Dueling oligarchs and settling old scores

7 01 2014

In some of the analysis of the events around the 2006 palace-military coup, there was a line of argument that considered the political struggle to be between dueling elites, with Thaksin Shinawatra representing one side – new capital, perhaps – and the palace, king and Crown Property Bureau representing old capital.

In the Bangkok Post about a month ago, there was a set of stories that might add to this line of analysis. The first story was about “former Democrat Party secretary-general” Suthep Thaugsuban, now the frontman for the anti-democracy movement, and his family.

PPT was intrigued to learn that Suthep’s wife is Srisakul Promphan. Back in 2009, The Nation described her this way:

The case of Srisakul Promphan, mistress of Deputy Prime minister and Democrat secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban, has also been the rounds.

Suthep did not file an asset declaration for Srisakul to the National Anti-Corruption Commission, saying they were not married. The opposition plans to take up the morality of this on the floor of the House.Suthep and wife

Srisakul, a former star of Chulalongkorn University, is the sister of PM’s secretary-general and Democrat deputy leader Niphon Promphan and divorced from Porntep Techapaibul, a former Democrat who is now in the Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana Party.

A Facebook post states that her first marriage was to Krit Rattanarak, but we are unable to confirm this.Also unconfirmed is a statement at New Mandala that one of the Promphans bunked in with Prince Vajiralongkorn when students in Australia.

Suthep is obviously well-connected, with this photo (left) showing, from left, Niran Promphan, Sukanya Promphan, Suthikiati Chirathivat, Danapat Promphan, Thippawan Limsakdakul, Suthep Thaugsuban, Srisakul Promphan, Suthichai Chirathivat, Teevee Limsakdakul, Virat Limsakdakul, and Supatra Chirathivat.

Add together the names Tejapaibul, Ratanarak and Chirathivat, and some of the biggest Sino-Thai capitalists are connected to Suthep and his family, itself having large holdings and big businesses in the south.

Sutheps linksDescribed in the Post story as “[h]is wife,” Srisakul is said to have strongly supported Suthep, as have “their children from the couple’s previous marriages.” For example:

Mrs Srisakul’s son, Akanat Promphan, is close to his step-father. He has resigned as a Democrat Party MP along with Mr Suthep to lead the protesters and works as Mr Suthep’s personal secretary, according to a source close to the family….

Before he became an MP for the first time, Mr Akanat worked as Mr Suthep’s political secretary….

Tan Thaugsuban, Mr Suthep’s eldest biological son, serves as his father’s bodyguard at the protest site.

The source said normally Mr Tan takes care of his family’s Sri Suban farm and other businesses in the southern province of Surat Thani.

Perhaps the big business connections are a reason why the protesters have “many food stands are sponsored by protest leaders and financiers,” and why they “have mountains of donated goods _ from drinking water to gas masks to swimming goggles to rice sacks.”

However, if dueling capitalists is not the motivation one seeks for explaining anti-democracy, how about long-held royalist hatred of anyone seen to diminish the charisma, political and economic power of the monarchy.  The same Post story says that:

Given the political upheaval, the Krairiksh siblings _ Democrat Party MP for Phitsanulok Juti and his sister, senator Pikulkaew _ feel there is no better time to dust off their grandfather’s book and have it reprinted.

Authored by “Lt Jongkol Krairiksh, a former deputy House speaker and a three-time MP for Phitsanulok, under the pseudonym ‘Saowarak’,” the book is a royalist account of the 1932 Revolution by a man who “arrested and imprisoned for 11 years for his involvement in the Baworndej [Boworadej] revolt,” a restorationist  rebellion supported by King Prajadhipok in 1933. The book whitewashes the event and paints democracy as chaotic.

Old feuds get replayed in current contexts.

Further updated: True, CP and the Abhisit government

30 03 2012

When the Democrat Party was the Army’s surrogate ruling political party it often alleged that business deals done by Thaksin Shinawatra and his various governments wreaked of cronyism. There was certainly some of that.

