Updated: Birthday games I

29 07 2020

While youth protesters keep poking at the regime and monarchy, the regime spent time “honoring” the absent king.

Where is Wanchalearm? Clipped from Prachatai

Meanwhile, in Europe, the king’s 68th birthday was marked by protest and critical and quizzical media reports (see here and here).

In Thailand, the regime ordered displays of loyalty (as it usually does on the birthdays of kings) and most of the response was state-led, with companies spending budget on “adverts” that “honor” the king.  The media all come up with boring headers for the king. All levels of government are required to organize events and dragooning the public to “participate.”

The Dictator took a particularly high profile. The Guardian produced a photo that says rather too much about “loyalty” and absence.

“Sanam Luang, Thailand The Thai prime minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha, (centre) and officials have their photo taken in front of a large portrait of the Thai King … Vajiralongkorn … during celebrations for the monarch’s 68th birthday in Bangkok (Photograph: Diego Azubel/EPA).” Clipped from The Guardian.

Meanwhile, New Mandala has an anonymous post that summarizes much of what is known about the king. It is unclear why the author undervalues the Crown Property Bureau’s wealth or what causes the author to think that the king distrusts the military and that this distrust is cause for him to remain in Germany.

The author’s claim that “there are small grounds to hope that, if the king is confident that he has achieved his security and royal asset reclamation goals, he could return to Thailand and reign as a constitutional monarch” seems about as misplaced as earlier claims that Vajiralongkorn would “foster a somewhat more open political atmosphere…”.

Vajiralongkorn is erratic, prone to fits of anger, vindictive and narcissistic. He is widely disliked and feared.

Update: On the king being an absentee landlord and monarch, see Ji Ungpakorn’s post on the issue.





It is still a military regime VI

10 06 2020

All the nonsense about splits in the Palang Pracharath Party over who get access to the biggest bags of loot pales into nothingness when its considered who really runs the country.

In a report that is framed in terms that do not draw attention to the significance of the event, the Bangkok Post tells of how the military treats parliament with such utter disdain that opposition lawmakers “walked out of a parliament meeting on Tuesday…”.

The report says that this was “to protest against a lack of details in the government’s plan to reallocate 88 billion baht to a central fund to fight Covid-19 and rehabilitate the economy.” In fact, it was also a protest about the “Defence Ministry for hampering the panel’s work…” and acting as a law unto itself.

Defense Ministry officials had submitted to the committee a document which was marked “classified.” Shortly after these officials withdrew the document from the committee, collecting up all the copies.

Benja Saengchan, a committee member from Kao Klai Party, said the military officials claimed “the document was classified and … [they] took it back immediately; we did not manage to thoroughly examine the document.” Benja added: “The defence [ministry] is somehow ‘untouchable’…”.

The opposition “walkout was led by Worawat Ua-apinyakul, who sits on the ad-hoc committee vetting a draft bill on the budget transfer. The MPs abruptly left the meeting and accused the government coalition of trying to prevent them from doing their job.

As Ji Ungpakorn has pointedly observed: “No one should be under the illusion that Thailand has returned to democracy, despite recent elections. The military is still very much in charge…”.





With 3 updates: Campaigning for Wanchalearm

9 06 2020

Update 1: Apologies to readers. Some of our earlier version of this post was left unedited. We have fixed that now.

Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s enforced disappearance has been taken up by Thai activists and some of the international media.

In a story with worldwide impact, Thomson Reuters reports that the exile’s kidnapping has sparked protests. These aren’t just about Wanchalearm but all of the now “missing” or deceased exiles. As the report explains, the agitation has expanded “reignit[ing] protests against Thailand’s military-royalist elite, with some online questioning a law banning criticism of the monarchy.”

There were protesters at the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok: “Dozens of protesters outside the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok demanded an investigation into the disappearance and accused the Thai state of orchestrating his kidnapping, which Thailand’s police and government have denied.” According to Khaosod, the “protesters submitted a petition to the mission’s secretary and placed posters calling for justice on the embassy’s wall.”

