First takes on the junta’s draft constitution

30 01 2016

PPT hasn’t had a chance to look at the draft 270-article, 95-page constitution in any detail, but there are commentators who have (a PDF of the draft can be downloaded, in Thai). While most of the provisions have been flagged in recent weeks – at last the most controversial, we thought we’d combines some of that commentary here.

In the Bangkok Post, the anti-democrat agenda of the drafters and junta is made clear by the aged military flunkey Meechai Ruchupan: “”Given the limited time, we have drafted the best constitution within the 2014 interim charter’s framework. We want it to be the charter that can efficiently suppress corruption and does not whitewash wrongdoers…”. He referred to the draft as a “reform constitution.” In the Khaosod report linked below, Amorn Wanichwiwatana, spokesman of the junta-appointed Constitution Drafting Committee, said the redesigned election system, will “prevent parliamentary dictatorship…”. He added: “It won’t be majority rule…”.

The CDC and junta are pandering to the anti-democrats and the fearful middle class. The anti-democrats will probably be happy (but see below), although the Democrat Party may be less so. However that party is able to lie in any bed.

One of the provisional clauses gives the military an extra three months in power, which The Dictator will have asked for. However, if the referendum dumps the charter, then military rule will be around for as long as the junta wants. In another interesting transition arrangement, if the charter gets up in the referendum, Article 44 remains in place through to a new government being formed. In essence, the draconian Article 44, which empowers the military junta to do anything it wants, stays in place. This allows considerable interference in referendum, election and the formation of any new government.

Pravit Rojanaphruk has an article at Khaosod that has a listing on some of the main (and, by now, well known) aspects of the military junta’s charter, in his sub-headings: Unelected Prime Minister and New Electoral System; Rise of Constitutional Court and Unelected Agencies Over Elected Government; Unelected Senate, Lack of Public Participation and a Less-Than-Democratic Charter. He also has some commentary.

Nipit Intarasombat of the Democrat Party doesn’t quite say it, but the charter tries to take Thailand back to a period of small parties, coalition building and busting, unelected premiers and vote-buying. The old political schemer and chief Privy Council meddler General Prem Tinsulanonda must be as pleased as Punch to have his political system essentially resurrected in this draft charter.

Nipit declares that the outside prime minister a threat: “This is unprecedented, and nowhere in this world can we find [such rules]. It allows for an outsider to become prime minister without being elected,” adding that the voting system “was designed in such as way as to ensure that no single party will ever gain outright majority in election…”.

The Puea Thai Party’s Chaturon Chaisaeng, saw the remarkable political power allocated to the Constitutional Court in legal terms:

“Having the power to define what constitutes a crisis and to use that power [over an elected government] is a serious dismantling of the check-and-balance system of the three branches under a democracy,” Chaturon said. “In getting it to try to solve [political] crises, the court will be increasingly dragged into politics. This is outside the democratic system, and will itself more easily induce crises.”

In fact, the new powers for the Court and for other independent bodies are to create a substitute for the monarchy’s political role, no longer considered reliable. Royalists and the elite figure they can maintain conservative control of the Constitutional Court.

Interestingly, a senior adviser for the People’s Democratic Reform Committee and regularly on their stage in 2014, Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, also a former member of the now defunct National Reform Council, told the Bangkok Post that “the structure of parliament set out under the draft charter is flawed and outdated and goes against the principles of democracy.”

We are sure there’s plenty more commentary to come.





The military’s medicine

22 01 2016

Thailand’s own Andy Capp, Meechai Ruchupan is now well into his eighth decade, but he still seems to believe that he is on target – like one of Andy’s darts – to deliver a political bull’s eye for the military, monarchy, their tycoons and the frightened middle class.

AndyIn an interview with Reuters, he has talked about the junta’s draft constitution. For his audience of anti-democrats, he says the draft will be “strong medicine.”

With the military’s partisan Constitution Drafting Committee almost finished in this second attempt at delivering the right “medicine,” like the anti-democratic street demonstrators belief, based on royalist ideology, that the root of all political evil is the “abuse of power by lawmakers…”.

Meechai has been involved with so many of these charters that serve the ruling class that he knows the political threat from the lower classes has to be seen off. He claims that the new draft is sure to be opposed by political parties because it is “strong medicine.” The stumbling block, however, is that the draft has to go to a referendum, and the “great unwashed” might just rebel against the powers that be. Despite all the threats and repression and the related populist spending by the junta, voters might just tell the toffs that they do not want Meechai’s anti-democratic poison.

