Thailand’s future politics II

2 11 2017

In our previous post we looked at two articles considering possible futures for Thailand’s politics. Here we look at two more.

Christina Larson is a Beijing-based reporter who has written for the New Yorker, Foreign Policy and Bloomberg. Her guess that the “respect felt by most Thais for their monarchy” is “genuine” is married to an appopriate observation that this is “besmirched by the growing enforcement of the world’s strictest lèse-majesté law…”. She adds that ” use of the law has allowed the government to persecute critics and to create a widespread fear while maintaining a veneer of legality.”

She observes that the “fate of the law has been inextricably tied up with the image of Bhumibol himself.” That’s a point that others have often missed. At the same time, the increased use of the law and its justification has been “protecting the monarchy.” Larson notes that the image of the monarchy that is protected is of the ninth king and adds: “But the burnished image of the ‘People’s King’ — as a crusader for little people, a camera-toting investigator and promoter of public works – was shaped and reinforced by a supremely successful 70-year-propaganda campaign.”

It is that propaganda image that has been reinforced again and again over recent years – not least because the incumbent was mostly hidden in a hospital – and because that image was challenged. The funeral pushed the image again to supreme heights. But it is constructed:

According to Thailand’s constitution and school textbooks, the monarch is above politics, separate from the spheres of government and business. But nearly every public and private establishment in Bangkok was marking the official mourning period. Black-and-white memorial photos of Bhumibol in full royal regalia were on display at major airports, on highway billboards, at restaurants and hotels, even on the screens of ATMs. Liquor sales were prohibited during the cremation ceremonies, and the city’s ubiquitous 7-Elevens closed early on Thursday. That speaks to the power of the monarchy – and the fear of causing offense – that’s opened up a wide venue for persecution.

Larson quotes Benjamin Zawacki on the monarchy and lese majeste. (As a former representative of Amnesty International, he spent a lot of energy arguing that the reign of the dead king promoted human rights! He and AI neglected lese majeste in Thailand.)

Zawacki makes a rather odd comment: “If the cremation shows us nothing else, it is that the depth of respect and adoration for the monarchy in Thailand renders the lèse-majesté law redundant…”. Clearly it wasn’t, and the palace and military used it whenever there were political crises or whenever it saw threats to the grand concocted image of the monarchy.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak seems to contradict Zawacki, saying:

With the new reign, the enforcement of the [lèse-majesté] law will likely only increase, not decrease, for two reasons. The new monarch does not command as much love and respect as his father on an individual basis, and the monarchy will be under pressure to structurally adjust to new democratic norms.

Thitinan sees a continuation of the monarchy’s anti-democratic politics and a deepening of fear and intimidation. That seems entirely consistent with what we know of Vajiralongkorn and The Dictator. The symbiotic relationship mentioned in our previous post is important. At the same time, the  junta benefits enormously from the lese majeste law.

Kasit

The final article is an op-ed by the Democrat Party’s Kasit Piromya titled Thai political transformation needs ‘third force’. He believes an “alternative exists to military rule and entrenched political elite.”

Given that Kasit seems to have supported two military interventions throwing out elected governments, was a long-serving and senior official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, filled with members of the elite who are deeply royalist, we can only marvel at his idea of a “third force” and his call for “full-fledged democracy.”

He asks: “How much longer must Thai society accept the military’s involvement in politics?” Perhaps the answer is when persons like Kasit stop supporting those who are responsible for the coups.

He’s not keen on electoral politics, with PAD-like anti-democrat finger-pointing at the “dominance of vested interests in the political landscape led to countless numbers of abuses of power and corruption” along with “a power-hungry civilian political elite that engaged in rent-seeking with its majority rule.” He means the Thaksin regime.

And the “third force”? It is a PAD “solution” based on its usual false premises.

Kasit declares a pox on all houses (not his own): “One cannot rely on the military to voluntarily return to and remain in the barracks, nor on the political class to change its exploitative ways.”

The citizens must take the lead. But, of course, only after this “uneducate,” duped, misled and paid among them “educate themselves by gaining full access to information about government services and tasks, including how the national budget is spent, how decisions are made and how they can have input.” Does Kasit do this? We doubt it.

