Recalling the 2006 military coup

20 09 2019

The army’s task: coups and repression

19 September was the anniversary of the 2006 military coup. This was the coup that set the path for Thailand’s decline into military-dominated authoritarianism based in ultra-royalist ideology.

Over the past couple of days we didn’t notice a lot of memorializing of the event that illegally removed then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his Thai Rak Thai Party, with tanks on the streets and soldiers decked out in royal yellow.

The military soon hoisted Privy Councilor Gen Surayud Chulanont into the prime ministership.

Anointing the 2006 coup

As we know, the coup did not succeed in its self-assigned task of rooting out the “Thaksin regime,” with Thaksin’s parties having been the most successful over the years that have followed and when the military permitted elections. This is why the 2014 coup was aimed at “putting things right,” through a more thorough political repression and a rigging of the political system for the ruling class. It also unleashed a rabid use of lese majeste to destroy that class’s political opponents.

One effort to recall the 2006 coup was by Ji Ungpakorn. He observes the:

forces behind the 19th September coup were anti-democratic groups in the military and civilian elite, disgruntled business leaders and neo-liberal intellectuals and politicians. The coup was also supported by the monarchy….

2006 coup

And adds:

Most NGOs and large sections of the middle classes also supported the coup. What all these groups had in common was contempt or hatred for the poor. For them, “too much democracy” gave “too much” power to the poor electorate and encouraged governments to “over-spend” on welfare. For them, Thailand is still divided between the “enlightened middle-classes who understand democracy” and the “ignorant rural and urban poor”. In fact, the reverse is the case. It is the poor who understand and are committed to democracy while the so-called middle classes are determined to hang on to their privileges by any means possible.

For a flavor of the times, see reports of the coup by the BBC and The Guardian. For early efforts to understand the 2006 coup, consider Ji’s A Coup for the Rich, Thailand Since the Coup, and Thailand and the “good coup.”

It’s been downhill since 2006: repression, military political domination and ultra-royalism, leading to a form of neo-feudalism in contemporary Thailand.





Fascists and their opponents

22 05 2019

On the fifth anniversary of the military’s coup where it through out yet another elected government, we at PPT want to point to a couple of stories that do a great job of remembering and noting the impacts of the military’s illegal action in 2014.

The first is a story at Khaosod, where five activists provide brief comments on their experiences. All have been arrested and some have been jailed under the military dictatorship and its junta. Some clips:

1. No Coup 2. Liberty 3. Democracy

Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, recently released from prison on a manufactured lese majeste case, and facing more charges:

I saw. I fought. I lost. I was hurt. After five years fighting the junta and spending time in jail, I lost. Well, I didn’t lose. It’s just that we haven’t won yet. Some people are discouraged and disappointed. Others continue fighting.

Political activist Nutta Mahattana:

I underestimated the Thai people. Thais are more tolerant of military dictatorship than I expected.

Iconoclast activist Sombat Boonngamanong:

The most visible change in the past five years was how some people who fought for a certain strand of democracy were turned into mindless supporters of the military junta…. They saw the failure of the junta over the past five years, yet they are okay with it. It’s scary meeting these people….

Yaowalak Anuphan from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights:

Freedom of expression keeps sinking and more people censor themselves. The military has fully invaded civil society and injected its autocratic thinking into civilians.

Student activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal:

[W]e took democracy for granted. We thought it was something that could be restored quickly after it was gone. We thought military dictatorship wouldn’t last long. But people have become better at adapting to life under dictatorship…. At symposiums, people are now more wary when they speak. This change was rapid….

The second is an article by retired diplomat and Puea Thai Party member Pithaya Pookaman. We disagree with him that the “election” result shows that the junta and its puppet party are “popular.” But he identifies those who are junta supporters as a “new right.” While this is catchy, it is also misleading in that much of the “new right” is pretty much the same opposition that’s worked against electoral democracy for decades. Pithaya knows this, saying:

Broadly speaking, the New Right consists of an odd mix of ultra-conservatives, reactionaries, semi-fascists, pseudo-intellectuals, and even former leftists. It is the product of more than 80 years of political evolution and has been shaped by technological and economic advances, as well as social and demographic changes, and populism in modern Thai society…. This tug of war between the so-called liberals and conservatives dates back to 1932…. The conservative Thai oligarchy, which saw their traditional grip on power being eroded, have strongly resisted democratic developments up until today.

