Updated: Nothing seems to change

19 02 2019

The reporting over the last few days seems to suggest little has changed in over a decade of military coups, elected governments illegally thrown out, scores of deaths and mass street demonstrations.

In observing this, we are leaving aside the continuing speculation regarding Thaksin Shinawatra’s failed bid to make a (semi-) royal fruitcake a prime minister. Those guesses range on a spectrum from the events were out of the box to ordinary, that they weakened the king or made him stronger, that the king knew what was going on or he didn’t, and even resurrect some perspectives from the 1950s to try to explain various scenarios. And there’s still the misleading view that Thailand is somewhere on a road to democracy. And that’s all from the same source in several articles.

But back to the nothing-much-changes idea.

First, we see The Dictator showing himself for his Palang Pracharath Party and the party using his picture on campaign posters while he remains deeply engaged in all kinds of state activities, spending and so on.

Meanwhile, his former boss, brother-in-arms and Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paochinda has “defended his [now] boss … by insisting that junta leader-cum-Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha should not step down before the royal coronation takes place in two months.”

Here the point being made to the electorate is that only The Dictator and the military can be “trusted” as loyalists. It was the anti-democrats of the People’s Alliance fro Democracy that proclaimed loyalty as a political issue of the era by donning royal yellow.

Second, to make the point about loyalty, none other than anti-democrat Suthep Thaugsuban is quoted as declaring that only a vote for his party (and pro-junta parties) “can prevent Thaksin Shinawatra from returning to power through its proxy parties…”. That’s a refrain widely heard from the anti-democrats for over a decade. And, Suthep appears to be admitting the electoral strength of the pro-Thaksin parties, something seen in every election from 2000 to 2011, when elections were free and fair.

Suthep’s claims that the anti-democrats could keep Thaksin’s “proxies” out saw him drawing on the experience of the repressive actions of the junta in forcing through its 2016 constitution draft in a “referendum.” Perhaps he expects/hopes for similar cheating in the junta’s “election.”

And third, Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong, who himself wielded war weapons against red shirt protesters in 2010, and who refuses to rule out another coup, has again declared that he will not be controlled by “evil” politicians.

After the military budget increasing 24% under the junta, the notion that it might be cut by an elected government prompted the evil but loyal Gen Apirat to order the “ultra-rightist song ‘Nak Phaendin’ [Scum of the land] to be aired every day on 160 Army radio stations across the country…”. This anti-communist song from the 1970s – another period when the military murdered hundreds in the name of the monarchy – was to be played twice a day. It was also to be played at the Ministry of Defense and and in all Army barracks:

The Army chief reasoned [PPT thinks that word is incorrect] earlier that the anthem broadcast was aimed at encouraging everyone to be aware of their duties and responsibilities towards the country.

The “duties” he means are to protect the monarchy and murder opponents of the military-monarchy alliance.

He was supported by Deputy Dictator, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, who supported the notion that politicians are “eveil” and deserve death at the hands of murderous loyalists. He said: “Listen to the song that the Army chief mentioned. Listen to it.”

Apirat partially revoked the order later, with the song continuing to be broadcast inside the Army Command at noon. As former Thammasat rector and historian Charnvit Kasetsiri expressed it,

Other than calling for a return to absolute monarchy, they’re now rehearsing ‘Scum of the Earth,’ too? History will repeat itself if we don’t learn from it. And where will that path take us? Better or worse?

It leaves Thailand in its ultra-conservative, ultra-royalist time warp.

Clearly, the Army commander and the Defense Minister are campaigning against pro-Thaksin parties and for The Dictator and the party of the rightists, Palang Pracharat.

That’s not new. Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, then head of the Army, demanded that voters reject Thaksin parties in 2011. However, this time, the threat is louder, nastier and very, very threatening.

Nothing much changes.

Update: PPT noticed that the Election Commission has issued a warning that “posting text, sharing or commenting on messages that defame political candidates violates the Computer Crime Act.” So how will the EC respond to Gen Apirat’s condemnation of Puea Thai and other pro-Thaksin parties as “scum” and actively campaigning against them? As a puppet agency our guess is that it will do nothing.





Updated: And now coup rumors

10 02 2019

Khaosod reports:

Riot police were ordered to mobilize and prepare to defend important facilities Saturday in the central province of Phichit, according to a leaked order from the provincial governor marked urgent.