PADistas like Kasit believe that the citizenry is fodder for Thaksin-like politicians because they are “uneducate.”

Somehow the “Thai democratic citizenry” will be achieved “with the advent of modern telecommunications that enable convenient and fast connections with the public through mobile phones, social media and other internet-based vehicles.” Internet-based vehicles?? He’s making this up as he writes.

But what of the “third force”? Kasit reckons it “could consist of like-minded people” who come “together to agree on a course of action and draw up a list of priority issues so that a national consensus can be reached on taking Thailand forward.”

We think he’s serious, but who knows. When he calls the “get together” we’ll be sure to attend. Oh, but hang on… we are not “like-minded” with Kasit (thankfully!).

That said, he is right that when old ruling classes in some places have “reached a consensus with society at large to agree on a transitional approach toward democracy.”

In Thailand, however, the ruling class has repeatedly demonstrated that it will not compromise. Kasit can ramble on about a “third force” but the problem is the ruling class. They need to be overcome.





Further updated: Reporting Yingluck’s disappearance

27 08 2017

The military dictatorship states that it did “not allow former premier Yingluck Shinawatra to flee the country…”. It makes this statement due to the widespread view that her no-show at court and her reported flight could have only been possible with junta support. Hence, a deal was done.

Newspapers have been widely reporting that Yingluck is in Dubai. The Bangkok Post quotes an anonymous source from the Puea Thai Party: “We heard that she went to Cambodia and then Singapore from where she flew to Dubai. She has arrived safely and is there now…”.

As far as we can tell from the newspapers, this has yet to be confirmed and Yingluck has not been seen on Facebook or in the media since last Wednesday or Thursday.

The specific threat to the regime over Yingluck’s disappearance comes from the yellowists of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (usually said to be “former” but still meeting and demanding).

PAD “is demanding that the government investigate the escape of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and severely punish any state officials who helped her flee the country.” It declared that “Yingluck’s escape reflected a failure on the part of security authorities, leading to speculation that the failure was allowed to happen.”

Like others, PAD:

… pointed out that Ms Yingluck for months had been closely shadowed by soldiers, to the point where she complained on social media about privacy violations. They noted that Gen Prawit [Wongsuwan] on Feb 29 last year had said soldiers were needed to provide protection for Ms Yingluck and to help maintain peace and order in a politically tense time.

One of the junta’s deputy spokesmen, said “the Foreign Ministry was taking steps to revoke the ex-premier’s passport.”

Significantly, he also “said there was no official confirmation of Yingluck’s whereabouts…” or, it has to be said, that she has actually left Thailand. That said, her relatives have expressed no alarm, but have not said where she is. That lack of alarm suggests she has not gone the way of Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee, who seems to have been disappeared.

Then there are the assessments of what it all means. Hong Kong’s The Standard expresses it this way:

Yingluck Shinawatra’s escape from Thailand ahead of a court verdict that was expected to land her in jail for up to 10 years will tilt the country’s politics back in favor of the Bangkok establishment….

They mean the winners are the “military, technocrats, old power cliques, and the well-connected in business.”

That newspaper refers to Yingluck’s “escape,” using the inverted commas. It argues about motives:

Instead of letting the woman become a heroine of the masses that her family had dominated for so long, Yingluck can now be portrayed as a coward betrayer of her supporters, and her Pheu Thai party can be reduced to political insignificance.

It is added that The Dictator is “probably grinning from ear to ear” at her “escape.”

While The Standard editorial thinks Yingluck took “flight to Dubai via Singapore aboard a private jet to join her brother [Thaksin Shinawatra],” its observes that the junta seemed to deliberately muddy the waters:

Comments made by the junta after Yingluck’s flight … were extraordinary. For [General] Prayut[h Chan-ocha] ordered border security be stepped up. Number 2 [General] Prawit Wongsuwan said Yingluck had gone to Cambodia, while a naval source asserted she had escaped by sea…. All seemed to have been said to increase confusion to protect those involved.

Now the junta will have the opportunity to discredit Yingluck as a “fugitive,” just like her brother.