Thailand’s urban middle class has a unique tolerance of authoritarian rule, wholeheartedly embracing military coups with few moral scruples. Meanwhile, the reactionary and semi-fascist groups seem to have a romantic infatuation with anachronistic medieval political and social systems….

Their common hatred of Thaksin and his political machine has allowed the fate of these diverse groups to intertwine. It has also made them vulnerable to “Thaksin Derangement Syndrome”, which has spread among a conglomeration of former leftists, the urban middle class, pseudo-intellectuals, ultraconservatives, semi-fascists, militarists, and the elitist establishment, all of which can collectively be called the New Right.

A third story is important. “All They Could Do To Us: Courage in Dark Times from a Fighter (Not a Victim)” is an article by Metta Wongwat, translated by Tyrell Haberkorn. It is about Pornthip Munkhong, who was jailed on lese majeste for her role in a political play, The Wolf Bride (เจ้าสาวหมาป่า), about a fictional monarch and kingdom. Her new book, All They Could Do To Us (Aan Press, 2019) “is an account of imprisonment under Article 112 during the NCPO regime written in the voice of an artist. She tells her story and the stories of her fellow prisoners from every walk of life, and in so doing, leads readers into her life during her two years of imprisonment.”

She includes a message for those who hold politics close: “(Political struggle) is like boxing. The ring is theirs. The rules are theirs. The referees are theirs. You must be prepared.





All used up

8 11 2018

When the royalist establishment deemed it crucial that it oppose elected governments, it supported the creation of “movements” with allegedly “charismatic” leaders, using “civil society” to bring down those governments. Backing them were royalists from business, including the giant conglomerates, and the military.

First there was Sondhi Limthongkul and the People’s Alliance for Democracy. It drew on considerable middle class discontent with Thaksin Shinawatra and his regime but was driven by royalist ideology.

After a series of false starts, the second great “movement” was the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, led by the royalist anti-democrats of the Democrat Party and fronted by Suthep Thaugsuban.

Of course, neither movement was able to bring down the elected governments. That required military coups in 2006 and 2014.

When they had done their work, the fact of their invention by the royalist strategists of the military, business and palace was seen in the manner in which the “movements” vaporized once their usefulness was over.

And, look at the leaders. Both had a capacity to mobilize supporters and this worried many in the military. At the same time, the military knew that it “deserved” to be on top and that the upstarts they created had to know their place.

Sondhi was targeted for what was either an assassination bid or a brutal warning to know his place. No one was ever charged, but it is interesting that the media at the time suggested that both Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda were considered “suspects” in the Sondhi shooting.

Suthep thought he was a “star” and “popular,” but the military put him in his place following the 2014 coup, having to enter the monkhood. While Suthep is back and campaigning for his Action Coalition for Thailand (ACT) Party, it seems his “movement” has evaporated and his capacity for garnering the political limelight has been lost under the military junta. Interestingly, this return is a backflip and, according to one op-ed, not popular with his former PDRC supporters (and presumably its backers).

The op-ed continues: “… Suthep seems to have overestimated his popularity, thinking it could be on par with the backing he received from PDRC supporters during the time he led the street protests.” He was disappointed: “his recent jaunts in several areas to recruit members for the party have apparently received a cold response.” This caused “core PDRC supporter Arthit Ourairat … calling for Mr Suthep and other PDRC leaders who have joined ACT to stop their political activities.” Arthit might have poured money into the PDRC but is an ardent anti-democrat and probably is 100% behind The Dictator’s bid for extended power. Tellingly, the man who funded and funneled money to Suthep and PDRC reckons that “people ‘no longer believed them’.”

Anti-democrats want a military-dominated regime and Suthep’s usefulness, like Sondhi’s before him, is over. Suthep’s response will be interesting as his face, position and wealth depend on state links.





In charge of censorship for the rigged election

25 10 2018

The Bangkok Post is blunt in its short report on the junta’s appointment of anti-democrat Buddhipongse Punnakanta as the new government spokesman, replacing Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd.

