Further updated: Cat among the pigeons

22 03 2019

Matichon Sutsapda has an “interesting” story on a wedding in Hong Kong.

It is likely to set the cat among the political pigeons just a couple of days prior to the junta’s election.

Clipped from Matichon

Update 1: While social media has this story everywhere, the mainstream news outlets have been just a little more self-censorial. Even so, the Bangkok Post reports that “Princess Ubolratana on Friday presided over the wedding reception of Thaksin Shinawatra’s youngest daughter in Hong Kong.” Yingluck Shinawatra was there as well.

The story adds: “Other Thai guests were former members of the disbanded Thai Raksa Chart Party — former leader Lt Preechapol Pongpanich, co-leader Sunee Luangvichit, and MP candidate Khattiya Sawatdiphol. The Thaksin-affiliated party was disbanded by an order of the Constitutional Court for nominating Princess Ubolratana as its prime ministerial candidate…. Tida Tavornseth, a red-shirt leader, was also present at the Hong Kong reception.”

There’s none of the obvious questions: What does the king think of this? Is Ubolratana in open revolt against her brother and/or family? Is this her payback for the previous month’s embarrassment? What next?

Update 2: More photos are emerging in the mainstream media and on social media that suggest further questions awaiting answers. At the risk of appearing Hello-like, here are some of them, in this instance, both clipped from Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s Facebook page:

 





The thick-faced, the thin-skinned and other crooks

21 03 2019

Here’s a round-up of a few stories that show the very worst of junta and its “election.”

Campaigning with the monarchy: Thaksin Shinawatra tried to have a princess on his side and failed. Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha had a birthday and got flowers from the king and some other royals. He made a big deal out of it and used it in his election campaigning.

Vote buying: The Bangkok Post reports that the Anti-Money Laundering Office “has set up an operations centre to monitor vote-buying and investigate poll-related money-laundering activities…”. Too late. If the money has changed hands, the deals will have been done already.

Army intimidation: Khaosod reports that “Party officials and candidates from the Pheu Thai and Democrat parties told the media that soldiers raided their residences on the pretext of looking for drugs or other contraband, though the politicians are convinced the army is seeking to intimidate them in the final days of campaigning.”

The fully-armed soldiers operated on junta orders: “soldiers did not have any court warrant, but forced their way in by invoking Section 44 of the 2014 charter, which grants soldiers acting under junta orders to search or detain anyone without a warrant.”

Buffalo manure award: The prize for the most egregious falsehood goes to Abhisit Vejjajiva and his Democrat Party. Just a few days ago, Abhisit loudly declared that he would not support The Dictator as PM after the election. Now he says “his party has yet to endorse his announcement that he will not support the junta leader for another term in office.” He fibbed and the strong group of anti-democrats in the party have put him in his place and announced support for Gen Prayuth.

Self-declared winners: Even before the big vote on Sunday it seems Prayuth’s devil party, Palang Pracharath, reckons it has already won and will immediately form government even before the vote count is finished. Breathtakingly arrogant and confident in the junta’s rigging and cheating.

Complete dicks: The lying, news fabricating dipsticks at Nation TV, caught out concocting a story meant to defame Future Forward Party, are unrepentant and unapologetic. Indeed, they are announcing that it is their right as journalists to fabricate and lie.

All this is how election cheats manage their manipulation and cynical fraud. It will only get worse.





With a major update: Junta cheating deepens

20 03 2019

As the “election” approaches a frustrated and desperate junta is engaging in pretty much open cheating. It is being aided by its allies including the military.

The military is threatening and repressing political campaigners. Rightist television presenters are showing concocted “recordings” to sabotage anti-junta parties. Palang Pracharath is photoshopping images to make it appear they are holding huge rallies. The military is ordering units out to support Palang Pracharath.

All of this is illegal. Where’s the police, the Election Commission and the courts? In the junta’s pocket.

Clearly, election rigging has become outright cheating for the junta and for The Dictator.

It is a disaster for the Thai people.

