In the embrace of the dictatorship

16 12 2016

Political commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak is one of those who makes a living “translating” Thailand’s politics to foreigners. He does this from a safe position as the head of a Chulalongkorn University institute that has long been supportive of the status quo.

His latest op-ed at the Bangkok Post is far more than an effort to “translate” and more an attempt to rewrite history. He does this in a form that will be appealing to the great and the good who are “liberal royalists.” (On Thitinan’s royalist credentials, see his pathetic ode to the dead king.)

We won’t address every line of Thitinan’s attempted “new history” of the past decade or so, but select some examples.

Although we don’t read all of his op-eds, his first position seems like a new one for him. He “explains” the 2014 military coup as if he is a successionist.

In view of the royal transition that has transpired, Thailand’s interim period since its military coup in May 2014 has now entered a new phase. When the military seized power back then, the Thai public largely put up with what became a military dictatorship…. This rough bargain, whereby the military stepped in to be the midwife of the royal transition, has passed.

In fact, no homogeneous “public” exists in Thailand. Indeed, at the time of the coup, the public was deeply divided. So there was a minority – people like Thitinan, mostly in the comfortable Bangkok middle class of shophouses, apartments and suburban enclaves – who liked the idea of a military dictatorship. Indeed, many of them called for it and demonstrated in support of anti-democracy and military intervention. Most others saw repression and threats and fell into line out of fear and because the junta left no space for opposition.

The notion that there was some kind of “bargain” that allowed the coup as necessary for succession is not just lacking in firm evidence but provides a justification for the coup that is both unwarranted and ignores the military’s history as coup makers. Other writers have suggested that this coup is “different,” but this again seems like a measure of whitewashing the military’s penchant for power.

If we look back to Thitinan writing after the coup, there’s nothing of this. Back then, he drew a distinction between the 2014 coup and Sarit’s regime. Now he says the “Thailand’s putsch in 2014 deviated from familiar coup models in the contemporary period.” That’s because the 1991 and 2006 coups led to “a technocratic caretaker cabinet, led by a civilian at the helm,” and a return to electoral politics.

Thitinan is enamored of “technocrats,” but his claim about handing over to civilian leaders is not entirely true, with the 2006 generals handing over to a government led by General Surayud Chulanont, recently retired from the military and plucked from the Privy Council.

Thitinan, safe in his university institute, reckons the current dictatorship “was suppressive and authoritarian, detaining hundreds of dissenters and regime critics but the generals invariably released them. But the men in green have not killed people.”

He conveniently forgets the military’s role and the role of the junta leaders in murdering dozens in 2010. That was a “message” that opponents have taken seriously, but not, apparently, Thitinan. We can also mention the deaths of activists, deaths in custody and “disappearances,” because Thitinan doesn’t.

Thitinan also reckons the junta is good because it has kept “violence low, [and]… have kept corruption to a minimum.” Perhaps he can explain why almost all the generals who have declared wealth far in excess of what can be legitmately received in their positions in the military? He also seems to forget that, usually, the corruption of military regimes is not found or detailed until after they have been ditched (think Sarit, Thanom and Prapas).

Thitinan then dismisses opposition to the junta as “rumblings and chatters among critics and detractors calling for democracy at the expense of dictatorship. But these have been patchy and contained rather than large-scale and explosive.”

He views the constitutional “referendum” as an endorsement of the junta. He does not consider the threats, the intimidation, the prevention of the expression of alternative views. Indeed, that intimidation continues with court cases ongoing. All this is whitewashed through his silence.

The death of the king becomes a truly remarkable justification for a military dictatorship:

All of this was premised on a once-in-a-lifetime royal transition after the late King Bhumibol’s remarkable 70-year reign. When the day came on Oct 13, few doubted why it had to be Gen Prayut who made the announcement to a grieving nation. At that moment, in the Thai system, it had to be a military man who spoke for the Thai people and the entire nation. No civilian leader from any side of the Thai divide could have had the required gravitas, firm and determined, tinged with grief and sorrow.

This is bizarre, but it also displays the “acceptance” that the monarchy and military are linked as the Siamese twins of authoritarianism. It’s a system that seems to suit Thitinan and one he sees as some kind of feudal social contract.

But now that succesion has been “managed” by a dictatorship, he says it “is time to recalibrate and prepare for a return to popular rule by placing more civilian technocrats in government in the upcoming cabinet reshuffle.” He suggests this as a way to renovate the dictatorship. This faux “civilianization”:

… would boost government performance and lend more international legitimacy. A broad section of the international community has been critical of Thailand’s coup period but there are many sympathetic ears abroad as well. They knew Thailand has been going through a rare transition, and were willing to suspend judgement and wait. Civilianising the cabinet would show progress to Thailand’s friends abroad and pre-empt greater domestic scrutiny going forward. Some at home are beginning to ask why the generals are still so entrenched and dominant in power when the royal transition is behind us.

