When the military is on top XIX

18 04 2018

Many readers will have already seen a Prachatai story regarding the Ministry of Culture’s Fine Arts Department history textbook “History of the Thai Nation,” said to have been published in 2015.

According to the report, the military junta “asked the department to write the book with the goal of fostering ‘national reconciliation’ and a better understanding of Thai history from 400 years ago until present.” Because the bureaucracy has been purged, all that can be expected of such dictatorship driven propaganda is a Fairy Tale of the Thai Nation.

But such fairy tales are deeply disturbing because the junta demands that their version of “history” be “taught.”

One section of the book declares: “Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha as a PM has reformed the country to be a true democracy, eliminated corruption and used morality to lead the country to true democracy.” Of course, this is a fabrication, a lie and a kind of pornography for The Dictator.

Monarchies, fascist regimes and authoritarians the world over create and protect their national fairy tales (there’s a recent example in Singapore). Thailand has had its fair share of such “revisions” of “official” history, aided and abetted by loyal “academics” and other propagandists, and the junta is the latest in a line of military dictatorships that knows that controlling history is politically important.





Updated: Stealing an “election” II

17 04 2018

In the past, one of the ways that military regimes established their dominance was by forming political parties or by backing particular political parties, sometimes multiple parties. They do this to gain some supposed legitimacy. All over the world, dictatorial regimes use fake elections to do this, and the Thai military dictatorship is little different.

For some time, the junta and its allies have been working to establish support for pro-junta parties, giving these “new” parties support and preferential treatment. It has also been trying to peel potential politicians away from larger parties and The Dictator himself has been meeting various “people of influence” to sign them up for his campaign for the premiership. These were the so-called dark influences or chao phor who acted as political brokers in areas where powerful families control much economic and political influence by both legal and illicit means. (For more, download Ruth McVey’s now useful again book Money & Power in Provincial Thailand.)

In recent days there was the “appointment” of a Democrat Party anti-democrat to a position in the Bangkok administration leaving an electoral space for a pro-junta candidate. And the junta has worked hard to peel Puea Thai Party politicians away from that party.

Two more “appointments” have been made. that illustrate how hard the junta and military are working to grind their heavy boot on Thailand’s politics. Sonthaya Khunploem has been made an “adviser on political affairs to the prime minister…”. His younger brother Itthiphol is now “an assistant to the tourism and sports minister.” These are sons of Chonburi godfather and convicted murderer Somchai Khunploem or Kamnan Poh. The family has been powerful in many political parties and its political location has changed with the wind. Sonthaya’s most recent affiliations were to Puea Thai.

Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-ocha “endorsed the appointments, proposed by the Secretariat of the Prime Minister, on Tuesday…”. In fact, the appointments have been concocted by the junta and the premier himself in order to gain electoral advantage in the eastern region.

Sonthaya is currently leader of the Palang Chon Party. Itthiphol is a former Pattaya mayor. Both have networks of political campaigners, plenty of money and lots of “influence.”

Somchai, now 80, went “on the run in 2006 for seven years before being arrested in January 2013 by a team of police commandos as he was travelling in a vehicle in eastern Bangkok.” He was sentenced to 28.5 years for murder and sundry offenses and was scheduled for release in September 2035. But he was released in late 2017 “after he was deemed to have met special criteria for early release.”

Doing these kinds of deals with local godfathers is not unique to the junta but it is another clear signal of junta political strategy.

Update: The Nation reports that The Dictator has downplayed these appointments. He may not have lied when he said “he needed politicians to advise him on political affairs…” and “to help him better understand politics” in the “elections,” but he certainly lied when played anti-politics and “denied the appointment was for his own benefit.” The report adds:

Somkid Jatusripitak, the chief of the junta’s economic team, has allegedly been consolidating power by wooing former members of the House of Representatives from different political parties to join a new pro-junta party.

The party reportedly is to be led by Somkid’s close aides, Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana and Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong. It is likely to be launched in June and is expected to back Prayut to return as a head of the government after the next election which is expected to be held next year.

Phalang Chon adviser Charoon Ngampichet yesterday did not rule out the possibility of the party banding together with a pro-military party after the election.

“It’s a matter for the future. If the opportunity is really offered, we’ll have to consider whether it’s appropriate,” he said.

Charoon welcomed the presence of key Phalang Chon members in the government.

On whether the planned pro-Dictator party is really being constructed, “Uttama admitted yesterday that preparations were being made for a pro-Prayut party. He said he had discussed the matter with Somkid and Sontirat…”.





Protecting itself

17 04 2018

The military dictatorship has been consistent in protecting itself and its bosses, almost as assiduously as it does the monarchy.

As “more than a hundred people have been charged in the past two months for exercising their right to freedom of expression by calling for an election to be held this year after almost four years of coup-installed rule,” and it proceeds to drag them before the courts, the Bangkok Post reports that “two political activists were detained briefly by the police Monday for announcing their intention to carry out a symbolic gesture of protest at the residence of Deputy Prime Minister [Gen] Prawit Wongsuwon.”

Akechai Hongkangwarn and Chokchai Phaiboonratchata were briefly abducted “from a house on Soi Ramkhamhaeng 109 in Bang Kapi district at about 5.45am” after the former “posted earlier on Sunday on his Facebook account his intention to travel to Gen Prawit’s residence on Soi Lat Phrao 71 Monday, as a Thai New Year bathing rite was held.”

