that has raised serious doubts about the government’s commitment to the democratic [sic.] process. The dissolution verdict came just three days ahead of a no-confidence debate scheduled for February 24 to 26 against the government of Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha….

The court proceedings raise serious fair trial concerns, highlighted by the court’s refusal to allow the Future Forward Party to present its case, Human Rights Watch said. The party had made a request to present evidence to counter the accusations against it, but the court ruled that it already had sufficient evidence to reach a verdict.

The ruling violates the rights of Future Forward Party members to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and democratic participation guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand has ratified.

 





Updated: Another party dissolution

22 02 2020

As expected, Thailand’s politicized Constitutional Court has dissolved the Future Forward Party and banned its executives from formal politics for 10 years.

Since the 2006 military coup, the Constitutional Court has become an appendage of rightist-royalist regimes and has dissolved major political parties in 2007, 2008, and 2019.

For a very useful background on the Future Forward case, see Andrew Marshall’s assessment.

Both Amnesty International and the European Union have issued statements.

A selection of media stories follows:

Update: Some more links:

 





With 3 updates: Corrupt military

15 02 2020

The calls for reform of the Army following the Korat murders are almost deafening. Some are from those who previously more or less supported the 2006 and 2014 military coups. Other critics are ardent yellow shirts.

But, really, wasn’t all of this corruption known before? It was for us, and we have posted on it dozens and dozens of times. The unusual wealth, free digs for senior officers, the use of the lower ranks as slaves by the top brass, “commissions,” scams, nepotism, the impunity on torture and murder, etc. It has all been widely known.

Clipped from Khaosod

Naturally enough, the criticism of the military flows across into the military-backed regime, led by generals. One reported comment was an expression of “hopelessness” at responses to Korat from both Army and regime. Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha was seen as gruff and uncaring in his response while Gen Apirat Kongsompong’s tearful media conference was seen by some as theatrical.The two are seen as part of the same regime and they are both men who have benefited greatly from the corrupt system.

Of course, Apirat’s response is also political as he is angling to take the premiership after Gen Prayuth, to continue the Army’s political dominance.

One of the public responses has been skepticism that “the army chief’s vow to bring transparency to the barracks” is real. As one person commented to reporters, “there is no reason why those in power will make sacrifices…”.

We at PPT are not so skeptical because Gen Apirat obviously views the current criticism as an opening for critics and a threat to the Army’s role in the economy and politics. For the moment, he is unable to shut down critics. And, he needs to respond. He’s said:

There are many projects among army personnel who collaborate with businessmen including real estate and loan sharking businesses. I know that and there will be generals down to colonels who will go jobless this month and in the coming months….

Sacking underlings is one thing. Attacking the toxic culture of a feudal military requires much more that this.

But the political threat to the military is acknowledged by Gen Apirat and he knows he has to be seen to be doing something.

As the Bangkok Post reports. “[p]olitical activists are pushing for an investigation into what they describe as the army’s administrative errors, which they believe was the root cause of the massacre in Nakhon Ratchasima…”.

The Future Forward Party and other opposition parties are demanding investigation and reform.

A group known as The People’s Party for Freedom, Democracy Restoration Group (DRG) called on the “House of Representatives’ committee on military affairs” to conduct “an investigation into the army’s alleged mismanagement” of armories and poor security. More significantly, it also demanded “that businesses run by the army, especially those managing army-owned land for commercial purposes” be investigated.

This is a big deal. Consider, for example, the role of the military in the Eastern Economic Corridor, controlling the airport and port in the project as well as tracts of land that are being converted to commercial use. And, the military controls millions of rai of land.

The group also demanded “that the authorities look into certain members of top brass, who have abused their authority for the benefit of themselves and their families.” Here the group is pointing to the “military housing project … in which the gunman was reportedly cheated by his superior and his superior’s family, [as]… clear evidence of blatant abuse in the army…”

But there’s much, much more. Think of the crony Senate and the nepotism of Gen Preecha Chan-ocha, among many, many others. Consider how it is that Can anyone remember the Rolls Royce corruption case and how nothing happened? Does anyone recall the corruption allegations over the Army’s expensive Rajabhakti Park homage to dead kings?

And then there’s the declared wealth of the military members of the junta’s administration, showing huge and unusual wealth in 2014:

If a general in the armed forces, your assets average about 78 million baht.

If you managed to become an admiral in the navy, you sail away with average assets of about 109 million baht.

The top money secretes to the top police …[where] the average for the top brass in the police is a whopping 258 million baht.