Bring in the technocrats! But let the junta “maintain control over security-related ministries, such as defence and interior.” There’s no notion of electoral democracy in this. Its anti-democratic to the core. Thitinan probably sees himself as one of those well-placed to move into one of those anti-democratic technocratic positions. After all, his predecessors have been well-rewarded by the forces of authoritarianism.





Liberal authoritarianism

25 03 2016

An aged former prime minister who served twice but was never elected seems like an unlikely source for advice on democracy. That he served a military junta and then was put in place by the king in an arguably unconstitutional move should add to considerable doubt about his credentials.

Anand

But this is the Teflon-coated patrician Anand Panyarachun, sometimes seen as one of Thailand’s “liberal” royalists. So it is that the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand decides to invite the old liberal royalist to give his views, yet again. Some journalists have tweeted and gone on social media making out that Anand is someone who must be taken seriously while posing with him in photos as if he is a celebrity.

The Straits Times refers to Anand as “Thailand’s elder statesman…. Today, he remains among a handful of people with the stature to be able to speak his mind even under a military government.”

What the article should probably have stated is that he is one of the few to be able to speak and not fear detention. Others speak their mind, but are harassed because they say things that are interpreted as critical of the junta. Anand is essentially a junta supporter. He supported both the 2006 and 2014 military-palace coups. He doesn’t say anything that is likely to get the junta steamed up.

The truth is that Anand is a royalist authoritarian who seeks to cloak his anti-democratic perspectives in a language of “transparency,” “anti-corruption,” “human rights” and a decidedly technocratic language for Western audiences is interpreted in Thailand as the code of a supporter of the anti-democrats.

Anand’s speech is reproduced at the Bangkok Post. Interestingly, the only persons cited in it are the king – ho hum – Gandhi and a rightist libertarian (rather than a liberal).

It is a Khaosod report that shows the anti-democrat authoritarian. Anand declared that “people [he means Western critics and the journalists he spoke to] should not see coups and their makers in black or white, adding that those in Thailand are different from those in Africa or Latin America.” He defended the “unique nature of [Thailand’s] military coups.”

Ignoring the military’s repeated use of war weapons against its own people, “Anand said coups in Thailand are bloodless and nonviolent…”. He went further:

They are not brutal and bloody,” Anand said of the 12 “successful” coups in the eight-decades of modern political history. “I am not proud of that, but the damage is relatively insignificant.”

We understand that he needs to dissemble in order to support the 2014 coup, but he does this by ignoring mass murder. He ignores 1976, the attempts by the military to stay in power in 1973 and 1992, and the more generalized use of deadly force against civilians, most recently in April and May 2010. This is crude elite justification of military rule and its murderous past.

FDIHe also went into liar mode when he said “the most recent coup that installed the military regime of Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha in May 2014 hasn’t deterred foreign investment.” The real picture is in the graph.

If on looks at Board of Investment data, the declines following the coup are even sharper, as shown in the graphs from the Nikkei Asian Review.BOI

He defended the current junta:

At one point Anand was asked by a Singaporean journalist if the current military regime is capable of pushing for reform.

“Just because because they are a military government, it doesn’t mean they are stupid or always stupid,” he said.

Asked about democracy in Thailand, he said: “I’m not apologetic about the slow pace of the development of democracy.  I am sure I will not live to see it. I am 83.”

It is clear that the talk of human rights, rule of law, transparency and so on are not elements of a democratic Thailand but of a technocratic and authoritarian Thailand. When “liberal royalists” preach it is self-interested class warfare.

He even blames the “people” for the longevity of the military: “I think in a way that helps the present military regime to survive, because quite a number of people still give them credit for restoring peace and order.”

He does not blame his own class as the ones who cheer the military and benefit from its repressive power, again and again. He may not want a military regime for years to come, but he knows his class needs the military.





Making up

9 01 2016

Yesterday PPT post on the ongoing kerfuffle over ThaiHealth. In that post we noted that the junta’s attacks on the organization had something to do with shifting funds to the military dictatorship’s own projects and that there was a decided political dimension to the attacks. On the latter, we noted that some of the NGOs and foundations involved were clearly on the side of the junta, had supported the coups of 2006 and 2014 and thus were unlikely “opponents.” We guessed that the junta might be needling them for potentially being too liberal.

It seems we were wrong, and that the military dictatorship and its junta have quickly rectified their mistake and are quickly restoring funds to tame and royalist NGOs.

The Dictator has reportedly “ordered Thai Health Promotion Foundation (ThaiHealth) to immediately release funds for projects based on the Pracha Rath or ‘state of the people’ concept, as funding-approval difficulties have caused many projects to be delayed.”