Update 1: Al Jazeera has a useful discussion of the current political condition. In this report, Peua Thai’s Sean Boonpracong “confirms” she has left Thailand, as have several other party sources.

Former foreign minister Kasit Piromya is adamant that there was “collusion between Yingluck and the military authorities…”. It was, he says, a “political decision.” It is “political expediency” and “convenient to both sides, adding its “convenient to everyone.”

Update 2: The junta has now “Thaksinified” Yingluck, seeking to revoke her Thai passports, with The Dictator declaring her “a fugitive after fleeing judgement in her rice scheme trial…”. General Prayuth continued to “explain” that an “investigation … into how she could have left the country.” The Dictator “blamed previous criticism that security authorities were crowding Ms Yingluck. Concerns over human rights had led to the present problem…”.

We were not aware that “human rights” were ever a concern for the regime.

Deputy Dictator General Prawit claimed “that authorities had followed Ms Yingluck closely. She was able to disappear because she had many vehicles.” That seems a lame “excuse” that his critics will find unconvincing.





Warning the conservative elite II

1 03 2016

PPT has never had much respect for former ambassador, anti-Thaksin foreign minister, defender of human rights abuses and lese majeste, PADster, coup supporter, anti-foreign media, etc. Kasit Piromya. He’s often sounded lazy, bizarre and loopy. So what can we make of an op-ed he is said to have penned at the Nikkei Asian Review that actually seems to make some sense?Kasit

We suggest it be read because, if he wrote it, he seems to have had a light turned on, at least for a moment. He begins:

Thailand’s conservatives, the real power behind the country’s military-backed government, have neutralized the political opposition and consolidated their authority behind a facade of constitutional reform. But they should beware. New proposals to entrench their position permanently risk conflict and perhaps chaos. The people cannot forever be denied a role.

He goes on to identify a power structure that he seems to fit into:

Thailand’s political structure can be characterized as a bureaucracy with a military spearhead, supported by an entourage of place seekers and hangers on such as academics, media personalities, white-collar workers and professionals.

Has he been reading PPT and like-minded blogs and articles? It seems so when he says:

These modern aristocrats are conservative in their thinking, their perceptions and their behavior. They seek order and stability in society: these are their top priorities in the affairs of the state. They perceive themselves as the natural leaders and rightful protectors of national institutions, especially the three main pillars of Thai society — the nation, the Buddhist religion and the monarchy. They adhere to a belief in the unique characteristics of Thailand, reflexively embodied in what they call the “Thainess” of traditional values, of discipline, and of authority relationships. Most importantly, they sit at the apex of the system…. They love the authority they have, and the discretion it conveys to use power as they see fit, and they shy away from concepts of transparency and accountability.

He might have added that they hate electoral politics, and always have. As a “good” anti-democrat, Kasit reckons that “[c]omprehensive reforms of political and social structures are being canvassed; a new constitution is proposed that will supposedly lay a firm foundation for democracy to take root and more forward in a sustainable manner.”

He’s worried that these anti-democrat reforms are being derailed. Somehow he’s forgotten that this is what he and his ilk supported and wanted. To suggest that he and his mobs wanted to “reform” in a way that was “about sharing of power, a more equitable distribution of wealth [and] access to equal opportunities.”

This was never the aim, and if he thinks it was, the light is off again.

Kasit and his buddies got what they wanted and now get what they deserved. Those who suffer are the people who just wanted a chance to vote and have that respected. The elite, conservative and fascist, can’t get their heads around this notion.





Updated: Constitutional mayhem

24 02 2016

The alliance that was the anti-democrats with the military is coming undone. They are unpicking the alliance themselves as they are unable to agree on what “reform” means and how it will be handled if there is ever an elected government. The draft constitution is the source of the dissension, even if it is already a mess.

That the meaning of “reform” is debated is no surprise given that it has gone from political slogan to the military’s club for beating the country into its preferred shape, and is now being institutionalized.

As happened in 1992, when the military expresses its desire to hold onto power for ever and ever, some of those who think the boys in green are there just to see off those threatening the social order, get the fidgets. The elite and trembling middle class realizes that it may have to put up with these thugs and to keep paying them off with positions and power.