But of course, so does the Democrat Party smell on these things. Worse, it had an enormous credibility problem in its arranged marriage of coalition parties with yet another Army crony party,  Bhum Jai Thai. That party managed a range of crony relationships while in government. In order to stay in power, the Democrat Party was complicit in a range of cosy deals.

One that has recently come to light is reported at the Bangkok Post. In this report, Information and Communication Technology Minister Anudith Nakornthap has intimated that:

True Corp’s 3G network deal with state-owned CAT Telecom has been found to have been tainted with irregularities which could result in the 6 billion baht agreement being scrapped….

The True-CAT network deal was signed during the Abhisit [Vejjajiva] administration, and through True’s purchase of  Hong Kong company Hutchison’s (Hutch) operations in Thailand, gave True the right to use the Hutch network and to aggressively market 3G wireless while “its major competitors _ Advanced Info Service (AIS) and Total Access Communication (Dtac) _ are still awaiting a decision on whether there will be a 3G licence auction this year.”

The ICT made “five points in its investigation of the True-CAT contract that raised questions about the legality and legitimacy of the deal” that were listed by Anudith:

First, the “panel found there had been an indirect political instruction on April 7, 2010” when former ICT minister Ranongruk Suwunchwee under Abhisit “for CAT to buy Hutch’s network in 25 provinces in the Central region from Hutch. Under a later ICT minister for the Abhisit government, Juti Krairiksh, the CAT-Hutch deal collapsed. “The collapse of the CAT-Hutch deal enabled True and CAT to enter quickly into a deal under a new business model drawn up by True and the state firm.” The contracts were “rapidly signed” on 26 January 2011.

Second, “CAT had bypassed the cabinet and the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) in terminating the CDMA mobile service in 25 central provinces with Hutch and its affiliate to enter into the new deal with True.”

Third, “CAT had violated the ICT Ministry’s work procedures in going ahead with the deal with True.”

Fourth, CAT didn’t consult the NESDB and the Council of State as required following “the go-ahead for its request to enter into a business deal with True on Dec 28, 2010.”

Fifth, CAT “asked the ICT to scrap the state enterprise’s original CDMA investment plan, and it switched to a new rental equipment agreement with True worth 12 billion baht.” It is stated that “CAT had no authority to enter into the new agreement. It could also be a violation of the 1992 Public-Private Joint Venture Act, which requires scrutiny of any public-private venture worth more than 1 billion baht.”

Not unexpectedly, True has “denied any wrongdoing.” The company’s vice-chairman Athueck Asvanund, said “the ICT report did not identify any specific points in the contract that violated the law.” he added: “The issues raised are political…”.

While PPT knows little about all the technical material, since the True representative raises “politics,” it is probably worth looking at this a little more.  At True’s website, the company describes itself in this manner:

Backed by Asia’s largest agro-conglomerate, the Charoen Pokphand Group (“CP”), with a shareholding of 30.02% as of December 2007, True has expanded its business from being a fixed-line provider to a total communications solutions provider, offering consumers, small and medium enterprises, and corporations a full range of voice, video and data services in solutions customized to meet their needs.  We are Thailand’s largest provider of Internet, consumer broadband Internet and pay-TV services, as well as the largest fixed-line service provider in the BMA, a leading online game provider and the number three mobile phone operator in Thailand.

True’s board, apart from being dominated by the Chearavanont family and a swathe of directors with long links to CP, includes some significant family names: Vejjajiva, Tulanonda and Srisa-an.

The Vejjajiva link is interesting, especially as Vitthaya Vejjajiva has a link to the Bangkok Post and projects like this one that brings together major royalist groups:

The project is advised by Visanu Krue-ngam (chairman), Borwornsak Uwanno, Tongthong Chandrangsu and Vitthaya Vejjajiva. It is sponsored by Bangkok Bank, the Central Group, the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Jim Thompson, PTT, the Crown Property Bureau, Ch Karnchang Plc, Bangkok Expressway Plc and Thai Tap Water Plc.

True is part of the sprawling, patriarchal giant of a conglomerate known as CP, which at its website states it has:

businesses and affiliates operating within the agribusiness, retail and telecommunications markets, we currently employ over 250,000 people whom conduct our investments, operations and trading at factories and offices worldwide. Our sales at the end of 2010 were USD30 billion.

