Opposing the junta and its repression

28 12 2015

red candleAt Khaosod, Pravit Rojanaphruk reports on resistance to the military junta. Resistance to this regime is no simple matter when its watches and threatens all those it sees as opponents.

The New Isaan Movement brings together around 500 like-minded people from seven provinces in the northeast. It is reported that:

Members of this new region-based umbrella movement include the Dao Din student group, NGO activists as well as rural villagers. Those involved are from different backgrounds, they’re all from the much-neglected northeastern region and share a common pain and vision. Long regarded as inferior and poor, once again people

Broad notions of inequality underpin the movement.

Khornchanok Saenprasert, a “coordinator and a trained human rights lawyer from Khon Kaen province” declares: “We aim high, to rise up and fight politically…”.

On 10 December, “a declaration announcing the formation of the New Isaan Movement was publicly read out.” Yet the movement existed prior to this, being formed in March.

Khornchanok declared:

 Being Isaan people is to be condemned to being second-class citizens and having no meaningful participation in politics. It also means being at the receiving end of [the adverse effects of] development projects. We have no part in determining our own future….

He added that the coup has made the situation more acute with those opposing development projects in the region unable to even properly exercise their basic rights to protest.

The group “will launch their own people’s draft constitution just ahead of the junta’s draft charter.”

“We hope to make society realize that the current [junta-sponsored] charter drafting process was not done by the people. We want to show what local people really want in their constitution. We don’t expect the junta to listen though.”

The movement has refused to participate in the junta’s charter drafting process “saying they see the whole process as undemocratic.”

Khornchanok  made this important observation:

Having a dictatorial state means they can’t make a political move and they don’t much dare to challenge autocratic powers. For us, New Isaan Movement, we start with defending our communities [from the adverse impacts of development projects]. Our backs are against the wall and if we don’t fight we will end up dying anyhow….

What we would like to say is that we’re for equality and are against dictatorship and we are friends and allies to all those who share our values.

Unequal Thailand

2 12 2015

Readers may not have noticed the publication of a new book called Unequal Thailand. Aspects of Income, Wealth and Power. Published by NUS Press, this book is a collection edited by Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker.

The blurb states:Unequal_Thailand

Extreme inequalities in income,wealth and power lie behind Thailand’s political turmoil. What are the sources of this inequality?  Why does it persist, or even increase when the economy grows? How can it be addressed?

The contributors to this important study—Thai scholars, reformers and civil servants—shed light on the many dimensions of inequality in Thailand, looking beyond simple income measures to consider land ownership, education, finance, business structures and politics. The contributors propose a series of reforms in taxation, spending and institutional reform that can address growing inequality.

Inequality is among the biggest threats to social stability in Southeast Asia, and this close study of a key Southeast Asian country will be relevant to regional policy-makers, economists and business decision-makers, as well as students of oligarchy and inequality more generally.

There are chapters on land, education, wages, capital markets, tax, networking and local power.

Selling the dictatorship

27 09 2015

Self-appointed Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, The Dictator, is not the best salesman for his military regime.

There were some protests about his visit, with a series of red shirt TV programs showing some of it. The YouTube video below is one of three:

One of the Prayuth’s speeches to the U.N., on poverty and sustainable development, was a rapid-fire reading of a script in Thai.  He appears uninterested and so do most of the delegates around him. We wonder if this is a preview of an equally execrable speech to the U.N. General Assembly.

According to a report at the Bangkok Post, The Dictator has made various undertakings in New York, including a promise of an election in 2017. Speaking to a bunch from the “US-Asean Business Council in New York on Friday night,” Prayuth said that the poll would be held “with no detour of the political roadmap.”

He did not explain that the roadmap is regularly redrawn.

Prayuth told the business group that the junta:

will spend time until the new polls to increase competitiveness, improve infrastructure, upgrade labour skills, and revise rules and regulations to be in tandem with international standards to facilitate investors…. Clamping down on corruption was also high on its to-do list….

He might have added that the military regime is going to spend time repressing opponents and ensuring that it gets its political way going forward.

The Dictator did his royalist duty, opening a propaganda exhibition on sufficiency economy hocus pocus.

Furthering his own bizarre understanding of democracy and sufficiency economy, Prayuth said “poverty was the root cause hampering democracy in Thailand as it put the poor on the sidelines and gave the middle class and the rich an opportunity to manage the country and resources.”

Of course, the sufficiency economy ideology does nothing to challenge inequality as it tells people to be satisfied with their lot in life.

The notion that Thailand’s democracy is hampered by poverty is military sleight of hand. In fact, it is the military that is the main obstacle to democracy, especially as it is allied to royalist elite and Sino-Thai tycoons.

Prayuth’s view of Thailand and democracy is about as accurate and real as a VW emissions test.

Ruling inequality

15 09 2015

Bundith Arniya or Jerseng Sae Kow faced an ongoing case of lese majeste for several years. He was eventually found guilty on 17 February 2014. However, he was again charged with lese majeste on 19 February 2015 for an alleged offense following his suspended sentencing on the first case. Thai police officers detained an elderly writer after he made comments about the new constitutional draft, which they said might affect national security.

Prachatai reports that police have again dragged this 74 year-old off. On 12 September 2015, he was detained “after he made suggestions at a seminar on the new constitution drafting process at Thammasat University…”.

More lese majeste? Apparently not. It seems Bundith made a statement that the military dictatorship considers heinous.

Bundith suggested that any “new constitution should contain the idea that Thai people of all classes shall be equal and all are equal owners of the country.”

