Pushing and shoving

21 01 2018

Reuters report that “[h]undreds of police in Thailand on Saturday blocked protestors planning to march from Bangkok to Khon Kaen in the northeast of the country in a rare display of public discontent in the junta-ruled country.” While displays of “discontent” have been anything but “rare,” this event comes when some see as a junta under pressure.

According to Prachatai, this march has been planned for a while and there was considerable publicity and discussion on social media. The network organizing it has a series of related activities:

… called “We Walk, A Walk for Friendship” [it] is organised by a group of civil rights activists called the People Go Network. The campaign focuses on four main themes: the right to universal health care, the rights of farmers, community and environmental rights, and the Constitution.

Lertsak Kumkongsak, a community rights activist and one of the event organisers, stated that “[h]e expected about 200 people to join the march.” At the time of the Prachatai report it was said that:

The campaign commences with an event on Friday, 19 January 2018, at Thammasat University, Rangsit Campus. The event comprises a play and a public forum with speakers including Jon Ungpakorn, Director of iLaw, Kannika Kittiwetchakun of the People’s Health Systems Movement, and Lertsak from the Campaign for Public Policy on Mineral Resources. The march sets off from the Rangsit campus on Saturday, 20 January 2018, at 9 am after a reading of testimonies. The first stop is scheduled at Wang Noi District, Ayutthaya. There will be more activities to come along their route to Khon Kaen… Lertsak said the group will inform the police today (Wednesday) of the planned rally so as to comply with the Public Assembly Act….

Complying with the junta’s draconian law seemed to mean walking in groups of four. It was also reported that some lawyers, academics and intellectuals were also involved.

Sangsiri Teemanka, a leader of People’s Network for Welfare, proclaimed: “This walk is a friendship walk. Over the past four years under the coup government we have no rights in terms of speech, action. We want the junta to hear us…”. Anusorn Unno, dean of Thammasat University’s Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology, said that the “group said it wants to cultivate a network of those with opposing views to the government’s policies in relation to food security, natural resources, community rights and civil liberty.”

It was said that when the demonstrators got to Khon Kaen, they planned to visit Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, a student activist who was jailed on trumped up lese majeste charges last year.

As the gathering got underway, the Reuters report said one leader declared: “We want to tell the junta that you have taken Thailand back a long way. The people in the agriculture ministry are all generals. There are just generals!”

The report states: “The demonstration, which was broadcast live on Facebook, was shared more than 900 times and viewed by more than 32,000 times.” View some of the footage at the People GO network Facebook page. The Bangkok Post also has pictures.

As more than 200 assembled, the call was: “Let’s hold hands! We are friends!”

Some 200 police blocked roads at the university to prevent protestors from leaving.

Police, however, blocked the group from leaving the university on the grounds that were in breech of the public assembly law and also posed a risk to public safety. The Bangkok Post reports that the “demonstrators nevertheless tried to break through the police cordon, prompting a brief tussle.”

The group “met with Pol Maj Gen Surapong Thanomjit, chief of Pathum Thani police, to ask for permission for 10 people from the group to complete the protest march to Khon Kaen, but the proposal was rejected.” Even so, “four people from the network slipped through the defence line [sic.] and walked together on Phahon Yothin Road. Soon after, another two groups — of four people each — also followed them.” They were tailed by “[p]lainclothes police officers on pickup trucks and motorcycles …[photographing] them from time to time.”

The remaining activists planned “to meet those who had managed to begin the march in Pak Chong district of Nakhon Ratchasima next weekend.”

Generally, yellow-shirted intellectuals and academics have been critical of this rally, warning against public protest.

On the junta’s use of lese majeste

8 05 2017

Reproduced in full from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw):

(Bangkok, Paris) The number of individuals arrested on lèse-majesté charges since the May 2014 military coup has passed the 100 mark, FIDH and its member organizations Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw) said today.

“In less than three years, the military junta has generated a surge in the number of political prisoners detained under lèse-majesté by abusing a draconian law that is inconsistent with Thailand’s international obligations.”

Dimitris Christopoulos, FIDH President

Article 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code (lèse-majesté) imposes jail terms for those who defame, insult, or threaten the King, the Queen, the Heir to the throne, or the Regent. Persons found guilty of violating Article 112 face prison terms of three to 15 years for each count.

