Prawit, watches and ISOC campaigning

10 03 2018

We can only wonder at how the junta has been able to (finally) get the Deputy Dictator’s luxury watches off the front pages.

It was back in the first week of January that the National Anti-Corruption Commission gave General Prawit Wongsuwan was given “15 days” to explain how he came to possess the large diamond ring he wore in December. This was part of an NACC “investigation” of Prawit’s many expensive watches and bling jewelry.A couple of months later, and… nothing.

Meanwhile, the Deputy Dictator continues his “work” ensuring his brother officers remain in Thailand’s political driving seat.

He has “brushed aside criticism that the presence of soldiers in rural areas under the Thai Niyom Yangyuen development programme was intended to canvass for votes from the grassroot people to pave way for the political future of the incumbent regime.”

Yet, as everyone knows, it is the counterinsurgency-cum-political manipulators Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) that runs the “program.” Prawit says that “military personnel had already covered 50 percent of 7,463 tambons  and 81,064 villages…”. ISOC says it has had discussions with more than “three million people in mostly rural areas.”

You know that Prawit is dissembling on this program when he reveals that ISOC says “demand for the election had not been raised by the people in all the meetings with the soldiers.”

Having a military presence in every, single village in the country and holding “discussions” with millions of people is quite a political message (and not cheap for the taxpayer).

Given the military’s reputation for violence against citizens and ISOC’s unsavory record of political insurgency, it is also a very big political threat.

Mad monarchists off the leash

25 01 2018

As has been the case in Thailand for several decades, whenever the political temperature rises, monarchists become politically aggressive. In fact, Thailand’s modern history could be rewritten on the theme of royalists versus the people. In almost every instance in the past 50 years or so, it has been the minority of monarchists who have eventually triumphed, often with the support of a royalist military more than willing to massacre opponents in the name of nation, religion, monarchy and the protection of the neo-feudal social order.

There’s no doubt that the political temperature is now rising. The focal point is General Prawit Wongsuwan’s watches. There’s also no doubt that military junta views this as a story it needs to silence. It has real trouble doing this with its anti-democrat “allies.” It has less problem threatening its “real” opponents, seen as red shirts and Thaksinites.

Khaosod reports that activist Akechai Hongkangwarn, threatened a few days ago, has been assaulted by a man identified as Rittikrai Chaiwannasan. While earlier taken away by police, he seems to have been quickly released and continued on his stalk of Akechai and physically assaulted him.

Akechai was “returning from holding a protest to denounce the deputy prime minister over a series of undeclared luxury watches” when assaulted. He says his attacker beat him, “repeatedly punched him in the face, causing him minor injuries.” He adds that the thug shouted, “You anti-monarchist” and “you are doing it for redhirts…”.

Akechai is convinced the junta and its allies are behind the attack, which he says was “well-planned and involved more than one person as the man knew the time and place he was getting off [the bus].” He asks: “I wonder why they have to resort to this level of violence…”.

In fact, it is standard practice and not dissimilar from earlier attacks on those thought to be “anti-monarchist.” In the past, many such attacks were planned in the military and specifically by its Internal Security Operations Command or ISOC.

When the military is on top XII

19 01 2018

It is some time since our last post with this title. There’s a general air in the press and on social media that the political tide may be turning.

For example, commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak says he can see “civil society noises, together with political parties, are now on rise and may build into a crescendo of opposition to the military government.” Others are pleased to see the detestable Abhisit Vejjaiva “damning” the military government with language that is advisory in tone on General Prawit Wongsuwan’s large collection of luxury watches. On social media, many have lauded the dropping of yet another lese majeste case against Sulak Sivaraksa.

While there is some cause for cheer, it might be noted that much of this criticism is coming from yellow shirts and anti-democrats, many of whom were strong supporters of the 2014 military coup. This suggests that that coalition of anti-democrats is unraveling as the junta seeks to embed its rule. The unanswered question is what they propose as an alternative to the junta. Do these critics propose using the junta’s rules and having a military-dominated administration post-“election” – a Thai-style democracy – but where that dominance is not as total as it is now. That is, a simple refusal to allow General Prayuth Chan-ocha to hang on as head of a selectorate regime? Nothing much that any of these “opponents” have proposed since 2005 has looked much like an open political system.

