Remembering I

11 01 2020

After posting about the erasure of history and memory, PPT was delighted to come across Prachatai’s 2019: สำรวจภูมิทัศน์การเมืองไทยช่วง ‘รอยต่อ’. For those readers who can navigate this Thai-language article, the reward is some excellent and sometimes brave analysis of recent politics.

Two illustrations sum up an effort to revive history and memory. The first is of the trail of military coups and unelected senates/senators, appropriately marked with crowns.

The second illustration is of the kings land grabbing and the text includes a listing of some of these. Of course, there’s been much more, some of which hasn’t even been mentioned in the media. This is an ongoing accumulation that should be closely watched in 2020 :





Updated: Flashback 6 October 1976

6 10 2019

As we do each year, we recall the events of 6 October 1976, where military, right-wing thugs and palace came together to murder protesters and unleash a rightist authoritarianism led by a palace man that was soon replaced by a direct military regime.

Those events have had sad resonances over the decades and the blood continues to drip from the hands of those who have been the military’s leaders and its ideologues.

This year we remember 1976 with a reproduction of a booklet that came out on 2008 from the Pridi Banomyong Institute.

Download the 16-page PDF here.

Update: For those who haven’t seen it yet, the article by Puangthong Pawakapan and Thongchai Winichakul, “The desecration of corpses on 6 October 1976: who, how and why” at New Mandala is well worth some contemplation.





On king and military

5 09 2019

The Economist has an article this week on King Vajiralongkorn’s political rise. We at PPT don’t agree with all of it, but we reproduce it in full as it will likely be banned in hard copy in Thailand and finding it online may be difficult.

For the record, we disagree on the significance of factionalism in the military. Military watchers over emphasize this. Nor do we think the relationship between King Bhumibol and the military was in any way “ambiguous.”

RIGID AND austere, King Chulalongkorn, the fifth monarch of Thailand’s Chakri dynasty, gazes across Bangkok’s Royal Plaza from a gleaming steed. The bronze statue is just one immovable legacy of the Thai monarchy. The mindset of the country’s armed forces is another. The king overhauled them late in the 19th century, founding a military and naval academy, creating a ministry of defence and indelibly associating them with the crown.

Thailand’s generals have seized power 12 times since a revolution brought an end to absolute monarchy in 1932. The most recent coup was in 2014. The general who led it, Prayuth Chan-ocha, has remained prime minister ever since. But his authority over the army he once commanded is fading. Instead it is King Maha Vajiralongkorn who is fast becoming the biggest influence over Thailand’s men and women in uniform.

The armed forces have never really proved themselves in war. Instead they have focused on battling their country’s politicians. Their most fearsome foe was Thaksin Shinawatra, whom they ousted as prime minister in 2006. The feud between his supporters and opponents has tortured Thai politics ever since. But the army appears finally to have bested its enemy, presiding over a rigged election in March that relegated the Thaksinites to a parliamentary minority for the first time since 2001. Politicians backing the army have formed a coalition government led by Mr Prayuth. But the coalition is a rickety one, composed of 18 different parties. That leaves Mr Prayuth ever more dependent on the veneer of legitimacy provided by the king.

The army’s penchant for politics has always been tied to the prestige of the monarchy. “The consent of the governed is less important than the imprimatur of the monarch,” explains Gregory Raymond of the Australian National University. Military regimes bolster their legitimacy by slavish devotion to the crown. A symbiotic relationship between the barracks and the palace has endured since the 1950s, each defending the other’s standing.

Close ties to the royals help the armed forces avoid change. The last coup voided a constitution which had established legislative scrutiny over defence policy. Modest reforms occurred after soldiers killed dozens of democratic protesters in 1992 and again after the Asian financial crisis of 1997. Mr Thaksin managed to reduce the army’s budget and placed allies in senior military posts, but achieved little lasting change. Governments which make serious attempts to clip the army’s wings tend to get ousted, as Mr Thaksin’s was. Even so, a popular new party, Future Forward, wants to reduce the number of generals, end conscription and cut military budgets.

The main impetus for change is coming from the palace itself, however. King Vajiralongkorn, who attended an Australian military academy, served in the army and holds the ranks of field marshal, admiral and air marshal, is obsessed with military titles, training and hierarchy. He expects others to share his passion. The queen, a former flight attendant, has risen through the ranks of his personal guard. Her ascent was not purely a show of grace and favour: she had to complete gruelling training with her men. She now holds the rank of general. His official concubine, a former nurse, was promoted to major-general this year. While crown prince, the king made his pet poodle, since deceased, an air marshal.

Since he came to the throne almost three years ago, the king has increased the clout of the monarchy in various ways, dispensing with a regent when he is abroad and taking direct control over the administration of all crown property. He has also inserted himself into the administration of the army. A new unit, the Royal Command Guard, has been created at his behest. It includes many of his former bodyguards. Its 5,000-odd soldiers will be under the direct command of the monarch and will be stationed in the heart of Bangkok. At the same time, an infantry regiment and a cavalry battalion that were instrumental in past coups have been ordered out of the capital. This will make it much harder for the army to launch coups without securing the support of the king in advance.

King Vajiralongkorn has stoked factionalism, too, weakening the bond between the army and the government that it installed. Mr Prayuth and his deputy prime minister, Prawit Wongsuwan, are both former army chiefs. They rose up through the Queen’s Guard, elite troops from a regiment within the army’s Second Infantry Division. The current army chief, Apirat Kongsompong, belongs to the King’s Guard, a faction nestled instead within the First Infantry Division. The king himself once served in it. General Apirat must retire next year and his most likely successor is also from the King’s Guard.

During the reign of the king’s father, Bhumibol, the relationship between the armed forces and the monarchy was ambiguous. The king’s advisers had a role in the appointment of senior generals, but then again, most of them were former generals themselves. The king never visibly opposed the many coups that took place during his reign, but he did once give a dressing down to a coup leader who had violently suppressed public protests, causing the offending general to resign.

Under King Vajiralongkorn, the ambiguity has diminished. Mr Prayuth has meekly complied with even the most awkward of the king’s demands, agreeing, for instance, to change the text of the new constitution even after Thai voters had signed off on it. The king left the generals squirming by declining to accept the crown for almost two months after his father’s death, in an unexpected show of modesty. “Prayuth’s days are numbered,” predicts Paul Chambers of Naresuan University. And when the inevitable happens and the army next mounts a coup, the king will be in a commanding position.





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.