No hope for electoral democracy

23 03 2017

The Deutsche Welle headline actually says “Little hope.” We think “no hope” is far more accurate for Thailand under the military dictatorship:

Despite the promised return to democracy, the military government in Thailand has shown little inclination to hold elections anytime soon. Fears abound about the country sliding increasingly into authoritarianism.

We think Thailand is already in a deep authoritarian freeze.

DW is right to observe that:

A free and frank discussion about the prevailing political situation in Thailand can, under current circumstances, only take place outside the country. Since the 2014 military coup, the freedom of expression and of the press has shrunk drastically in the Southeast Asian nation. Critics are either coerced by the military to acquiesce in government’s actions or, in worst cases, vanished without trace.

It also notes that “foreign academics and scholars have refrained from traveling to Thailand.” We know that is true. We also know of at least one scholar turned away – deported – from the airport on arrival.

The report mentions “Wolfram Schaffar, who works for the Institute for International Development at the University of Vienna, hasn’t visited Thailand since the 2014 coup. The expert had previously been a regular visitor to the country for work and research purposes.”

DW then suggests that there’s a conflict between the traditional elites and “sections of the emerging middle class that demand more say in the political process. These segments are supported by peasants, particularly in the north of the country.”

We are stumped by the notion that middle classes in Thailand want democracy. In fact, they are the main ballast of authoritarianism. We can only guess that DW has swallowed the nonsensical line that red shirts are some kind “middle class.” Such falsities do nothing to advance clear analysis of the nature of Thailand’s deep authoritarianism.

Its on solid ground quoting Pavin Chachavalpongpun who observes that:

The traditional elites were driven by fear… adding that they were scared of facing an uncertain future. They were particularly afraid of the then Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, who is now king.

That fear resides in the middles classes who fear the loss of a “protection” they have from the “rough classes” in the current military-monarchy system. There’s also a great fear among the elite itself. They fear an erratic, greedy and violent palace. Managing both sets of fears requires a military regime prepared to establish succession and the new reign. Because Vajiralongkorn is unpredictable and unreliable character, that “management” may need to be in place for many years to come.





Lies and impunity

22 03 2017

The story about the extrajudicial killing of Chaiyapoom Pasae gets more unlikely by the day. Of course, it was never a “likely” story, we are just emphasizing that its getting ragged and ridiculous. Ragged and ridiculous is a standard strategy used by the police and military when they murder citizens and need a cover story, no matter how ridiculous.

In our last post, we quoted some dopey police spokesman claiming that Chaiyapoom “was shot dead by a soldier in Chiang Mai last Friday as he tried to attack him with a hand grenade.” That spokesman “insisted” there “was no foul play behind Chaiyapoom’s death.” This official version of the story was supported by a junta spokesman.

The story has now changed as the military dissembles. Reacting to massive criticism on social media, The Dictator has ordered a “probe” into the death. By whom, we are just not sure, but we would guess its those with impunity seeking to grant impunity to their minion murderers.

Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan weighed in. He knows what happened:

… he had received a report from Army chief General Chalermchai Sitthisart, which said officials had to protect themselves as the suspect had intended to throw a grenade that was found at the scene.

“What can they do? The officials also fear dying,” Prawit said, when told the suspect was a youth activist.

That’s pretty clear. Meanwhile,

Army spokesman Winthai Suvaree said the case would be handled in accordance with legal procedures, adding that officials involved in the operation had to give testimony justifying their actions and police would proceed with their investigation, he said.

As we have said many times recently, there is no justice in Thailand and legal procedures are ways to grant impunity.

Winthai knows what happened:

“If the relatives [of Chaiyapoom] have doubts over the investigation and the case, they can have lawyers raise inquiries during the investigation and court trial,” Winthai said. “The army is ready to make the case clear and give justice to all.”

If only the poor in Thailand could afford to buy the “justice” the rich purchase. If only the poor had an institutional system that worked for them rather than the murderous thugs working for the military dictatorship.

The military’s report states a soldier is charged with something or other, but there are no details. The report says this:

Soldiers stopped, searched and found 2,800 methamphetamine pills in a car in which Chaiyapoom and his friend were riding. The soldiers took the two into custody, but Chaiyapoom broke away and was about to throw a grenade at the troops, prompting the soldier to shoot.

According to Col Winthai in an earlier report on Monday, the soldier fired a single shot to kill Chaiyapoom, and no other troops fired.