Somyos Prueksakasemsuk and other protesters at the Cambodian Embassy

Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan deflected criticism, saying the matter is one for Cambodia. Previous disappearances have seen no action at all from the Thai authorities, convincing many that the perpetrator/s are protected.

Posters “labelled ‘Missing’ appeared around Bangkok featuring photos of Wanchalearm and other [disappeared] critics of military governments…” appeared around Bangkok. Claimed to be “the work of the Spring Movement, a small group of students at Bangkok’s elite Chulalongkorn University…”, officials working hard to remove them.

One group member told Reuters: “We do not know who directly ordered the abduction, but we can see the ruling elite of this country does not care about this issue.”

Suddenly, there seemed a general “feeling” about “who directly ordered the abduction,” with the hashtag “#abolish112” trending on “Twitter, used or retweeted more than 450,000 times by midday on Monday.” The reporters involved sought a response from the palace! An official said: “The palace has no comment on this issue…”.

Oddly, according to Khaosod, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees also responded saying “the organization cannot give any opinion or information about the disappearance of activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit.” We assume this reflects the royalist domestication of UN agencies in Bangkok.

Some celebrities – presumably of some significance in Thailand – have taken up Wanchalearm’s case, with Maria Poonlertlarp, a “former Miss Universe Thailand … add[ing] her voice to the growing campaign for the Thai and Cambodian governments to explain the disappearance of Wanchalerm…”. On Instagram she used the #SaveWanchalerm hashtag “calling for  answers from authorities about his disappearance.”

Often timid on such matters, the Puea Thai Party “also called on the government to use diplomatic channels to find his whereabouts.” Sudarat Keyuraphan stated: “He is a Thai citizen that the government is duty bound to protect…”.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary committee is asking questions. Move Forward Party MP Rangsiman Rome, who serves as the committee on law and human rights spokesman, “said the government must be held accountable for the incident.” He stated that the committee “will summon the national police commissioner [Gen Chakthip Chaijinda] to testify about … [Wanchalearm’s] fate…”. He also said others like Special Branch Police commissioner Maj Gen ‎Sarawut Karnpanit and consular affairs department chief Chatri Atjananan would be called to meet the committee. Rangsman observed: “It is the obligation of the government to protect its citizens. On top of that, Wanchalearm has contributed to many youth welfare and other charitable organizations.”

The Bangkok Post reports that the Active Thai Citizen group, led by Kan Wattanasupang, also a member of the Move Forward Party, submitted a petition to the House of Representatives. Kan said “the government must seek to protect all Thai citizens regardless of differences in political ideology.” He added: “We cannot let such gross human rights violations happen to those with political different ideas. In the past, political dissidents have been victims of intimidation, assault or even enforced disappearance,” raising the “mysterious disappearances of other political dissidents including Wuthipong … Kochathamakun and Surachai Danwattananusorn.”

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

Remarkably, there’s also a report about the decrepit, regime-controlled National Human Rights Commission, claiming some role:

Thailand’s state-sanctioned human rights agency on Monday denies turning a blind eye to the spate of abduction targeting Thai dissidents living overseas.

In a phone interview today, What Tingsamitr, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, said his organization has acknowledged the latest case of disappearance, that of activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit. However, What said no formal investigation opens yet because no one has filed a complaint with them.

“We are keeping our eyes on the issue,” What said. “We can’t take action right away since it happened outside the country. We admit that we don’t have power beyond our boundary, but we can coordinate with the foreign ministry and forward the case to Cambodian authorities.”

The case is certainly a “grave violation” of human rights if it has been proven to be an enforced disappearance, he added.

To date we have seen nothing at all of significance from the supine NHRC on any of the disappearances and murder.

What said:

“We have already published reports on many abductees in the past,” What said. “But it’s up to the government and legislators to take the issue seriously. Thailand has signed the UN convention against enforced disappearance since 2012, but it never became a law.”

But its done nothing else. Writing a report does not imply investigation.

Fellow exile Ji Ungpakorn has commented, pointedly observing: “No one should be under the illusion that Thailand has returned to democracy, despite recent elections. The military is still very much in charge and the repression continues.” So has Yammy Faiyen, who recently fled Laos for asylum in France, although her comments will probably be blocked.