The problem is that rejecting the draft will mean more of The Dictator and his military regime. As in 2007, there might be those who will accept the draft constitution and hope that they can then elect a government of their choice. This time, however, no elected government is going to be able to rule in its own right. So many unelected representatives of the elite are imposed on the country through this draft, that an elected government will be like a trained monkey.





Repressive populism II

24 12 2015

red candleThe military junta is predictable, mainly because, while erratic in behavior, The Dictator is rather dull-witted. Unfortunately, power is about arrogance, so General Prayuth Chan-ocha does not recognize his limitations.

This predictability saw PPT post on Wednesday about middle class populism to shore up wavering political support in this core constituency for authoritarian regimes. We recognized this in the military dictatorship’s populist gifts for the middle class.

As if on cue, the Bangkok Post has this headline:

PM urges middle class to save day
Warns against populist appeals to the poor

The Post report that Prayuth’s call was “similar to the pitch made by anti-government groups [the People’s Democratic Reform Committee] campaigning against the Pheu Thai-led government before the coup…”. Given that Prayuth’s military provided all manner of support to the anti-democrats on the streets and that many of The Dictator’s ideas are congruent with those of the madder yellow shirts, this is is not particularly surprising.

Prayuth and the anti-democrats have long held that “democracy” is more than elections, and yet Prayuth’s call is to the rich – the good people – and the middle class – the moralists – to ‘come out and vote if they want to stop parties pitching populist policies to the poor from regaining office…”. Given his own populist policies, we assume that he refers to defeating populist policies directed to the poor and disadvantaged.

He demands that the rich and middle class unite to defeat pro-Thaksin Shinawatra parties. He called these “political parties [that] refuse to drop populism to woo votes…”. He warns the rich and the middle class:

If they [political parties] use the same old campaign strategy, they will come [to power] with the votes of the poor who want more money to make their life better….

The people in the middle- and upper income ranges have to step in and cast their votes in national polls and the charter referendum too.

If they say they don’t vote because they don’t like politicians and elections, the votes from those who want more money will win. Only some groups of people will come out and vote for their clans. We’ll see the same old problems.

Perhaps Prayuth knows that the new constitution will gerrymander the electorate sufficiently that the minority that is the rich and middle class can carry a junta-defined election. Perhaps he believes that he has cowed the poor sufficiently to prevent them voting for the parties they prefer.

Again, Prayuth promised to “give back” power in July 2017 but also “promised to lay down a national reform strategy plan for the next 20 years during his remaining months in office.”

He demanded that political parties “change their election campaign from focusing on populist policies to how they would implement the junta government’s strategic plan and related economic and social development plans…”.

While various sycophantic ministers followed Prayuth, they seemed rather bored by Prayuth himself, with several appearing asleep, as seen in this clip from a Bangkok Post photo.

Prayuth puts his men to sleep

Reuters reports that Prayuth stated that his junta “was entering ‘phase two’ of its reform plan.”

Having “stifled dissent and has gone hard after critics of the monarchy by using a harsh royal insult law to detain dozens of people…”, phase two could be nastier still, and the recent arrests and crackdowns may be the first of many such actions over the next year or so.

An indication of this intent was seen in Prayuth’s angry comments about those who dissent. At The Nation, he is reported as criticizing international rights groups:

We are being watched by international organisations. There are groups that try to distort the truth. Everyone is demanding democracy, freedom and liberty. I ask if this is possible? We have been on this path for 83 years and faced many coups. So I want true reform for the future of our children….

As we have said several times recently, Thailand is in a dark spot and its getting darker.

The only sparks of light at present are those brave individuals and groups that oppose the dictatorship: students, lawyers, academics, and now some workers, as well as those seething under the military boot in the countryside.





Creating the deity

17 07 2015

Coconuts Bangkok has a”story” that turns out to be an advertisement for the king and the royalism associated with the late in life creation of a new deity for Thailand (and the commercial advantages that go along with this by being close to the monarchy and identified as a paid up posterior polisher).

We imagine that the military dictatorship likes this commercial propaganda and we know the Bangkok middle class loves it for it gives these rootless souls a place holder in Thailand’s hierarchies of wealth and influence.