The number of people who have been arrested under Article 112 of the Criminal Code has reached 105, following the arrest of six individuals on 29 April 2017. Forty-nine of them have been sentenced to prison terms of up to 30 years. To date, at least 64 individuals are either imprisoned or detained awaiting trial on lèse-majesté charges. At the time of the 22 May 2014 coup, there were six individuals behind bars under Article 112. Eighty-one of the 105 cases involved deprivation of liberty for the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The remaining cases are related to individuals who were arrested for claiming ties to the royal family for personal gain.

“Many of those arrested are democracy activists and outspoken critics of the military regime. In some instances, they were kidnapped from their homes by military officers and interrogated in secret for several days in military camps before being formally charged. Lèse-majesté defendants are rarely granted bail, and so spend months or even years fighting their cases while in detention. All of this makes a mockery of ‘justice’ in Thailand’s justice system.”

Jon Ungpakorn, iLaw Executive Director

On 28 March 2017, following the review of the country’s second periodic report under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in Geneva, Switzerland, the UN Human Rights Committee (CCPR), expressed concern over the “extreme sentencing practices” for those found guilty of lèse-majesté. The CCPR recommended Thailand review Article 112 to bring it into line with Article 19 of the ICCPR and reiterated that the imprisonment of persons for exercising their freedom of expression violates this provision. The CCPR also demanded the authorities release those who have been deprived of their liberty for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

“The Thai government has run out of excuses to avoid reforming lèse-majesté. Article 112 must be brought into compliance with Thailand’s international obligations as demanded by numerous UN mechanisms.”

Jaturong Boonyarattanasoontorn, UCL Chairman

The Dictator’s dictates

19 09 2016

Dictatorships usually speak loudly about law and order. In Thailand, it is no different. Military regimes that have trampled human rights, constitutions and the rule of law are the ones that shout loudest about law and order.

The current military regime is in no exception as The Dictator has increasingly used Article 44 to make decrees on all manner of things. Indeed, General Prayuth Chan-ocha seems addicted to Article 44. As an addict, he is using it on an almost daily basis.

The Bangkok Post refers to this “addiction to the powerful Section 44” and notes that “legal experts” consider its use “does more harm than good to the country…”. That seems a limp statement; in fact, the use of Article 44 has undermined rule of law.

The interim charter’s Article 44 grants The Dictator “sweeping powers” allowing him to issue dictates on everything social, political, bureaucratic and economic.

In 2015 and 2016, has seen more than 100 uses of Article 44.

Activist Jon Ungpakorn is quoted as criticizing The Dictator’s use of the Article for “quick-fix solutions to complex and long-standing problems that require thorough analysis…”. Jon stated that the use of the Article reflects Prayuth’s “autocratic leadership…” and the “use [of] his power in arbitrary ways as there are no mechanisms for checks and balances…”. Prayuth acts as premier, legislator and judge. Parliament becomes a sideshow.

Jon said the “use of Section 44 may erode the country’s legal system with consequences that will outlast the junta’s rule…”.

Of course, the anti-democrats who polish The Dictator’s posterior love dictatorship and rule by decree because they have no patience for rule of law and representation.

Elite stategy 2

20 04 2011

In an addendum to PPT’s earlier post, we just saw Jon Ungpakorn’s most recent op-ed in the Bangkok Post, and we think some of his points deserve emphasis:

It is very clear that both the constitution and ”the system” are stacked against Puea Thai’s chances of winning the election and Thaksin Shinawatra’s opportunity to make a comeback. Even in the unlikely event of Puea Thai winning the election and being able to form a government, I’m pretty sure that either judicial or extra-judicial means would soon be exerted to remove that government.

Even before the elections have begun, the army has made it clear to the public how they would like them to vote, by publicly denouncing key red shirt leaders linked to Puea Thai and filing lese majeste complaints against them. This is a blatant interference in the election process and has already doomed any chances of the elections being judged as ”free and fair”.

At the same time, the choice of the new batch of appointed senators by the selection panel representing the judiciary and independent state organisations (including the Election Commission) has made sure that Puea Thai will by default have many opponents in Parliament.

The message is clear. The establishment (please make your own list of its principal components) is not going to allow Puea Thai to govern the country!