At the Bangkok Post, columnist Atiya Achakulwisut bravely speaks some truths. We reproduce in full:

It might be because “it could happen to you”.

It could also be an accumulation of bitterness and frustration, built up over decades of hearing about this or that person suddenly dying or disappearing without a trace or explanation.

It could even be a paradigm shift at long last when the new generation is no longer tied to old norms or affected by traditional fear and dares to express in public what was once considered taboo.

It could be a bit of everything but the day has come when a forced disappearance which would generate only quiet whispers in the past is now causing a genuine public uproar.

The disappearance of anti-government activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit, who was allegedly abducted outside his apartment in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, last Thursday, has been covered by mainstream media.

Chulalongkorn as well as Thammasat University student organisations issued statements condemning the alleged forced disappearance and urged the Thai government to take a stance.

The incident has been widely discussed on social media, especially Twitter where the hashtag #save has drawn hundreds of thousands of tweets.

The outrage and demand for the Thai government to take action are welcoming for the human rights cause although they can be considered surprising considering Wanchalearm was not that well-known.

The Ubon Ratchathani native was against the coup and military rule. He was also wanted by authorities for defying a National Council for Peace and Order summons to report after the 2014 putsch.

In 2018, Wanchalearm was subject to another arrest warrant for violating the Computer Crime Act by operating a Facebook page critical of the government.

The activist has been living in self-imposed exile for more than six years, claiming his political stance led to harassment and other threats to his life.

Now that he has gone missing, a seemingly small player unlikely to affect a sea change in the grand scheme of things, his plight has struck a chord with many people.

Alongside news of his disappearance, photos of Wanchalearm, almost all of them showing the bespectacled 37-year-old grinning, have also surfaced everywhere. A little-known name has become a real person. Wanchalearm has become not just an anti-whatever activist but a son, a brother, a friend.

Indeed, he could be any one of us.

Wanchalearm may harbour anti-coup thoughts. He may have voiced disapproval of military rule or other forms of suppression. But do these thoughts constitute a crime?

Do people deserve to “disappear” because they are critical of something powerful?

Wanchalearm had left the country, yet he could be made to disappear in broad daylight in Phnom Penh, taken by a group of armed men according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) citing witnesses and CCTV images. Cambodian police said they knew nothing about it.

Who could be capable of executing such an operation?

As Wanchalearm’s sister Sitanan begged the Thai government and international agencies to help find her brother, Cambodia’s Interior Ministry suggested the HRW report could be “fake news” while the Thai government has made no response.

Today marks the sixth day since Wanchalearm “disappeared”.

Since the 2014 coup, about a hundred political activists exiled themselves to other countries. Of these, at least six have gone missing while two were found dead, according to BBC Thai.

Wanchalearm is definitely not the first suspected of being “carried away”. The UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances reports 82 unresolved cases of enforced disappearances in Thailand since 1980.

These include Somchai Neelapaijit in 2004, Karen land rights defender Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen in 2014 and political activists Siam Theerawut, Chucheep Chivasut and Kritsana Thapthai during 2018-19.

It is possible that the #save trend and collective anger against the alleged forced disappearance could end up like other save someone or something hashtags before it — making no difference to the oppressive, unaccountable power culture in Thailand and becoming just another footnote in the country’s decades-long political struggle.

But one thing is clear — his plight has roused the public like never before. His story has been openly discussed, and not just in a quiet whisper. The fear usually associated with such a “disappearance” is gone.

Will this awakening turn out to be a real force for change? For once, it may be the turn of the other side to be fearful.

There may be whispering about the case and even some high-profile expression in Thailand. But that which can only be written about outside Thailand is speculation that “the operation to seize activist Wanchalearm Satstaksit was ordered by King Vajiralongkorn.”

Update 2: AP reports that “Cambodian authorities say they are willing to investigate the reported abduction of an exiled Thai dissident in Cambodia’s capital, though they claim to have been unaware of his presence for several years.” We won’t be holding our breath on that one. Meanwhile, in Bangkok, the regime repressed those raising awareness of the case, with police arresting four students … tying white ribbons at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument in protest against the apparent forced disappearances of Wanchalearm and other victims. They were accused of violating littering and traffic laws.”