What we can also see, and this also deserves attention from those cheering these developments, is that the junta continues to crackdown on other opponents.  One case involves the National Anti-Corruption Commission, criticized on Prawit, but widely supported by anti-democrats in an action to “determine whether … 40 [elected and pro-Thaksin Shinawatra] politicians submitted the [amnesty] bill with ‘illegal’ intent” back in 2013. If found “guilty,” they would all be banned from the junta’s “election,” decimating the already weakened Puea Thai Party.

Even when criticizing Prawit’s horology obsession, some critics are tolerated and others not. For example, Abhisit and yellow-hued “activists” can criticize, but what about Akechai Hongkangwarn? He’s identified as an opponent, so when he was critical, “four police officers … turned up at [his]… home … to serve a summons.” The “charge” seems to be “posting obscene images online…”. An obscenely expensive watch perhaps?

Then there’s the warning to critics of the junta that there call for The Dictator’s use of Article 44 for to not be made into law. Maj Gen Piyapong Klinpan “who is also the commander of the 11th Military Circle, said the NCPO [junta] is monitoring the situation. He said the NCPO did not ban the gathering on Monday since it was held in an education institute where academics were present to share knowledge. The NCPO merely followed up the event and tried to make sure those present would not violate any laws.” In other words, watch out, you’re being watched. It’s a threat.

Amazingly, Maj Gen Piyapong then “explained” these political double standards:

Commenting about political activist Srisuwan Janya, who has criticised the regime, Maj Gen Piyapong said there is no need to invite the activist for talks as he still has done nothing wrong, but the junta will keep tabs on his movements. “Currently, there is still no movement which is a cause for concern,” Maj Gen Piyapong said.

And, finally, if you happen to be one of those unfortunates – a citizen in the way of military “progress” – you get threatened with guns. At the embattled Mahakan community, where a historical site is being demolished, Bangkok Metropolitan administrators called out the military to threaten the community. The deployment of troops was by the Internal Security Operations Command.

Watching everyone and everywhere

14 01 2018

A short Bangkok Post story demands attention.

The junta has “plans to connect more than 367,000 surveillance cameras … nationwide…” to a network. This “network” is meant to be completed within two years and is claimed to be about “improve[d] security.”

Many of the exisating surveillance cameras are broken, some are fakes and others have been stolen. Reflecting this, Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan looked at his watch and said “government agencies must maintain their cameras, to ensure they work. Those that fail to do so would be disciplined.”

He also ordered relevant agencies to install 100 new cameras at risk-prone locations in each province. That’s at least another 7,600 cameras and a national total of some 375,000, not including cameras in the deep south or privately-installed cameras. But the junta plans to “connect its surveillance camera network with the cameras of the private sector.”

Having them in a network gives those doing the surveillance tremendous reach and remarkable power. ISOC will be happy!

We do know, however, that when the cameras catch the military behaving badly, the cameras suddenly malfunction or the records become unusable or inaccessible.

ISOC’s electoral power

8 01 2018

It has taken a while for the Internal Security Operations Command or ISOC to respond to concerns about its growing power under the military dictatorship. It was back in November when General Prayuth Chan-ocha used his sweeping powers under Article 44 to amend internal security legislation and set up a security “super board” to allegedly assist ISOC in dealing with “domestic security threats.”

The Dictator made ISOC the central agency dealing with all matters it considers “security,” and at all levels. As we well know, “security” usually means the use of lese majeste, computer crimes and sedition laws against political opponents. Using his extra-judicial powers, The Dictator has ISOC heading up all other agencies, and at the regional level, this includes the Interior Ministry, police and prosecutors. Among other things, this is a handing iron fist for when the military dictatorship decides it needs an “election.”

In the Bangkok Post, we get ISOC’s response. We doubt many will believe ISOC’s claim that the agency is warm and cuddly and apolitical. It never has been and with its domination by the military, it never will be. It is an agancy used by the military to undermine opponents, spy on opponents and purvey propaganda for the regime. But back to the new, “soft” line, reflected in its “peace” and “reconciliation” website and its Facebook page.

Isoc spokesman Maj-Gen. Peerawat Sangthong “explained” the use of The Dictator’s unchecked power was just a bit of administrative and technocratic streamlining. No need to worry.