There was no further information on why the order was issued or whether it went out in other provinces. It gave no further details other than to say it was “due to urgent government matters.”

Update: The Dictator “dismissed rumours of a junta order removing the military’s commanders-in-chief as ‘fake news’, insisting the military remained united.” As The Nation reports it, the coup rumor “coincided with similar rumours of a possible counter coup d’etat amid uncertainty over the political situation” associated with the “nomination of Princess Ubolratana, … as a candidate for premier was proposed by Thai Raksa Chart Party, which is allied to the powerful Shinawatra clan.” At the same time, the junta “set up a war room to closely monitor current movements that could instigate chaos in the country…”.





The rigged election and the coup

23 10 2018

Atiya Achakulwisut at the Bangkok Post asks the obvious question: “What is the point of holding a general election when a military coup is lurking just around the corner?”

Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong making headlines by “saying another coup is possible if political unrest returns” is topic of the week, as the junta expected and wanted.

Atiya says Gen Apirat’s threat “has dimmed the light of a return to democracy after four years under military rule but because it suggested that authoritarianism will always be the answer for Thai society.”

We get the point, but anyone who reads anything about Thailand’s politics knows that the military has long been the enemy of electoral democracy.

Gen Apirat’s statement is only a little more threatening than Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s exhortation just prior to the 2011 election for voters to reject Yingluck Shinawatra and the Puea Thai Party. The implication of his “advice” to voters was that if they didn’t elect the other side, then expect the military to eventually intervene. And so he did via the creation of the anti-democrat movement.

Atiya suggests that the “new army chief made the coup threat public to send a message to politicians not to stray so far as to instigate violence ahead of the poll.” That’s wrong. His threat is to voters, just as Prayuth’s threat was to voters.

When Atiya says that “hopes are still high that the next election will be free and fair and the results will be accepted by all sides,” she’s grasping at straws and misreading what the junta means the “election” to be.

She’s right on a lot more about the nature of the military dictatorship. What matters for the junta is keeping political power in the hands of the anti-democrats, whether by rigged election or military coup.





Military planning, the rigged election and the next coup

22 10 2018

According to Wassana Nanuam at the Bangkok Post, the military under new boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong has a plan for defeating Puea Thai in an “election.” If that doesn’t work, the Army will control the new government. And, if that fails, the Army will arrange yet another military coup.

That’s why he has refused “to rule out another coup…”.

Wassana reports that it “is widely speculated that a new administration led by Pheu Thai could face military retaliation if it attempts to remove generals appointed by the regime [the junta].” A source tells her: “Pheu Thai is likely to have a hard time running the country and may face another round of street protests that could enable the military to justify a coup…”.

How’s that for a plan! Even before the rigged election is held or a single vote counted, it is being made clear that a Puea Thai government is unacceptable and will be destabilized.

First, however, the the military junta and the Army “will opt for the ‘less extreme’ tactic of preventing Pheu Thai taking the reins in the first place…”. This involves “managing” coalition building that excludes Puea Thai.

The source adds that Gen Apirat’s coup stance is significant “because few are convinced the Palang Pracharath Party, known to be a vehicle to support Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha to return as the premier if he wishes, can win the election outright.” Military might may well be required again.

The contingency plans are already in place.





Political impunity challenged

15 05 2018

One of the factors that encourage generals to overthrow governments is that the perpetrators of successful putsches always declare their actions (retrospectively) legal. Once the coup leaders are finally seen off, that immunity and impunity is never challenged.

Watana Muangsook, a Puea Thai Party politician, is challenging this.

On Monday Watana called for “the prosecution of coup-makers after the next election.”

Saying the 2014 military coup led by Generals Prayuth Chan-ocha and Prawit Wongsuwan had caused “severe damage to the country and wasted a lot of state budget while causing the most suffering to the people.”

Watana blamed the damage on “inefficient management by retired military officers who want to have power but lack intelligence.”

None of that sounds exactly like holding them responsible for the coup itself, until Watana adds: “The goal is to prevent anyone from using the armed forces to destroy democracy again. More importantly, coup-makers must be punished for causing damage to the country…”.

