Updated: Arrogance rewarded

2 07 2021

Anyone following social media will have noticed the flood of complaints and invective associated with the photo below, clipped from The Nation. It shows Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and “his entourage dining at a beachside restaurant in Phuket on Thursday.”

Corrupt and arrogant

While the regime brings charges against protesters, almost all masked up, for flouting the emergency decree that is lodged in virus control, he and his “entourage” can flout the decree with impunity.

The photo shows these arrogant men “eating and sitting close together, while some members of the party are without a mask.”

Meanwhile, today authorities reported 61 virus-induced deaths – a record – and 6,087 new infections – the second highest recorded for the country.

Of course, Phuket is not currently a red zone, but these are people who are meant to set an example. In any case, many are from Bangkok, which is a red zone.

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul stumbled along, defending the miscreants boss, blabbering about “everybody in the photo was actually sitting a fair distance from one another and that they have all been vaccinated against Covid-19.” So we guess that the message is that anyone who is vaccinated can skip off to Phuket, avoid quarantine, and do as they wish.

The general/prime minister is arrogant. He obviously knows he is untouchable. After all, the Constitutional Court has again let Gen Prayuth off a case on a technicality. The Constitutional Court seems to belong to Prayuth. His control of parliament and “independent” institutions fertilizes his arrogance.

Update: For the seriousness of the situation in Bangkok, see a couple of stories in the Bangkok Post. One begins:

While the government is upbeat about its Phuket reopening scheme, health personnel in Greater Bangkok are struggling to deal with a surge of new Covid-19 infections and deaths.

Another story slams the regime and Siam Bioscience:

The Rural Doctors Society yesterday called on the government to enforce the law to require Siam Bioscience, a local authorised pharmaceutical manufacturer, to deliver vaccine supplies as planned.

On its Facebook page, the network claimed Siam Bioscience was likely to deliver only 4 million doses of vaccine this month, instead of 10 million doses as planned by the government.

That’s the king’s company, and we guess the situation is dire if normally royalist doctors make such calls. Just in passing, we note that the monarch is scarcely seen.

That rises to 10 million doses per month from July until November, with the last 5 million jabs arriving in December.

The society said “the government was deemed reluctant to negotiate with the company or enforce any legal tools to secure the delivery of 10 million doses per month.”

That’s because it is the king’s company.

So, in the end, we have a failed vaccination strategy, a king’s company seemingly unable to communicate or deliver, a regime unable to pressure it, and a prime minister off with the fairies in Phuket.





The virus and the rich and powerful

7 06 2021

Thailand’s mass vaccination program has officially begun today. The Ministry of Public Health reckons it probably has “enough” vaccine for the first days and weeks as “the government has brought in more Sinovacs vaccine … to last through June before production of AZ vaccines pick up in July.”

That means “the public will not be able to pick what vaccine they receive in June because we won’t know what vaccine we get from the government until one or two days before the vaccination date,” says a “private hospital administrator who asked to not be named.”

Even so, “many hospitals are postponing their vaccination appointments due to shortages.” These shortages have been officially confirmed and is linked back to the king’s Siam Bioscience:

Sathit Pitutecha, Deputy Minister of Public Health, said the Public Health Ministry had learned that many hospitals had postponed vaccinations booked for today as they were afraid they would not receive enough doses.

“We were aware of this problem, so we will try to ensure the elderly and those with the diseases who registered through the Mor Prom application get their jabs first.

”After that, the ministry will deliver the additional vaccines that we’ve received from the AstraZeneca company,” he said.

The ministry has yet to receive clear information about when the company will deliver.

“The company is trying its best to deliver. They might give us 300,000–500,000 doses at a time. It depends on them,” he said.

As a reminder of how things went wrong with the virus, the Bangkok Post has published a New York Times article on Thailand’s virus wave by Hannah Beech and Muktita Suhartono.

Naturally enough, it begins with the Thonglor clubs favored by Bangkok’s wealthy men, which seemed to ignite the latest wave.

Krystal 2

Krystal Club promotional photo

When the VVIP customers disembarked from their limousines at the Krystal Exclusive Club, young women in tiaras, angel wings and not much else sometimes greeted them.