Update: Given the blatant electoral cheating by Gen Prayuth and his allies, it seems appropriate to go back to a leader in The Economist from about five days ago and reproduce parts of it here, as a record of the rigging and cheating undertaken over the five years of the junta’s (mis)rule:

… On March 24th Thai voters will elect a new parliament, putting an end to five years of direct military rule…. But the MPs they pick will have nowhere to meet. King Vajiralongkorn has appropriated the old parliament building, which stands on royal property, for some unspecified purpose that, under the country’s harsh lèse-majesté laws, no one dares question. The military junta has yet to finish building a new parliament house.

That the newly chosen representatives of the Thai people will be homeless stands as a symbol for how hollow the election will be, and how contemptuous the generals are of democracy, even as they claim to be restoring it. They have spent the past five years methodically rigging the system to ensure that the will of voters is thwarted, or at least fiercely circumscribed. In particular, they want to foil Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister, now in exile, whose supporters have won every election since 2001. The result will be a travesty of democracy in a country that was once an inspiration for South-East Asia. It is bad news not only for the 69m Thais but also for the entire region.

Since ousting a government loyal to Mr Thaksin in a coup in 2014, the generals have imposed an interim constitution that grants them broad powers to quash “any act which undermines public peace and order or national security, the monarchy, national economics or administration of state affairs”. They have carted off critical journalists and awkward politicians to re-education camps. Simply sharing or “liking” commentary that the regime deems subversive has landed hapless netizens in prison. Even the most veiled criticism of the monarchy—posting a BBC profile of the king, say, or making a snide remark about a mythical medieval princess—is considered a crime. And until December, all political gatherings involving more than five people were banned.

The junta’s main weapon, however, is the new constitution, which it pushed through in a referendum in 2016 after banning critics from campaigning against it. Even so, the generals could persuade only a third of eligible voters to endorse the document (barely half of them turned out to cast their ballot). The constitution gives the junta the power to appoint all 250 members of the upper house. And it strengthens the proportional element of the voting system for the lower house, at the expense of Mr Thaksin’s main political vehicle, the Pheu Thai party. It also says the prime minister does not have to be an MP, paving the way for Prayuth Chan-ocha, the junta leader who does not belong to any party, to remain in power. And it allows the general to impose a “20-year plan” to which all future governments will have to stick.

The manipulation has continued throughout the campaign. Politicians and parties at odds with the junta have found themselves in trouble with the courts or the Election Commission. Another party loyal to Mr Thaksin, Thai Raksa Chart, was banned outright. The army chief has issued a writ for libel against the head of another party who, after being followed by soldiers wherever he went, complained of the shameful waste of taxpayers’ money. Campaigning on social media is restricted to anodyne posts about the parties’ policies and candidates’ biographies. Politicians fear that minor infringements of such rules will be used as an excuse for further disqualifications.

But all these strictures do not seem to bind Mr Prayuth and his allies. Before political gatherings were allowed again, he paraded around the country addressing huge crowds in sports stadiums. (These were not political gatherings—perish the thought—but “mobile cabinet meetings”.) The Election Commission has ruled that he can campaign for a pro-military party, which has named him as its candidate for prime minister, even though government officials like him are supposed to be neutral in the election.

All this is intended to ensure that Mr Prayuth remains prime minister, despite his inertia and ineptitude. Under him, economic growth has slowed. Household debt has risen. According to Credit Suisse, a bank, Thailand has become the world’s most unequal country. The richest 1% of its people own more than two-thirds of the country’s wealth. Corruption thrives. The deputy prime minister explained away a big collection of luxury watches last year, saying they were on loan from a conveniently deceased friend.

Worse is to come….

Thailand’s civilian politicians have lots of ideas about how to tackle these problems…. It is Mr Prayuth who, despite wielding almost unfettered power, seems lost for inspiration. The junta has promised to revive the economy by improving infrastructure, but few of its plans have come to fruition. The only thing the generals have to show for five years in office is a heavy-handed scheme to retain power….

… Thais deserve much better—starting with a genuine election.





Constructing the king’s image

12 03 2019

Since the succession, PPT has had several posts that have recounted how the royal image is being made by palace propagandists.

Not that long ago, we posted on one of the junta’s Deputy Prime Ministers, Wissanu Krea-ngam, talking about the coronation in May. He was reported as  stating that the “Prime Minister’s Office will issue a design prototype of the royal emblem for the yellow shirt” to be worn for the event.

