Accountability gone missing

13 11 2016

The Bangkok Post’s Achara Ashayagachat had a useful article a few days ago that we didn’t see until it appeared in the Myanmar Times. It was undoubtedly as resonant there as it was in Bangkok.

She begins by noting the “strength” of Thailand’s military dictatorship, despite “the serious problems that have rocked the country…”. For three years, the regime has been “without real political challenge…”.

Achara observes that the “regime’s strength is partly down to the fact that our society lacks genuine checks and balances.”

The “parliament” is the “coup-installed National Legislative Assembly” which is a puppet rubber stamp for the regime.

She says that “similar institutions, are not in a position to go after the leaders or any other military members.” We assume she means all of the so-called “independent agencies” which have been made regime tools.

In civil society, “[c]ivic groups and individuals that have campaigned for key issues in the name of democracy have faced threats and intimidation under Section 44.”

What happened to the much-hyped “middle class,” claimed by some to be a ballast for democracy? Achara refers to “the indifference on the part of the middle class, especially those who joined the shutdown campaign spearheaded by the then-People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) during the marathon protest against the Pheu Thai government in 2013-2014…”.

Baffled, Achara states: “It worries me that people, undoubtedly ultra-conservationists, have sold their democratic principles and become submissive, allowing the regime to get away with whatever it wants.”

Examples include corruption and nepotism in the regime. The anti-democrats campaigned against an elected government, complaining of corruption. When the military is corrupt, they seem to just shrug their shoulders and accept the corruption of “good people.”

“No one is held accountable…”.

The regime stumbles, fumbles, grabs lucrative positions and pockets cash, but “[n]o one seems to care…”.

No one seems bothered by double standards in law, in policy or in the regime’s copying of the very policy that the middle class claimed to “hate” and the military regime is prosecuting – the rice subsidy scheme.

Achara is also “sadden[ed]” by “seeing portions of the middle class trying to monopolise loyalty to the monarchy, and go on a rampage to indict people on lese majeste offences.” She refers to “fears that a vicious witch hunt is under way.”

Finally, she notes the dictatorship’s attacks on the media, where “the regime is only fond of the docile type.” Under pressure and sometimes as members of the regime-loving middle class, the media has generally toed the regime’s line. She writes of “obedient compliance.”

The result is a regime built on repression and double standards that is not subject to even a modicum of accountability.





Rice “plot” I

3 11 2016

As we noted in a recent post, rice subsidies are back! But, they are quite all right because it is the military’s “good people” doing it this time.

We are still awaiting the anti-democrats of Bangkok’s middle class to criticize this subsidy, as they did when they pilloried Yingluck Shinawatra. We are not holding our breath, for we know that these people live in a world composed and disfigured by double standards.

To deflect attention from this “new” policy – rice subsidies have been around from the 1980s – The Dictator has screamed “political conspiracy!

General Prayuth Chan-ocha ordered “the Agricultural Cooperatives Ministry, the Commerce Ministry and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to the implement the measure and monitor warehouses for signs of irregularities.” He claims there are “reports” – we think he listens to his own speeches – “that politicians and rice millers are manipulating paddy rice prices in a bid to provoke rice farmers to protest against the government.”

Joining his beloved boss, junta spokesman Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd said Prayuth “asked security authorities to investigate whether there are people trying to manipulate rice prices.” He added that “initial findings suggest there are irregular activities in Phichit, with attempts to discredit the government and convince farmers there that the government is mishandling the situation.”

That has to be the case because these just can’t be bumbling bullies.

Confirming double standards, representative of the anti-democratic middle class, “[anti-]Democrat [Party] member Wirat Kallayasiri said  the rice price is being manipulated by supporters of ex-premier Yingluck Shinawatra to distort information about the rice-pledging scheme.”

They remain strong supporters of Thailand’s military dictatorship. They love the military boot.





Only anti-democrats

31 10 2016

In occupying Thailand’s political space and institutions, the military junta recently extended its absolute control over Bangkok.

The middle class must be pleased that the special benefit they were granted long ago by Prem Tinsulanonda’s military-backed regime, being trusted to elect their governor, is now gone. (Bangkok first elected a governor in 1975, but Thanin Kraivixien removed that.)

Khaosod has a report on the new appointed governor.

Aswin Kwanmuang, a retired police general, was summarily appointed by The Dictator, using Article 44.

He says junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha ordered him to be unelected governor of Bangkok. Aswin explained: “In police and military systems, they don’t usually give you a reason…. An order is an order. Our duty is to say ‘yes sir’.” Prayuth loves such loyalty.

Khaosod states that Aswin is a “well-connected police official” who has repeatedly stated his disdain for “politicians.” He declares: “I definitely said no to politicians…. I don’t want people to be associated with any political parties. I have never been a member of any party in my life.” Prayuth loves this anti-politics stance.

Like Prayuth, he doesn’t mean all politicians. Just “bad people.” Khaosod states that Aswin is “known for being snug with former protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban. When Suthep served as deputy prime minister in the administration of Abhisit Vejjajiva, Aswin was promoted to the special position of police adviser, a position made equal to deputy police chief.”

Aswin is known for “clearing out popular night markets and sidewalk vendors in the name of reclaiming public space.” Some business people love this.

Khaosod says that “Aswin was chosen by Gen. Prayuth to serve on the 200-strong advisory group which replaced the National Reform Council. Although he’s been criticized for pulling double duty – and double pay – on the National Reform Steering Assembly, Aswin has refused to step down…”.

He’s certainly just the kind of loyal bulldog Prayuth appreciates.





The military boot and the middle class II

23 03 2016

It is probably only the lower middle class that sends its kids to public schools, but they are the ones who seek a leg up in the world dominated by royals, military and the Sino-Thai business tycoons.