As the Bangkok Post reports, the junta’s demand that there be a “special set of rules to allow the military-led government to maintain security during the transition to civilian rule [and after] is likely to be rejected by charter drafters…”.

Frankly, we doubt that the junta will give way or that the Constitution Drafting Committee would develop a backbone. However, the idea of dissension and a rejection of the junta, from within, is worthy of note.

Described as “an ex-leader of the now-dissolved People’s Democratic Reform Committee” and as a “[f]ormer Democrat MP,” Thaworn Senniam said the “CDC will not include the cabinet proposal in the charter.” He said: “We can’t return to ‘half-democracy’.”

Thaworn has little conception of democracy, but his dissension is worth noting.

More significantly, the old fascist war horse “Sqn Ldr Prasong Soonsiri … is warning the military government against making any moves that reflects a desire to stay in power.” He remembers 1992. Anyway, he says, if the military doesn’t like something after an election it can easily intervene.

As expected, The Dictator is unimpressed.

The Nation reports that General Prayuth Chan-ocha has “affirmed the country needs a special mechanism to advance reforms during a five-year transitional period.” That “mechanism” is meant to guide government and is presumably replacing the unofficial and behind the scenes mechanism known as the Privy Council. (Post-Prem/post-present king, it can’t be trusted.)

It seems the junta is also pressing for an unelected senate. This is a favorite of the military as they get to hold many of the seats and have veto powers over government. In this instance “it would ensure the junta will have at least 200 senators supporting the junta after an election…”.

As it has been from the beginning, the junta seeks a throwback semi-democracy combined with an institutionalization of measures to replace the monarchy’s political interventionism.

Update: Former PADster, PRDCer and Democrat Party Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya has joined the splits from the junta. In a story at Matichon, he has slammed the military junta. Among other things, he digs at The Dictator, saying he wants to stay another five years after two years of failed administration. He says there have been no substantial accomplishments. He says there is no good reason for them to stay.

The dictatorship is being challenged. How will the erratic boss respond?





Platitudes on the military dictatorship I

24 09 2015

The Bangkok Post has a longish article called “analysis” that deals with The Dictator’s visit to the United States and appearances at a business event and at the U.N. PPT, seldom surprised by what it reads in the mainstream media, was dismayed to read a series of platitudes that ignore the fact that Thailand remains the world’s only military dictatorship.

One Wikipedia page lists countries by system of government. For Thailand, there is a standout entry: “No constitutionally-defined basis to current regime.” Not quite right, but then this military dictatorship wrote its own “charter” after illegally ditching the previous one.

Another Wikipedia page lists military dictatorships as countries where a “nation’s military control the organs of government and all high-ranking political executives are also members of the military hierarchy.” Two are listed, Thailand and Burkina Faso.

Unfortunately for Thais, the situation in the latter case has changed: “In September 2015, military forces seized the country’s president and prime minister, and declared themselves the new national government. However, on 22 September 2015, the coup leader, Gen. Gilbert Diendere, apologized and promised to restore the civilian government. On 23 September 2015, the prime minister and interim president were restored to power.”

Something may have changed internationally in recent days, but the sorry fact is that Thailand remains the only pariah state: a military dictatorship.

None of this is clear in the Post’s “analysis.”

This “analysis” begins by recounting that self-appointed Prime Minister and coupmeister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha is will “highlight the progress the government has made in fighting human trafficking…”. Yep, that’s it for the junta over the whole period since 22 May 2014. But only if there is no mention of repression, jailings, bombs, bad policing, economic torpor and so on.

The Post helpfully adds that Prayuth’s trip “gives him a chance to share with global leaders the military government’s achievements in tackling Thailand’s development issues, especially human trafficking, its roadmap to democracy and the latest economic stimulus plan.” Prayuth has declared: “I will tell the international community the government is driving the country towards full democracy under the roadmap. We are doing everything we can to reach that goal…”.