This is the beginning of a discussion that needs to be held. Such discussions, however, will be muted for fear that they will cause the generals to hold on and prevent any challenge to their impunity.

Watana is right when he states that: “Dictators must be brought to court…”.





On using funerals

26 10 2017

PPT has previously posted on the military dictatorship’s use of the dead king’s funeral for its political promotion, including neglecting huge flooding, except for diverting waters away from Bangkok, fearful that floods at the time of the funeral will be seen as inauspicious and will be a black mark on the regime. Flooding farmers for months seems a “sacrifice” the dictatorship demands.

Belatedly, the (new) king is also making PR of the event. He’s declaring himself a monarch concerned for his people. Army chief General Chalermchai Sitthisart is just one more official over the last few days who has spoken of the king’s “concern.” This time he’s “worried” about “mourners having to endure strong sunlight during the day that could be compounded by heat rising from the concrete pavements.” Magically, mats appeared!

The General says the king has “instructed officials to treat them nicely, not to scold them and not to be too strict…”. (So has The Dictator.)

But fears for the future continue to fester. Some royalists, like Sanitsuda Ekachai at the Bangkok Post writes of “fear and trepidation about the future.” She asserts that a “question is hanging heavy in many people’s minds: What will happen now the country’s last unifying force has gone?”

One might question why Thais should be anxious now. A king dying in a constitutional monarchy should be pretty much meaningless in terms of the nation’s future. But Thailand’s last king and his supporters, especially those in the business class and the military, were anything but constitutional and they propagandized so assiduously that a “fear” has been created. Making out that the dead king was “god-like” and a symbol of unity was so powerful because the state, at least since 1958 and even more heavily since the late 1970s, hammered it in cinemas, on state radio and television, in school and university texts.

The lese majeste law and “social sanction” allowed little thinking outside the approved narrative except in periods of democratization in the 1970s and 2000s, both periods shut down by military coup and repression, always supported by the palace. So when Sanitsuda says that “[g]rief has the power to plunge us into a dark pit of hopelessness,” it is all palace and elite-inflicted.

Yet Sanitsuda seems to mean another fear. The fear of King Vajiralongkorn and his reign. She simply doesn’t mention him and leans on the elite hope that Princess Sirindhorn will “rescue” Thais and the elite from a king they fear as dangerous, grasping and erratic. They hope her propaganda can fill the void created by the death of the king.

Sanitsuda and the elite buy the palace propaganda that Sirindhorn is the one most like her father, lodged in a dysfunctional family that for many years has looked like something between The Addams Family and The Munsters but without much family togetherness or the good humor of those television families.

Now that the eldest brother is on the throne, the elite is hoping that they might follow Sirindhorn as propaganda piece while hoping the brother will not be too much trouble.

Some of the problems Sanitsuda identifies for Thailand seem surgically removed from the legacy of the dead king. While it is said that one should not speak ill of the dead, it is an act of ideological gymnastics to allocate good points to him without looking at his and the palace’s role in these issues and problems.

For all of the guff about the dead king’s work for the people, “wealth disparity in Thailand is among the worst in the world. The third-worst, to be specific.” But don’t blame him for that. In fact, though, as wealth disparities have increased, the monarchy became the wealthiest on Earth. The Sino-Thai capitalists attached to the palace and pouring money into it also became hugely wealthy.

But don’t blame the dead king or the system in which the monarchy was the keystone. Just go on repeating the propaganda that is a fairy tale that permits the elite to ignore the things that benefit them (and the palace): corruption, political repression, exploitation, impunity, state murder and more. The elite’s fingers are crossed that the new king can continue this system without draining off more than an acceptable share. The other side of that coin is the eulogizing of his sister as the dead king’s replacement in the propaganda game. After all, if the propaganda cannot be continued, the whole system of exploitation, repression and vast wealth will be threatened.





The “necessity” of military dictatorship

13 10 2017

In the Bangkok Post, commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak comes up with his repeated excuse for military domination. He claims the succession explains it:

The consequent royal transition is likely to be viewed in posterity as the principal reason why the Thai people have had to put up with Gen Prayut.