Update 3: Khaosod reports that officials are busy in Bangkok erasing murals and tearing up posters that were raising awareness of Wanchalearm’s disappearance. Such actions will be seen by many as admissions of the regime’s complicit role in the enforced disappearance.





Post dissolution commentary

4 03 2020

We thought that several recent op-eds, long posts and reports and statements coming after the Constitutional Court’s dissolution of Future Forward may be of interest for readers who have not yet seen them:

Giles Ji Ungpakorn, Thai junta can’t even tolerate existence of opposition parties

Joshua Kurlantzick, A Popular Thai Opposition Party Was Disbanded. What Happens Next?

Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang, Anakot Mai: ‘lawfare’ and Future Forward Party’s legacy

Kevin Hewison, Thai Constitutional Court dissolves another major party

The Economist, Thailand’s courts ban the country’s third-biggest political party

VICE, Inside Thailand’s Rising Anti-Government Student Protests





With 3 updates: Reflections on Korat murders I

10 02 2020

It isn’t often that the unelected soldier at the head of the country and his critics are in agreement. But on the tragic events in Korat, there’s at least one point of agreement.

Prayuth’s political weapons

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha was reported as saying:

All I can say is if we had fully followed [the standard security procedure], we would have been able to mitigate the degree of violence [in this incident]….

Even if we insisted we had completely followed a proper security procedure, the question is what more could we have done to improve the efficiency of security measures?

By “we,” Gen Prayuth is continuing to think of himself as a soldier.

It is certainly true that the security of arms and armories is slack on military bases and soldiers arms trading is relatively common. This is a part of the corruption in the military that is organized to the top.

Meanwhile, Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong seemed to confirm slack weapons security when he issued an “urgent order” for:

all army units to adopt stricter security measures including that the bolt carriers of the guns in guard post armouries are removed and kept separately by the chief of the guard post.

Also under the same set of new measures, bullets and machine guns will also no longer be stored at any guard post….

Apirat shooting at protesters

As the events of the terrible events in Korat remain somewhat murky, Gen Apirat’s orders on machine guns remains unexplained, at least in what we’ve seen.

Gen Prayut also said:

he had learned from investigators that it was a personal conflict involving a dispute over a house sale involving a relative of Jakrapanth’s commanding officer, which arose three days before the shooting incident.

In another report, citing some of the regime’s critics, it is agreed that “Thailand’s military faces hard new scrutiny of its ability to secure weapons and control troops at its bases and barracks.”

While this report is wrong that this “the worst mass shooting of civilians in the often violent kingdom’s modern history” – think of the military’s many attacks on civilian protesters in recent decades – it raises important issues.

Not least, critics are right to point to the unprofessional nature of Thailand’s military and:

the wisdom of the wisdom of having many of its senior-most officers busy in politics, running ministries and staging frequent coups instead of imposing discipline among its rank-and-file.

“Discipline” in the military is usually feudal, with torture and violence used on its own and junior soldiers have to act as the servants and laborers for officers. As the report adds:

Thailand’s heavily politicized and sometimes poorly disciplined military culture has not yet been mentioned as a possible motivating factor in the killings. But officials, dissidents, politicians and others have frequently criticized its lack of focus on purely military affairs.

Apirat on his knees. Clipped from Khaosod.

It might also be asked if the military’s focus on supine obeisance to the monarchy, where its senior leaders gain their positions through playing palace politics and, now, doing all it can for the king, following his compulsive-obsessive manias and spending billions on exalting and “protecting” the king.

Clearly the brass has its attention to politics and propaganda.

This is all worse by the impunity enjoyed by the brass and those working for them. This allows the military to get away with murder. This adds to ill-discipline and promotes corruption and money-making.

All of this is (possibly) seen in the motives of the murderous soldier in Korat:

The gunman’s rage allegedly erupted after a land sale where he apparently expected to receive a commission fee. Thai soldiers are often involved in side businesses, many security-related, to bolster their low incomes.