“Everything” seems to include jailing and re-educating opponents, censorship, repression and banal royalism. Deputy government spokesman Werachon Sukhondapatipak seemed to recognize this, stating that the junta has different “rules.” He observed that “our rules [were] not originating from an ideology several countries wished to see.”

The Dictator received support and gratuitous advice from several commentators regarding its terrible international image as the world’s only remaining military dictatorship.

Former Foreign Minister and ardent yellow shirt Kasit Piromyaadvised: “[There is] no need to pretend we are perfect as we live in a borderless world…”. We would have thought that “perfect was the wrong terminology. He may has well have stated: “[There is] no need to pretend we are anything other than complete crap with almost everyone knowing this as we live in a borderless world…”.

Kasit is followed in the report by “[p]olitical scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Chulalongkorn University [who] echoed this sentiment.” Like Kasit, he offered advice on how to hide crap: “A realistic middle path would be to admit to the shortcomings of ascending to office through a putsch…”. He went on to say that “some of the signature achievements of the coup government” could be trumpeted, including “combatting human trafficking and corruption, while delineating a clear time frame to return power to the Thai people.”

Thitinan goes a step further, urging the military dictator to go ahead with a dozy plan to grab a seat on the UN Security Council. His “reasoning” seems to be that other crappy states have obtained a seat, so why exclude the world’s only military dictatorship. He cheers: “There is still a chance for Thailand…”. Yes, he does add that the regime should “demonstrate an actionable pathway that will lead to a semblance of normalcy under civilian, not military, rule…”.

He means that this execrable regime should babble about its “roadmap” for stymieing democracy in Thailand, making its propaganda seem somehow plausible to Thailand’s “friends.”

The last set of platitudes is from the usual suspects at a dinner hosted by business lobby groups, the US-Asean Business Council and the US Chamber of Commerce. They are so profit-oriented that they are prepared to provide a platform for the military dictator. Still, they have done this  before and bill it as “an opportunity for top American corporate executives to rub shoulders with Thai dignitaries.”

Corporate types hobnobbing with murderous dictators would make dinner rather difficult to stomach.





Future of monarchy in Thailand is uncertain

21 09 2015

That is part of a headline in the New York Times for an article by Thomas Fuller on the king’s declining health. The article will certainly anger the military junta and rabid royalists.

It will be especially galling as the article quotes persons identified by the junta as “anti-monarchy.”

The article begins:

After nearly seven decades on the throne, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 87, the keystone of Thailand’s identity and a major unifying force for the country, is in declining health. With increasing frequency, the palace has issued medical bulletins detailing his ailments, and in recent days his youngest daughter has led prayer sessions following a Buddhist rite normally used for terminally ill patients.Senile king

PPT doesn’t think the king unifies, unless this means a murderous alliance with the military, palace propaganda and rightist vigilantism.

That line of buying the propaganda and repression continues: “While reverence for the king was once the only thing that this fractured country could agree on, today the future of the Thai monarchy is uncertain.”

That’s also untrue, and there is plenty of history to demonstrate that there has always been opposition to the monarchy.

The article talks of the prince:

The king’s heir apparent, the jet-setting crown prince, has a reputation as a playboy and faces an uphill battle to win the trust and adoration his father has achieved. Many Thais hoped that Princess Sirindhorn, the crown prince’s sister, who has won hearts through her charitable causes and dealings with the poor, might succeed her father, but palace law bars women from the throne.

Happy togetherThe prince gave up trying to emulate his father years ago and left the space for his sister to fill. She’s been the center of the (almost) post-Bhumibol propaganda, and has benefited from limited scrutiny. The prince seems to not care for this limelight. Meanwhile, the military junta has been cleaning up for his succession, sorting out his personal inconveniences by jailing his former wife’s family and replacing her with a woman who will probably be queen.

The article has a link to six recent lese majeste cases, noting that the law restricts discussion of succession and the future of the monarchy. Even so, the article refers to a “growing underground republican movement…”. The article states that:

The republican movement was precipitated in part by the rise of Thaksin Shinawatra, a business tycoon turned populist politician whose influence and popularity in rural areas were seen as threats to the royal establishment and Bangkok’s urban elite.