Wissanu added that “seven designs of the royal emblem were submitted to … the King, who has since selected the final design.” The coronation committee was “waiting for a letter from the bureau to confirm details of the design so it can be used as the official logo for the ceremony…”.

Now it looks like the story has changed, presumably to polish the king’s reputation. Now Wissanu is reported as saying the “King … has created the new design himself and approved it for public use ahead of the three-day event from May 4-6.”

The next step is to laud the king as Thailand’s greatest graphic artists. That’s how palace propaganda worked for hi father too.





Defending the Constitutional Court as farce

11 03 2019

Little things sometimes matter. For example, we noticed that the state’s propaganda arm did not officially report the king’s objection to (Princess) Ubolratana’s nomination by the Thai Raksa Chart Party until 9 March. Our quick search of its English-language website turned up a report of her nomination but no reporting of the king’s response (at least not as a headlined story). A quick search of the Thai-language part of the site produced nothing about the king’s response.

We may be over-reading this, but it seems to us that this lack of reporting until after the Constitutional Court’s decision is a remarkable piece of self-censorship and the now-required deference born of fear.

Meanwhile, in an effort to limit the damage of the whole affair to the monarchy, and especially for an international audience, hoary royalist and anti-Thaksin Shinawatra campaigner, Veera Prateepchaikul has been wheeled out.

Veera is a former editor of the Bangkok Post. His task in his most recent op-ed is to “explain” why the Court was right and “foreigners” are wrong to criticize the verdict.

He views it as no “surprise that most foreign media and human rights advocacy organisations” got the decision all wrong. He particularly ticked off by Amnesty International. He’s miffed that these “foreigners” see the Court’s decision as politicized.

He reckons the “foreigners” got it “wrong.” As “evidence” for getting it “wrong,” failing to consider “the role of the monarchy in society dating back to 1932 and its status of being above politics and being the symbolic soul of the nation…”. Of course, this is the usual blarney that royalists spew out when considering their beloved monarchy, ignoring the facts of history.

Veera relies on a written statement from one of the nine Constitutional Court judges who just happens to be his yellow-shirted buddy Nakarin Mektrairat. Now, Nakarin should know better as he wrote a history of 1932. But he sold his historian’s soul to the anti-democrats quite some time ago. A yellow-shirted historian, a 2014 coup supporter and constitution drafter and supporter of the lese majeste law, there seems little to assure “foreigners” that Nakarin is anything other than a junta quisling.

Still, Veera reckons Nakarin’s “enlightened explanation about how the court viewed the TRC’s nomination of Princess Ubolratana as its prime ministerial candidate and the possible repercussions towards the monarchy if this ‘highly inappropriate’ act was not nipped in the bud.”

Oddly, Nakarin apparently recognizes that Ubonratana was unencumbered by being a member of the monarchy but was still “undermin[ing] the basis and value of the constitution,” by her status as a member of the royal family and that it is the royal family that is “above politics” and this was “mandated in the first constitution of Thailand and enshrined in following charters.”

Indeed, Article 11 of the 1932 constitution did declare members of the royal family with status of Serene Highness and above were not to be involved in politics. However, by the time of most recent constitutions, this provision is not evident, having first been revised in 1946.

It is unclear which article of the constitution she was undermining or which law she was bending. In fact, even the Court relied on a half-baked notion of “culturalism” rather than law aand, of course, the king’s own pronouncement.

The real problem for Veera is that the person “dragging” this “member of the royal family into politics” is Thaksin, and therefore the move ” is simply unimaginable.”

It is not “electoral fraud,” that the “real motive” was to win the election. Indeed, this constituted a “wicked idea.”

We agree that the whole idea was daft and evidenced a kind of desperation, but to conclude that the “Constitutional Court’s verdict …has set a precedent … that the institution is politically impartial and above politics” is farcical. Just look at the repeated demonstrations of partiality by monarchs since 1932.





Working for the man?