The VVIP clientele were whisked to the VVIP rooms, with their padded walls and plush sofas. Thai government bigwigs partied at Krystal [and Emerald] … as did diplomats, army officers and business owners. For much of the pandemic, coronavirus restrictions did not stop the fun.

Krystal 1

Krystal Club VIP room

The clubs, their staff, and the wealthy patrons became :

the epicentre of what is now Thailand’s biggest and deadliest coronavirus surge, according to health ministry officials. Scores of people linked to the clubs have tested positive, including an ambassador and a government minister. Police officers and women who worked at the clubs have been infected, too.

The “privileged few catalysed Bangkok’s latest coronavirus outbreak…”. At the same time, the nightclub cluster again “highlights the impunity of the rich in a country with one of the largest wealth gaps among major economies.”

The virus “has now radiated from luxury nightclubs that cater to powerful and wealthy men to the … slums …, prisons, construction camps and factories.” It is Thailand’s third and largest wave.

Responsibility? Never:

When cases involve high-profile tycoons or politicians, though, investigations in Thailand have a habit of fizzling. Murder charges do not materialise. Well-connected individuals slip into exile. Thailand’s three waves of coronavirus infection have crested in the shadowy zones where the rich profit from questionable businesses and defy Covid protocols.

First outbreak: “traced by virologists to a Bangkok boxing stadium operated by the country’s powerful military, which makes money on sports gambling.”

Second outbreak: “tracked by health officials to a sweatshop seafood business, which depends on immigration officers turning a blind eye to workers trafficked from neighbouring countries.”

Chuwit Kamolvisit, who ran massage parlors and paid off police and other officials says: “In Thai culture, we can smile and lie at the same time…”. He pithily describes “Krystal [as] like another Government House, because it’s so popular with those people…”.

Now, as the poor suffer the brunt of the outbreak, a “few wealthy Bangkok residents have boasted on social media about buying vaccination cards from the city’s most desperate residents.” One observer laments: “The rich who are already privileged are stepping on the poor…. They believe their money can buy anything.”

It got them two coups and the authoritarianism they so desired.





Us and Them

13 05 2021

Over the virus era there has been increasing attention to borders all around the world. Some places have had downright racist responses, such as in the new hermit kingdom, Australia.

In Thailand, recent attention has been to the “threat” posed by migrants. Quoting “medical professionals,” the Bangkok Post headlines: Porous borders ‘our biggest threat’

While we understand the borders “argument,” this approach encourages chauvinism and xenophobia. Think of the horrid decision to lock migrant workers in their poor housing a couple of months ago. At the same time, the borders threat argument actually obscures the real threat.

Saksayam

Virus minister. From The Nation

For PPT, that threat is from the rich and powerful. As far as we can tell, every major outbreak in Thailand has had a lot to do with these groups, acting with impunity. Even the most recent outbreak in Bangkok has been tracked to the bars frequented by the wealthy Bangkok, attended by the high and mighty, including ministers and ambassadors. The former has seen a Ministry of Transport cluster.

As we look back at other clusters, they result from corrupt military (boxing stadiums) and other corrupt practices from the past that have continued during the virus crisis (gambling and people trafficking). Such activities have always required official “support” and have long made officials wealthy.

Migrant workers are critical for some important industries in Thailand; industries that generate enormous profits:

An estimated 400,000 migrants work in Thailand’s seafood processing sector in the province of Samut Sakhorn. Thailand produces approximately 40 per cent of global canned tuna, as well as frozen shrimp and other seafood products.

Trafficking migrants and greasing the wheels of bureaucracy generate wealth to police and bureaucrats. The military has long been involved in this business. This means the threat to Thailand is from those who rule and profit with impunity.





Absolutist infection

24 03 2021

When a regime feels in total control it leads to odd behavior that seems infectious of those at all levels of government. Falsehoods become normal because regime leaders and their minions feel the power of impunity. Arrogance breeds contempt and, in some cases, results in stupidity on a grand scale.

Think of the police bosses. In recent days they defended “harsh actions against protesters at Sanam Luang on Saturday night amid mounting criticism from activists and academics.” An unnamed deputy commissioner and spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Bureau essentially declared, “we did nothing wrong.” Indeed, despite evidence to the contrary, police “insisted …  that their … were in accordance with international standards.”