You guessed it, more yellow t-shirts, the uniform of the People’s Alliance for Democracy in 2005-6. There’s never much original thinking amongst royalists because their vision is to past. THat the slogan has changed to something equally unoriginal – “Follow the Father” – suggests that the dullard dictators have been at work on this campaign.

These shirts remain a pledge your allegiance to a king soon to pass and an era that is past, no matter what The Dictator thinks he can enforce.

Thai Life Insurance is at this “to celebrate His Majesty The King’s 88th birthday.” That’s in December, but maybe the company doesn’t think he’ll survive until then. At the company’s website, the “Follow the Father” ads are revolving about with the normal commercial ads you’s expect amongst such companies.

Readers are told that the “idea is to convince all Thais to follow in the footsteps of His Majesty and improve their deeds and way of living.” We imagined this means using your power to grow stupendously wealthy and to manage governments in and out the door without troubling the power structure while being in close alliance with the murderous military. But, of course, we were wrong.





News and views on the students

7 07 2015

Below PPT links to some useful reports and op-eds on the Dao Din students and the challenge they pose for the junta.

At the Globe and Mail, Nathan Vanderklippe writes of the Dao Din students and the protest that got them arrested as “hardly the stuff of revolutions.” Yet their call for a return to democracy means the students “represent what could develop into a potent challenge to the military regime, which faces growing opposition to the tight chokehold it has maintained on civil liberties for more than a year” under the military dictatorship. The dictatorship “has shown itself to be a jittery warden of a nation it has promised to return to democratic rule.” They are jittery but they also fear opposition:

The students’ supporters say their arrest marked an important moment. People cowed by the junta came to the streets in the hundreds to demand their release. More than 300 academics also signed letters asking the government to release the young people, a risky move. Authorities questioned 30 of the signatories.

David Streckfuss observes that the students hope “to be a spark, and they’re starting to get some sympathetic ears, at least amongst other students…. They know that if no one takes a risk in standing up to the regime then the regime will stay on and on.” At the same time, there is some pessimism “particularly as opposition parties, universities and much of the country’s middle class remained silent over the students’ detention.”

In another commentary, at The Diplomat, there is discussion of the military dictatorship as “an antiquated authoritarianism.” This note argues:

While the junta is consolidating its power through constitutional revisions and clamping down on political opposition, thousands of lives are being lost. The systematic lack of respect for human rights and human life is something Thailand’s western partners cannot ignore. Yet, neither the United States nor the European Union has put any pressure on Prayuth to address the root cause of the problem.

PPT is sure that external pressure is important. However, real change must be generated within the country.

Sulak Sivaraksa, an ardent supporter of the students, is interviewed in another report. He says that “the fact that people are daring to challenge such powerful authority figures shows bodes well for the country’s future.” He’s thinking of the challenge they provide for an outdated and hierarchical education system. Sulak spoke of the Dao Din students and the challenge they pose for the dictators, referring to “divisions among junta members on the students’ case…. Some say they should be let free, so that it stops the beginning of something bad, but some others are willing to punish them…”. Splits in a dictatorship are sometimes corrosive of juntas.

Sulak also has some criticism of the lese majeste law and its negative impacts for politics and society:

“This article not only helps to stop people speaking the truth, it also helps people close to the palace to get away with economic and political exploitation as the public is unable to hold them to scrutiny for fear of the lese-majeste charge…”.

He calls the article “dangerous for the monarchy and dangerous for the country,” and claims that many royal affiliated businesses, such as the Royal Projects, are not accountable….

The article adds that the projects “are for the most part financed on the government budget and contribute to the popularity of some members of the royal family.”





Moral bankruptcy

18 01 2015

A couple of weeks ago PPT posted on planning by the puppet National Reform Council for a special body to foster moral values and good governance among public-office holders. We noted that this should cause panic amongst people as these elitist lecturing on morals is more of their nonsensical propaganda. Ji Ungpakorn has a further commentary on this including reference to some of the recent revelations of elite sex parties involving a judge and other well-known “identities.”

PPT is not generally given to moralizing, but when the moralizers are the military brass, you just know it is horse manure meant for the consumption of the gullible in Bangkok’s middle class and the enforcement of morals on others. Ji makes some good points:

The Morals of Thugs and Gangsters
January 17, 2015 uglytruththailand
Giles Ji Ungpakorn

A sex scandal is doing the rounds of the Thai media.Video clips of middle aged officials and business people touching naked young women in a “Fitness Centre Party” have been widely circulating. The junta have come out and condemned this behaviour and promised an investigation.