The first person among three killed at the Suatham Phithak military camp was his commanding officer, who allegedly was involved in the land deal. Details about their relationship were not immediately clear.

Whether this is true or not, you get the picture.

Update 1: Above we mentioned that we were unsure about the mention of machine guns. That is explained in a Khaosod report which states that shooter Sgt Jakkrapanth Thomma “left the base with firearms including a Heckler & Koch rifle, an M60 machine gun, a shotgun, a handgun, several types of grenades, and over 700 rounds of ammunition.” It adds: “The soldier reportedly switched to a machine gun loaded with armor-piercing rounds when fighting the besiegers, leading to the death of one police commando.”

Update 2: Readers might be interested in Ji Ungpakorn’s views on the Korat massacre.

Update 3: Worth looking at Atiya Achakulwisut’s op-ed at the Bangkok Post and her criticism of the military that runs Thailand via the unelected PM.





Recalling the 2006 military coup

20 09 2019

The army’s task: coups and repression

19 September was the anniversary of the 2006 military coup. This was the coup that set the path for Thailand’s decline into military-dominated authoritarianism based in ultra-royalist ideology.

Over the past couple of days we didn’t notice a lot of memorializing of the event that illegally removed then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his Thai Rak Thai Party, with tanks on the streets and soldiers decked out in royal yellow.

The military soon hoisted Privy Councilor Gen Surayud Chulanont into the prime ministership.

Anointing the 2006 coup

As we know, the coup did not succeed in its self-assigned task of rooting out the “Thaksin regime,” with Thaksin’s parties having been the most successful over the years that have followed and when the military permitted elections. This is why the 2014 coup was aimed at “putting things right,” through a more thorough political repression and a rigging of the political system for the ruling class. It also unleashed a rabid use of lese majeste to destroy that class’s political opponents.

One effort to recall the 2006 coup was by Ji Ungpakorn. He observes the:

forces behind the 19th September coup were anti-democratic groups in the military and civilian elite, disgruntled business leaders and neo-liberal intellectuals and politicians. The coup was also supported by the monarchy….

2006 coup

And adds:

Most NGOs and large sections of the middle classes also supported the coup. What all these groups had in common was contempt or hatred for the poor. For them, “too much democracy” gave “too much” power to the poor electorate and encouraged governments to “over-spend” on welfare. For them, Thailand is still divided between the “enlightened middle-classes who understand democracy” and the “ignorant rural and urban poor”. In fact, the reverse is the case. It is the poor who understand and are committed to democracy while the so-called middle classes are determined to hang on to their privileges by any means possible.

For a flavor of the times, see reports of the coup by the BBC and The Guardian. For early efforts to understand the 2006 coup, consider Ji’s A Coup for the Rich, Thailand Since the Coup, and Thailand and the “good coup.”

It’s been downhill since 2006: repression, military political domination and ultra-royalism, leading to a form of neo-feudalism in contemporary Thailand.





Monarch and missing items

19 01 2019

There are a couple of pieces related to the monarchy that are worth reading this weekend.

The first piece is on missing monuments.

As well as the “missing” royal decree needed for the 2019 election, there’s the “missing” monuments to the 1932 revolution. One is the 1932 revolution plaque. Another is the Laksi monument to the defeat of the 1933 royalist revolt.

In a post at his blog, exiled activist Ji Ungpakorn writes about the latter:

The latest casualty is the Lak-Si Democracy Monument, north of Bangkok, which commemorates the military victory against the Boworadet royalist rebellion one year after the revolution. This monument was removed at night, under the watchful eyes of soldiers, in late December.

He argues and explains that the “history of the crushing of the royalist rebellion shows why the royalists wish to destroy the monument.” His brief history of the popular movement and military actions to defeat the royalists in 1933 is important. He concludes:

Conservatives have constantly tried to cover up and dismiss the history of the 1932 revolution. That is why most Thais probably have never heard of the 1932 plaque or the Lak-Si monument. That is also why the conservatives built the moment of the deposed king Rama 7 in front of the present parliament after the 6th October bloodbath in 1976. It is like building a monument to King George in front of the US Congress!

Ji has earlier written on the plaque’s destruction.