CP has three companies listed at the Stock Exchange of Thailand: True, Charoen Pokphand Foods and CP ALL. Directors at the latter two companies add to the significant names: Asa Sarasin is probably the most notable, as the king’s Principal Private Secretary, and mentioned in several Wikileaks cables around the time of the 2006 coup. Another is Police General Kowit Wattana, a Puea Thai big shot associated with the royalist Village Scout movement, who stepped down from CP when he became Deputy Prime Minister in the Yingluck Shinawatra government.

The point is that CP is very well connected. Most of its links, Kowit not withstanding, are with the royal establishment. In line with this, one website notes this for Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda, saying he:

… has served as a director and advisor for numerous large Thai companies. In early 2007, he resigned as chief adviser of the Charoen Pokphand (CP) Group in order to distance himself from a junta-led corruption investigation. The investigation concerned alleged bid rigging in a para rubber saplings supply contract granted during the Thaksin government when Prem had still held his position in the Group.

The resignation refers to the case – eventually dismissed – that involved Thaksin Shinawatra minister Newin Chidchob, who had flipped his support to the Democrat Party in 2008.

In this political context, was the deal done by the Abhisit government an example of cronyism?

Update 1: A regular reader has sent us two links that seem highly relevant for this post- see here and here. That the king receives Dhanin Chearavanont and other CP executives who are handing over money to be used at the royal pleasure is significant the task of gathering the money is usually assigned to other members of the family. The recognition that Dhanin deserves an audience with the king is exceptional and carries great meaning. The royal news at ASTV is also worth watching as it is something of a record at almost 37 minutes and after the king, features the women of the court on royal travel and others doing their local duties.

In addition, that reader points out another potential link to our post in the recent Democrat Party attacks on Minister Anudith, seeking to have him investigated for “unusual wealth.” Is this a pre-emptive strike against the minister?

Update 2: Another regular reader points out that in listing the Vejjajiva connection with CP, we should have pointed out that Abhisit’s father, Athasit, is a board member at CP Foods (see link above).

Update: An increase in anti-monarchy websites?

20 10 2010

Prachatai reports that Minister of Information and Communications Technology Juti Krairiksh remains concerned about “offensive” websites that post doctored pictures of members of the royal family. He called “17 internet service providers (ISPs) to a meeting to ask for their cooperation in blocking improper websites which were found to have been increasing in number…”. The minister was unsure why there had been an increase in such sites. Apparently representatives of only 7 ISPs attended.

PPT is unsure whether there has been an real increase in the number of such sites, although if Juti is looking for a reason and not simply reinforcing the censorship required of ISPs under the Computer Crimes Act, he might ask if such sites multiply as censorship of virtually every avenue for critical discussion of the monarchy is prevented. That may seem an odd perspective, but it seems that the web has become  one of the few places where criticism remains possible despite state attempts to block and censor. Add to this the extensive censorship of opposition media, and the internet becomes one of the vents for frustration and anger. The repressive state’s attempts to limit it may well expand in response.

Update: A reader points out that K. L. Schlozman, S. Verba, and H.E. Brady have a perhaps relevant article published in 2010, titled “Weapon of the Strong? Participatory Inequality and the Internet,” at Perspectives on Politics, 8, pp. 487-509. The abstract states: “What is the impact of the possibility of political participation on the Internet on long-standing patterns of participatory inequality in American politics? An August 2008 representative survey of Americans conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project provides little evidence that there has been any change in the extent to which political participation is stratified by socio-economic status, but it suggests that the web has ameliorated the well-known participatory deficit among those who have just joined the electorate. Even when only that subset of the population with Internet access is considered, participatory acts such as contributing to candidates, contacting officials, signing a political petition, or communicating with political groups are as stratified socio-economically when done on the web as when done offline. The story is different for stratification by age where historically younger people have been less engaged than older people in most forms of political participation. Young adults are much more likely than their elders to be comfortable with electronic technologies and to use the Internet, but among Internet users, the young are not especially politically active. How these trends play out in the future depends on what happens to the current Web-savvy younger generation and the cohorts that follow and on the rapidly developing political capacities of the Web. Stay logged on…”.