Buddhipongse was a core member of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee. He was only appointed as the prime minister’s deputy secretary-general for political affairs just over a month ago.

The Dictator declared that the reassignment “has nothing to do with politics.”

The Post disagrees, observing that Lt Gen Sansern will “slip into the background to control all government-run media and enforce censorship rules in the lead-up to the expected 2019 election.”

The Post might have added that the junta is hoping that having an anti-democrat leader as its spokesman will have electoral advantages in Bangkok and among the timid and anti-democratic middle classes.





King changes graduation ceremonies

21 09 2018

Graduation ceremonies in Thailand are important for more than those who celebrate their years of studying. For one thing, since the 1960s, the palace propagandists has recognized that having a royal hand out the certificates is a great way of having the then increasingly Sino-Thai middle-class graduates tied to the monarchy in a ceremony that was a kind of graduation into Thai-ness. As the higher education sector opened up, and graduation ceremonies got ever larger, the task of royal bonding was doled out to more royals. A financial benefit also accrues to the royal as each graduate is expected to pay amounts from 400 to 600 baht each which goes into the royal spare change purse.

When he was Crown Prince, Vajiralongkorn usually presided at Thammasat University and the Rajabhats.

A couple of days ago, The Nation reported, in an account reflecting the fear of king and monarchy, that:

King Maha Vajiralongkorn has accepted an invitation to bestow degrees on the newest batch of graduates at Thammasat University (TU) next April, the TU Graduate Committee’s social media page (facebook.com/TUgraduate60/) announced on Tuesday…. The dates for the Graduation Ceremony for the 2017-18 academic year were selected by … the King for April 7-8, 2019. The ceremony will be held at the Grand Auditorium, Thammasat University, Tha Phrachan Campus…. The announcement post received more than 12,000 ‘likes’ and was shared by 26,000 Facebook users.”

This is odd in the sense that graduation ceremonies have for years been at a particular time for each institution – indeed, there has been a graduation season – and most haven’t changed much over the years. Why the change? Why is the king deciding? And why to a hot period?

A day later, Khaosod reported that Thammasat and 39 Rajabhats all announced that “their year-end graduation ceremonies … have been postponed to April.” The changes were said to have been made to “accommodate a new schedule set by the palace.”

Thammasat vice rector Chalie Charoenlarpnopparut is reported: “The Royal Household Bureau stated that His Majesty the King has set the date to hand out diplomas for April 7-8, so we will hold the ceremonies on those days…” rather than November-December.

Some of the dates for the Rajabhats “have yet to be set by the palace.” It is reported that the “palace postponed the ceremonies … [but] no reason was given.”

There is much social media speculation: astrology and auspicious dates, the king will be skiing in Europe in winter, his coronation is to be announced for November/December.

Whatever the reason, one things is clear: this king does what he wants when he wants. It is all rather feudal.





Further updated: Sparks beginning to fly

28 01 2018

Quite some time ago we said that, as in the past, the spark that lights a fire under Thailand’s military dictatorship might come from something quite unexpected.

We think we might have seen that spark and it may be two events that have begun to tip the political balance. One is Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan’s luxury timepieces. It isn’t so much that he’s seemingly corrupt. After all the timid middle classes and the wealthy capitalist class “understand” corruption and it is a price they are ever willing to pay so long as they can continue to prosper. And, if the corrupt are “good” people, then it’s okay. What has led to a beginning of an unraveling of this political relationship is Prawit’s arrogance about his massive watch collection and the demonstration (so far) of cover-up and impunity. This taints the junta as self-serving, grasping and certainly not “good” people.

The second spark is the continual delay in the holding of an election that is neither free nor fair. The middle and capitalist classes were fully prepared to accept the junta’s manipulated constitution, its forcing of the constitutional referendum, the tinkering with the details, a senate that maintains military political dominance and human rights restrictions. However, as well as the political repression of the lower classes, they wanted something of a say in politics via that unfair election. By delaying numerous times, the junta is displaying arrogance and a craving for power “unsuited” to the middle and capitalist classes.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

The peeling away of support even sees diehard yellow shirts, the boosters for the coups of 2006 and 2014, criticizing the military junta it bet on for turning back the lower class political tide. It also sees cracks appearing in the junta’s domination and control both in events and institutions. We have posted on the “We Walk” march and its court victory. Some of the NGOs involved in that event were those that were present at the birth of the People’s Alliance for Democracy in 2006. For some of those yellow shirts, there is disappointment in the regime for not doing sufficient political cleansing. More disappointment comes from the decisions by the junta to allow legal pursuit of PAD and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee. Such legal cases are not just a disappointment but construed as a betrayal.

