Privy councilor as political dinosaur

27 04 2014

PPT and many of our readers noted that another privy councilor has decided to provide his observations on the ills of Thai society and their remedies.

Privy Councillor Kasem Watthanachai is reported at the Bangkok Post. His view is that:

Thailand has been mired in “a decade of darkness” resulting from the politics of populism and graft, told a seminar yesterday.

Mr Kasem said the crisis Thailand has been facing over the past decade is unprecedented.

He described it as a decade of darkness resulting from politics revolving around populist policies which have led people to crave and become addicted to materialism and consumerism.

He said corruption is a serious problem that needs to be addressed urgently.

Kasem has said similar things before, lecturing those who “sold” land to “foreigners” about “greed.” Then he complained about a third of Thailand being owned by “foreigners,” sold by “greedy” people; this was a nonsense.

A privy councilor since 2001, his claims about “darkness,” an unprecedented “crisis,” serious “corruption and linking this to “populism” is simply another privy councilor engaging in overt politics, attacking the elected governments that they loathe.

Hence, Kasem  can urge “people, including civil servants, to come out and ‘light candles’ to dispel and counter the darkness of corruption and for the government to make serious efforts to tackle the graft problem,” he may as well be asking them to welcome anti-democrats with gold whistles.

Supporting the anti-democrats? You bet he is. He was speaking at another of those “independent” agencies that have been carefully politicized under the influence of royalists, the Office of the Ombudsman.

The old men of the privy council worry that “Thai people are adopting some negative social values such as bowing to dishonest people, or admiring and supporting wealthy people who commit wrongdoings…”. He means Thaksin and the Shinawatra clan.

His political conservatism was matched by Ombudsman Sriracha Charoenpanich who:

told the seminar that Thai society has been “seriously ill” and is badly in need of “operations” at almost every level.

So it is that these political dinosaurs are encouraging right-wing extremists and gang of thugs just as they did when privy councilor Thanin Kraivixien was the royally-anointed premier. This time it is the so-called Rubbish Collection Organization led by Major-General Rientong Nan-nah and the enforcers of the anti-democrats.

Led by the ancients of the Privy Council, it is argued that the answer is to “restore moral and ethical values while national discipline must also be forged among people to move the country toward progress…”. They mean the king/monarchy.

Politically biased privy councilors and an Ombudsman who thinks he should engage in politics by attacking “impostor defenders of democracy,” and the battles lines are as clear as they were in 2006. This time, however, there is more push back. For example, the Puea Thai Party is needling General Prem Tinsulanonda. (Is it “greedy” to take 121,950 baht a month as a “position allowance” for a position that is not gazetted and does nothing? Is it corrupt for such an allowance to have been awarded by a buddy at the Privy Council who happened to be premier after the military coup?)

In essence, the Privy Council is the repository of much of the deeply reactionary thinking that exercises rightists and royalists in Jurassic Thailand.

Wikipedia notes that “[a]lthough the word dinosaur means ‘terrible lizard’, the name is somewhat misleading, as dinosaurs are not lizards.” Interestingly, for Thais, a “terrible lizard” can have a derogatory meaning. Obviously, PPT uses “dinosaur” to refer to a political dinosaur.

Such dinosaurs are dangerous because they are so disconnected from political realities, defining their “reality” by flunkies pandering to them and their connection to aged extremists and the class that believes it should rule Thailand and that is determined never to compromise with the rabble who favor elections.

Royalist hypocrisy

2 04 2012

This story at the Bangkok Post appeared a few days ago and we are late getting to it. However, it does tell us a good deal about the thinking of some of the elite think about the issues of the day and manage a schizophrenic logic.

Kasem Wattanachai is a former minister in the first Thaksin Shinawatra cabinet, but fell out and was quickly sucked up into the Privy Council and was publicly critical of Thaksin.

The first thing to note is that Kasem appears to accept a report by a law lecturer at the National Institute of Development Administration and sponsored by the Ombudsman’s Office, that claims foreigners “own vast amounts of land in Thailand via local nominees.” In fact, the report claimed that “up to one third of land in Thailand is owned by foreigners.”

This claim is complete nonsense and this doesn’t require much brain power to work out. The idea that “foreigners” now “own” about 170,000 km2 of the country boggles the mind. Even if this area was restricted to arable land and land in urban areas, the claim remains unbelievable.

So we have a privy councilor who chooses to believe an unbelievable and outlandish claim.

He then proceeds to lectures “people” should “not let ‘greed’ draw them into cooperating with these foreigners because farmland should be reserved for Thai farmers as their place of work and for their livelihood.”

And while the claim is of “foreigners,” Kasem chooses to single out “rice fields are being sold and rented to investors from the Middle East.” He warned Thais “against helping foreigners acquire land” and urges these farmers to defend their land. As might be expected, he tells them to follow the king’s advice and keep farming and “love” their land.

Ignoring the inherent racism and the royalist banter, it strikes us that the statements are hypocritical.

First, a representative of the richest conglomerate in the country, with extensive foreign joint ventures and large international investments, is telling poor farmers what’s best for them.

Second, as far as we can tell, the Crown Property Bureau’s international investments include landholdings. For example, the Kempinski Hotels group, majority owned by the CPB, with “an international portfolio of 62 hotels” and a “further 43 hotels … under final development or construction in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia” would wonder about being prevented from buying or renting property.

Third, in its early years, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the CPB played a critical role in facilitating the investments of Chinese business people, many of who were recent migrants to the country, and rented and sold plenty of land to them. Post-1957, the CPB also played a direct and pivotal role  in joint ventures with foreign investors. So too did its Siam Commercial Bank (and all the other commercial banks). In addition, the monarchy itself went out and “sold” Thailand to foreign investors.

Were they being greedy too? Is nationalism only for the poor?: if they have no rice, let them eat nationalism and sufficiency “economics”!

As a footnote, it is noted that the CPB  is probably the largest land owner in the country, and owns vast tracts of rural land, and we know little about how the CPB uses that land. A Forbes report the CPB has “vast land holdings that Forbes used as the basis of its estimate: “In central Bangkok, the king owns 3,320 acres; town and country holdings stretch to 13,200″ acres.

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