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.

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.