After this blasphemy, “several police and military officers at the event, reportedly including some in plainclothes,” who claimed to be maintaining “security,” demanded that the old man attend the Chanasongkram Police Station when the seminar ended. Bundith “was detained at the station for the about three hours…”.

He was eventually released without charge vowing to keep his mouth shut, probably as ordered by the authorities.

It seems that Thailand’s military dictatorship and its ruling class are petrified by the notion of equality.

Updated: A = equality before the law

27 05 2015

The graffiti that appeared at the courts in Bangkok over the weekend was an anarchist symbol.

The artist has been apprehended. Whereas the Bangkok Post’s report is bland, Coconuts Bangkok tells us more.Anarchy

Nattapol Kemngen is with the band “Drunk All Day,” and before he went to the Criminal Court “to spray some old-school anarchist symbols on its sign, he first built his fury listening to his band’s song ‘Hell of the Poor’.”

Nattapol “told police he was angry about the inequality in society after there seemed no accountability for a soldier shot and killed his bandmate Yuthana Sripradit earlier this year.” The report states that “Nattapol said only the poor seem to go to jail because they don’t have money. Anarchy to him means equality.”

His protest was against double standards.

It may have had something of a result as police have “announced yesterday Lt. Cpl. Watjaraphong Jurat will be brought for trial in a military court.” A military court? For killing a civilian? Still military double standards.

Update: Prachatai reports that Nattapol was sentenced to a month in jail.

New year barbs II

2 01 2015

Forrest E. Cookson is an economist and Tom F. Joehnk writes for The Economist and they have an op-ed at the New York Times that assesses the military dictatorship. It begins:

Fifteen billion dollars. That’s roughly the price tag of the coup d’état to date. And it’s the difference between the Thai economy, Southeast Asia’s second-biggest, stagnating, as it is now, or its chugging along at 4 percent, its average growth rate since 2001.

It takes this further:

Now the economic consequences of the military takeover have become plain. The protests that precipitated the coup had already slowed growth, partly because of blocks on government borrowing, stalled exports and a restrictive monetary policy. And the situation has hardly improved since.

The authors observe that “the return to old-fashioned autocracy threatens to bring economic near-stagnation and will likely increase income inequality.”

Why is this? They say: “… in a bid to scour the system of Mr. Thaksin’s influence, the generals have been turning their backs on many policies favored by his government, including those that worked.” They elaborate:

Mr. Thaksin’s signature economic achievement was to encourage consumption among lower-class people: His government provided access to affordable health care, gave out credits to rural communities, and created a transfer system benefiting poor students and old people. Today, the generals are reducing transfers to lower-income groups, concentrating on unfocused infrastructure expansion and taking no action to increase exports or tourism.

What could the junta do if it cared and wasn’t in the business of transferring even more wealth to the already fabulously wealthy?

Some simple, well-known measures could do much immediate good. The central bank could spur stagnating exports and tourism by buying U.S. dollars to drive down the baht. The government could boost private consumption with a massive transfer program to farmers, students and the elderly. The Bank of Thailand could make credit more readily available by increasing the money supply, and it could stop using interests rate to manage monetary policy, which has not been effective.

What are the chances? They say “low.” Apart from our view on the nature of the economic exploitation, Cookson and Joehnk say this:

The Bank of Thailand seems crippled by conservatism and uncertainty. Fiscal policy is in the hands of bureaucrats who are fearful of spending public money. The generals’ own support base is too narrow for them to suggest, much less achieve, anything contentious. And some of their economic proposals so far have been essentially nationalistic and risk discouraging foreign investment.

Every rational path out of stagnation seems blocked by autocratic rule. Thailand is not, as many economists argue, in a middle-income trap; it is in a coup trap. And this is a self-inflicted condition.

That says enough.

Pots and kettles on graft

20 12 2014

Former General and unelected Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda is old yet still prepared to babble on about political issues in repeated displays of double standards.

He does this as the head of the Privy Council, an ostensibly apolitical organization that advises the king, but which has been highly politicized by Prem, to the extent that its members, and notably Prem himself, have taken high profile positions that have led to military putsches.

In a report at the Bangkok Post, Prem is at it again.

Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda

Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda

Prem has suggested that “[q]uick and decisive legal action that makes people afraid to cheat is the only solution to Thailand’s corruption problem…”. He identified two major problems for Thailand: “poverty and corruption.”

As might be expected from a man who has spent his retirement in the employ of Sino-Thai tycoons in the palace and banks while living in taxpayer-funded housing and rarely shaking the dust of his own wallet, Prem doesn’t think that poverty needs the same “strong and urgent attention as corruption…”.

Let’s not argue with him on this except to observe that he might have considered inequality as being as much a problem as poverty and that he might have considered the links between poverty, inequality and corruption. In fact, corruption underpins that system of political, economic and social power that has the monarchy as its keystone.

Prem is right to say that “corruption [has] long has existed in the country…”.

He states that people don’t fight corruption “because most people think … it is better for them to stay indifferent instead of making enemies…”.

We think he speaks from ample personal experience. When army commander, the military controlled all of Thailand’s borders and managed and profited from human, arms and drug smuggling. The military under Prem was also known to engage in illegal logging and gems trading.

When Prem was prime minister, nothing much was done other than to consolidate the corruption of the military into corporation-like arrangements.

One of the biggest deals for the military was its control of the Cambodian border when the West and China collaborated to oppose the Vietnamese-backed regime that ousted the Khmer Rouge. Many military leaders did very well through this control.

Pots calling kettles black.


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