Jon points to the need for a political compromise, f=seemingly fully aware that the elite and especially the military’s bosses are totally opposed. He says the constitution must be reworked, the judiciary depoliticized, an end to appointed senate seats, the need for the supposedly independent institutions to be truly independent and not the lackeys of the regime, as they are now. Significantly, echoing calls made in 1932, he argues for a truly constitutional monarchy.

A few years ago this list would have seemed like liberal reformism; now it seems downright revolutionary.

Be warned!

9 03 2011

Jon Ungpakorn in the Bangkok Post warns readers that Big Brother , with the Computer Crimes Act, is watching. He says:

A word of caution! Please make sure you regularly cleanse your personal computer(s), iPods, etc, of all illicit content before “Big Brother” comes visiting. “A Coup for the Rich” has to go, I’m afraid; and don’t forget to erase those sensational Constitutional Court videos or any photos or videos of Thai soldiers who appear to be shooting at people in the streets of Bangkok.

He says internet censorship in Thailand is irrational and expansive. He says it is one of the worst regimes of internet censorship in the world. Jon concludes: “There is no way we can achieve democracy while this situation prevails.”

Tumbler on recent events

17 04 2010

PPT has long had the Tumblerblog on our list of links. We have neglected it in recent days and want to bring readers up to date on some really useful posts there, going in reverse order.

Featuring a presumably ironic Matichon cover, Tumbler comments: “The above picture is the cover image of this week’s Matichon Sudsapda (aka Matichon Weekly). The caption reads: “Thais are lucky to have Abhisit as Prime Minister”. The rest of the cover depicts a row of coffins painted in red as a small crowd of red-shirted protesters at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument look on.”

The next article is about NGO/civil society “hero” and devoted royalist Prawase Wasi. He identiofies 5 types of red shirts and demonstrates his inability to perceive the deep social and political challenges facing Thailand. As Tumbler comments, Prawase can’t see a red shirt in search of democracy anywhere.

The third article translates parts of Jon Ungpakorn’s comparison of the Thaksin Shinawatra government and the Abhisit Vejjajiva government on their failure/inability to take any responsibility for killing citizens.

Political (and cultural) futures

12 12 2009

Readers may be interested in a report in The Irrawaddy (12 December 2009: “Yellow vs Red to Roll On in Thailand”) which draws on earlier comments on the Prachatai forum “Thailand in Transition: A Historic Challenge, and What’s Next?”. Some short quotes from the article:

Jon Ungpakorn:  “The media does not discuss extrajudicial killings, torture, the level of the military budget.”

Thongchai Winichakul, referring to King Chulalongkorn’s succession: “The more superhuman the father was made to look, the steeper the mountain the Crown Prince had to climb.” The text of Thongchai’s talk is at New Mandala while the slides her refers to are here.

Pasuk Phongpaichit: “Thailand should be a fairer place than it is today.”

From a different site and perspective, readers will also find Kong Rithdee’s post on the Ministry of Culture of interest for tracking down and punishing one of its officials. Kong’s conclusion: “Poor ministry. They still don’t get it that the most important culture is the culture of constructive criticism and free expression.”

Inequality, welfare and the politics of maintaining political control and not mentioning the obscenely wealthy royals

14 09 2009

PPT knows this is a long post. However, because it is an important issue, we are editing, updating and re-posting. This post deals with the first indication of a royalist strategy for addressing the deep issues confronting Thai society and politics that is not absolutely reactionary. That is, it is not a call for “unity” based on mythical ideas about Thainess and the monarchy and nor is it a call for the use of repression and blunt force.

Our updates are at the end of the post.

Also available as: ความไม่เท่าเทียมกัน สวัสดิการ และการเมือง แต่อย่าพูดเรื่องความร่ำรวยเหลือล้นของราชวงศ์

For all the conflict in recent years, it is notable that Thailand’s public debate on the role of the state and welfare has developed and polarized. It has the potential to become more extreme. Recall that many of the PAD’s middle-class support was drawn by Sondhi Limthongkul’s view that a middle-class revolution against Thaksin and his regime who he identified as milking the middle class to buy support from those he identified as uneducated rural voters. When Thaksin introduced his 30 baht scheme there was a tiny group of doctors that opposed the scheme as “socialism” and medical practitioners have been in the PAD vanguard.