Chaired by Deputy Prime Minister for Bling General Prawit Wongsuwan chairs ISOC’s “administrative committee.” His deputies are the “defence and interior ministers … with members including commanders of the armed forces and the Isoc secretary-general…”.

Now there are mirror regional and provincial committees, giving ISOC nationwide control of “security.”

Maj Gen Peerawat revealed that ISOC “has about 5,000-6,000 staff nationwide, excluding those working in the … South, and there currently are 500,000-600,000 internal security volunteers, as well as tens of thousands of people in its information network.”

All of those people working for an ISOC with enhanced powers might as the general says, will “reduce the gap among agencies where they are needed to work together to solve a problem, eradicate redundancy and to make sure all the agencies involved are supporting one another.”

That’s useful for repressing the junta’s opponents and we guess the most significant “problem” now is how to ensure the junta’s preferred “electoral” outcome.

Updated: Domination plans

6 01 2018

Seldom has PPT been able to fully agree with analysis in the mainstream media. Generally we rummage about in it and post bits and pieces drawn from it to highlight things about the monarchy, lese majeste and political repression. Nor have we always been fans of the Bangkok Post’s military affairs reporter Wassana Nanuam.

However, a recent piece by Wassana in the Bangkok Post is one we can recommend. “Regime lays plans for post-poll control” says much that PPT has been posting about for several years, and we are pleased that others are recognizing the junta’s plans and writing about them in Thailand. Wassana writes about how the junta “has been busy ensuring its success at the ballot box” and establishing its post-“election” regime. And she’s still unsure when the junta will be prepared and ready to “win” its “election.”

Being prepared translates as being sure no pro-Thaksin Shinawatra party has any chance of looking electorally powerful. The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha seems to believe that he is the only one who can prevent such a “catastrophe” for the military, the royalist elite and the anti-democrats. He may also need a military party. As Wassana comments: “Gen Prayut, Gen Prawit [Wongsuwan, the watchman] and Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda are united in wanting to prevent Pheu Thai from winning sufficient seats to form a government.”

As we have been pointing out, the polls are likely to be a stitch-up when they are permitted. Wassana explains some of the mechanisms:

As interior minister, Gen Anupong has assumed authority over the past few years for transferring provincial governors and chiefs of district offices, while Gen Prawit, who is believed to have good relations with several political parties, will likely be the one who convinces politicians to defect to the military party.

The armed forces and other security agencies will also be deployed to achieve this goal.

The burden of helping a military party become a key party in the formation of the next government will, however, fall on the armed forces. They are no longer politically neutral these days [they never have been], … with their leaders serving as members of the NCPO [junta].

Army chief Chalermchai Sitthisad serves as the secretary-general of the NCPO and head of the NCPO’s peace and order command that controls the entire military and police.

Assistant army commander Apirat Kongsompong, a close aide of Gen Prayut who serves also as a deputy chief of the NCPO’s command, meanwhile, is expected to emerge as the new army chief in the military reshuffle expected between September and October.

Gen Apirat will take up a key role in controlling the armed forces including during the election.

General Anupong has also been ensuring that local electoral authorities and “independent” agencies are in the junta’s pockets. And, PPT does not rule out military ballot box stuffing and corrupt counting to get the required electoral outcome.

Worryingly, Wassana reveals how the military and its ISOC will be used in provincial areas:

The armed forces will play a bigger role in attempts to bar Pheu Thai from winning the race. Military officials will act more or less as canvassers for the military party and assess the popularity and the overall situation of parties in each constituency.

With his special powers provided under the charter’s Section 44, Gen Prayut may deal by this means with canvassers from other parties in the name of suppressing mafia-style thugs and illegal weapons — ever-present threats during elections.

Of course, plans can be upset. We’d love to see a broad-based opposition to the military’s operations and planning. However, this particular regime has been far more repressive and nasty than any of its recent predecessors have been (in, say, 1991-2 and 2006-7). It has also shown itself to be prepared to murder and maim to maintain its preferred regime (as in 2009 and 2010). And, it has worked assiduously to dismantle opposition organizing. All of this suggests that a broad-based opposition to continuing military fascism is unlikely without some kind of special spark.

Update: On this topic we also recommend “Brave the third wave.”