The second piece is by Edoardo Siani in the New York Times. It is about how the “junta has tightened its control while trying to bask in the popularity, mystique and beliefs that surround the monarchy.”

While it is a bit difficult to agree that Vajiralongkorn came to the throne “he inherited a nation in chaos.” By that time, the chaos of political activism of previous years had been replaced by a dull repression and sullen political quiet.

Apart from that, Siani has some useful insights on monarch and military. Noting that the military is likely to remain politically predominant following any “election,” Siani observes:

Still, some measure of change may be in the offing. The army has a new chief, and the Royal Command Guard, which answers directly to the king, is expected to gain in authority. Since acceding to the throne in December 2016, King Rama X has also asserted his own authority, claiming more prerogatives for himself.

Change often implies progress but in this prediction, Siani is predicting regression, even if royalists see something else:

Rama X is said to have picked the dates for his coronation. The ceremony will take place at the same time, in early May, as his father’s coronation in 1950, but will last only three days, not five, as back then. A sign of modesty, perhaps, but above all a statement that the late king’s legacy will be carried on. By the time King Rama X is coronated, Thailand will have exited the dark dusk of the ninth reign. Or so the astrologers say.

PPT’s resident astrologer reckons the signs are of a long political dusk leading to a long, dark night for Thailand’s democrats.





Updated: Rajaprasong and Peterloo

23 11 2018

PPT has been slow in getting to the film Peterloo by Mike Leigh. Obviously enough, it is an epic about the Peterloo massacre, considered “one of the defining moments of its age” as ordinary people demanded parliamentary reform by the electoral law reform:

Constituency boundaries were out of date, and the so-called rotten boroughs had a hugely disproportionate influence on the membership of the Parliament of the United Kingdom compared to the size of their populations.

Representation was not vested in the people but in a few important and wealthy people.

We couldn’t help comparing England’s Peterloo of 1819 and Thailand’s Rajaprasong of 2010 and the rotten system that gave rise to the Peterloo rebellion and the rotten system now in place under the junta’s electoral system. No historical comparison is direct, but a lot of the movie had Thailand resonance.

Update: We just noticed that Ji Ungpakorn also had a post on Peterloo, a matter of a few days before our post here. We only check his blog every week or so, so hadn’t seen this, but it is interesting that we separately had the same thoughts.





Expunging Pridi and 1932

16 11 2018

Pridi

Readers may be interested in a new article at Southeast Asia Globe. “How Thailand’s ‘Father of Democracy’ is being erased from history” by Paul Millar.

The article, including quotes and comments from Ji Unpakorn  and academic Kevin Hewison, discusses the ongoing activities under the military junta and King Vajiralongkorn to roll back 1932 and to erase memories of that revolution and the reputation of Pridi Phanomyong.

While PPT has posted on this general topic several times (here, here, here and here), this article is well worth consideration.





Updated: Yellow support peeling away

30 01 2018

Arnond Sakworawich, the anti-democratic director of the National Institute of Development Administration’s polling agency, has cause quite a political scene.

The Bangkok Post reports that he was due to resign today after senior administrators at NIDA, a nest of yellow-shirted academics, “bowed to political pressure in suspending the release of a poll on Gen Prawit [Wongsuwan]’s luxury wristwatches.”

He made a statement that his action was in support of “academic freedom” and about “honour.”

We may have missed it, but we can’t recall having seen Arnond defending the “academic freedom” of Ji Ungpakorn or members of Nitirat. In the past, the NIDA poll has managed to be politically-driven.

So his claims about ethics are probably empty, but that’s not the point. That point is another yellow advocate coming out against the junta.

Another Bangkok Post report has Arnond saying: “Although I support the coup and government, if [I see] something isn’t right or just, I don’t have to ‘lick top boot’…”.  Boot licking seems to be a choice for some in the middle classes.

Again, though, the point is the peeling away of yellow support from the military junta.

Updated: Prachatai reports that Arnond has “resigned as Director of the Research Centre of the National Institute of Development Administration, also known as NIDA Poll.” He did not resign from NIDA and declared that he “still supports the junta.”