This means that changes that recentralize education may well be of some concern for them.

Prachatai reports that “[a]mid criticisms of proposals to centralise Thai education via the latest draft charter, the junta leader invoked absolute power to slash local teachers committees and form a national education reform committee.”

To do this, the military junta has again used Article 44 of its interim charter. This article provides dictatorial powers.

The military junta’s intervention centralizes control under a “Regional Education Reform Committee (RERC) with the Minister of Education as the head of the committee and the permanent secretary of the Education Minister as its secretary general,” and dissolves all “district-based primary and secondary school management boards under Office of the Basic Education Commission of Thailand.” It creates provincial level committees.

An academic in the field “decried the orders, reasoning that such orders will not bring about education reform, but will only make it worse.” He added: “It’s like taking a time machine back to 17 years ago…. It’s sad that some people really believe that this centralisation process could bring about education reform.”

Proposals seen in the draft interim charter reduce “free compulsory schooling from 12 years to only nine years.”

“Reform” under the military dictatorship means returning the country to the past. Education is no different. In fact, for the junta and its supporters, public education is about creating a class of obedient and unthinking slaves to the elite.

For those pushing up into the middle class, education for children is one of the few avenues out of relative poverty. These changes mean their children are condemned to not just a poor education but a more expensive education.





The military boot and the middle class I

22 03 2016

The military dictatorship is continuing to expand its repression to the middle class, the broad class that joined with the Sino-Thai tycoons in bringing the junta to power.

Prachatai reports that “[l]awyers, academics, and civil society groups” are aghast that the military junta has directly intervened “in an election of the Lawyers Council of Thailand…”.

PPT is aware how much the junta’s rather dull leaders hate elections, but an intervention in an election of a relatively small association seems rather more dopey and hamfisted than is usual for the military brass.

Those on the receiving end of this bit of junta repression make the point that the “junta has no legitimacy to do so [intervene].” They seem to have forgotten that their previous support for anti-democrats means that the junta does not need legitimacy for repression.

In any case, the “Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA), Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF), ENLAWTHAI Foundation, Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) and 66 other lawyers and law academics on Monday, 21 March 2016, issued a joint statement to condemn the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) for ordering a halt to the election of the Lawyers Council under the Royal Patronage…”. We suppose they are making a point by including the last phrase.

The junta issued an order on 16 March issued to “halt the upcoming election of the council’s president and committee for 2016-2019.” The reason cited is, as you’d expect from these lumbering dopes, is plainly stupid: “In a letter sent to the Lawyers Council by the NCPO last week, Gen Chalermchai Sitthisat, Deputy Secretary-General of the NCPO, reasoned that the Lawyers Council has many members and that the election of the Council might be deemed a violation of NCPO Announcement No. 7/2014 which bans a political gathering of five or more persons.”

The order means that “the current president and committee of the Lawyers Council shall serve as an acting committee for the time being.” We suspect that the current leadership better suits the junta.

The gradually expanding repression of middle class is a feature of previous regimes, and it remains to be seen if this class’s anti-democratic stance holds in the face of its own repression or whether, as in 1992, it finds the military boot on its neck too restrictive.





More repressive populism

21 03 2016

The military dictatorship, reportedly keen to get more of the public to like it – the regime remains highly personalized – has embarked on another giveaway scheme.

On 25 December last year, the same self-proclaimed premier, General Prayuth Chan-ocha came up with a new giveaway: a 15,000 baht tax deduction for purchases which was estimated to cost the state 5 billion baht.

Less than three months later, he’s decided to give away another 5 billion baht of tax rebates to middle-class and wealthy consumers. As the Bangkok Post explains it, “[l]ike last December’s temporary shopping tax relief, to take advantage of the scheme, people have to dine at or otherwise shell out at, restaurants, hotels and travel-related companies which can issue tax invoices allowing them to deduct a certain amount from taxable income…”.

Not many farmers will benefit from this giveaway. Oddly, the report claims that “[t]he measures are aimed at the lower and middle classes…”. In addition, the companies that will benefit are happy: “Those in the private sector have also shown their support for the measure.”

The impact for the middle class and the rich is that the poor subsidize their holidays, eating and drinking.

We imagine that under newly proposed legislation to ban “populism” for political parties, such measures might well be ruled out as “dangerously populist.” Yet the military junta can do anything it wants. Our rough calculations are that, since December,  the  junta has made populist pledges amounting to 25-35 billion baht.





Repressing the middle class

28 02 2016

We remain bemused by the military junta’s approach to the draft charter. Sometimes it appears that the junta actually thinks they can force through a Yes vote in the referendum.

The junta had one of these delusions when they heard that Prachamati, which Prachatai says is an “online forum which summarises controversial content in the draft constitution and allow people to vote whether they agree or disagree with it” was planning “a seminar about the controversial new draft constitution titled ‘New Constitution: What Are We Going to Do?’…”.VOTE NO

Thai Police have banned the seminar declaring it a (seemingly threatening) political gathering of five or more persons, which the junta cannot abide, even if it organizes political events itself.

The seminar was to be held at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, hardly a known venue for sedition.

The police had the BACC staff tell “the organisers that they have to prohibit the event from being held at the venue.”

Prachamati responded, saying: “We just hope that people will still have space to express their opinion about the new draft constitution in various different means and not having their rights arbitrarily suppressed…. We will continue to campaign to create awareness about the draft charter online.”

Prachamati website was founded with the cooperation of Prachatai and Thaipublica, both middle-class alternative media agencies, iLaw, which monitors and promotes freedom of expression and the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, which is a part of Mahidol University.

The more the junta cracks down on the middle class, the weaker it seems. Whether that is due to internal rifts, authoritarian madness or fascist mentality, it matters little, for it widens repression and reduces support for the junta from the frightened middle classes.