Further updated: Behind the “plot”

5 12 2017

The Nation reported about a day ago that The Dictator reckons the “discovery” of one set of rusted weapons and another set of brand spanking new ones were of a batch that “belonged to Ko Tee or Wuthipong Kachathamakul.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha also predicted that there might be more weapons to be found, and we guess he should know.

In our earlier post we suggested that this sudden “discovery” might have been a sign of political desperation, another excuse to delay elections or testing the gullibility of the media and population. We now think these might all be reasons for the discovery but we also think we missed the most likely explanation.

But some more contextualization from a report in the Bangkok Post.

It is stated that “[w]arrants for the arrest of five people, including former PM’s Office minister Jakrapob Penkair and former 3rd Army deputy chief Maj Gen Manas Paolik, for their alleged links with the recent discovery of a huge [sic.] arms cache in Chachoengsao will be sought…”. The other “suspects” are Watana Sapwichien, Somjet Kongwatana and Chaiwat Polpho (Peak Kalamae).

In other words, it is being cast as a red shirt plot.

Oddly, “Watana was said to have reported to the Army Air Defence Operation Centre 1 in Pathum Thani on Friday. He has been taken into custody at the 11th Military Circle.”

Even odder still, it seems that Watana “was earlier arrested in 2014 for allegedly conspiring to possess firearms and explosives.” Read this and wonder if this isn’t the usual stitch-up:

His arrest was announced in the joint police and army press briefing on Aug 13, 2014.

According to the briefing at that time, Mr Watana’s arrest was made following the apprehension of Mr Somjet, who was accused of supplying weapons, including M79 grenade launchers and RGD 5 grenades, to people during demonstrations by the now-defunct People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).

Mr Somjet allegedly told officers at that time he had delivered the weapons to Mr Watana, who would distribute them further. Mr Watana then allegedly confessed to the charges.

Mr Watana allegedly told police during that time he received weapons from Mr Somjet and handed them to Mr Chaiwat, who would carry out attacks in various places.

Mr Watana allegedly also told police that he had dumped some of the weapons in Ayutthaya’s Lat Bua Luang district for fear of being arrested.

The strange bit is that, if they were arrested in 2014 on such serious charges, why are they wandering around now? Are they working for ISOC? Are they connected to Ko Tee or were they the men providing “evidence” against him in the earlier weapons “find.”

But here’s what we think is really going on. The junta may get away with deception, tarnish red shirts further and delay their “election,” but we noted that one report stated Jakrapob was thought to be “hiding” in Cambodia.

Then we recalled our post on trouble for dissidents. We think the “sudden” discovery is possibly one element in an effort to extradite exiled red shirts from Cambodia.

Update 1: The junta has provided a kind of “reply” to some of our comments above, as reported in the Bangkok Post. It may be a coincidence that as this report emerged, so did the sentencing of the man who admits to bombing the Army hospital, stating that he “despised the military-led government.” In addition to “a total of 27 years in prison [reduced] because he cooperated,” he was “fined 500 baht, reduced from 1,000 baht, for carrying the bomb in a public place.”

That sentence is revealing when it is considered the junta has launched a “probe … to determine why one [Watana] of the five men allegedly linked to a huge [sic.] arms cache … was released early from prison after a weapons conviction in 2014…”. The report continues:

Watana was earlier arrested on Aug 13, 2014 for allegedly conspiring to possess firearms and explosives. The suspect allegedly told officers at that time he handed weapons to another man, who would carry out attacks during demonstrations by the now-defunct People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).

A police source said Watana had links to the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD).

Doubts have been raised as to the effectiveness of the punishment in relation to the 2014 offence as he is now suspected of having committed a similar transgression just three years later.

They don’t know? Seriously? That beggars belief. We also loved the picture of the “discovery” of weapons in 2014, which we reproduce below from the Bangkok Post.

This is a “diver”? Seriously? Interestingly, these weapons – not rusty – were also under water.We can only marvel at the capacity of the police and the junta for these marvelous “discoveries.”

Update 2: The Nation reports that not only has Jakrapob angrily denied the charges but more information on Watana. The latter “was summoned and detained for questioning on December 1 and released on Thursday…”. He was said to have “provided authorities with useful information…”. It is added that Watana “was convicted of crimes in 2014 related to military weapons and sentenced to 40 months in jail. Because of his confession, his jail term was commuted to 20 months and he had just completed the term.” This is a highly dubious story.