A couple of days later, after an uproar, the “national police commissioner, Pol.Gen. Suwat Jangyodsuk, offered a public apology today (Monday) for the police’s rough handling of some of the anti-establishment protesters…”.

But the “apology” was weak and only referred to “some mistakes,” resulting from orders he personally gave. He promised an “investigation.” That is, he’s promising an investigation of his own actions and conducted by his subordinates. That’s buffalo manure.

We were perfect, we were wrong, but none of it matters as the police can do whatever they want.

Then there’s the acting chairperson of the completely discredited National Human Rights Commission who reckons that the further deferral of the agency’s application for re-accreditation with the United Nation to be something positive. Only a dope or a junta ideologue would consider Thailand’s 6-year long downgrade extending for another 18 months to be anything other than a slap to the regime’s face.

Then there’s Thailand’s unelected/selected prime minister. In being “relaxed” that constitutional change is off the agenda for a while, Gen Prayuth Cha-ocha. He’s quoted in a Bangkok Post story:

“If people are concerned that I will prolong my stay in power, they are free to proceed with charter amendments. They can choose between voting or not voting for me. I’m fine with it,” he said.

He seems to think that he’s an elected prime minister rather than a coup leader who seized power and then rigged a constitution and an election that he didn’t stand in. Delusional? Perhaps. Arrogant? For sure.





Army impunity

24 01 2021

The impunity enjoyed by officials has a long history in Thailand but it is undeniable that it has expanded and deepened since the the 2006 military coup. Under the current regime there is essentially zero accountability for officials. Sure, there are occasional “crackdowns” and the odd prosecution, but the rule that officials can get away with stuff – even murder – holds.

In a Bangkok Post editorial, questions are raised about the Royal Thai Army, which celebrated “its strength and solidarity” on Armed Forces Day.

The editorial asks the public to “keep in mind that military officials still owe a few explanations on its pledge to reform, following several cases, including the Korat mass shooting last year that left a huge stain on its image.”

Clipped from Khaosod

It points out that on 8-9 February 2020, a disgruntled soldier “shot and killed 29 innocent people and wounded 57 others in Nakhon Ratchasima…”. The killer’s problem was “a property dispute” with “the soldier’s senior officer and his mother-in-law…”. In other words, “the army’s side dealings [were]… the root cause.” It adds that “analysts” say that “some army officers enter into private business dealings — and it’s an open secret.”

A few days later, “then army chief Apirat Kongsompong promised to investigate the problem…”. In fact, he did nothing to change the underlying situation. Indeed, this corruption continues. The Post mentions an alleged “illegal allocation of over 70,000 rai of forest land in Nakhon Ratchasima for a real estate project involving senior army officers.”

Yes, the very same province as the mass shooting. The Post adds that there “have been no reports of an investigation, let alone progress and punishment of culprits.”

The Post then recalls the unexplained death of a military conscript – there’s been more than one case – and asks: “How can the RTA restore public trust when it is entrenched in scandals? Why should the public trust a force of armed men who can barely be transparent in their affairs?”

How many times have we heard such pleading. In fact, it is as many times as reform has been rejected by the military as the Army maintains it impunity and its control.

We should note that the Post editorial mistakenly states that the Korat shooting “is considered the deadliest mass shooting in the kingdom’s history.” This mistake reflects some big omissions.

The biggest is the murder of almost a hundred red shirts and bystanders in April and May 2010. Who has been held accountable? No one from the Army.

Who killed protesters in 1992? Who was held accountable? No one from the Army or police.

Who murdered civilian protesters at Thammasat University on 6 October 1976? Who was held accountable? No one from the Army or police.

Who murdered civilian protesters on 14 October 1973? Who was held accountable? No one from the Army or police.

Who murdered people at Kru Se in 2004 and Tak Bai the same year? Who was held accountable? No one from the Army or police.

What about the enforced disappearances of activists and unexplained murder of civilians like Chaiyapoom Pasae? Who was held accountable? No one from the Army or police.

The list could go on and on and on.





Harder repression

18 01 2021

While the big protests are on hold, guerrilla-style actions have continued. Over the past few days, it has become clear that the regime is taking advantage of virus restrictions to take a hard line against protesters.