This is just blatant hypocrisy. Thai elite males regularly pay young women for sex and the military is well known for its parties where women are paid to parade naked in front of young men in uniform. The Crown Prince is also well known for making his women pose naked for photographs. Thai elites have no respect for women or the majority of the population.

Previously, head Coupster Prayut and his acolytes announced that they were to set up a “National Moral Forum” as part of their anti-reform process. If it were not for the expense involved and the vicious nature of the junta, it would be a joke.

Just like the so-called “reforms” which they lie about, their “morals” will be exactly the opposite of any moral principles. This is their first crime: lying. The junta and its supporters have lied about why they took power, they have lied about their intentions for democracy, they have lied about the law and the constitution, they have lied about how the majority of the population “support” the government and they have lied about being able to extradite the many Thai exiles who are charged with lèse-majesté. They also lie repeatedly about the killing of unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators in 2010… which brings us to their next immoral crime.

Generalissimo Prayut and his hired gunmen deliberately shot down unarmed red shirts in 2010, using special snipers. Nearly 90 civilians were killed in cold blood, some of them while sheltering in a temple. This was murder, pure and simple. But according to the so-called “National Moral Forum”, cold-blooded murder like this is the peak of moral fortitude.

The use of deadly force, including military coups, in order to have your way, in opposition to the democratic wishes of the majority, is the behaviour of gangsters. But naturally, coup-making does not figure in the National Moral Forum’s list of immoral acts.

The junta has given out jobs to its boys and Prayut and his fellow generals have lined their own pockets with multiple salaries; corruption, pure and simple. Yet the National Moral Forum will view corruption as a “relative” issue. It depends on who is involved. If it is the junta’s opponents then it is most certainly corruption. But if it is the junta and its lackeys, then it is “justifiable reward for hard work”. Prayut has complained repeatedly about how tired he is with all his responsibilities. People need to relieve him of them all and allow him to rest for years in a prison cell.

Physical and mental torture are accepted as immoral acts by decent people. Yet the National Moral Forum will work on the idea that to criticise the ruling order or the monarchy is a heinous crime, whereas the destruction of free speech and the incarceration of innocent people in appalling conditions under the abominable lèse-majesté law is “defending the morals of the nation”. Threatening to kill or rape people, as part of the junta’s “attitude changing activities”, is torture. But the National Moral Forum will regard this activity as “bringing peace and happiness to society”.

The National Moral Forum will no doubt praise “egotism” and “arrogance”, special qualities shown by Thailand’s Dear Leader Prayut.

But in reality, the National Moral Forum is about “obedience”. It should be the National Obedience Forum because what these megalomaniacs believe is that the majority of the Thai people should bow their heads, crawl on the ground, and fix false happy smiles on their faces while being obedient and doing what the junta tells them. This is a measure of the moral degeneration of Thai society under the jack boot of the military.





Middle-class politics

8 11 2014

Serhat Ünaldi is Project Manager at the Bertelsmann Stiftung and is one of the author’s of the Foundation’s Asia Policy Brief Asian Middle Classes – Drivers of Political Change? (opens a PDF).

The lightly-referenced report is the subject of Ünaldi’s article at The Diplomat on “The Tyranny of SE Asia’s Establishment.” It begins with the claim that “The ‘old middle class’ in Southeast Asia is turning against democracy in a bid to protect its interests.”

The analysis that rejects some older modernization theory claims, suggests that “a substantial middle-income population does not translate into a healthier state of democracy in any straightforward manner.” It also notes the “diversity” of a class defined only by income level.

The article looks beyond Thailand, but as we are Thailand-focused, we thought the comments on the country of interest:

Anti-democratic protests in Thailand were likewise driven by an urban-based middle class with fond memories of a time when Thai generals ruled the kingdom in tandem with the monarchy. Democratic support, in contrast, seemed to come from members of the emerging lower middle class in the provinces.

The notion that there is a provincial-urban split on politics in the middle class may be descriptively accurate for a particular period in Thailand, but it too ignores the diversity of the middle class and the contingent nature of support for democracy amongst all classes. Still, worth a read.








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