It quotes Sulak Sivaraksa:

The current anti-monarchy movement is due to the very fact that the monarchy is now made into almighty god…. The more you make the monarchy sacred, the more it becomes unaccountable and something beyond common sense.

The strength of the movement is unknown, but as author Fuller states:

One way to assay the strength of the anti-monarchy movement might be by sizing up the military government’s efforts to counter it. The junta, which claims legitimacy from the king’s blessing, has positioned itself as the institution’s ultimate defender.

The ruling generals have been aggressive in jailing critics of the monarchy and this year alone are spending $540 million, more than the entire budget for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on a promotional campaign called “Worship, protect and uphold the monarchy.”

The campaign includes television commercials, seminars in schools and prisons, singing contests and competitions to write novels and make short films praising the king. The military also erected giant statues of past kings in the seaside town of Hua Hin, but said they were financed by private donations.

“This is not propaganda,” Prayuth Chan-ocha, the leader of the junta, said several months after seizing power last year. The youth, he said, “must be educated on what the king has done.”

It is also a part of preparing for the succession. Former Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya is quoted:

Mr. Kasit, the former foreign minister, said the bicycle tour was a “turning point” for the prince.

There are no more doubts inside the military establishment as to who will be the next monarch of Thailand,” Mr. Kasit said.

PPT thinks that’s accurate and it is one of the few times we have agreed with the erratic Kasit. And, it is in the military’s interests to maintain the critical link to the monarchy:

Rejecting the 1997 constitutionThe military’s backing of the prince, indeed its alliance with the monarchy, is seen as mutually beneficial. The king is the head of the Thai armed forces and must endorse all new governments and major appointments. Critics say the military and Bangkok establishment are leveraging the king’s power to bolster their own.

Fuller observes that the political divisions of recent years remain:

Military rule has papered over those [political] divisions, silencing critics and jailing former members of the government. But unifying the country remains the most pressing challenge for both the junta and the future king.

While the article concludes with advice from Thailand’s 5th and most absolute of its “modern” kings, which he didn’t necessarily follow himself, the real final word belongs to critic-in-exile Somsak Jeamteerasakul:

The situation of the Thai monarchy will not remain like this for many more years…. There are two options for the future. Either transform to a modern monarchy like in Europe or Japan or don’t change and become definitively demolished (a republic). There is no third choice.





Chinese love

7 08 2015

Thailand has had some pretty terrible ministers in recent years. Some of them incompetent, others incoherent and some just plain dull. Perhaps none has filled all of those categories at one time, until now.

An AFP report that has gone around the world tells us, if we didn’t already know it, that the military dictatorship’s foreign minister, General Tanasak Patimapragorn takes the cake as probably the dullest, most incompetent and most incoherent minister for a very long time. In this space, there have been others who were pretty awful, including Kasit Piromya, who repeatedly made mistakes due to his inability to speak to any script and for his apparent disorientation at critical times. Yet Kasit looks like an Einstein when compared with Tanasak.

The AFP report begins by acknowledging that the military dictatorship has “visibly cosied up to China since seizing power in a coup last year,” reflecting the cool relationship with Western countries following that illegal seizure of power.

Yet Tanasak has gone further and in a pres conference at an event where ASEAN members have been having trouble dealing with China on the South China Sea issue he has thrown his support behind China. This has probably flummoxed Thailand’s ASEAN partners, but Tanasak seems to care little for them. The report states that Tanasak “appears to be especially enamoured” of China. This feeling for China was ludicrously expressed as a personal love for China and its foreign minister.

Tanasak told his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi and the assembled press: “At this moment we believe this is the best time for our relationship. Especially for my personal contact with minister Wang Yi who is a very nice and polite person…”. He went further, saying that: “If I were a woman I will fall in love with his excellency [Wang Li]…”.

Tanasak, reportedly “a close confidant of coup leader and now Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha,” babbled on about a “relationship with China goes back more than 1,000 years” and claimed something more than a diplomatic relationship:  “We … talks [sic.] like personal, like family, like friend…”.

We are sure the Chinese, Thailand’s ASEAN partners, its treaty partners and the reporters were stunned by such a diplomatic dunce.