Evil and threatening

20 02 2017

The anti-coal protest has been seen off by the junta. In the end, it became a kind of political bonding exercise. Double standards proliferated throughout.

The other confrontation has been the 4,000 police and soldiers raiding Wat Dhammakaya. PPT has posted a bit on this case previously and why it has been so central for the junta and for the broad yellow shirt movement.

For the junta and its supporters, the perceived connection to the Shinawatra political clan seems to have been the underlying motivation.

What is not at all clear to PPT is why a wealthy temple, supported mainly by Bangkok’s middle class is politically associated with red shirts and Thaksinites, but the wealth of the temple certainly worries the junta, which continues to operate on the assumption that money motivates all political positions other than those of the great, the good and the royalists.

We do understand that Thaksin and his elected regimes were considered a threat to monarchy and thus nation, so perhaps throwing in the third element of the royalist and nationalist trilogy – religion – is a way of further conveying the royalist notion that Thaksin was an evil threat to the very core of the royalist nation.

In this context, we thought that readers might be interested in the views of a dedicated anti-Thaksinista on the evil threat posed by the temple, its monks and its followers.

Veera Prateepchaikul declares:

The real objective of the operation, I believe, is to clamp down on the temple, to strangle the Dhammakaya cult until it is no longer active and does not pose a threat to Buddhism for its distorted Buddhist teachings.

We can’t imagine what “real Buddhism” constitutes for Veera. Not the almost daily scandals of monks drinking alcohol, drug taking, engaging in sexual predation, gambling, high living and so on of official and hierarchical Buddhism. Perhaps he is thinking of that other “cult,” Santi Asoke so close to the yellow shirt movement? He goes on:

More importantly, the trial of Phra Dhammajayo — if there is one — is not the trial of the monk as an individual. It can also be seen as a trial of our own monastic order for its failure to rein in the monk and for its complacency that allowed the monk and his sect to grow so strong they can defy the state and the monastic order with impunity. This does not mean there are no other rogue monks who have misbehaved, but they were deemed a lesser threat than Phra Dhammajayo and the Dhammakaya cult….

Wat Phra Dhammakaya is more than a temple. It qualifies as an empire. Besides the main headquarters in Pathum Thani … [i]t has spread its wings to reach out to the world with meditation centres overseas and across the country, most of which encroach on forest reserves or parks.

Wat Phra Dhammakaya branched out in a similar fashion that a business branches out to get a bigger share of the market.

For the cult, its goal is to attract a bigger following and spread its adulterated Buddhist gospel to encourage its followers to make donations under the slogan that the bigger the amount of the donations, the higher the plane to heaven for the donors.

What the preachers didn’t tell their gullible followers is that some of them may find hell in this life before they may or may not go to heaven in the after-life….

Phra Dhammajayo and the Dhammakaya cult are just one major problem that poses a threat to Buddhism in this country.

We get the feeling that nation, religion and monarchy are under threat. But it isn’t a threat from the Thaksinites as much as from the forces that surround military dictatorship. Conservative forces that seek to maintain feudal and hierarchical institutions of (let’s say) the mid-20th century in a society that has changed.

Winding back the clock to some perceived “simpler”, “purer” and “better” time for the old heads and old men doesn’t mean that their clock isn’t broken. That their “model” (and clock) is broken is their biggest worry and their problem. Thaksin and his supporters heralded the royalist problem, they didn’t create it.





In the embrace of the dictatorship

16 12 2016

Political commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak is one of those who makes a living “translating” Thailand’s politics to foreigners. He does this from a safe position as the head of a Chulalongkorn University institute that has long been supportive of the status quo.

His latest op-ed at the Bangkok Post is far more than an effort to “translate” and more an attempt to rewrite history. He does this in a form that will be appealing to the great and the good who are “liberal royalists.” (On Thitinan’s royalist credentials, see his pathetic ode to the dead king.)

We won’t address every line of Thitinan’s attempted “new history” of the past decade or so, but select some examples.

Although we don’t read all of his op-eds, his first position seems like a new one for him. He “explains” the 2014 military coup as if he is a successionist.

In view of the royal transition that has transpired, Thailand’s interim period since its military coup in May 2014 has now entered a new phase. When the military seized power back then, the Thai public largely put up with what became a military dictatorship…. This rough bargain, whereby the military stepped in to be the midwife of the royal transition, has passed.