Even declared unusual wealth was never investigated. For confirmation of this, for readers with access, a recent academic article detailed some of this. This is what the paper’s abstract states:

After the military coup of 2014, 143 serving and retired generals of the Royal Armed Thai Forces submitted asset declarations to the National Anti-Corruption Commission on being appointed to the military junta’s National Legislative Assembly. By analysing these declarations, this article demonstrates that a cohort of wealthy generals has emerged, which leads to the article’s central concern: how is it that despite the political reform project of the 1990s, military leaders were able to evade scrutiny and become wealthy? It is argued that behind the lack of scrutiny of the military’s wealth accumulation was a structure of fear that severely undermined the capacity to enforce regulations and which enabled the military to evade the constitutional forms of scrutiny elaborated in the 1997 Constitution. That structure of fear emerged in a context of an elusive political settlement when the apparatuses of the state were occupied by competing regime framers, leading to a re-assertion of military power.

The Korat event has led to an outpouring of accusations and complaints, some of it from soldiers:

Lawyer Atchariya Ruangrattanapong said he was compiling a list of soldiers who had made similar complaints about being caught up in shady loans or real estate deals with superior officers.

“There are plenty of cases at the moment…”.

Atchariya also praised the military for transferring Col. Uthai Fangkratok and Lt. Col. Tee Permpol to “inactive duty” within the Second Army Region, which covers Thailand’s northeastern region where the rampage took place.

“Thank you commander of the Second Army Region for the actions after we exposed the scam,” he said in a Facebook post on the Help Crime Victims Club page.

Despite our comment above, there’s ample reason for skepticism about the “optics” around “doing something.” Critic Titipol Pkadeewanich of Ubon Ratchathani University declares: “It is just a show…”.

For one thing, Gen Apirat is not allowing any independent investigations. He has:

… ordered 2nd Army commander Lt Gen Thanya Kiattisan to conduct a “straightforward” and speedy investigation into the shooting, said a source who asked not to be identified.

Two other working teams have been told to look into soldiers’ welfare provisions and businesses run within the barracks as well as take action against any personnel found to be involved in dishonest deals, the source added.

Maj Gen Rachit Arunrangsi, chief of the Army Welfare Department, and Lt Gen Ayut Siwiset, chief of the Directorate of Personnel, are in charge of the two panels.

While he has “threatened to suspend any business-oriented army projects that are found to have irregularities,” again, it is an internal investigation.

Bolstering skepticism, it has been widely reported that Gen Apirat’s statement that “retired army officers must move out from their official residences…”, has exceptions. No prizes for guessing that Gen  Prayuth, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Gen Anupong Paojinda will be first among those keeping their Army-supplied houses. This is because they make a “contribution to society.”

Other “retired generals who now serve as Senators; and retired army generals in the Privy Council” also have taxpayer-funded free accommodation on bases, cloistered from the rest of the population, feeling comfortable among the groveling and hierarchy of the forces, using military slaves and more.

While they suck on the public teat forever, they are being “recognized” for their “contributions” to the military, conducting military coups, strengthening impunity and slaughtering red shirts. And, they have strengthened the military’s systematized corruption.

Who can forget the taxpayer-funded years of free accommodation  for now dead Privy Council President Gen Prem Tinsulanonda in a house that the Army has since “donated” to the king. Where does current Privy Council President Gen Surayud Chulanont live?

It is not just that those at the very top engage in nepotism, corruption and sweet deals, setting a poor example, but it is systematized: those at lower levels engage in corruption that funnels funds up into the higher ranks.

Update 1: Is it only a coincidence that Gen Prayuth has ordered the Fine Arts Department to produce “shows” on “Thailand’s war history to bolster patriotism among Thais.” The aim is to strengthen “unity” and promote “awareness of the roles of key institutions — the nation, religion and monarchy — in helping overcome crises…”. Given that most of the propaganda will be about the military, their “reputation” will also be bolstered.

Update 2: The op-eds criticizing the military are raining down like political confetti. Some of them seem to express surprise at the size of corruption revealed, while neglecting to mention some of the biggest military scams or to ask why it is that the military brass gets away with murder and crime. Other op-eds get right to the point: “The Thai army is a closed system governed by feudal authoritarianism which breeds corruption and abuse of power.” Read them all.

Update 3: Prachatai reports on a rally of:

a hundred people [who] gathered in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) yesterday (13 February) for a candlelight vigil to mourn the victims of the Nakhon Ratchasima mass shooting … and to demand that Gen Apirat Kongsompong take responsibility by resigning from his position as army chief.





