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.

Updated: Prayuth mangles democracy

9 10 2014

On of the things that infects dictators is that they are unable to judge what is reasonable in the world. Surrounded by fawning underlings, they lose touch with the real world and are prone to pronouncements that range from the banal to the bizarre. This infection is particularly pronounced in military dictators as they are socialized in a hierarchical organization.

Thailand’s latest military dictator General Prayuth Chan-ocha exhibits these failures. When he is reported in The Nation as having “vowed … to make progress in combating social inequality,” most reasonable people might consider that a very reasonable statement, addressing a serious social (and political) issue in contemporary Thailand. He’s right when he says that economic “disparity is a big challenge to the government.” He means the military dictatorship.

Then he becomes increasingly Orwellian and odd: “He said reducing inequality did not mean making everybody equal, because that is not democracy.” Maybe…, perhaps, but then this: “Today we are following democracy.” Certainly not. He express such nonsense because no one tells him he’s ignorant.

The Dictator inhabits an alternative reality. He seems unaware that he came to power via a military coup, was not elected to anything, ever, rules by decree and through martial law, throws people in jail, censors and threatens all his political opponents, and appoints all those who serve him in puppet assemblies.

He then confuses political democracy with Thaksinomics: “You can only invest as much as you can afford. If you have no capital you need access to a source of finance. We can help you with this and, by doing so, reduce inequality.” That was one of Thaksin Shinawatra’s call to the poor. But where Thaksin proclaimed that no one need be poor, Prayuth warns he won’t be “handing out money to all people equally…”.

Naturally, his corrupt generals know this. They spend most of their time accumulating wealth by exploiting the poor. That is Thai-style democracy.

In another report at The Nation, the notion of “democracy” is again part of The Dictator’s bent rhetoric.

Prayuth, on his way to Myanmar, reckoned that Thailand’s military government is a plus in dealing with his neighbors. He babbled  about the previous use of “military communication to clear the way and now is the best time for relations [with the military having taken over running of the country].”

He recognizes that Myanmar’s military remains critical, but does the current leadership there need a military dictatorship saying it “will support democracy in Myanmar…”? While The Nation may refer to “[q]uasi-democratic Myanmar,” there is far more political freedom in Myanmar than in Prayuth’s Thailand.

Prayuth talks democracy but sees like a military dictator. Quite clearly he has no conception of the meaning of democracy.

His Orwellian world doesn’t just infect his (mis)use of democracy. When The Dictator, who heads the junta that illegally seized power in May, decides it is appropriate that he “expressed satisfaction with the NCPO’s [the junta’s] performance over the past four months” he is congratulating himself and being self-satisfied. That suggests delusional disorder.

Update: Interestingly, on his visit to Yangon, The Nation reports that The Dictator was greeted by protesters! They want the junta boss to ensure that Myanmar migrant workers accused of murder by the Thai police get treated fairly.

In biscuit tin land

28 09 2014

It took us a while to get to this, yet we wanted to post yet another of Ji Ungpakorn’s commentaries on Thailand’s politics from Ugly Truth Thailand. Ji links to several items that PPT has also posted on and links them in an interesting manner, although we are not sure how the reactionary sufficiency economy is “neoliberal”:

Inequality in “Biscuit-tin Land”

Giles Ji Ungpakorn


The National Economics and Social Development Board published a recent study which showed that almost a quarter of the Thai population (15.6 million people) live in poverty. At the same time, 0.1% of the richest elites own nearly half the nation’s assets. The rich own nearly 80 % of land while the poorest 20% have only 0.3 %. Thais in the top 10 % earned 40 %of overall income, while the bottom 10 % earned just 1.6 %.

We know that the King is the richest man in Thailand and one of the richest men in the world. Yet he has the audacity to lecture citizens on his neo-liberal “Sufficiency Economics” ideology, where the poor must learn to live within their means. Other Thai millionaires grunt their approval of this creed while sticking their snouts in the trough.