It seems that one of the key NGO bodies supporting the military junta’s Pracha Rath projects is the Local Development Institute, and General Prayuth Chan-ocha met with one of its yellow-hued leaders, medical doctor Poldej Pinprateeb to sort the matter out among political allies.

Poldej served the previous junta-appointed government led by palace flunkey and Privy Council member General Surayud  Chulanont.

LDI is an institute chock full of aging yellow shirts and military supporters, and is closely linked to royalist “liberal” Prawase Wasi and longtime academic and “development promoter” Saneh Chammarik. It has links to the Rural Doctor Foundation and ThaiPBS, which were also on the junta’s hit list at ThaiHealth. For more on this network, see the academic article here. (We can’t find a free copy.)

Poldej praised The Dictator: “I would like to applaud the PM for making swift decisions to tackle this problem and letting the Pracha Rath projects move forward again…”.





Updated: The monarchy’s money

3 12 2015

Tom Felix Joehnk is a Bangkok-based journalist.His op-ed for the New York Times is likely to cause some waves. Among other things he says, in the article titled “The Thai Monarchy and Its Money,” says: “the Crown Property Bureau is an antiquated institution of entrenched privilege that operates largely in secret beyond the purview of the government.”

Other snips from the article, which will produce a denunciation and usual “explanation” that the CPB is not personal wealth and that it works for the people and nation, are:CrownProperty

The Crown Property Bureau, which manages the Thai royal family’s properties and investments, controls assets that may amount to as much as 1.9 trillion baht, about $53 billion. It is the biggest corporate group in the country and one of the biggest landholders in the capital. It is also one of the more mysterious arms of the Thai government.

Little is known about how it spends its money. It does not make its financial statements public. Six of its seven managers are appointed by the king. Although the finance minister chairs its board, the government exercises no oversight over its operations.

The Crown Property Bureau’s annual returns today probably near $840 million…. It holds more than 21 percent in Siam Commercial Bank, Thailand’s oldest and most influential bank, and 30 percent in Siam Cement Group, the country’s biggest industrial conglomerate. Its equity wing has a controlling stake in the luxury hotel group Kempinski and minority stakes in the Thailand-based subsidiaries of Honda and other Japanese manufacturers, as well as in domestic firms that run shopping malls, hotels, insurance businesses and fast-food chains.

By law, the Crown Property Bureau’s annual income may be disposed of “at the king’s pleasure.” Its returns are tax-exempt.

The article calls for reform:

The agency must be reformed, for the sake of both the country and the monarchy itself. With Thailand increasingly paralyzed by a political struggle between liberal and reactionary camps, modernizing the Crown Property Bureau would distinguish the palace as an agent for progress.

…the Crown Property Bureau should publish annual reports detailing its investments, land holdings and other assets, as well as its earnings from these assets, the use to which it puts those earnings and its operational costs. The agency should be placed under the control of officials appointed by an elected government.

The entire Thai state needs this latter reform.

The government, in conjunction with the palace, would decide the level of that financial support. It should also decide how to spend the Crown Property Bureau’s dividends.

The agency’s earnings should be partly reinvested and partly handed over to the Thai treasury. None should remain directly at the disposal of the royal family. Consistent with the law that applies to firms in Thailand, these earnings should be subject to tax.

The Crown Property Bureau’s ostensible goal today is to make investments that support Thailand’s development. This, too, must be abandoned; it is an objective best left to the government.

Lifting the secrecy that shrouds the operations of the Crown Property Bureau and placing it back under the control of the government would signal that the Thai monarchy is serious about transparency. Such a reform would send an important message of accountability to the military, politicians and businesspeople, and pave the way for an open economic system, the only kind that is truly compatible with democracy.

We look forward to the response from the military dictatorship and various royalists, both “liberal” and the madder of the monarchists.

Update: According to Khaosod, the New York Times edition printed in Thailand has again been censored. This time for the above story.

The New York Times complained of the “regrettable” lack of press freedom in Thailand today after the Bangkok publisher of its international version refused to run an article deemed too sensitive for the second time this week.

Two days after the International New York Times was published with an empty space on the front page instead of an article on the kingdom’s present economic and social malaise by longtime correspondent Thomas Fuller, today’s opinion page in Thailand was missing a critical op-ed on the role and recommended reforms of the Crown Property Bureau.

“We’ve been notified by our printer in Thailand that they will be blocking another article, an Op-Ed, in today’s International New York Times,” newspaper spokeswoman Eileen Murphy wrote in a statement to Khaosod English. “This second incident in a week clearly demonstrates the regrettable lack of press freedom in the country. Readers in Thailand do not have full and open access to journalism, a fundamental right that should be afforded to all citizens.”





