From military junta to military-backed government

20 07 2019

Recently, King Vajiralongkorn returned to Thailand to swear-in the “new” cabinet. Beside his new wife, the king resembled his father in mumbling “that it was normal that, in the process of doing a job, there will be problems, and that it was normal that they must be solved at the core so the administration of the country can proceed smoothly.” Exactly like his father, the king urged the ministers “to perform their duties for the happiness of the people and the security of the country, as they had pledged to do during the swearing-in ceremony.”

Interestingly, Thai PBS chose to interpret this oft-repeated soliloquy as the king having “offered moral support to Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha and his cabinet ministers…”.

With a fractious and grasping coalition Gen Prayuth is going to have to have plenty in his sack of slush funds for keeping his men and women together in government.

What kind of government is this “new” administration? Opponents like Pithaya Pookaman say it is just no longer a junta but a military-backed regime. Others see it as a facade and “a purportedly civilian government…”. One of the most obvious signs of the junta wolf having donned sheep’s clothing is the fact that junta figures continue to dominate cabinet and all the key ministries. The other ministries are the trough that the coalition parties will slosh around in.

Even so, Prayuth has plenty of challenges, including having mafia-like figures in his cabinet.

Likely to be one of the easiest to see off is likely to be the Constitutional Court’s consideration of “the Opposition’s petition, claiming that General Prayut is unqualified to be prime minister in accordance with Section 170 (paragraph 3) and Section 82 of the Constitution.” Based on its previous politicized decisions, we don’t expect the Court to move against Gen Prayuth.

The other case the Constitutional Court has taken on can potentially strengthen Gen Prayuth and his government. It decided “to accept for consideration a petition accusing the Future Forward party, its leader, secretary-general and the executive committee of engaging in activities deemed a threat to the country’s constitutional monarchy.”

Interestingly, the Court was split 5-4 on accepting the case. But, if proven for the Court, Future Forward could be dissolved. Worse charges of lese majeste and sedition could easily follow, seeing politicians being locked up.

Clipped from Khaosod

Getting rid of yet another political party defined as opponents of the ruling class and the military-monarchy twinning may result in instability, but it seems pretty clear that Gen Prayuth can rely on the support of those with war weapons. Indeed, in recent days, the military and police have announced full support for the “new” government. Expect political repression to continue.

If all else fails – the deals, the loot and the repression – expect a military coup. If Gen Prayuth retains support among the ruling class and in the palace, a coup would support him. If he loses their confidence that he can protect and promote the interests of ruling class and palace, then a coup against him might see Gen Apirat Kongsompong put in the premier’s chair.





New government promised

4 07 2019

Now more than 100 days since the junta’s rigging of its election and result, things haven’t gone smoothly for the military junta. Because the “election” result wasn’t exactly as the junta had hoped, and because the multi-party coalition is so large and because the junta’s Palang Pracharath Party is such a motley concoction of old-style politicians, “negotiations” over who scores what benefit and position have been endless and publicly messy.

The most recent glitch involved what the Bangkok Post calls the “Sam Mitr faction of the Palang Pracharath Party…”. In fact, it was this small group of mostly former pro-Thaksin Shinawatra politicians who formed the party, funded it and went around hoovering up the old-style politicians as candidates for the junta’s party.

Suddenly, however, the three friend group has appeared contrite. Moneybags and former Thaksin minister Suriya Juangroongruangkit said his “group will not cause problems for the prime minister, so he will have time to work for the country. After communicating with seniors yesterday, whatever positions the group now receives will be the decision of the prime minister…”.

Did those “seniors” threaten or did they make concessions? Was it Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s coup threat? Being the junta, the tea leaves may remain unreadable, although the cabinet list will be revealing of the dozens of deals done.

Gen Prayuth, scaffolded by constitutional rigging into a further term as prime minister, now reckons he will have a cabinet sworn in by the end of the month. That depends on the king being in Thailand. He says he’s made all the decisions, but in a bit of royalist nonsense that evolved in recent years, the cabinet will not be announced until approved by the monarch.

Within hours, Gen Prayuth was then saying he could “confirm the new government will be formed and will swear the oath of office [before King Rama X] by the middle of July for sure…”. That cabinet is rumored to be junta-heavy and includes self-confessed mafia figures:

They included his three deputies — Somkid Jatusripitak, Wissanu Krea-ngam and the embattled Gen Prawit Wongsuwon — who are penciled in to retain their current posts.

Gen Anupong Paochinda — Gen Prayut’s other brother-in-arms — also looks set to retain his position at the Interior Ministry.

