Political exiles in Laos

14 04 2019

We have held onto this post for a while in order to get through some of the “election” posting. The interview by Kris Janssens on Thai Refugees is about exiles in Laos and became available just before the “election” and a reader alerted us to it. The blurb is:

Thailand will have elections this weekend, for the first time since the military junta took power five years ago. But critics say this is not the long-awaited return to democracy. Activists who have been convicted of violating the majesty law are in danger. They fled the country in fear of being arrested or even killed -as happened to others. Southeast Asia correspondent Kris Janssens visited four of them who went into exile.

We guess that listening to the interview would be banned in Thailand. It includes some excerpts from Fai Yen’s songs, and is available in English and, we think, Dutch. Some of the interview also includes Thai.

Using “loyalty” against Future Forward

2 04 2019

Readers will no doubt recall that, prior to the junta’s “election,” there were a blizzard of complaints to the Election Commission regarding the Future Forward Party. The allegations included claims that Future Forward was insufficiently royal or even anti-monarchy.

At the time, we speculated that the junta’s polling, usually done by military agencies like ISOC, was showing that Future Forward was doing better than anyone had thought possible.

Now that it has done that well and has aligned in a possible coalition with pro-Thaksin Shinawatra parties, the dirty tricks deepen. The yellow social media campaign against Future Forward has been especially nasty and pervasive. It is almost as if the yellow lot hate Future Forward more than Puea Thai.

Thai PBS reports that Future Forward party secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul has been forced to defend “himself against allegations that he made comments hostile to the Thai Monarchy.”

Piyabutr said that the allegation stemmed from some “doctored” parts of an academic lecture on “Politics, Justice and Monarchy” back in February 2013.

He declares that the “allegedly hostile” were concocted and that “he had not mentioned the Thai Monarchy…”. Rather, he had:

talked about the principle of having a Constitution by explaining that, in accordance with the international democratic system, the Monarchy must be above and should not get involved in politics and that the position of the Monarch, which is inherited, must be in line with the democratic system.

Piyabutr made the obvious point “that his accusers … intended to engender hatred towards him.” Of course they do. That’s how the monarchy is used to oppose democrats and democracy.

Interestingly and bravely, Piyabutr explained how lese majeste has been used:

… over the past 14 years, charges of lèse majesté have been abused to cause social disunity and mutual hatred between people, providing excuses for the military to seize power.

He then made a statement that will confuse his opponents:

In a democracy, we can prefer different political parties or politicians.  We can compete politically within the rules without using the Monarchy to attack one another or cause hatred….

The confusion for the yellow opponents will be that they do not understand or want a democracy.

Piyabutr was responding because another of those manufactured “civil society” groups has complained to the Election Commission. Calling itself the “Political Civic Group,” the concocted group has petitioned the EC to dissolve Future Forward Party “for trying to subvert the monarchy.”

The self-declared “president” of the “group,” Surawat Sangkharoek, “submitted pictures and video clips of the party’s rallies to the EC as evidence to back up the group’s claim…”.

Surawat madly claimed that the “EC should acknowledge the FFP as a threat to national security and the monarchy…. The party is a den of anti-monarchists, whose members have used anti-monarchy rhetoric to instigate hatred against the revered institution…”.

We have an uncomfortable feeling that the EC might act against Future Forward in order to steal the election for Palang Pracharath, The Dictator and the junta.

Updated: The king “votes” again II

30 03 2019

King Vajiralongkorn has signaled that he will not have a pro-Thaksin Shinawatra Puea Thai led government.

Matichon reports on a new royal announcement, commanding Thaksin to relinquish all of his royally-bestowed decorations.

Of course, this probably has to do with Thaksin’s liaison with (former) Princess Ubolratana, but the political message is clearer than anything that has emerged from the Election Commission.

Update: All major English-language media (here, here and here) now have this story on yet another of the king’s political interventions.

The Post notes that the ostensible reason for removing Thaksin’s royal decorations was the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions sentencing of Thaksin on 21 October 2008 over the Ratchada land case. It also notes that the statute of limitations on that case “has already expired…”.

As The Nation does, Khaosod also observes the connection to the election and the Army’s removal of Thaksin’s “name … from the school’s hall of fame and stripped him of his Chak Dao alumni achievement awards.”

The Nation’s story, which is from AFP, also makes these points:

King Vajiralongkorn had issued an announcement on election eve calling for Thais to support “good” people to prevent “chaos” — a declaration replayed right before polls opened on March 24.

The monarch also sent jitters across the country in February after a party linked to the Shinawatras nominated Princess Ubolratana as a candidate for prime minister — which he swiftly called “inappropriate” in a royal rebuke….

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, but the palace holds unassailable powers and is shielded from criticism by a harsh royal defamation law [lese majeste].

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.

Updated: Rampaging royalists

6 03 2019

Thai PBS reports that the campaign against the Future Forward Party is being led by some royals and royalists.

A few days ago we posted on Boonthaworn Panyasit of “People Protecting the Constitution,” petitioned the junta’s Election Commission to recommend dissolving the party to the Constitutional Court.