Constitutional Court follies

14 02 2020

As everyone knows, the politicized Constitutional Court, barking at the heels of the Future Forward Party, is about to hear yet another case that could lead to the party being dissolved.

Reminiscent of the Court’s decision in 2008 when it dissolved several opposition parties without hearing from many defense witnesses, the Court will only hear from four witnesses rather than the 17 FFP proposed.

This is because the necessary court orders to the witnesses have not been forthcoming.

Whatever the reason for the witnesses being unavaailable and/or unwilling, the impression gained is that the Court already has a decision in mind.

The Court also “dismissed the Future Forward Party (FFP)’s request for the loan case to be deliberated upon in public…”.

The impression is that the Court is secretive and does not brook any scrutiny.





With 3 updates: Reflections on Korat murders II

11 02 2020

Gen Apirat Kongsompong is now seeking to deflect criticism over the Korat mass murder away from the Army.

He gave a long news conference where he stated: “Do not blame the army. If you need to blame someone, blame me. I accept all criticisms and thoughts because I am the commanding officer of the army…”. He added, however, “that he would not resign despite calls for him to do so.”

Moreover, he made the claim that the shooter was “not an army officer…. The minute he [opened fire] on civilians he became a criminal and was a soldier no more…”.

Apirat shooting at civilians in 2010

Given pictures of himself opening fire on civilians (above), we guess he’s making the distinction between soldiers who go rogue and those who do as they are ordered. But that, too, is only partially true as unresolved cases of murderous action like Chaiyapoom Pasae suggest that the military and its officers do indeed get away with murder. And then we could mention 1973, 1976, 1992, Tak Bai and many more such murderous attacks on civilians involving the military.

Gen Apirat also contradicted Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and himself in earlier reports, saying that “safety protocols around armouries were ‘up to standards’,” adding: “I guarantee that the safety protocols are up to standards.”

The families of the victims of Sgt Jakkrapanth’s murders might have another view.

Update 1: The Bangkok Post states that an emotional Apirat “apologised for a soldier’s murderous rampage.” It also reports that the “army chief admitted the shooter was maltreated by his supervisor and said he [Apirat] had already terminated many unsound “welfare” projects, some of which involved middlemen.”

There are so many corrupt practices in the military that they are normal. One we recently heard of was the channeling of military salaries to commanding officers who let conscripts off duty after their initial training. Recall how vehement the brass is in opposing the end of conscription and think of the millions of baht that would not flow up the line. The “welfare” makes generals wealthy.

Update 2: An updated Post report states:

Army chief Apirat Kongsompong has vowed to terminate unsound internal army projects, after shady transactions were raised as a possible motive behind a soldier’s shooting spree in Nakhon Ratchasima that left 30 dead and 58 wounded….

The army chief admitted the shooter was maltreated by his commanding officer and the officer’s relatives, and admitted there were many “unsound” projects, including for welfare housing, loans, and projects which involved cooperation between military units and merchants.

Gen Apirat said he had already terminated some of these projects, adding this was the first step in sorting out problems that had plagued the army for a long time.

He attacked critics:

“There are people who criticise the army. I urge them not to blame the army … because the army is a sacred organisation … Blame me — General Apirat”, he said.

A major problem is exactly this: the brass consider the Army “sacred” and, by definition, inviolable and above the law, not to mention the people. Reform has been impossible.

Update 3: An editorial at the Bangkok Post calls for more transparency from the Army asking why only it can investigate itself. It points out that Gen Apirat needs to be reminded that the corruption he called “unsound internal army projects” is, in fact, “just the tip of the iceberg.” It is added:

For years, there have been allegations about unsound and fishy financial operations involving the military as a whole. Instead of being open to criticism and investigation, the military has always taken a defensive stance by slapping those daring to question its financial deals with legal action.

These include the sedition and computer crime charges filed by the former military regime against Thanet Anantawong, who once shared an infographic detailing the alleged corruption related to the military’s Rajabhakti Park in Hua Hin.

And it reminds readers that as recently as December:

the Defence Ministry also countered the opposition Future Forward Party’s (FFP) move to scrutinise its 18-billion-baht off-budget spending in the 2020 fiscal budget.

This funding is off-limits to public disclosure or scrutiny by the Lower House thanks to the 2018 Financial and Fiscal Discipline Act passed by the former military regime. This law allows internal audits of such off-budget spending.

That’s a recipe for mammoth corruption.