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.

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.


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