In a report in The Nation (13 September 2009: “Think-tank calls for welfare state”) it is said that the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) has proposed “transforming the country into a welfare state.” This is remarkable for TDRI has generally been broadly neo-classical/neo-liberal in its approach to social and economic issues. Its former director was a minister in the military-royalist government led by Privy Councilor General Surayud Chulanont and its current director has worked closely with the World Bank.

Calls for a welfare state have been made in the recent past – from Jon Ungpakorn and from TDRI-associated Ammar Siamwalla. They didn’t get a great deal of support or attention. So why is TDRI proposing a welfare state now? According to the report, the “think-tank” is proposing a “survival strategy” that offers a way out of “the current economic and political distress by that would help bridge opportunity and income disparity.” TDRI chairman Dr Nipon Poapongsakorn, speaking at a seminar organised by the Thai Journalist Association and the King Prachadhipok Institute (KPI), said the institute “believed this would address the root causes of the current political conflicts that have pushed the country to the brink.”

TDRI researchers had found that disparities in income and wealth were “the main cause of the ongoing political conflicts…”. Hence, a welfare state would be “the way out of the political crisis” by closing the “gap between the rich and the poor…”.

Research has long shown large income disparities and inequality in Thailand. TDRI says that the “current market economic system fails to bridge economic inequality and the state also adds salt to injuries for failing to provide equal opportunity for everyone to access financial credit, knowledge, natural resources because the state represents a large business conglomerate that monopolises businesses.” It says that “only a handful group of politicians and businessmen access to business privileges and benefit from the monopoly. The current tax structure does not help reduce assets and wealth concentration.”

It is said that “wealth concentration has a significant correlation to political power…” in the country. It is suggested that tycoons seek political power to “protect business interests and concessions.” Politicians in power “distort the market economy. This is the case especially in a country that lacks political stability.” Nipon argues that the “more assets they have the more the motivation for the businessmen to come to power…”.

Nipon also cited research attributed to “Somkiat Tangkitvanich, which found that in 2004, companies run by Shinawatra family provide 141 per cent better return than other companies. The research also found that companies having connections with ministers enjoy 18.5 per cent higher profit than other companies.”

In fact, these figures are not universally accepted and recent works suggest lesser figures (e.g. Pasuk and Baker’s new edition of Thaksin), although the trend is still seen.

Nipon argued that “a welfare state was the answer because the system could bring sustainable democracy.” Recognizing the potential for a backlash, he also pointed out that “extreme populist policies may trigger a coup or revolt by the rich because they would be hardest hit.” As would be expected from a KPI event, “populist policies bring about great public debt and a lack of fiscal transparency.”

PPT agrees that economic inequalities are a major problem in Thailand. While moves towards a well-organized welfare state would make a lot os sense, PPT has problems with the way the TDRI call is framed.

For a start, TDRI has been aware of these economic disparities for decades, but has done precious little until now to propose alternative ways of dealing with them. It has stuck with market-based ideas for a long time. TDRI also stresses politicians and business people-cum-politicians as being the problem. We can’t disagree that these people have regularly promoted their own interests. At the same time, it has to be acknowledged that the political system has been constructed in conservative ways that have encouraged corruption of various kinds. Indeed, the 2007 Constitution requires corruption (if there is ever to be an election).

We would be more likely to agree with TDRI if it didn’t ignore the wealthiest institution in the country. The monarchy sucks wealth and power into itself, with the Crown Property Bureau being so hugely wealthy that Forbes ranks it as world’s richest. Then there is the huge drain on public resources that we noted recently, which is continuing to rise. Just the Royal Household Bureau’s draw on public funds has almost doubled from 1,136,536,600 baht in 2002 to 2,086,310,000 baht in 2008.

Of course, institutions like TDRI and KPI are dominated by royalists. It is almost impossible to take KPI seriously – it has a history of King Prajadhipok, portraying his as the “father” of Thai democracy but has nothing on Thai democracy’s checkered path.