Prayut’s military junta has, as usual, adopted this reactionary ideology as an important corner-stone of its policies.

This week it was announced that government funds for the universal health care scheme, brought in by the Taksin government, would be frozen. They are hoping to pave the way for a co-payment system to replace free health care.

Previously the junta had helped itself to a large increase in the military budget.

Biscuit 1Thais used to refer to the country as “under a coconut shell”, where people were forced to undergo political lobotomies. Now Thailand is “Biscuit-tin Land”, after a pro-democracy academic attended a university management meeting wearing a biscuit tin on his head. He was protesting about a fellow academic who took up an extra position with the junta while not giving up his academic post. Wearing a biscuit tin is now a new symbol of resistance and the junta has just banned an academic seminar on the matter at Chiang Mai University Faculty of Law.

After banning other academic seminars in Bangkok and arresting students, Biscuit Brain Prayut announced that there was “no restriction on academic freedom”. All the junta was ordering was that politics should not be discussed. He went on to explain that people were free to discuss his own 12 point teachings on Nation, Religion and Monarchy.

During the reactionary middle-class protests which wrecked the election earlier this year, there was much talk about “Taksin and Yingluk’s corruption”. This was taken up by foreign media without any critical analysis. But now the holding of multiple positions and the drawing of multiple salaries has become a national epidemic under the junta. An electoral Commissioner, famous for his refusal to hold the February elections, thus siding with the middle-class mobs, has just helped himself to a nice expensive shopping trip to the UK to “observe” the Scottish referendum. All this was at tax-payers’ expense. But there do not seem to be the same shouts about corruption.

Nepotism is not discussed either, even though Prayut has promoted his brother to a high post in the military.Biscuits 2

The standard vicious and incompetent practices of the corrupt Thai police have been exposed by the awful murders of two British holiday makers. But this goes on every day and it is the experience of most Thais that the police never catch any real criminals and rely merely on arresting the usual scape-goats: migrant workers, poor people or red shirts. On occasions the police engage in murder themselves. They murdered the southern human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit who was defending a group of Muslim Malays who were tortured by the police.

In Biscuit-tin Land, impunity goes hand in hand with corruption, repression and neo-liberal inequality.


24 09 2014

Winners in the economic stakes usually also win in political world. Nowhere is this clearer than in Thailand, where the country’s economic and political power is monopolized by the ruling elite.

The extent of the elite’s economic control is set out in a report at The Nation. Almost a quarter of Thais in 2012 – almost 16 million people – were classified by the National Economics and Social Development Board as living in poverty. More than 8 million people were regarded as being so poor that they had “insufficient food and necessities.”moneybags

At the top end, 0.1 per cent was “so rich they own nearly half (46.5 per cent) of the country’s total assets…”.

The top 20 per cent, possessed 326 times more land than the poor.  According to the report, the “rich own nearly 80 per cent of the land obtainable via ownership documents, while the bottom 20 per cent of owners have only 0.3 per cent of available land.”

The bottom 10 per cent earn just 1.6 per cent of income.

PPT calculates that the Crown Property Bureau’s assets in 2012 were more than 12 million times greater than per capita GDP in constant 200 prices. We know comparing assets with income is a bit screwy, but just imagine how many times more income the CPB generates each year. How much greater would it be if compared with the meager incomes of the poor?

Rose on impunity, inequality and 112

7 09 2014

A comment on impunity, inequality and the link to lese majeste from Rose Amornpat:

Thailand’s culture of impunity and politics of deceit must be stopped if Thailand wants to be considered a civilized and decent country!

The way it is now, “thieves in uniforms” in collusion with Thai Monarchy and its network are stealing freedom and democracy from Thai people, not that Thai people ever had such a thing anyway!

The recent military’s coup d’ etat put Thailand to shame no matter how much the military have tried to explain to the world’s community!

Gen. Prayuth couldn’t have possibly acted in such a bold manner, unless he’d got a prior approval from the palace!

He’s been a staunch royalist! He was hand-picked by the king and queen to be the Army Chief!