The reporting on this include stories on an action at the Victory Monument “organised for protesters to write their opinions on a long fabric banner about Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha’s failures in handling crisis situations, as well as urging the abolition of lese majeste law, also known as Article 112, as symbolised by the 112-metre long banner.” The police surrounded protesters and quite violently arrested two leaders “of the pro-democracy group Guard Plod Aek … on Saturday afternoon…”.

Those arrested were “taken to Phya Thai Police Station and charged with violating the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations and the Communicable Disease Act, before being sent to Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters in Pathum Thani province.” Other participants were aggressively dispersed by the police.

Demonstrators also gathered near the Samyan Mitrtown complex on Saturday evening. There were reportedly “about 10 anti-establishment protesters were rallying on the ground floor of Sam Yan Mitrtown, opposite Chamchuri Square, to demand the release of their colleagues, being held at the Region 1 Border Patrol Police Bureau … for various offences related to [the earlier] protests…”. They were targeted by unknown assailants who lobbed an ping-pong bomb that injured two – a citizen and a reporter – or four people – “anti-riot police officers and a reporter were slightly injured” – depending on the report read. A later report seemed more definitive stating that those injured were “two policemen, a reporter for The Standard online news site, and another civilian…”.

Prachatai reports a third “flash mob” at the Ministry of Education, and states that at least eight people were arrested at the two sites, for demonstrating, not bombing. It also reports on the aggressive policing, stating that the small demonstration at Samyan was met by “several hundred crowd control police arrived at the scene and took control of Sam Yan intersection. The police also brought in many detention trucks.”

Police later stated that the explosive “device was similar to the type used on November 25th in front of The Avenue Ratchayothin, following a rally by the Ratsadon protesters…”. They reportedly found “nails, wire and black electrical tape at the scene of the explosion.” Prachatai claims that the police have “detained 4 suspects, 2 men and 2 women…”.  iLaw reported “that their phones were seized and they were not informed where they would be taken.” It is unclear who these people are.

Prachatai refers to a change in police tactics:

The overwhelming police reaction involving the deployment of large numbers of officers, aggressive engagement, and the speedy arrest and despatch of suspects to Pathum Thani for interrogation is a shift in their modus operandi against pro-democracy activities.

This response was seen at the shrimp-selling activity staged by the WeVo group on 31 December, 2020, where around 500 police aggressively dispersed and arrested people who were trying to help struggling shrimp farmers sell shrimps.

No law currently allows the police to transfer arrestees for interrogation to the facility of their choosing. The severe state of emergency, which did enable them to do so, was withdrawn in October 2020. The Criminal Procedure Code authorizes police to detain and interrogate people only at the police station responsible for the area where the alleged offence occurred.

The regime is lawless and operates with total impunity.





HRW on Thailand’s human rights decline

16 01 2021

When you are near the bottom, going deeper requires particular skills in dark arts.

Human Rights Watch has recently released its World Report 2021. The summary on Thailand makes for depressing reading, even after more than six years of military junta and now a barely distinguishable post-junta regime.

The full report on Thailand begins:

Thailand faced a serious human rights crisis in 2020. Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha’s government imposed restrictions on civil and political rights, particularly freedom of expression, arbitrarily arrested democracy activists, engineered the dissolution of a major opposition political party on politically motivated grounds, and enforced a nationwide state of emergency, using the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext.

And the rest of the report is pretty much a litany of repression. There’s discussion of the State of Emergency, restrictions on freedom of expression, torture, enforced disappearance, impunity on state-sponsored rights violations, the persecution of human rights defenders, a continuation of human rights violations in the south, mistreatment of migrants and refugees, and more. Surprisingly, there’s only a paragraph on lese majeste, which is now the regime’s main weapon in silencing dissent.

Readers of PPT will know all of the sordid details of the regime’s efforts to stifle criticism, but read the report to be reminded of how dark things have remained despite the rigged election and the existence of a parliament. The latter has, in 2020, been pretty much supine as the regime has used its ill-gotten majority and its unelected Senate to stifle the parliaments scrutiny of the regime.