9 03 2019

As we mentioned in a recent post, King Vajiralongkorn is very wealthy. After changes to the Crown Property Bureau Act, his shares in the Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) and the Siam Cement Group (SCG) are valued at US$9.23 billion. On those shares alone, the Forbes billionaires list should have him 3rd for Thailand. Of course, his portfolio is far larger than these two companies.

As well as being the major shareholder in both SCB and SCG, the king’s personal assistants hold positions on both boards of directors.

All of that makes a story at The Nation about the SCG very interesting reading. It begins: “There is a growing outcry over the government’s recent decision to allow corporate giant SCG to utilise parts of a forest reserve in Saraburi province, as a special case, till 2036.” SCG quarries the area for limestone, used in cement production.

The junta’s Cabinet on “Tuesday passed a resolution to permit cement manufacturer SCG to use … land in the Tab Kwang and Muak Lek Forest Reserve for its operations.”

According to reports, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Ministry “persuaded the Cabinet to give the green light mainly on grounds that those parts of the forest reserve had once been SCG’s concession area.”

The ministry said “the allotted land plots have enormous potential for mining, and SCG … has always complied with conditions related to permits issued to it.”

SCG’s previous permit to “use the … land plots expired in 2011, but its mining licence remains valid until April 27, 2036.” That permit was issued in 2002.

An official at the Royal Forest Department, reported anonymously, said: “The request to use these old concession areas has won approval from the National Environment Board and all relevant screening committees,” adding that “the authorities also recognised the importance of industrial development.” It was also stated that “the government can put in place efficient control measures to ensure the private miner won’t cause any adverse environmental impacts…”.

According to the Bangkok Post, the SCG “facility is located in the Tab Kwang and Muak Lek Forest Reserve in Saraburi province…. The forest covers 3,223 rai and contains a large protected Watershed Class 1A zone.”

Watershed Class 1A zones are considered “ecologically rich and were given protection under a 2005 cabinet resolution.” However, case-by-case exceptions are permitted.

The grant to SCG has drawn considerable (and surprising) criticism. Mahasarakham University’s Chainarong Setthachua called for an investigation of the concession. He worried that the area is a “top-grade headwater area” and reckoned that the area might be inside “a national park that was established in 2016,” he said.

Other critics included the deeply yellow Veera Somkwamkid and Srisuwan Janya who demanded Cabinet rescind its decision or be faced with court action. Somlak Hutanuwatr, said to be “an independent expert on primary industries and mines.” who claimed the Cabinet’s decision was “illegal,” as did EnLaw Foundation coordinator, Supaporn Malailoy,

Meanwhile, Amnuayporn Choldumrongkul, deputy chief of the Royal Forestry Department, “said the decision to extend the operating permit was made in accordance with the state concession previously awarded to the company, SCG Plc, to mine there.”

Some questions arise. One is what was SCG doing in the area from 2011 to today? If its permit expired in 2011, what did it do for lime in the intervening period? Another is to ask how much the junta’s Cabinet was influenced in its decision making by SCG’s royal connection? Does that connection and ownership provide the king with influence over the junta?

We think this story needs a lot more investigation. Is the media up to it?





Thailand’s billionaires in 2019

7 03 2019

Forbes has released its 2019 billionaires list. It includes 31 Thai individuals and families.

To make matters a little easier, we have constructed a table where all persons with the same family name have been combined and we have listed just the top 10.

That aggregating mainly impacts the Chearavanont family who have several scions listed this year. Putting all of those individuals together reveals how vast the clan’s wealth is, expanding at a rate that means it rivals the king for economic power.

But, as usual, the king is missing from the list. This year that does seem rather odd as laws have been changed to make King Vajiralongkorn the personal owner of all crown property. Essentially, that is as it has been for a long time, but the current king just got rid of the quasi-legal mechanism to allow the government and the Crown Property Bureau to protest that the king’s property was not really his.

That charade is now gone, so Forbes should list him at number 1. A rough estimate of the king’s wealth would be at least $60 billion (using data from 2005, and estimating changes in stock and land values since then).

The table reveals how the top 3, including the king and his crown property, have moved well ahead of the rest in terms of measurable wealth. We do acknowledge that the fabulously wealthy are adept at hiding their personal wealth, so all those listed are probably a lot wealthier than these figures allow.