Boonthaworn, a loyalist royalist, accused Future Forward of “behaviour against the monarchy…”. He slammed the party opposition to the lese majeste law and Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit for claiming that Future Forward would complete the mission of 1932 and the People’s Party.

That particular loyalist royalism has now been taken up by ultra-royalists and most notably the princely Gen Mom Chao Chulcherm Yugala. In fact, as soon as the party was formed, the rightist Gen Mon Chao was accusing its leaders of republicanism.

He’s continuing that, trying to smear the party, saying completing the mission of 1932 amounts to a plan to abolish the monarchy. As much as we at PPT might hope for that, we don’t think Future Forward stands for that. But its mildly reformist agenda scares the silk chong kraben off the prince and his buddies.

The Gen Mon Chao reckons the “mission of the 1932 coup [sic.] makers was to overthrow the [m]onarchy.” Going back, way back, Gen Mom Chao Chulcherm sounds so 1930s when he accuses the People’s Party of “Bolshevism.” He reckons the Party’s interim constitution was:

modelled after the Bolshevik revolution, adding that the charter was drafted by the coup-makers after the bloody revolution in Russia, which culminated in the massacre of Czar Nicholas II and his entire family and an end of the Russian monarchy in favour of communist rule.

In fact, King Prajadhipok, a famous anti-democrat, did accuse Pridi Phanomyong of Bolshevism for his economic plan.

But the Gen Mom Chao goes deeper into history, claiming the “Future Forward party has made clear and did not hide its policy, modelled on the French revolution, to overthrow the Monarchy.”

We have previously observed that “loyalty” now demands the erasing of 1932, as has been seen in actions by the monarchy-military alliance over the past couple of years. But in his rabid criticism, the serene prince is more boisterous, clamorous, raucous, tumultuous, and woolly than serene. His claims revive debates from the 1920s and 1930s. Who would have thought that an election in 2019 would involve the same debates as almost 100 years ago. But, then, Thai royalism is antiquated.

Update: Future Forward say they are taking legal action against the not so serene general prince.

Loyalism and royalism

1 03 2019

When the whole princess-for-PM stuff blew up, PPT mentioned that the election see “loyalty” become an issue. And so it has.

In another move against the Future Forward Party someone the Bangkok Post chooses to label “an activist” – Boonthaworn Panyasit – has requested that the junta’s Election Commission recommend dissolving the party to the Constitutional Court.

Said to be a leader of “a group called People Protecting the Constitution,” the loyalist royalist declared that the Party was “exhibiting behaviour against the monarchy…”. The “activist” slammed Party” secretary general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul’s personal stance in opposition to the lese majeste law.”

This royalist logic, fomented by Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha when he was Army chief, alleges that wanting any changes to Article 112 is an attach on the monarchy itself. Warped royalism soon leads to violent royalism.

Boonthaworn also claimed that party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit probably meant harm to the monarchy when he “recently that Future Forward would complete the mission of Khana Ratsadon [from 1932].” He went on to allege that the two party leaders “had made several comments threatening to the constitutional monarchy.”

“Loyalty” now demands the erasing of 1932, as has been seen in actions by the monarchy-military alliance over the past couple of years. Who would have guessed that 1932 would be an election issue.

Updated: Junta murder conspiracy

25 02 2019

Khaosod reports that Pranee Danwattanusorn, the wife of Surachai Danwattanusorn or Surachai Sae Dan, has traveled to Nakhon Phanom “to file a complaint over the possible destruction of the corpse,” which she believes was Surachai.

Surachai at the police station, c. 2011

Her position is that the military junta is responsible for the clandestine abduction and (probable) murder of her husband and two other activists.

Surachai had fled to Laos following the 2014 military coup. A former political prisoner in the 1970s and then a lese majeste political prisoner when charges were brought by the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime.

He went missing late last year, believed to have been “disappeared” with his two comrades. Later,

[t]wo disemboweled bodies were found on the Thai side of the river late December and identified by DNA tests to be Surachai’s aides Chatchan Boopphawal, 56, and Kraidet Luelert, 47, who went missing with him. The corpses were wrapped in sacks with their hands cuffed and ankles tied with ropes. Their faces were also smashed in and their stomachs gutted and filled with concrete blocks.

A third body was located, believed to be Surachai, but was “disappeared.” Pranee said “she believes her husband is dead and that his body was stolen and destroyed.”

She declared:

We need to uncover the truth behind their gruesome death…. If the government stays silent, it’s possible that they were behind the brutal murder of the three men.

She speculated that they were abducted and murdered for being outspoken dissidents of the military government and the monarchy.

Surachai has been wanted by the military regime on lese majeste charges.

What is left unsaid is that, whether by direct order or working “loyally,” the abductors and assassins have probably acted for the king and palace.

Update: The Nation reports that Pranee has said “that UN officials would call on Tha Uthen police station in Nakhon Phanom on Monday and Tuesday next week to ask about progress in the investigation.”