In fact, no homogeneous “public” exists in Thailand. Indeed, at the time of the coup, the public was deeply divided. So there was a minority – people like Thitinan, mostly in the comfortable Bangkok middle class of shophouses, apartments and suburban enclaves – who liked the idea of a military dictatorship. Indeed, many of them called for it and demonstrated in support of anti-democracy and military intervention. Most others saw repression and threats and fell into line out of fear and because the junta left no space for opposition.

The notion that there was some kind of “bargain” that allowed the coup as necessary for succession is not just lacking in firm evidence but provides a justification for the coup that is both unwarranted and ignores the military’s history as coup makers. Other writers have suggested that this coup is “different,” but this again seems like a measure of whitewashing the military’s penchant for power.

If we look back to Thitinan writing after the coup, there’s nothing of this. Back then, he drew a distinction between the 2014 coup and Sarit’s regime. Now he says the “Thailand’s putsch in 2014 deviated from familiar coup models in the contemporary period.” That’s because the 1991 and 2006 coups led to “a technocratic caretaker cabinet, led by a civilian at the helm,” and a return to electoral politics.

Thitinan is enamored of “technocrats,” but his claim about handing over to civilian leaders is not entirely true, with the 2006 generals handing over to a government led by General Surayud Chulanont, recently retired from the military and plucked from the Privy Council.

Thitinan, safe in his university institute, reckons the current dictatorship “was suppressive and authoritarian, detaining hundreds of dissenters and regime critics but the generals invariably released them. But the men in green have not killed people.”

He conveniently forgets the military’s role and the role of the junta leaders in murdering dozens in 2010. That was a “message” that opponents have taken seriously, but not, apparently, Thitinan. We can also mention the deaths of activists, deaths in custody and “disappearances,” because Thitinan doesn’t.

Thitinan also reckons the junta is good because it has kept “violence low, [and]… have kept corruption to a minimum.” Perhaps he can explain why almost all the generals who have declared wealth far in excess of what can be legitmately received in their positions in the military? He also seems to forget that, usually, the corruption of military regimes is not found or detailed until after they have been ditched (think Sarit, Thanom and Prapas).

Thitinan then dismisses opposition to the junta as “rumblings and chatters among critics and detractors calling for democracy at the expense of dictatorship. But these have been patchy and contained rather than large-scale and explosive.”

He views the constitutional “referendum” as an endorsement of the junta. He does not consider the threats, the intimidation, the prevention of the expression of alternative views. Indeed, that intimidation continues with court cases ongoing. All this is whitewashed through his silence.

The death of the king becomes a truly remarkable justification for a military dictatorship:

All of this was premised on a once-in-a-lifetime royal transition after the late King Bhumibol’s remarkable 70-year reign. When the day came on Oct 13, few doubted why it had to be Gen Prayut who made the announcement to a grieving nation. At that moment, in the Thai system, it had to be a military man who spoke for the Thai people and the entire nation. No civilian leader from any side of the Thai divide could have had the required gravitas, firm and determined, tinged with grief and sorrow.

This is bizarre, but it also displays the “acceptance” that the monarchy and military are linked as the Siamese twins of authoritarianism. It’s a system that seems to suit Thitinan and one he sees as some kind of feudal social contract.

But now that succesion has been “managed” by a dictatorship, he says it “is time to recalibrate and prepare for a return to popular rule by placing more civilian technocrats in government in the upcoming cabinet reshuffle.” He suggests this as a way to renovate the dictatorship. This faux “civilianization”:

… would boost government performance and lend more international legitimacy. A broad section of the international community has been critical of Thailand’s coup period but there are many sympathetic ears abroad as well. They knew Thailand has been going through a rare transition, and were willing to suspend judgement and wait. Civilianising the cabinet would show progress to Thailand’s friends abroad and pre-empt greater domestic scrutiny going forward. Some at home are beginning to ask why the generals are still so entrenched and dominant in power when the royal transition is behind us.

Bring in the technocrats! But let the junta “maintain control over security-related ministries, such as defence and interior.” There’s no notion of electoral democracy in this. Its anti-democratic to the core. Thitinan probably sees himself as one of those well-placed to move into one of those anti-democratic technocratic positions. After all, his predecessors have been well-rewarded by the forces of authoritarianism.





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.