Meanwhile, Capt Thammanat Prompao, who is close to Gen Prawit and was once seen as an influential figure, is to become the next labour minister.

It is said that it has again been Gen Prawit pulling the strings and “played a major role in arranging the cabinet line-up…”.





Shaky regime I

17 06 2019

Facing legal challenges that can only be pushed aside if remarkable double standards are applied in the judicial system, the junta-spawned government-to-be is in a spot of bother that could become a major threat to the regime the junta is trying to put in place.

Of course, legal double standards have been the norm for much of the time since the 2006 military coup, so nothing can be ruled out. However, if the 41 MPs currently being challenged for media shareholdings on which the Election Commission and Constitutional Court moved with lightening speed when Future Forward members were involved, are laundered by those institutions, then the junta’s regime-in-the-making will be in serious trouble (except with the rusted-on yellow shirts and other anti-democrats).

A point to note, as observed by the linked story is that these cases should not be compared with that of Future Forward’s Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit (except perhaps on the speed with which his case was processed). Rather, the comparison should be with disqualified candidate Phubet Henlod, a Future Forward candidate in Sakhon Nakhon’s Constituency 2. His candidacy was withdrawn by an order of the Supreme Court’s Electoral Affairs Division on March 19 because he was a partner-manager of a company, Mars Engineering and Service, which registered as perhaps, one day, having an interest in the media business.

If, as Wan Noor claims, the junta’s regime is in trouble, what might happen. Readers will know that PPT doesn’t engage much in crystal-balling, but there is another story that offers some things to consider.

Gen Apirat

It will come as no surprise that a source said to be close to Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha states that The Dictator will “rely on the unity of the armed forces, which have done a good job over the past five years in backing him.” If Gen Prayuth does become Defense Minister, then he will work closely with rabid royalist and anti-Thaksin Shinawatra Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong.

The anonymous source, reckons that Gen Prayuth “is highly unlikely to face any coups.” Not only has Gen Apirat been a member of the junta, but his  “allegiance and support for Gen Prayut” has been strong. The source also mentions that “internal structural changes — in which key units for coup-making are transferred — [mean] any military intervention is almost ruled out.”

For PPT, that last point is unlikel;y to prevent a coup if the Army commander ordered it. But all of this seems beside the point. What is more likely is a coup in support of Gen Prayuth if his government is unstable and unable to work as if it is a junta.

The story continues and observes that Prayuth’s “civilian” government “will depend on the army’s Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc), which has the resources and the Internal Security Act to enable it to continue the kind of repression that has gone on over the past five years. The source added that “military tactics will be deployed to make the Prayut administration stay in power as long as possible and help him prepare for the next round of elections.”

We are already seeing that thuggishness used against opponents.

To keep his government in place via parliament, “[c]abinet reshuffles, money and lawsuits are also on the table.” Don’t rule out military threats; these have been used extensively in the past, including during Gen Prem Tinsulanonda’s government, when senior politicians like Kukrit Pramoj were intimidated.

What’s missing in this discussion – of course! – is any consideration of the palace. Gen Prayuth must work especially hard to satisfy and satiate King Vajiralongkorn. If he fails in this, he’s dead and so is his government (if he ever forms it).





Updated: Disdain for parliament

4 06 2019

An Army engineer

Following five years of rolling back electoral politics and election rigging, not everything went the way the Army’s political engineers imagined. Yes, they came up with a less democratic constitution in 2017. Less democratic than the previous not so democratic one engineered after the 2006 military coup. Yes, they came up with a bunch of laws that connected to the undemocratic constitution that made it virtually impossible to prevent military political interference or even dominance for years to come.

Where this came unstuck was on 24 March when constituency voters chose parties that were anti-junta. It was only the puppet Election Commission, supported by the biased Constitutional Court that the junta even gained a hope of bargaining its way to a lower house majority by cobbling together up to 20 parties into a Palang Pracharath-led coalition. But not even that is in place, less than 24 hours before parliament selects a “new” prime minister.

The bloody hands of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha are set to grab premiership (again), thanks to the junta’s Army engineering that allows for a junta-picked and appointed Senate being likely to vote as a block for The Dictator, along with his Palang Pracharath Party. This despite various pleading for the Senate to not act as the junta’s puppets.

The Democrat Party and Bhum Jai Thai Party may come on board with the junta – as they are desperate to do – but only after all of the bargaining for cabinet posts has been completed. It is looking likely that the selection of the PM will go ahead with a government having been concocted by the junta and its puppet party.