Blame thyself

11 01 2021

A couple of days ago PPT pointed to an article discussing the long-standing failures of the police.

There’s an another article on police corruption, concentrating on anti-democrat Kaewsan Atibhodhi. Oddly, Thai PBS refers to this royalist propagandist as an “academic,” but that seems par for the course in the mainstream media.

He blames the current virus outbreak as a product of “COVID mafia.” This term refers to “corrupt officials who work hand in glove with local influential figures involved in illegal gambling, in eastern region of Thailand, and with human trafficking gangs, who smuggle migrant workers from Myanmar into Samut Sakhon province and illegal Thai workers from Myanmar back into Thailand.”

Kaewsan

Kaewsan claims that the “mafia system” is a “network” between “state officials and local influential figures…”. He reckons “that the influential figure in Rayong province has managed to buy the entire police force, be it the local police and the Bangkok police, including the Crime Suppression Division, by dealing with just one group of state officials.”

He went on to lament that “he didn’t expect the police will ever be reformed under the present government, and there is no real opposition in the parliament either, but only the vengeful group of politicians and another group bent on toppling the Monarchy.”

We do not disagree with Kaewsan’s assessment. However, as a lamentable royalist and a supporter of two military coups, he misses the most significant point: Kaewsan and his ilk bear considerable responsibility because it is they who, as anti-democrats, have supported the system that promotes this corruption and the impunity enjoyed by military, police and officials. By supporting regimes that roll back notions of responsibility and accountability and make impunity a central element of governance, they reinforce this kind of corruption.

Since the 2006 military coup and especially since the 2014 coup, the police force has not been cleansed or reformed. Rather, as we have said, it has been made royalist and junta/post-junta regime friendly. Constant corruption operates as a reward for loyalty and a lubrication for the the hierarchy.

Because of his complicity, Kaewsan is unable to speak the truth.





King’s men I

26 09 2020

A few days ago, the Bangkok Post’s Wassana Nanuam had another of those posterior polishing articles on the new Army boss, Gen Narongphan Jitkaewtae.

Paul Chambers describes Gen Narongphan:

Narongphan’s elevation through the ranks has been extremely rapid since the beginning of the current reign. He is the former commander of the Royal Rachawallop 904 Special Military Task Force and considered extremely loyal to the current monarch. He is rumoured to be much more virulently reactionary than [Gen] Apirat [Kongsompong] and will serve as Army Chief for three years until he retires in 2023.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

As can be seen in the attached photo, Gen Narongphan wears his 904 haircut, red-rimmed t-shirt and proudly supports a chestful of royal symbols of “closeness,” including the 904 and Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti badges.

The Post’s story has Gen Narongphan heaping praise retiring generals – almost 270 of them – including Gen Apirat for having “dedicated their time and energy to fulfilling their duties to protect the nation’s sovereignty and the public interest and to maintain law and order.”

Most of these generals have probably been honing their golfing skills, collecting loot from the “sale” of their rank and influence, and shining the seats of their pants, but we acknowledge that some, like Apirat, were dead keen to take up arms against civilian protesters. “Law and order” means maintaining royalist-rightist regimes or as Gen Narongphan succinctly explains: “Protecting the monarchy with absolute loyalty and supporting the government to resolve national problems and working to advance the country are tasks for which [the generals] deserve the honour…”.

Worryingly for those who hope that there might be a more democratic Thailand, Gen Narongphan pledged to support the military-royalist “ideologies and perform our duties to the best of our ability, to ensure peace in society, foster national unity and support the country’s development…”. What does he mean by “peace”? Based on previous evidence, we suspect it means “defeating” civilian demonstrators, again and again.

Reading this puff piece, we were reminded of a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald, All the king’s strongmen.

It points out the obvious when it comes to the military and its government:

The seemingly endless cycle of military coups that interrupt democracy. A government plagued with allegations of corruption and nepotism. The former army chief with the suspiciously large luxury watch collection. The cabinet minister who was jailed in Sydney for conspiracy to traffic heroin. The lack of investigation into the disappearance and murder of dissidents. The king who would rather live in Germany.