Akechai has repeatedly protested and lampooned Prawit’s luxury watch problem.





When the military is on top XVIII

15 04 2018

When the military is in control even Songkran can be militarized. A reader passed on photos taken of an illumination in Bangkok.





Providing a platform for dictatorship

10 04 2018

Chulalongkorn University’s administration has a reputation as a royal university. This often means that it has, through its history, provided a platform for dictatorial regimes.

It has done it again. The Nation reports that the university has invited The Dictator to speak at the university’s main auditorium on something called “Chulalongkorn University and the Driving of Thailand During the Transition.”

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha said “his 20-year national strategy … was[not] part of a ‘plot’ to let him stay on in power.’ We agree. Rather, it is a strategy to allow the military to dominate and maintain power in its hands for 20 years.

Protests against The Dictator at Chula were limited. Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal appeared “with a facemask and ear plugs,” saying this ‘was because he found the place “full of air and noise pollution’. He also wore a mourning band to protest the university management’s decision to invite ‘a person like this’ to give a speech.”

Gen Prayuth spent his time defending his junta. The junta is struggling to defend a poor record. Chula’s administrators are trying to help him.





When the military is on top XVII

30 03 2018

In another egregious example of the warping of society under the military boot, The Nation reports that “Army chief General Chalermchai Sittisart has given the green light to resume construction of court buildings and official residences at the foot of Chiang Mai’s Doi Suthep, near [right at the edge of] Doi Suthep-Pui National Park.”

The same report states that the “plot in question is considered Ratchaphatsadu land belonging to the state. However, when the project started two decades ago, the plot was under the authority of the Army.”

So why the chief Army thug has his say on this seems to reflect the way Thai society and administration has been militarized.

Chalermchai declared that the “[p]roject ‘gone too far to stop’ despite residents’ environmental worries…”. He added: “As our investigation found construction had proceeded in line with the law and it was already 95 per cent complete, I have allowed the construction work to resume…”. He’s the boss!

Significantly, the large plot of land – 24 ha – cutting a swathe into forest is building luxury houses for judiciary officials based in Chiang Mai. It seems the judiciary has been such a loyal ally in politicized rulings that the military junta is rewarding it.

 

From the Bangkok Post

Construction of the judges and associated staff luxury houses will “cost about Bt1 billion.” Then there will be additional services and fine furnishing.

The Bangkok Post reports that local residents are livid about the judicial housing project essentially involving clearing all trees from the site.

Now the Army boss has “ruled,” he expects all discussion and debate to cease. This is what happens when the military is on top.





Updated: Watching some and not others

26 03 2018

Key words for the military dictatorship: watching and watches. The Dictator “has ordered security forces to closely monitor political groups which are currently launching campaigns to unseat the …[military junta].” The so-called Democracy Restoration Group (DRG) and Start Up People are being watched as “anti-military activists who have stated that they will stage a prolonged rally in May to oust the regime ahead of the fourth anniversary of the May 22, 2014 coup.”

Via a mouthpiece, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha warned people to be watchful of political groups fomenting political unrest, “encouraging everyone to think twice about what they should and shouldn’t do to keep the country moving forward…”. By “forward,” he means backward in political time.

He warned that the “election” – still no date – could be delayed, saying: “So, if the unrest continues to rage, is it likely an election can proceed smoothly?” By “rage” he seems to mean something else. We see no protest raging under a military dictatorship that has worked hard and blunt to squash all expressions of dissent. He’s making up stories in an effort to strike fear into the ever-frightened middle class, the class that usually supports the junta.

But who is watching the watchman? No one. The National Anti-Corruption Commission has again gone quiet on Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, the Deputy Dictator and his luxury watches. The NACC will be looking at the political tea leaves and genuflecting to big powers that might trample them if they do something unexpected.

No one should be surprised as corruption under military regimes is normal. It was only last December that The Dictator had a bunch of people dress in yellow for his declaration of “zero tolerance” of corruption. The result is 50/50 tolerance. Intolerance for the corruption of opponents and 100% tolerance for corruption by junta, its minions, relatives and associated officials. One of the things about a military coup and the reinforcement of “officials” in politics is that officials, civil and military, engage in a corruption buffet. They are given license to be corrupt and even to get away with murder.

These issues are ignored by the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand, a private sector group, when it claims corruption is still reduced under the junta. It works on perceptions, not facts. Under a military regime, while officials are empowered to be corrupt, whistle blowers are disempowered. Precious few complain about corruption under the junta for fear of being branded an opponent and threatened by the military’s thugs. It is only now, with opposition to the junta rising, that corruption cases – dozens of them – are coming to the fore. And still there are dozens more that have been buried.

The extent of corruption under the junta will only become clear once Thailand is junta-free and the military is under civilian authority.

Update: The NACC committee “investigating” Prawit’s watches is now reported to be about ready to “present its findings to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC)” later this week. NACC secretary-general Worawit Sukboon said Prawit had made “a 38-page written explanation of the 39.5-million-baht [watch] collection…”. It will be the NACC that will decide whether to further trouble the Deputy Dictator by having him “appear in person to make a statement…”.