This means that six weeks after the election, Thailand continues to be administered by the junta. It hardly has a “government” in place as so many of its ministers scurried off to Palang Pracharath and the Senate. For The Dictator, his face will be saved, but only momentarily.

Remarkably, but defining of the whole process of coup to election charade, this political theater of a joint parliamentary sitting choosing a PM will likely take place without Gen Prayuth even showing up, let alone saying something to parliament.

According to Khaosod, Deputy PM Wissanu Krea-ngam has stated that “there’s no need for junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha to show up tomorrow when parliament convenes to elect a new prime minister.”

We suspect that the prickly, arrogant premier-in-waiting is doing a Prem (again). He hardly ever showed up for parliament, treating it like a junior school where politicians squabbled and fought and he floated above it, buoyed by royal barami. Like Gen Prem, Gen Prayuth exhibits nothing but disdain for parliamentary politics.

With “lower house speaker Chuan Leekpai [having] promised on Monday to allow MPs ample time to debate the qualifications of PM candidates before going to the vote,” we are sure that Gen Prayuth sees this as several levels below his exalted status. He had hoped that parliament would be a bunch of yes-men and -woman and that he would be able to ignore them for a few years, leaving them to squabble and fight over the leftovers from the junta’s plate.

But the voters have thrown that plan into disarray, and Gen Prayuth, if he gets up tomorrow as expected, he can expect criticism. And that’s something that he has never learned to deal with.

And just in case you were wondering, “Deputy PM Wissanu also specified to the media Tuesday that Prayuth and the rest of the junta will remain in their positions until a new cabinet formally reports to its first day of work.”

So whatever happens tomorrow, it is Prayuth in the premier’s seat for the near term. If he gets his way tomorrow, we don’t expect that he will enjoy the medium term. Bookmakers are taking bets on the date of the next coup. He’ll hate the idea of parliament even more than he does now.

Update: According to a report in Post Today, about half of the Democrat Party’s more extreme MPs have decided to screw their party and bed down with the junta’s party. This is either a threat to the rest of the MPs to come on board with the junta and The Dictator or its another large nail in the coffin of this hopeless party.





Updated: Battle lines drawn

2 04 2019

In our last post we at PPT worried about a “silent coup.” That coup just got very bellicose.

The Bangkok Post reports that Army chief and junta secretary-general Gen Apirat Kongsompong has gone nuclear in attacking just about everyone the junta fears and hates.

Clipped from Khaosod

First, sounding like a throwback to the Cold War, Gen Apirat rants about “leftists.” He singled out those students and lecturers who had studied overseas as threats to national security and the monarchy:

Those who studied democracy abroad and read other countries’ textbooks must consider how they should be adapted instead of trying to change the constitutional monarchy. Do not introduce the left-wing policies you learned and try to pretend. Other countries do not do so….

Clearly, this is an attack on Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, who studied in France, and Future Forward.

He went further:

To the students, lecturers and officials who studied abroad, some of whom received scholarships from the palace, I’d like to stress that no matter what kind of democracy you have studied, democracy has been adapted to suit different cultures around the world… In the world of democracy, there are many forms of democracy….

Apirat being “democratic”

What he means is the Thai-style democracy or royal democracy, while not democratic at all, is the only kind of “democracy” that will be permitted by the Army.

In fact, that is the (non)democracy established by the junta’s constitution. The problem is that people seem to still want to elect anti-junta/anti-military parties and Gen Apirat is livid.

He warned that “politicians, lecturers and students” must obey the rules. He warned that any “refusal to follow rules would only create problems…”.

Second, Gen Apirat barked at political parties that were, he claimed, “dividing Thai people by referring to ‘democratic’ and ‘dictatorial’ camps.” In his warped world, the junta is not dictatorial. No sane person agrees with him.

He threatened another “civil war” if these people didn’t follow the rules. Some part of these “rules” seems to involve accepting that the Election Commission is doing a good job and that the “parliament” should be accepted. He seemed to imply that the parliament would be controlled by the junta’s devils aided by cobras.

Third, while acknowledging that the Army uses social media, he blasted those who use it for purposes other than for promoting the Army, the junta and the monarchy.

Fourth, he excoriated the Svengali of Hong Kong or Dubai or somewhere else whose name may not be spoken:

Some rich people did not flee although they were prosecuted and sentenced to jail. They accept the justice system, unlike someone who does not or cannot accept it and is making moves abroad…

Suffering his usual political schizophrenia, Gen Apirat then somehow managed to imagine that the “armed forces were free from politics and were professional.”

We are not exactly sure where Gen Apirat’s head is when he comes up with such lies. In this instance, he makes this ludicrous claim when he is making a political speech meant to spin lies while damning his political opponents.