The anti-government protests, it points out, have been heavy on symbolism. For last weekend, the “sites are significant; a campus massacre by the armed forces in 1976 left [at least] 45 people dead, hundreds injured and continues to haunt the country. More recently Sanam Luang has been subsumed into the giant and opaque Crown Property Bureau (CPB), and protesters have declared their intention to return it to the people.”

While the sudden appearance of naysayer conservatives (posing as liberals) have come out to lecture the students on how to rally and how to demand change, the SMH correctly observes that the “focus is squarely on Thailand’s political class and the powers that have long acted with impunity.”

As might be expected, the SMH points at “cabinet enforcer Thammanat Prompao, who … spent four years in a Sydney jail on a drugs conviction.” It goes on:

When Thammanat was sitting across from detectives making a statement in Parramatta jail on November 10, 1993, the first thing the young soldier put on the record was his connection to royalty.

After graduating from army cadet school in 1989 he “was commissioned as a bodyguard for the crown prince of Thailand” as a first lieutenant. “I worked in the crown prince’s household to the beginning of 1992,” he said, staying until deployed to help suppress a political conflict that culminated in an army-led massacre in Bangkok.

The crown prince is now King Vajiralongkorn, but the name landed like a thud: the judge made no mention of it when sentencing Thammanat over his part in moving 3.2 kilograms of heroin from Bangkok to Bondi.

Since the scandal broke last year, Thammanat not only kept his post but was named among [Gen] Prawit [Wongsuwan]’s deputies within the ruling Palang Pracharat party.

Prawit and the convicted heroin smuggler

The article also points out why the monarchy is a critical target: “As military figures loom large in political circles, they are also pervasive in Vajiralongkorn’s business dealings.”

His personal private secretary is an air chief marshal who is the chairman of two listed companies, a director of a bank, chairs the board of eight other companies and is the director-general of the Crown Property Bureau.

The CPB’s assets are estimated at anywhere between $40 and $70 billion, and were made Vajiralongkorn’s personal property in mid-2018.

Protesters want this returned to the state [PPT: not really; they ask for state oversight], along with greater control and oversight over the taxpayer money spent on the royal family.

Also on the CPB board is General Apirat Kongsompong, the army chief set for mandatory retirement this month who has been at the centre of coup rumours. The son of one of the men who led the coup in 1992, Apirat is known for his ultra-royalist views and is set to take up a senior position within the royal household on leaving the army.

At the CPB, 8 of the 11 directors now carry military or police rank.

All the king’s men.





The rich get away with murder

28 07 2020

It is reported that “police have opened an internal investigation after charges were dropped against the billionaire Red Bull heir … amid outrage over a perceived culture of impunity for the rich…”. We see this as nothing more than a part of a continuing effort to kid the public that the police are interested in justice. It is also about the regime’s “management” of discontent.

While in a source PPT doesn’t usually read, we felt that Benjamin Freeman’s op-ed was useful in reflecting on the question: “Why do the rich and powerful get away with murder?

Commenting on the Red Bull-Vorayuth Yoovidhya saga, Freeman states: “And so it goes in a country where the rich and powerful can get away with murder — literally so, as this case indicates.”

The author agrees with Pol Col Kissana Phathana-charoen who explained that dropping charges against the rich, Ferrari-driving, coked-up Vorayuth did not mean that the police were “applying double standards…”. Freeman observes:

We have to take him at his word. In order for there to be double standards, there need to be some real standards in the first place. But what exactly are the standards of Thailand’s law enforcement and judicial system?

Strikingly, he links (in)justice to broader political events:

This is a country, after all, where a citizen can be sentenced to long years in prison merely for exercising freedom of speech by making critical comments about the government or the monarchy on social media on grounds that doing so undermines national security.

Meanwhile, the generals that spearheaded a military coup to overthrow an elected government in 2014 not only do not need to fear any prosecution for what was an act of treason by international standards but they remain in charge of the country, acting as they please.

Freeman explains:

The system of justice in Thailand has long stayed mired in a regressive state where the laws apply only to those who don’t have enough money or influence to be able to flout them at will.

The result is a vastly unequal society where the “little people” remain under the thumb of the rich and powerful who can do as they please with no one to hold them to account.

He might have added that this inequality of wealth, power and justice is exactly what the tycoons want and is why they support dictators, military and monarchy.