While it seems that political participation hasn’t become less unequal in the U.S., perhaps the point is to direct attention to young and savvy internet users. Maybe that also plays into the politics of the internet in Thailand.

Lese majeste and yellow shirt pressure

13 10 2010

Prachatai tells readers that the activist yellow shirt group the People’s Volunteer Network for the Protection of the Monarchy, led by Boworn Yasintorn,has been tramping about Government House demanding more and stronger action to protect the “highly revered” monarchy. If they are to be believed, reporters may have to change “highly revered” to “highly reviled.”

This group is responsible for lese majeste complaints against singer Tom Dundee and an earlier complaint lodged a complaint with Air Chief Marshal Naphreuk Manthajit, chair of a Senate committee monitoring the enforcement of laws and measures to protect the monarchy, demanding that serious legal action be taken against those who offend the monarchy.

This time, these mad monarchists have presented another complaint of official laxness on lese majeste, submitting a “petition to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, ICT Minister Juti Krairiksh, and Justice Minister Peerapan Saleeratwipak, asking them to take measures against lèse majesté content on Facebook.” The group demanded that the government “protest against Facebook for allowing users to post pictures, video clips, and messages containing inaccurate facts deemed offensive to the Monarchy in order to mislead the public without any kind of content-filtering or controlling measures.”

Boworn said his group was convinced that Facebook allowed anonymous users to commit “offences against national security under the Penal Code and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act, and the number of offences had been on the rise.”

Mad monarchists are especially driven in their displays of support for the institution. But, as Andrew Spooner shows, this yellow shirt fervor has negative consequences. His article regarding a Thai living in exile overseas is worth reading.


28 07 2010

There have only been a few stories that caught PPT’s attention in the past couple of days amidst by-elections, a bomb blast, the DSI trading accusations with red shirts and others, Thaksin Shinawatra’s birthday, flash protests by red shirts, and an apparently never-ending stream of stories regarding Princess Sirindhorn’s latest visit to China – seemingly essentially a holiday – that finished on 23 July but still screening long portions of the royal news four days later.

Some of the stories have raised questions for us, although PPT knows little more than what is reported in the media. We thought it might be useful to list them.

The first story relates to 28 July as Prince Vajiralongkorn’s birthday and he turns 58. As usual, newspapers have little advertisements that double as birthday felicitations to the prince. PPT only purchased the Bangkok Post, which had a one-page tribute and a series of the company-sponsored adverts. The whole thing is pretty low-key, kicked off with a large color picture of the prince at Wat Phra Kaew yesterday.

As PPT went through the color adverts, we noted they were from: Thai Airways, Boon Rawd Brewery, the Central group (the largest greeting, being a full page), CP Group and one all in Thai from Thai Beverage. The latter also posted a very large billboard celebrating the prince near Pan Fah Bridge (see the picture here). On the same day, PPT was reading The Bangkok Massacres: A Call for Accountability produced by Thaksin’s representatives, Amsterdam & Peroff LLP. On page 16, the report states: “The families controlling some of Thailand’s largest economic empires — among them Bangkok Bank, Kasikorn Bank, Thai Beverage, and TPI Polene — became fierce opponents of Thaksin.”

Maybe PPT was asleep at the wheel, but we hadn’t registered Thai Beverage as a major opponent previously. The company belongs to Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, the liquor, beer and land tycoon. Charoen has been pretty secretive. There’s a chapter on him by Nuolnoi Treerat in Pasuk and Baker’s Thai Capital After the 1997 Crisis (Silkworm). Recently he has been seen sponsoring royal events, including one of Princess Chulabhorn’s ventures. If Charoen has signed up with the royalists, then he has huge wealth and networks to build political support.