TDRI has become a bastion of royalists. A brief look at its board see the following royalists and “Prem-ists” listed: Kosit Panpiemras (served the royalis-military government), Chirayu Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya (Director-General, Crown Property Bureau), Juree Vichit-Vadakan (sufficiency economy proponent), Mechai Viravaidya (Chairman, Population and Community Development Association and married to a senior palace aide), Snoh Unakul (former Prem government economic guru and chair of the royal-controlled Siam Cement Foundation and on the board of a number of royal companies), Sumet Tantivejkul (Secretary-General, the main royal foundation, the Chaipattana Foundation), and so on. Actually, if one wanted to study wealth and power networks in Thailand, the board of TDRI might be one place to begin.

Finally, what is missing in this proposal is any account of how political power might be changed. In fact, the proposal rings hollow as an elite-based attempt to maintain their own political power. Don’t get us wrong; reforming economic policies and addressing welfare is worthy. However, when it is done to avoid thorough-going political reform it hardly ranks as a liberal proposal for reform.

Hopefully the debate doesn’t deteriorate as in the U.S. and that the issue of economic inequality can remain on the agenda in Thailand but linked firmly with political fairness, human rights and democratic development.

Update 1: The Bangkok Post (13 September 2009: “Welfare state key to future”) has a similar report to that in The Nation, reported above. However, there are a couple of additional points worthy of note.

TDRI research director Somkiat Tangkitvanich said “unfair income distribution among Thais had led to major political disruptions such as the Sept 19, 2006, coup which occurred because the government had tried to improve income distribution via extreme [sic] populist policies.” This is an interesting perspective and worthy of consideration. Somkiat is acknowledging that Thaksin’s approach to politics involved a basic change to policy. What is now being proposed is that the anti-Thaksin groups accept that they need to do something similar in political and policy terms. It acknowledges that royalists, conservatives and “the elite” need to compromise on economic issues if they are to maintain their political power.

KPI secretary-general Borwornsak Uwanno, who earlier broached this topic, but in a context of political illiberalism, said KPI “would help push forward the academics’ idea, by proposing it to the government and the parliament.” He added that he believed that “Thailand will go through a major change. If we’re not prepared, the situation could go the same way as it did in the May 1992 or the October 1973 uprisings…”. Maybe, except that he fears that his elite will lose their political control.

This “welfarist” position will allow for the political continuation of “Thai-style democracy” that royalists promote. When pressured politically, Thailand’s “royal liberals” seem to lose their liberalism in favour of royalism. But here they offer a way out that moves the focus to economic well-being but maintains political control. Singapore and China come to mind, and it is the long-term goal of Burmese generals.

But can the “royal liberals” win out? Recall that the king himself opposes welfare. Sufficiency economy is fundamentally anti-welfare and he has said before that he opposes social welfare because it makes people lazy.

Update 2: The Nation has an editorial (14 September 2009: “Idea of a welfare state is worth exploring”) has a different take on TDRI’s interest in the welfare state idea: “The TDRI is quite concerned about the growing tendency towards economic populism. The Thaksin government began this trend by offering handouts to the poor. Subsequent governments, including the current Abhisit government, have followed suit.”

And, beginning the nonsense that usually goes along with debates about welfare, states: “We support the concept of a welfare state. But further discussion is needed over how we can finance the welfare state. Most developed countries, with strong welfare protection, are facing unsustainable public debt.” Of course, this statement is not supported by the facts. What the editorialist means is that tax revenues need to increase. However, as noted in the editorial, at present, Thailand allocates just “2.8 per cent … of the gross domestic product … to welfare.”

Citizen reform of Computer Crimes Act and other laws

8 07 2009

Prachatai recently reported that activist, writer, thinker, and former senator Jon Ungpakorn has created a new website, iLaw, for citizens to organize and suggest amendments to current laws and propose new laws. Sections 142 and 193 of the 2007 Constitution provide for this possibility. 10,000 signatures are needed to propose new or changed laws. Prachatai concludes their report by noting that “Now the website contains polls asking the public which laws need to be proposed or changed. Over 100 ideas have been collected. Amendments to the 2007 Computer-related Crimes Law are under discussion.”

One wonders if changes to the existing lesè majesté law have, or will be, proposed as well.

Read the entire article in English at 7 July 2009, Jon Ungphakorn launches iLaw website for people to write and change laws” and ภาษาไทย, “‘จอน’ เปิดเว็บไอลอว์ ชวนเขียนกฎหมายของประชาชน”

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