Later he states, as he has before, that:

To appreciate how Gen Prayut and his cohorts could seize power and keep it with relative ease, we need to recognise the late King Bhumibol’s final twilight. The royal succession was imminent by coup time, and the Thai people collectively kind of knew the special and specific circumstances this entailed. Power had to be in the hands of the military, as it had to ultimately perform a midwife role. Unsurprisingly, ousted elected politicians may have complained about and deplored the coup but none wanted to retake power during the coup period. They knew that after seven decades of the reign in the way that the Thai socio-political system was set up around the military, monarchy and bureaucracy, it had to be the generals overseeing this once-in-a-lifetime transition.

This is nonsensical propaganda. There were, at the time, and today, many, many Thais who reject this royalist babble. But Thitinan just ignores the deep political and social struggles that marked the period of discord that began with the Asian economic crisis in 1997 and which was punctuated by two military coups.

Thitinan appears to us to be expressing the views of the socially disconnected middle class of Bangkok, those who hate and fear the majority of Thais, and “protect” themselves by attaching themselves to the economic and political power of the Sino-Thai tycoons, monarchy and military.

Thais have “put up with” ghastly military rulers for decades. The military dictators and rulers have used the monarchy to justify their despotism. General Pin Choonhavan used the “mysterious” death of Ananda Mahidol; General Sarit Thanarat promoted the monarchy as a front for his murderous regime; General Prem Tinsulanonda made “loyalty” de rigueur for political office.

Thitinan is wrong and, worse, whether he wants to or not, he provides the nasty propaganda that is justification for military dictatorship. We can only imagine that the military junta is most appreciative.

One reason Thais “put up with” military dictatorship now is because anti-democrats want it, because many of them hate elections that give a power to the subaltern classes. And, as Thitinan acknowledges,

Gen Prayut and his fraternal top brass in the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) have guns and tanks to intimidate and coerce. In their first year in power, the ruling generals detained hundreds of dissenters and opponents for “attitude adjustment”. They even put some of those who disagreed on trial in military court. They also came up with their own laws in an interim charter, including the draconian absolutist Section 44. And they have used and manipulated other instruments and agencies of the state to keep people in check and dissent suppressed.

To be sure, dozens of Thais are languishing in jail during junta rule. One young man, a student with his own strong views, has been jailed for re-posting a social media message that appeared on more than two thousand other pages. The junta also has banned political parties from organising, and has generally violated all kinds of human rights and civil liberties all along.

In addition, the generals have not been immune to corruption allegations….

Thais, it seems, must just “put up with” all this in order to facilitate the death of a king, succession and coronation. Thitinan goes even further, lauding The Dictator:

who grew up in the Thai system from the Cold War, who came of age at the height of Thailand’s fight against communism in the 1970s, seeing action on the Cambodian border against the Vietnamese in the 1980s, serving both the King and Queen and the people in the process with devotion and loyalty.

In fact, General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s military promotion was not forged in “battle” but in providing service to the palace and especially the queen.

Thitinan declares that General Prayuth is the “soul of the nation,” a term once used for the dead king:

When Gen Prayut spoke for the nation [after the last king died], he meant it. Fighting back tears, in seven short minutes, he said what had to be said, and directed us Thais to two main tasks, the succession and the cremation after a year’s mourning. Had it been Yingluck [Shinawatra], who is not known for her eloquence, she might have stumbled during the speech. Had it been Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is fluid and flawless in speechmaking, it would have lacked the soul of the nation.

It had to be Gen Prayut, the strongman dictator and self-appointed premier. He is an earnest man, purposeful and well-intentioned….

Make no mistake, this is pure propaganda for military dictatorship. Make no mistake, Thitinan is justifying military dictatorship for the West, “translating” Thai “culture” for those he thinks are Thailand’s friends. He is saying to The Dictator and to “friends” in the West that 2018 or 2019 will mark the end of an “unusual” time and a return to “normality.” That “normal” is Thai-style democracy, guided for years by the military and its rules.

For those who seek a more nuanced and less propagandist reflection try Michael Peel in the Financial Times. He was formerly a correspondent for the FT based in Bangkok, and has penned “Thailand’s monarchy: where does love end and dread begin?” (The article is behind a paywall, but one may register and get access.) Peel asks: “In a country where few dare to speak openly about the royals, how do Thais feel about their new ruler?”

That is, how do they feel about the succession that Thitinan propagandizes as having “required” military dictatorship working as midwife.