“Liberals” do the junta’s work II

21 07 2014

Our last post was about the fake liberal Anand Punyarachun. It is no accident that Pichai Chuensuksawadi, who is editor-in-chief of Post Publishing, should follow-up on Anand’s work, also published in the Post. It seems that Pichai has been selected to do the military dictatorship’s work as a kind of tag-team partner for the aged faker.

Pichai was the subject of an earlier post where PPT stated that he is a reliable propagandist for the royalists, posing as one of those so-called liberal royalists, who are, in fact, never very liberal when the elite’s political or economic dominance is threatened. Like Anand, he is an anti-democrat wolf in liberal garb.wolf in sheeps clothing

In an op-ed at the Post, Pichai gets into propaganda mode for royalists. He begins by supporting the junta and anti-democrats in their repeated attacks on civilian politicians.

The Leader, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, “suspended local elections because they could lead to renewed political conflict.” Evidence for this? None. But no matter, Pichai reckons this is warranted, because he hates the idea of the masses expressing a political view.

He also mentions the politically biased National Anti-Corruption Commission urging the equally biased (anti-) Election Commission “to implement measures to screen populist policies.” He means to plans to ban any policy that the EC and its backers might not like.

Remarkably, to support the biased EC, he reports EC “opinion polls on various measures to reduce corruption, abuse of power and patronage among elected MPs.” The polls were full of leading questions, getting the EC the responses required: Thai-style push-polling.

After all of this nonsense, Pichai says: “The track record and role of our politicians and political parties is nothing to be proud of.”

We agree that politicians have not always been great models of propriety. But who has a track record to be proud of? The military that murders its own people? Corporations that engage in racist slavery? The media that is takes bribes? Self-promoting and parasitic royals? The grasping rich?

You get the picture.

When Pichai states that “some MPs received committee attendance allowances of up to 9,000 baht after spending just five or 10 minutes at meetings” might be a reasonable question. But why doesn’t he ask why the royals get more than 1.5 million baht per hour from the taxpayer.

You get the picture. Tarnish the electoral politics you hate but do not look at the opaque finances of the monarchy. Don’t examine the opaque finances of the military. Don’t look at the junta’s grasping and corrupt activities in all of the state enterprises. Don’t ask about meeting allowances there!

All of this is about “reforming the role of MPs is just one change that needs to take place for us to become a democratic society.” What a joke. Pichai is supporting the destruction of democracy by a fascist junta.

Pichai reckons that the “biggest challenge is how to change the mindset of many of our representatives who repeatedly quote chapter and verse that they are ‘elected and chosen by the people’ and therefore have carte blanche to do what they want.”

To be honest, in this form, the only place we have heard this is on the anti-democrat stage. But really, shouldn’t elected governments and their MPs be entitled to implement their policies? Not according to the anti-democrats.

Then Pichai goes to the great lie: “Limiting the terms of MPs, for example, does not tackle the problem at ground zero where vote-buying and election fraud remain rampant despite decades of elections.”

He’s making this up. Look at this and then look at this. Pichai is peddling this “dangerous nonsense” because he is a propagandist.

 





“Liberals” do the junta’s work I

20 07 2014

The old “liberal” warhorse for palace and military, former unelected premier Anand Panyarachun, has been wheeled out again. How many times this fake “liberal” can be put in front of audiences after he has been gung ho on anti-democrats, hot for royalism and a faithful servant of the military is anyone’s guess, but the junta must still see some value in the old fake.

Wikileaks tells us that Anand supported the 2006 coup and the ousting of Samak Sundaravej. In 2014 he (repeatedly) supported anti-democrats, including boosting Suthep Thaugsuban. This was in a context where he also rejected Yingluck Shinawatra and here earlier attempts at reconciliation and repeatedly attacked her government. We have little doubt that, based on his record, Anand had a role in encouraging the most recent coup.

It is in this context of anti-liberalism and anti-democrat support that it is not just bizarre, but sickening that Anand should be making a speech to remember Nelson Mandela.Anand

Anand, who understands nothing about the values of the great man, chooses to bleat about “freedom, equality, justice and dignity, and the path to democratic governance.” Anand and his royalist cronies trample on such values. Based on their track record, if transported to South Africa in the 1960s, they’d have cheered Mandela’s jailing, would have damned him as a terrorist and supported white elite supremacy.

Of course, Anand the royalist stresses Mandela having been “born of royal lineage.” If royalty is about tribes and chiefs, then this is accurate, but Anand is simply claiming Mandela as one of those Anand serves.

There’s nothing of Mandela the socialist or revolutionary in Anand’s telling. There’s nothing of the ANC as a national liberation movement. There’s no mention of the military wing of the ANC, which under Mandela’s leadership launched “a campaign of sabotage against government and economic installations.” It is a tepid Mandela that Anand sees.

Anand declares that Mandela “shunned aggressive and divisive policies, revenge and punishment.” He’s speaking of Thailand when he says this. What he neglects is that it is his royalists who are divisive and who punish. It is they who refuse reconciliation and who reject democratic politics if they can’t control it.

Mandela is said to have chosen “justice, while offering a hand to former foes for the sake of peace and unity.” In Thailand, it is the royalists who are partisan and prejudiced. It is they who have destroyed the rule of law and practiced double standards.

Anand then blathers an anti-democrat line: “We know there is no single, absolute model of democracy…. Its progression may not necessarily be linear in progression.” That’s exactly what the military dictatorship says. His anti-democratic history of democracy seems to suggest that Thailand requires many centuries “to gestate”something like “full-fledged democracy.”

Anand’s anti-democracy is explicit:

The mere act of holding an election, by no means, guarantees democracy, particularly in the absence of a multiparty political system or where there is a tendency towards monopoly of power. Proper mechanisms need to be put in place to ensure that elections are free and fair, and conducted in an open and transparent environment….

An election does not give a mandate to oppress or sideline those who voted against the winning party. If we prescribed to the notion of “winner-takes-all”, we would seriously impede the development of a democratic society.

Therefore, majoritarian rule has to be respectful of the rights and interests of both the majority and the minority. What the winner earns is an ongoing duty to strike a balanced consensus in society.

Of course, Anand is reaching to the military junta and to the anti-democrats, re-telling their ridiculous claims. There was no “majoritarianism” by the Yingluck government. Indeed, many commentators, PPT included, pointed out the compromises Yingluck was prepared to make in accommodating the monarchy, military, royalists, including an acceptance of ridiculously biased judicial rulings.

One point we agree with in Anand’s manipulative anti-democrat speech is this:

Democracy starts with the wisdom of the voting public, however that wisdom is acquired. The voting public must understand its responsibilities in a democracy and have access to the means to exercise choice in the democratic process.

Much depends on an educational setting to open the mind and avoid dogma and prejudice….

Naturally enough for the patrician Anand, he is criticizing those who voted again and again for pro-Thaksin parties. But how wrong he is. It is his class that has not learned a thing about electoral democracy. Where is the wisdom in supporting a military coup when your class can’t get its (electoral) way? Where is the recognition of the responsibility to accept an electoral loss and to respect the voice of the people? Of course, the “education” of the elite is about how to reject the “unwashed,” exploit and use the lower, darker classes, and about being “born to rule.” There is only (royalist) dogma, closed minds and deep prejudice.

Anand is right to quote Mandela: “Since we have achieved our freedom, there can only be one division amongst us: Between those who cherish democracy and those who do not! “

Anand is no democrat and he is no liberal. He is on the side of those who hate democracy. It is the side that has opposed democracy since the first attempt to bring it to Thailand in 1932.





The elite hates electoral democracy

13 07 2014

Pichai Chuensuksawadi is Editor-in-Chief of Post Publishing. He’s also a propagandist for the elite and its politics. Back when the 2011 election campaign was on, we mentioned his strong support for the Democrat Party, acting as a royalist mouthpiece. He works for a news organization that is deeply royalist and a part of its networks.

He has always been a reliable propagandist for the royalists, posing as one of those so-called liberal royalists, who are, in fact, never very liberal when the elite’s political or economic dominance is threatened.

Now, in his editorial position in the Post, he has becomes a mouthpiece for the elite’s political desires for the future. Not surprisingly, it is a rejection of democracy and a plea for Premocracy-style non-democracy. This was also a hope following the 2006 coup.

Pichai says out loud what the military has been hinting at and what the elite wants: forget electoral democracy. And, blame Thaksin Shinawatra for giving ” rural Thailand … their voice; [a feeling] that their vote counts.” Big problem because, despite winning elections on after another, “Thaksin is no democrat.”

So while “[w]e tell our people that elections mean we are a democracy…. But in reality, we are not. We have never been.” This is the elite speaking (“we”) to the phrai (“our people”).

As the anti-democrats and the military dictatorship endlessly repeat, Thaksin, like all “politicians and parties he used patronage…. He ran Thailand like a company and took cronyism to a higher level than those before him.” Yes, we know, this is damning of all Thai businesses, but the military doesn’t really trust capitalists either. That’s why the dictatorship is grabbing large bits of the economy.

Pichai sounds like he just stepped off Suthep’s stage: “His [Thaksin’s] party’s steadfast adherence to majority rule, completely ignoring the voices of the minority, clearly illustrates the lack of understanding of the democratic process.”

He says the Democrats also “failed dismally to reform themselves as an alternative to Thaksin,” and even Suthep “strayed from the democratic path…”, but these slips might be forgiven if it weren’t for Thaksin’s dominance.

Pichai observes:

Since the coup, I have heard many comments from a number of people asking whether Thais are ready for democracy and whether Thais (especially those upcountry) truly understand what it means. There have been suggestions, for example, that candidates for elected MPs should only come from the “knowledgeable and educated”. Another is that only taxpayers should be allowed to vote, or that voters should at least be given a test on what democracy means before they are allowed to vote.

This all sounds pretty good to him, and probably much of the elite:

These comments reinforce my view that for a start we should be honest with ourselves and admit that we are not yet a democracy. Let’s admit that we will never have a democracy like countries in the West. There’s nothing wrong with that since our history, our culture and our traditions are different.

How might that work?

Even if it means adopting, for example, a system where all senators are appointed and seats allocated to the military and bureaucracy in which places are filled by rotation, then so be it. This does not mean that a fully appointed Senate should supersede the elected representatives of the people. This idea may run counter to the democratic principle of elected senators, but past experience has shown that the bureaucracy and the military have and will play a role in governance.

Let’s be honest — is this democratic? No, it is not. But unless we find a political structure that allows all stakeholders their space and say in governance, we will once again be back to where we were before.

Pichai essentially prescribes a Premocracy. Yes, let the phrai vote and have an elected house, but this should be meaningless. The elite of royalists, the monied, the military can control things through a fully selected senate. Let the phrai think they have some say in things, but they are really stupid buffaloes, and the elite will really control things, and we can call that “Thai-style democracy.”





Old aristocrats bemoan the Western press

2 03 2013

For several decades the old princes and aristocrats that circled the palace and promoted the monarchy and present king as the fount of all that was good for Thailand had it pretty much their own way. Supported by massive U.S. funding during the Cold War, the Western media, some of that also funded by the same source, engaged in reporting on Thailand that mirrored the palace’s blarney.

In recent years, however, the old royalist elite has become disgruntled as some media reports have begun to question the old received “wisdom” that amounted to posterior polishing and often was simply propaganda. Part of this questioning has to do with more information being available thanks to a handful of critical academics and journalists. Much of it has to do with Paul Handley’s effort in getting out a book that blew away some of the smoke and and reset some of the mirrors.

Some of the old royalists have become so angry that they have entertained some of the crankier ideas about international conspiracies and even turned on some former friends. Others have sought to wheel out Western flunkies who can still peddle the old palace nonsense with a straight face.

Sumet Jumsai

Sumet

And so it is that we come to a letter to The Nation by one of the royalist elite protecting his and their patch. The letter is by Sumet Jumsai, who is listed as being at  Cambridge University where he has recently provided a seminar, and who usually has “na Ayudhya” attached to his moniker. In his letter he gets hot and frothy about an article in French by Bruno Philip in Le Monde and which PPT posted in English.

Sumet has been a staunch royalist but is one of those who some might see as a “liberal royalist,” once acknowledging that republicans exist in Thailand and adding that he doesn’t mind “so long as we are not taken to the guillotine…”. He added, tellingly, that the “spirit of the age, of the new generation who spurn the 19th century hangover…” and is “tempted to agree, seeing that our monarchist role model England has moved on, while we are marking time.” On another occasion he joined eight “people with royal lineage” to sign a letter sent to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra asking the government to change the lese majeste law because it was doing damage to the monarchy.

In his latest bout of letter writing he wants to take on Le Monde: “The biased view of the article, as in much of Western reportage on Thailand, needs correction.” Essentially, Sumet tells the Abhisit Vejjajiva version of events of 2010, and bemoaning the fact that red shirts weren’t put in jail. Of course, they were, and by the eager Abhisit regime, but that fact gets in the way. He avers that the “red-shirt riots in 2010” were worse than the 2006 military coup.  And he rants about all the people killed who were not red shirts, again ignoring the facts of the body count in 2010.

Finally Sumet gets prickly about the article’s attention to the monarchy and king:

The article also tries to involve the King, putting him in the same camp as the military (at present controlled by the ruling government) and the Bangkok elite. In this regard it should be noted that the King has publicly declared that he is not above criticism and that he is against the lese majeste law, which he regards as detrimental to the institution. He even proposed that those arrested or jailed because of this law should be released. The question now must be why the present red-shirt government does nothing about it.

On the latter question, it is pretty clear why the present government doesn’t do anything substantial for those currently charged or in prison. However, Sumet ignores the fact that this government is not throwing this charge at every one of its political opponents and locking them up. That is not doing nothing, even if it isn’t enough.

Regarding the claim about the king and lese majeste, the last time Sumet and his blue-blooded lot made this claim, PPT wrote about this version of the king’s speech, and we challenged readers to make sense of it. Yes, the king talks about being wrong, needing to be criticicized and how he is troubled when people (foreigners?) go to jail for insulting him because he gets representations on it and Thailand is ridiculed. But the speech is essentially a criticism of Thaksin Shinawatra and his Thai Rak Thai Party following the 2005 election landslide.





At last, HRW on lese majeste and bail

25 02 2012

Yesterday, in commenting yet again on the repeated denial of bail for those accused and convicted of lese majeste, PPT observed:

the US Embassy, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say nothing. They have a sham interest in human rights in Thailand and stand on the side of those who abuse human rights. They should be ashamed as they are complicit in these ludicrous events.

For months, indeed years, we have been making the point that the denial of bail is a form of torture and a means to further punish lese majeste victims. We have also stated that the courts engage in behavior that is arguably unconstitutional.

We are now able to say that Human Rights Watch has finally said something useful on the non-use of bail as punishment. Here’s HRW’s statement, apparently released late on Friday:

Thai courts are refusing bail for people charged with the crime of lese majeste for apparently political reasons, Human Rights Watch said today. Thai law criminalizes the expression of peaceful opinions deemed offensive to the institution of the monarchy.

How come Sondhi gets bail?

In all 12 cases of lese majeste that the public prosecutor has filed against supporters of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, known as the Red Shirts, since 2009, bail has been denied, Human Rights Watch said. By contrast, the leader of the pro-monarchy People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), Sondhi Limthongkul, was charged with lese majeste on July 5, 2010, and granted bail the same day.

“Bail appears to be systematically denied to members of the Red Shirts while they await trial for lese majeste,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Denial of bail seems to be for punishment rather than for justified reasons.”

A verdict is expected on February 28, 2012, in the case of Surachai Danwattananusorn, a prominent political activist and leader of the Red Siam, a faction in the Red Shirt movement that has often expressed anti-monarchy opinions. He was arrested and charged with lese majeste in February 2011, and his bail application was denied five times. He said his health problems, including a heart condition, hypertension, and diabetes, and the repeated rejections of his bail applications are the main reasons he has decided to seek a quick end of his trial by pleading guilty.

Joe Gordon, an American citizen known to be a supporter of the Red Shirts, pleaded guilty to lese majeste charges and was sentenced in December 2011 to five years in prison. He told Human Rights Watch that he decided to plead guilty, hoping to have his penalty lessened, after being denied bail eight times since his arrest in May 2011. The sentence was later reduced by half and he is now preparing to ask for a royal pardon.

PPT needs to interject here: we are unsure why HRW makes the point that Joe is “known to be a supporter of the Red Shirts.” We have no evidence that Joe was a red shirt supporter when arrested. That said, the claim made of Joe could equally apply to millions throughout the country. HRW’s statement is questionable and politicized. HRW are also neglectful of the fact that Joe cannot apply for a pardon as his case is being appealed by the prosecutor. HRW appears to lack adequate information regarding lese majeste victims.

Somyot Preuksakasemsuk, a well-known labor activist and editor, was arrested on lese majeste charges on April 30, 2011 in connection with articles published in the now banned Voice of Taksin magazine, which supports the Red Shirts. He has been denied bail seven times since his arrest, most recently on February 20.

Human Rights Watch expressed concern that Thai authorities are using Somyot’s pre-trial detention to mistreat him. Somyot told Human Rights Watch that he had been transferred to attend witness hearings in Sa Kaeo, Petchabun, Nakorn Sawan, and Songkhla provinces, during which he had to stand up throughout the journeys in an overcrowded truck, with his ankles shackled and without access to toilet facilities, leading to the aggravation of his medical conditions, which include hypertension and gout.

Holding the witness hearings in the provinces may have been unnecessary because, as Human Rights Watch learned, a number of prosecution witnesses in Somyot’s case actually live and work in Bangkok despite having registered residences in the provinces. On September 12, the criminal court in Bangkok rejected Somyot’s request to hold hearings in Bangkok. The four provincial courts rejected a similar request. Holding numerous, and perhaps unnecessary, pre-trial hearings outside Bangkok – at least 10 more such hearings are scheduled before May – will mean that Somyot will have been in pre-trial detention for at least a year before his case goes to trial.

HRW might have added that his last appearance in Songkhla was cancelled when the single prosecution witness failed to show up, meaning the 24 hours of traveling was wholly unnecessary.

On February 11, Panitan Preuksakasemsuk, Somyot’s son, started a hunger strike in front of the criminal court to demand his father’s release on bail while he stands trial. The campaign has since been backed by the families of other lese majeste prisoners.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Thailand has ratified, states that, “It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial.” Those denied bail need to be tried as expeditiously as possible.

HRW could go further, as we stated several months ago. PPT considers the use of extended incarceration for lese majeste victims in order to force guilty pleas is a form of torture, as defined by the U.N.:

… any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

That’s our quote from the U.N., but but back to HRW:

“The glaring injustices of the lese majeste cases are being made even worse by the denial of bail and long periods of pre-trial detention,” Adams said.

In response to recommendations by the Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand, the Justice Ministry’s Rights and Liberties Protection Department has begun using its budget from the “Justice Fund” to guarantee bail applications of those being held on lese majeste charges, as well as supporters of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship facing various charges in connection with political protests in 2010. The commission’s chairperson, Kanit Na Nakhon, has also publicly called for judges to treat lese majeste offenders more leniently. In February, though, the courts have rejected the first three bail requests under this effort.

The House of Representatives’ Standing Committee on Law, Justice, and Human Rights began a hearing on February 22 to investigate the refusal of bail in lese majeste cases in which the defendants are believed to have connection with the Red Shirt movement.

“Freedom of expression is seriously under threat in Thailand because of harsh treatment and severe penalties being meted out for peaceful expression,” Adams said.

Since the September 2006 coup, Thai authorities have taken increasingly repressive actions against those perceived to have made criticisms of the institution of monarchy. In response to mass protests led by the Red Shirts in 2009 and 2010, the government of then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva frequently used article 112 of the Penal Code and article 14 of the Computer-Related Crimes Act to intimidate, arrest, and prosecute activists, journalists, and academics, both Thai and foreign. Despite its promises to restore respect for human rights in Thailand, the new government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, which took office in August 2011, has shown little interest in ending lese majeste crackdowns. On September 1, 2011, a computer programmer, Surapak Phuchaisaeng, was arrested in Bangkok for allegedly posting pictures, audio clips, and messages deemed insulting to the royal family on the social networking site Facebook.

While PPT has been critical of the Yingluck government on lese majeste, we think HRW is being misleading on this. Surapak’s case does have the dubious distinction of being the first lese majeste arrest under the Yingluck Shinawatra government. At the same time, the case began under the Abhisit  government.

In this sense, as far as we are able to tell, while the current government was strong on lese majeste rhetoric, the level of cases being investigated and charged appears to have declined. That could easily change, but at the moment, HRW’s claim about the new government does not appear to match the available facts.

HRW continues:

In his 2005 birthday speech, Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej himself stated that he was not above criticism. “Actually, I must also be criticized. I am not afraid if the criticism concerns what I do wrong, because then I know. Because if you say the King cannot be criticized, it means that the King is not human,” he said. “If the King can do no wrong, it is akin to looking down upon him because the King is not being treated as a human being. But the King can do wrong.”

This speech is usually cited by “liberal royalists” in recognizing that the post-2006 coup use of lese majeste has been highly politicized. Frankly, we think that these royalists and HRW have misunderstood the point of that speech, which was essentially an attack on then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.





Anand’s change of mind

5 08 2010

The Bangkok Post recently reported that former appointed prime minister Anand Panyarachun has urged fellow Thais to embrace reform “by moving beyond debates on ‘good and evil’ and by accepting the voting rights of the majority.” He said: “We, therefore, have to respect their voting rights whether or not we may disapprove of their choices.” PPT has added the emphasis as the chair of the National Reform Commission appears to have changed his mind on elections.

Anand is reported to have “insisted the political rights of certain groups must firstly be respected by all, otherwise reform efforts were bound to fail.” He adds: “I believe people in rural areas have suffered inequalities and thus want political space…”. He was speaking at a dinner reception organised by the royalist-aligned Population and Community Development Association, so these changed views represent a liberal-royalist understanding.

In an attack on the yellow-shirted rightists associated with the People’s Alliance for Democracy, Anand said “people had no right to control other people’s opinions, and those who oppose the political choices of this group [pro-Thaksin Shinawatra voters] might one day have to live with it.”

Why does PPT say he has changed his mind? Back in the days around the 2006 coup, Anand was a defender of intervention and questioned the notion held by “some Westerners” that equated democracy with voting. He said this at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand when launching a new edition of The King of Thailand in World Focus (p. 274). The point of this statement was to whitewash the trashing of Thai democracy by the PAD, the military and the palace.

That he now seems to accept that voting matters perhaps reflects a liberal-royalist recognition that electoral processes can be one way of moderating political demands from the lower classes and a way of disciplining the ruled. To do that, the ruling elite needs to make concessions. Will the army, now back in the driving seat, agree? Will the conservatives agree with Anand and seek to make the historic compromises necessary to maintain their class hegemony. So far they haven’t shown much willingness.








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