In this context, the re-emergence of political protest is telling. First We Walk and now the student activists. It isn’t that these students haven’t pushed the junta before. In fact, they have been regular opponents, but they have faced numerous legal cases, arrests, abductions and so on. The Bangkok Post reports their most recent event this way:

The Democracy Restoration Group, led by Sirawich “Ja New” Seritiwat and Rangsiman Rome, posted on Facebook on Friday asking people who share the same views to join them at 5.30pm at the BTS skywalk near the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre.

Pathumwan police said they did not try to stop the campaign so long as it did not block traffic.

Around 100 people came to the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre at 5.15pm while police stood by and took photos of the participants. Many of them showed the sign “Election 2018” or show its photo on their mobile phones.

Core leaders of the group took turns giving speeches.

Interestingly, the demonstrators emphasized not just elections but watches.

Update 1: A reader emailed us saying that we missed one of the most important bits of the linked Bangkok Post story. That reader is right that we should have specifically noted that the rally brought together stalwarts of both red and yellow shirts, with ultra-nationalist yellow shirt Veera Somkwamkid and red shirt iconoclast Sombat Boonngamanong. That is an unexpected alliance. Yet it is just this kind of unusual alliance that has underpinned anti-military movements in the past.

Update 2: An updated Bangkok Post report has more from Veera. He declared: “There are no colours right now…. It’s all about joining hands and removing corruption from the country.” He added: “The problem is we cannot rely on the government because they are in fact the ones who are not transparent.” The principal organizers, the New Democracy Movement declared “it will continue to pressure the government and Gen Prayut to dismiss Gen Prawit and to keep his promise to holding the election this year. They will gather again in the same spot on Feb 10.” Meanwhile, in Songkhla, “members of 19 civic organisations walked from Hat Yai municipality to Sena Narong army camp in Hat Yai to voice their grievances over several state projects in the South and to support the [People Go Network/We Walk group].”





Troubles for the junta II

19 12 2017

If the junta plans a transition to a slightly different form of rule following its “election,” it seems to be struggling to maintain political control and direction. Yesterday we posted on some of these issues and challenges. Today we look at how some of these are playing out and some other issues and challenges.

A big issue is when the military dictatorship will ease the ban on political organizing in order to permit the junta’s “election” and how the junta will arrange the military’s continuing political domination. After claims of the formation of a “military party,” those involved have denied that anything is planned (well, sort of).

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, one of the few civilian’s in the military’s government has denied claims that he’s going to lead a military political party. At the same time, the be-watched Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan seemed less sure. Checking his new Casio watch, he said “he had no idea if a military-back political party was being set up or if Mr Somkid would lead it.”

Prawit’s penchant for pricey horographs threatens the junta by showing that it is corrupt, practices double standards and maintains impunity. All of this worries the middle class. It is that class that has been the bedrock of junta political support.

One of the most poignant demonstrations of military cruelty and its institutional impunity has been the death of cadets and recruits. The family of Pakapong “Moei” Tanyakan has rejected a meeting with the military to be told of a military inquiry “investigation” into their son’s death in which the military had already publicly exonerated itself. Such brutality and its sweeping under the carpet are increasingly seen as unacceptable, not least by the middle class.

Then there are the splits within the anti-democrats and with the junta. The usually supine Abhisit Vejjajiva, while still refusing to attack the junta, wants an election, even if it is the junta’s election. So he’s attacking his former deputy and Democrat Party alpha male Suthep Thaugsuban for proposals that might delay an “election” and/or might presage a Suthep-supported alternative political party in the south, gobbling up support that might have gone to the Democrat Party. Any pro-Suthep party is likely to throw weight behind a junta-dominated government post-“election.”

The junta appears befuddled in dealing with political allies of the past although splits in old parties might be considered to benefit any new military party. It is more “comfortable” repressing red shirts.