My family back home has been a royalist. I was brought up a royalist. I was trained and educated in a royalist school. I was taught how to write Thai poems in praise of the Royal Family ever since I was in grade school! I even won several awards for my poems praising the royals. I watched the nightly royal news with my family when I was in Thailand. I argued with my foreign friends and defended the royal family blindly, just like any ultra-royalists in Thailand and abroad.

Now that I have a chance to study in depth about Thai history and politics just during the last few years, I began to question why there is such huge gap between the rich and the poor back home. Why some rich people almost never have to stay in jail, despite their crimes?

Why is the Thai Royal Family of Thailand the richest monarch in the world- 6 years in a row- by Forbes magazine?

Why do poor people stay the same, generation after generation?

My heart cries when I see young children selling garlands or begging in the busy streets of Bangkok. Thai children should be in school, not selling garlands to help their family! Where are children’s human rights here?

Why does the king of Thailand endorse every coup and later pardon the coup makers?

Why are brave people like Da Torpedo and Somyot Prueksakasemsuk who didn’t do anything wrong have to go to jail? Their only “crime” was telling the truth!

And why do we have to have the despicable lese majeste law when Thai royalists often taunt that the King is so well-loved and revered by the people?

In my mind, true love doesn’t have to be enforced!

Article 112 creates an atmosphere of fear among people. This is not a true love! It reflects badly on the monarchy!

I then began to realize that the culture of impunity may be one of the root causes of Thailand’s ills! Because top elites and corrupt government officials commit crimes and never have to go to jail!

In the regicide case of King Ananda, more than 60 years now, the perpetrator who sent the 0.45 bullet through the forehead of Ananda is still at large and very happy!

The ghost of the 3 innocent pages are still waiting for justice!

Their families, whose calls to the new king for mercy at the last minutes prior to execution, went coldheartedly unanswered! Some of the wives, in their late 80’s now are still suffering. As to the children and grand-children, the portrait of the deceased still hangs in their family’s living room all these years.

The one or the people who ordered the killing of unarmed and peaceful people and students in the tragic and historic series of massacre are still living freely! Such are the Student Uprising of October 14, 1973, Thammasart University Massacre of October 6, 1976, Black May 1992 and April/May 2010. Such horrendous events have resulted in hundreds, if not thousands, of death and injuries! Yet, the culprits have not been caught, tired and punished! This is the tragedy of Thailand!

We must be direct and confront the very root cause of all the problems. We must not be afraid of their uncivilized and unjust lese majeste law, if we ever want to find the long term solution for Thailand.

I would rather die for my cause than live in lies, fear and deceit!

-Chatwadee Rose Amornpat

Inequality and Thailand

1 04 2014

A couple of days ago, PPT mentioned a new academic paper on Thailand and networks. A reader points out another recent paper, in the journal Democratization, on inequality and politics in Thailand, by Kevin Hewison of the Asia Research Centre at Murdoch University. The abstract states:

In Thailand, economic inequality has long been a fact of life. It is a “general inequality of condition” that can be seen to influence all aspects of social, economic, and political life. Yet inequality has not always been associated with political activism. Following the 2006 military coup, however, there has been a deliberate and politicized linking of inequality and politics. The article explores a complex of political events – elections, coup, constitution, and the political ascent of Thaksin Shinawatra – that has given rise to a relatively recent politicization of economic and political inequalities, now invoked in street politics – a rhetoric developed amongst pro-Thaksin red shirts that challenged the status quo and generates conflict over the nature of electoral democracy.

Hewison points out that inequality “has existed for a considerable period. In fact, researchers have recounted similar data to that cited above over several decades.” He says that understanding this persistence needs to be understood in terms of policies and practices (“disequalizing effects”) that have been in place for a considerable time, and which contribute to inequality and maintaining it: the role of state policy and capital and its preferences and structural power.

The article is worth reading but is again behind a pay wall, and can only be accessed with a subscription or through an institution with a subscription.



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