But here’s a hint on the location of his location: he says the murderous military “adhered to the duty to protect the nation, religions and the monarch and followed the instructions of His Majesty the King…”.

Clipped from Khaosod

So, while channeling the Cold War, his politics has nothing to do with democracy and his head is somewhere in the early twentieth century before the 1932 revolution.

When a military thug with a record of murderous, lawless and anti-democratic interventions talks, barks and threatens in this way, we get concerned. What next? Another coup?

Update: A reader sent us a link to a link to a brief account of Gen Apirat’s meeting with the foreign media. In English, it seems less maniacal than his reported comments in Thai on roughly the same topic. The interesting addition to the above reports is his recycling of yellow-shirt narratives about the ignorant, deluded and/or uneducated masses in the countryside.





Huh?

23 03 2019

With more than 90 official complaints of cheating already filed with the Election Commission, it looks like being a long “election” in the sense that all these things will take a long time to play out, and all of this “playing out” will be done under the junta government. Talking with a small group of rapidly assembled and ill-prepared election monitors, “EC commissioner Wiroj Kowattana told the representatives that the Thai EC was an independent organisation and it was not under anyone’s order to organise the polls.” Huh?

Meanwhile, a reader who has always provided us with accurate information from the Northeast has told us that in two villages he was visiting late today saw money be handed out to villagers, encouraging votes for Palang Pracharath. Huh? Will the EC be interested? Probably not.

We await further reports. Tonight is the night the dogs used to howl in the 1980s and 1990s.

But rest assured, whatever the outcome of the “election,” Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan has said there will be no coup, even if the Thaksin Shinawatra parties do very well in the “election.” Huh? Maybe Prawit is not the one making that decision.

In any case, Suthep Thaugsuban of the anti-democrat Action Coalition for Thailand promised instability, saying: “If [voters] choose these ‘Pheu’ parties, see you on Ratchadamnoen…”. We think that’s illegal to say in the campaign, but we doubt the EC cares.

But back to Gen Prawit. He was remarkably candid when asked “whether he would play a crucial role in forming the government on the night of the election day on Sunday, Gen Prawit said he didn’t know nor had he been contacted to do so.” Huh? That seems like an affirmation.

Apart from the really big news – Thaksin-Ubonratana and Rap Against Dictatorship – there’s also the story that the rally-shy Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha turned out for his manufactured Palang Pracharath Party to beg for votes. He declared: Vote for me!  I will die for the country! But he said little of substance just that Thailand needed a strong leader. Ho hum.

What was interesting in the Bangkok Post story was an estimate of numbers at the rally. They reckon 10,000 showed up. Huh? But if you look at the Post reporter’s video of part of his speech, it is a very quiet “10,000” and looks less than half that in the social media videos that are widely available.





Predictions and oddities

22 03 2019

There are a ton of articles about making predictions about the outcome of the election and there will probably be a lot more over the next 24 hours. Some are pretty awful, some are better and some are oddities.

One real oddity is a report about the police’s “X-Ray Outlaw Foreigner” round-up – seriously, that’s the name – which has been going for a while now. It began as a blatantly racist “Operation Black Eagle,” targeting “negroes.” Immigration police deputy chief Maj Gen Itthipol Itthisaronnachai said the 490 foreigners had been rounded up to “protect” the election. He declared: “As you know, this is the period right before the elections.” Maybe he’d been drinking.

Most pundits reckon that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha will be returned as premier following the election. What is less clear is how many seats his Palang Pracharath Party will win.

Even with enormous rigging and cheating, it is looking like the junta’s own party may not do very well at all, with some predicting as few as 50 seats. That would, for the junta, amount to a defeat. It would mean that the junta and Prayuth would have to rely on other devil parties such as Bhum Jai Thai and Action Coalition for Thailand. But even that may be insufficient and will mean that the Democrat Party, never a poll winner, might hold the balance of seats.

It may be that the lower house is dominated by pro-Thaksin Shinawatra and anti-military parties that can snipe at the cobbled together pro-junta government. It would be messy and open the way for Puea Thai to claim that the electorate has been robbed.

Will Gen Prayuth covet the premiership enough to deal with all these parties and his electoral “defeat”? Is he prepared for the loss of face and the bickering and bartering? Is he prepared to show up in parliament to be harangued by opponents?

If he isn’t up for it, then pundits say another election will follow. We doubt that, simply because the military brass are unlikely to see that as changing anything much at all. We’d predict another coup, and pretty soon after the vote.