A second story is in the Bangkok Post and considers what is designated the “alleged ‘plan’ by Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij to change the current yuppiephone concession contracts…”. Then this is slipped in: “mortally wound Shin Corp and its No 1 network Advanced Info Service although that’s not the purpose, perish the thought…”. Given the “plan” is from Korn, a major yellow supporter, maybe this is the purpose. The story goes on to say that the “plan” has “thrown business, government, regulators and even the Senate into a tizzy; the kindest people said Mr Korn had good intentions, lousy planning; others were not so charitable; they noted that his plan to issue AIS, Dtac of Norway and True Move of Thailand with 15-year licences was highly questionable in legal terms…”.

The same column reminds us that Juti Krairiksh, said to be “minister of Internet Censorship in Thailand (MICT)” as well as “sniffing out dodgy websites” has “bragged that one of his greatest achievements was the arrest of three people who posted information critical of the monarchy.”

The third story relates to the Big C bombing and the Bangkok Post story that the “emergency decree will remain in place, at least in Bangkok, … Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva says.” Abhisit said that “some parties were determined to carry out dangerous acts and it was the duty of the authorities to try to stop them. That meant they needed the proper legal tools.” Proper legal tools mean the power to detain and anything else the government seems to want to do to opponents.

Just a day before, in the venerable Bangkok Post, Abhisit’s motor-mouthed personal spokesman Thepthai Senapong had attacked critics of the imposition of the emergency decree, saying the bombing proved that the decree was necessary. He added: “The old saying that there is a calm before the storm is still worth considering…”. There’s little doubt that the hardliners in the government, like Thepthai, want the emergency decree in place for a lot longer, benefit from every incident. Much of the cabinet is very twitchy about “security” and, as they have admitted, personally frightened.

The fourth and final story, also in the Bangkok Post, was buried down on about page 4, and the headline suggested to PPT that the Ministry of Justice was going to investigate allegations that a bribe attempt was made in the Department of Special Investigation missing jewellery scandal of a few days ago. But, no. The Justice Ministry was launching an investigation into the rumours themselves!

The rumours were that the “owner of a shop who complained three pieces of jewellery had disappeared from a Department storeroom had been offered 300,000 baht to retract her accusation.”

The “secretary to the justice minister, Fuangwit Aniruttaewa, said it was possible that the claims the jewellery had disappeared were the work of certain people in the ministry who wanted to discredit the justice minister and DSI director-general Tharit Pengdit.” Remarkably, Fuangwit disclosed that an “investigation” had “found the jewellery said to be missing from the DSI storeroom had not disappeared at all. The owner of the store, identified only as Ms Chayaphon, had been told the items had been located.”

Apparently, the three items had just been … well, we don’t know. Hanging off some rich lady perhaps? Miraculously, they have turned up! So what was going on inside the DSI that caused the jewellery to be lost and found at about the same time?

Arresting the monarchy’s enemies

20 07 2010

It is just a month since Phitsanulok Democrat Party MP Juti Krairiksh – with a family name like that he’s from Phitsanulok?? – was appointed minister at the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology. That’s the ministry in charge of all the censorship not being undertaken by CRES on behalf of the military-palace-Abhisit Vejjajiva regime.

In an interview in the Bangkok Post he was asked: How do you deal with websites critical of the monarchy?

He answered: “We set up an office to specifically deal with this kind of threat and other websites deemed inappropriate for society, such as gambling and human and drugs trafficking. We have arrested three people who posted information and pictures critical of the monarchy.”

PPT asks: Are these new arrests in the past month? Or is Juti referring to the earlier minister’s egregious work?

The ICT minister mentions drugs. We know they are a serious problem, but as far as PPT can tell the peddling of the monarchy’s propaganda is seen by the royalists as an opiate.

PPT is informed by a reader that on a recent domestic flight all passengers were forced to watch and listen to 40 minutes of propaganda about the king. The usual stuff, but it was compulsory on TG. Even in-seat entertainment couldn’t be switched off and the sound was on the public address system. Likewise, the reader reported getting in a cab where army radio was on. For the 50 minute ride, complete, wall-to-wall royalist propaganda.

Royalists must think it works…. But with the king still in hospital and looking very weak in a recent television appearance, for how much longer?

%d bloggers like this: