Remembering two Mays

19 05 2018

The Bangkok Post had a report recently on politicians being asked to remember the bloody days of 1992.

They seemed to conclude, as the Post put it, that “politics is now in a more backwards state than it was before the Black May uprising of 1992…”, when like today’s big boss, another general tried to hold onto power after repeatedly saying he wasn’t intending to do that and that he abhorred politics. To maintain his power that general, Suchinda Kraprayoon, ordered civilians shot down and beaten by police and military.

Why is “politics” more “backward” now? The junta’s rules, constitution and “roadmap” are “designed to prolong its grip on power…”, say the speakers at the event.

But it is more than that. In fact, the 1991 coup group wasn’t nearly as ruthless following the coup as The Dictator has been. For one thing, it didn’t rule directly as this junta has done following its coup, putting a pliable, royalist businessman in the premier’s chair.

That 1991 coup group changed some rules, but didn’t successfully undermine and infiltrate civilian institutions in the way this junta has. It didn’t arrest and jail hundreds of persons and stalk opponents nearly as routinely as this dictatorship has. There’s more, but the picture is clear.

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva claimed that “the public has not fought back with as much gusto as it did in 1992.” He added that people “harbour fears that parties may wreak havoc if they ascend to power…”.

Of course, Abhisit himself and his party has much to answer for on this. They deliberately undermined civilian politicians by behaving abominably, supporting rightist and royalist mobs, boycotted elections and ordered the military to shoot down demonstrators.

PPT has posted on the events of May 1992 several times and readers can view these posts.

Remembering May 1992 is useful in the current political circumstances. Then, people did rise up against generals seeking to maintain control. The military response was to shoot them.

Yet it is April and May 2010 that should also be remembered for the utter brutality of a military that views electoral democracy and people’s sovereignty as a threat to the order it prefers and defends.

Many pictures have been reproduced over the years of the results of Abhisit’s regime ordering the military to shoot demonstrators; PPT has a few reproduced here.

These pictures are from both sides of the battle as the military gradually surrounded and then cleared the Rajaprasong area in May 2010.





Calling Bangkok’s middle class

28 04 2017

Thitinan Pongsudhirak deserves just a little praise for rather suddenly (and almost) taking a stand. His call to Bangkok’s middle class suggests that criticism of the military junta in elite circles is gathering some steam. While we don’t see Thitinan ever being a political rabble-rouser, he does speak the language of the Bangkok middle class:

Headed by Prime Minister [he means The Dictator] Prayut Chan-o-cha, a retired general and former army chief, the current military government that seized power by force will soon reach its three-year mark in office without the kind of civil society resistance and opposition that ousted ruling generals in October 1973 and May 1992. Whether the current Thai apathy in the face of military rule is attributable to a political culture that privileges order over liberty, and to what extent this phase of Thai political tameness extends, will be decided over the next several years.

What he means is that the middle class hasn’t risen. He continues:

Either [middle class] Thailand will break out of its military repression and return to a system of liberalising popular rule with an open society, or it will descend firmly into military-authoritarianism in the guise of illiberal democracy, dressed up with ersatz elections and rigged rules.

Well, yes, but that’s been the junta’s plan all along. It hardly takes three years to work that out. Again, he’s asking the middle class in Bangkok why they love the military and anti-democrats. He continues:

Not a week goes by without some kind of questionable government actions and top-down decision-making without public input and any semblance of accountability.

That’s true, but it began when the junta seized power. But, wait, there’s an excuse:

In the early months of the military government, the Thai public largely gave the benefit of the doubt to the generals who did put an end to endless street protests.

[And then there was] There was also a once-in-a-lifetime royal transition to consider, and a military government seemed most suited to oversee this delicate interval.

The latter is buffalo manure. Do think about what the military has managed through succession! Hope you are happy in the shophouses and apartments with the new arrangements. But, truly, if the military hadn’t been mutinous, and if they hadn’t been supported by the self-interested in Bangkok, maybe the anti-democrat street demonstrations could have been brought to an end without the coup the Bangkok middle class craved.

But what about the repression and the “deaths in custody” and the ridiculous fabrication of lese majeste cases? Thitinan sort of gets there:

Certainly, those in Thailand who dissent have been prosecuted and persecuted. Clearly, the quelling of dissent and spreading of fear are core reasons why Thais are putting up with military rule….

Related to fear is the lack of leadership. In social movements against military rule, only the Oct 14 uprising in 1973 was organic, spontaneous and broad-based. It was led by university students but they had wide support among other segments of society, including the media and merchants. In May 1992, the catalyst in what was dubbed a “mobile-phone mob” was the leadership of former Bangkok governor and popular politician Chamlong Srimuang and the Bangkok middle class.

This position is not supported by the historical evidence. One can only say that 1973 was “broad-based” if the working class and farmers are forgotten. When those groups did get involved, when electoralism developed, the middle class deserted in droves and cheered the military and its murderers in 1976. It was also the middle class that supported the coup in 1991 and then changed its collective mind. When it again felt that the working class and farmers were getting uppity by rejecting anti-Thaksinism, they supported the military again.

Reflecting this democratic ambivalence, he then drops the ball. His “solution” is: “some kind of civil-military compromise, as seen in Myanmar now and Indonesia in the recent past.” He means a negotiated solution that allocates the military thugs power and prestige and gives the middle class a disproportionate political weight. He ends with this lament:

Nevertheless if the Thai people don’t do something about their military rule, they may well end up with a government they deserve.

The middle class has its government.





The monarchy-military alliance

28 06 2016

The alliance of the military and monarchy goes back to the foundation of the modern military under the absolutist King Chulalongkorn.That link was broken with the 1932 Revolution.

Sarit

Sarit

Despite continuous struggle between the 1932 Promoters and the royalists, the monarchy-military alliance was not fully re-established and made exceptionally strong under the military dictator General Sarit Thanarat and the military-dominated regimes that followed.

Sarit took over a boy-king who came to the throne after the death of his brother, with an ambitious mother and surrounded by restorationist princes. It was only after the 1973 uprising against military dictatorship that the current king began to really feel his oats. With the military’s role in politics reduced and challenged, it was left to the king to maintain the alliance in the interests of the rising royalist elite.

By 1976, the military was back, with the support of the monarchy, following the military-backed murder of workers, peasant leaders and students that came, in part, from the monarch’s expressions of concern and fear about the rise of the Left.

This potted history leads to the big challenge that faced the alliance in May 1992. Then, as is its penchant, the military brass decided to gun down civilians protesting yet another military attempt to dominate politics.

These events saw the military in disgrace and the monarchy worked hard to rehabilitate its murderous allies. The usual image – endlessly promoted in palace propaganda – is of the king sorting out the crisis, with his meeting with the military premier General Suchinda Kraprayoon and the self-proclaimed protest leader Chamlong Srimuang.

This video shows the meeting, which included privy councilors General Prem Tinsulanonda and Sanya Dharmasakti. It is preceded by calls from Prince Vajiralongkorn and Princess Sirindhorn.

The king’s belated intervention in the events was meant to “save” the military. Even so, the military was shunned by a stunned public following the attacks on demonstrators.

Within a few short months, however, the king was speaking to rehabilitate his allies. As reported in the Bangkok Post on 15 November 1992, this was expressed in this way:

Recently there has been much talk about having too many generals, and why is there such ceremony to confer two hundred more general ranks to military personnel? … In truth, if we compare with foreign countries to the west or east or us we will find that they all have as many generals as us. One difference is that when their generals move to other jobs, they are no longer called generals.

Even in the United States, when a general becomes president he will be called mister which makes it seem as if they have fewer generals. But in Thailand those with a military rank retains it even when they go to work in other jobs. This is because they consider it an honour, an indication of a man with good performance. No matter what job you do, if they carry the rank with them, it is an honour, and it makes their colleagues trust them.

Therefore the number of generals in the country must be taken as not too many. We are not top-heavy. So do not feel disheartened after listening to those words, since it is only a kind of tongue wagging, and it is not damaging.

In fact, according to the Thai concept, those with a military rank consider it an honour which makes them proud and any job they do will be done better because of this realisation of the honour. There is no negative side to this. If they are transferred to other job or retired, their military salary Will not be tied to their rank. This means that the government does not have to pay more because of it.

But every person who acquired a military rank is proud of it. He will do a good service without the government having to pay him any extra salary. It is a way of saving government budget. If an army officer loses his rank when he is transferred to another unit he will feel sorry and may be discouraged. If there is a military rank attached to him when he works outside the military service it will encourage him to work efficiently, and the country will benefit more from him.

The king’s support for the rehabilitation of a murderous military is an act of loyalty and one of self-protection.

One result is that the military was not reformed, meaning it was again able to conduct coups in 2006 and 2014, seeing off supposed threats to the palace and the status quo.





With a major update: Paranoia and politics

27 03 2016

The courts have been busy dismissing charges against southern anti-democrats for preventing an election by blockading candidate registration centers and voting centers.

These anti-democrats worked under the orders of southern boss Suthep Thaugsuban, one of those responsible for ordering the murder of protesting citizens in April and May 2010.

Preventing an election is a base act of anti-democrats and in this instance, had another aim – getting the military brass to intervene and throw out the government.

Using threats and violence to prevent persons exercising their democratic rights under the then constitution is both an illegal act (except to Thai courts) and an attack on the base of a society seeking to establish the sovereignty of citizens (except in Thailand, where it is an act of loyalty).

In the military dictatorship’s world, these anti-democrats are heroes. The threats to “national security” are another group; those who speak about politics in ways the paranoiac self-appointed premier finds uncomfortable.

So it is that “a former politician from the Pheu Thai party that he will be taken in for an attitude adjustment [political re-education] session over remarks against the junta leader.

On 25 March 2016, Worachai Hema, a former Member of Parliament for Samut Prakan Province revealed that “military officers had informed him that they will take him for a so-called attitude adjustment session.”

Apparently this re-education session was prompted by Worachai stating that The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, “should resign if the current draft constitution does not pass the upcoming public referendum.”

Based on an earlier comment by The Dictator that “he had done his best and if the constitution was rejected in a public vote, all sides, including the people, had to take responsibility.” Worachai said, quite reasonably:

“People did not get to choose the writers. Gen Prayut appointed them and they did their duty by his order and within the framework of the interim charter, which was written by the NCPO, led by Gen Prayut.

“Therefore, Gen Prayut has to take the most responsibility, not the people, who are the owners of the power.

“How could the people take responsibility when they don’t get a chance to determine their own future? Other people are doing it for them.

“When people think [the charter is] undemocratic — and the referendum will also be held when Section 44 is in place to suppress dissent — they won’t endorse the draft. And Gen Prayut is the one to take responsibility. He must resign if it doesn’t pass.

“Extending power is a tricky business as the May 1992 uprising taught us. If it happens again, it will be a crisis over a crisis….

“When no party wins a majority vote, small parties will join hands and bring in an outsider to be PM. Those opposing the NCPO might not win or might win by a small margin. But if they manage to come in, they will be toppled by many traps, deepening the conflict.”

Yes, that’s it. Such an observation is considered far more dangerous than electoral vandalism.

Soldiers took him from his house on Saturday morning for his re-education and attitude adjustment.

The military dictatorship has stated its correctness on everything. Junta sock puppet and spokesman Colonel Winthai Suwaree stated that “Worachai was taken for talks at Military Circle 11 because his recent expression of opinion had not been constructive.”

We therefore understand that preventing an election and gunning down protesters is “constructive” in the eyes of the military gangsters.

My brain hurts

Apparently, Prayuth felt he had been “derided” and that Worachai had “looked down” on him. When Prayuth interprets such basic statements as threatening he displays a paranoia that is then displayed in a personalized construction of politics that is deeply disturbing and very dangerous.

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that the “Pheu Thai Party has issued a statement calling for an immediate release of … Worachai … and for the government to clarify its action.”

The party declared that “such action by the military under the supervision of the government was unlawful and a serious violation of the human rights principle[s]…”.

The party was clear: “If Mr Worachai had made any legal offence, he should have been treated according to legal procedures.  In this case, he had not bee properly charged…”.

Arresting people, spiriting them off to re-education in military bases, closing websites, television broadcasters and radio stations is “a gross violation of human rights and liberties of the people…”.

According to the party, “Worachai had expressed his opinions to the public with honesty without causing unrest in the country…. His … call … for the prime minister to show responsibility if the draft charter does not pass the public referendum is legitimate and in line with ethical standards recognised internationally…”.





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?





An election will not end the junta

19 02 2016

The military junta and especially The Dictator keep saying that there will be a 2017 election. Some in the Puea Thai Party are putting all their political eggs in the election basket. However, election or not, the military foxes are not about to let the chickens run the hen house.

Why Puea Thai and Thaksin Shinawatra think an election is going to change anything in the junta’s Thailand is anyone’s guess. The junta has been clear that it ain’t going anywhere. Just to make this crystal clear, as reported in the Bangkok Post, the military junta “has proposed that the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) prolong its tenure after the general election, which, if effective, could overrule the authority of an elected government.”Fox and chicken

The chickens can play at elections, but the foxes will be in charge.

The junta wants “a special set of rules during a transitional period to avoid plunging the country into another crisis.” THe CDC is asked to extend these special powers to “the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the junta] and NCPO chief [The Dictator] after the election and after having a new elected government.”

Those powers will be “constitutional,” but if the referendum is rejected, the junta stays as well.

Even those who appreciate the military’s interventions and its murderous capacities are “alarmed,” including the hapless (anti)Democrat Party semi-leader Abhisit Vejjajiva. But no one listens much to him or his failed party.

More serious is Adul Khiewboriboon, who is chairman of a committee of relatives of the Black May 1992 victims, and said the “cabinet proposal is a clear indication that the military wants to be in control after the general election.” Of course! His point was to warn “that history could repeat itself, pointing to the Black May uprising in 1992, when huge protests erupted following the 1991 coup d’etat by Gen Suchinda Kraprayoon.” He says: “I am seeing a pattern…”. Yes, there is a pattern. The foxes are creatures of habit but also cunning.

This is only one of 16 changes demanded by the junta.





Remembering Meechai’s previous work

1 11 2015

Back on 15 May 1994, the Bangkok Post had a Sunday Perspective column regarding the constitutional developments during the time following the 1991 military coup that removed the elected government led by Chatichai Choonhavan.

Titled “A Fledgling Democratic Process at a Standstill,” (no hyperlinks available) it discusses the lack of progress on a new constitution following the May 1992 uprising against General Suchinda Kraprayoon and “other NPKC leaders, known collectively as Class 5 graduates of the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, who intended to dominate Thai politics indefinitely.” The column continues:

MeechaiThe junta leaders appointed a committee headed by Meechai Ruchupan and Osoth Kosin to draft two constitutions with provisions for them to perpetuate and share political power with
their allies.

The 1991 constitutional draft was made the law of the land amid across-the-board protests….

“Should the Constitution be found imperfect or undesirable, it can be amended later, junta sources said. [as they said in 2007 as well]

The result of that constitutional process led by Meechai was the May 1992 uprising and massacre of civilians.

Following the May Uprising, there was more debate, and with Anand Punyarachun again an appointed premier, Meechai got into the act again, as a senator:

Senator Meechai Ruchupan, an expert in constitutional law, wasted no time proposing drafts he claimed to be democratic.

Although Meechai may be well-intentioned, the inquisitive media and the general public think otherwise.

The Meechai constitutional drafts were found to be the 1974 charter with some minor alterations. For example Article 169 reads:

“0n administrative affairs, the Cabinet members are individually accountable to the House of Representatives in matters pertaining to ministerial performance; However, they are held collectively accountable in matters pertaining to Cabinet policy.”

Compared to Senator Meechai’s proposed amendment:

“In administrative affairs, Cabinet members are to abide by dictates of the Constitution. They are to follow the guidelines as stated in Article 108. They are individually accountable to the
House of Representatives in ministerial matters and collectively accountable in matters pertaining to the general Cabinet policy.”

Naturally in a politics where royalists were seeking to dominate, Meechai’s regressive and anti-democratic proposals got support, in terms that seem very familiar today:

Senator Sompob [Hotrakit], lauding Sen Meechai’s initiative, said the proposed draft would prevent parliamentary dictatorship….

How was this to be engineered? Again, familiar territory. One proposal was for appointed senators:

… proposals were made for senators to come from diversified professions with the Royal appointments countersigned by either the chairman of the Privy Councillors or the Prime
Minister.

At the time, a Democrat Party MP Preecha Suwannathat, said to be “a legal expert who graduated from Thammasat University in the same class as Senator Meechai” stated that “Senator Meechai goes back in time, invoking the obsolete 1968 constitution which allowed permanent officials to become actively involved in politics…”.  That charter was a military document drawn up by a regime that had, by that time, dictated for a decade, and would stay until 1973.

And so it went on. Readers will get the picture. Essentially, the proposals being concocted by Meechai and his hand-picked Constitution Drafting Committee are but the most recent in a long line of proposals, several of them coming from Meechai himself, to embed a constitution for the ruling elite based in the military-monarchy alliance. The difference this time is that Thailand’s constitutional future is in the hands of a military junta that is more determined to get its way.