Col Winthai, who knows what happened, “told reporters the shooting was in self-defence.”

This is different from the original claims. The boy did not throw a grenade.

But there’s more. Prachatai reports that there are other witnesses:

in an interview that Thai PBS broadcasted on 21 March 2017, an anonymous source said several other civilians saw the incident, adding that three gunshots were heard before Chaiyapoom was killed. “Many villagers saw that he was dragged out of the car and beaten. [A soldier] put a foot on his face and fired two shots to intimidate him. When [Chaiyapoom] broke free from the beating and ran, the soldier shot him. They did not allow the villagers to approach the site,” the Thai PBS quoted the anonymous witness as saying.

Based on previous experience, it is likely that the military thugs will be hunting down these witnesses to silence them or, perhaps, charge them with something.

This is how military dictatorships operate.





Seeing red

21 03 2017

As the junta approaches the anniversary of its third year of military dictatorship, it is going through another phase of red shirt repression. The regime is again seeing reds under its beds and it doesn’t like it.

There are frantic junta imaginations of fantastical red shirt assassination plots, reds infiltrating Wat Dhammakaya, separatist rebellion and more.

This reaction appears to derive from two closely related perceptions: first, a view that any opposition is an immediate threat to the junta’s stability; and second, a desire for regime longevity, where “regime” is the broader elite military-monarchy-business alliance.

At least an element of this perception derives from yellow-shirted and anti-democratic grumbling about the junta having lost its zeal for “reform” – defined as rooting out the Thaksin Shinawatra regime. That grumbling has also been associated with some southern protests over ports and cola-fired power stations. It seems the junta felt its right wing was weakening in its support.

The result has been an intensification of both anti-Thaksinism and anti-red shirt repression.

The targeting of Thaksin has involved an effort to levy Thaksin for past taxes due (although we had somehow thought that the assets stripping case was part of the “tax’) and going after loyalists in a series of legal cases.

The anti-red shirt effort has been frenzied of late, with the Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee weapons and assassination stories and the earlier (and probably related in the minds of the junta) plots said to be originating in Laos.

At the same time, the courts have been at work, dealing with red shirt cases. The most recent of those sees the Appeals Court upholding a “lower court’s sentence of a four-year jail term each, without suspension, for singer Arisman Pongruangrong and 12 other red-shirts for leading protesters who forced their way into the Royal Cliff Beach Resort Hotel in Pattaya, where the 2009 Asean Summit was being held.”

(What has happened with the yellow shirt occupation of airports in 2008?)

They were prosecuted “for defying an order prohibiting a rally of more than 10 people and causing unrest.”

(What has happened to all the yellow shirts who broke similar laws?)

In early 2015, they were sentenced to four years each in jail, without suspension, and a fine of 200 baht. Those sentenced were:

Arisman Pongruangrong, Nisit Sinthuprai, Payap Panket, Worachai Hema, Wanchana Kerddee, Pichet Sukjindathong, Sakda Noppasit, Pol Lt Col Waipot Aparat, Nopporn Namchiangtai, Samrerng Prachamrua, Somyot Promma, Wallop Yangtrong and Singthong Buachum.

The Appeals Court upheld the lower court’s ruling, which sentences the 13 to four years each in jail without suspension. Bail may follow, but the threat is clear.

This is a pattern seen previously, although the junta does appear more frantic in its efforts at present.





King, junta and politics

21 03 2017

We are not sure if we have ever quoted from StrategyPage previously, but a recent article on their webpage caught some attention.

Their story, titled “Thailand: Actions Have Long Term Consequences,” is the one we mention here. We have no way of judging the veracity of some of its claims when it comes to palace and king, but felt some of them worth quoting.

As is the custom in Thailand, compromise is in the works between the new king, the military government and the democratic majority. Once the new king took the throne at the end of 2016 he apparently made a deal with the military government that would, in theory, benefit both of them in the long run. First, the king wants to be freed from constitutional and parliamentary restrictions that were part of the 1930s deal that turned the absolute monarchy into a constitutional one. The military government is in the process of changing the constitution and that presents a rare opportunity to give the king more power. The generals need the backing of the king because they justified their 2014 coup by insisting they were doing it to protect the monarchy. Last year the military got their new constitution approved in a referendum and the king must approve it by May and apparently will do so as long as his requests are agreed to.

Where’s the “democratic majority in that you might ask. This is the StrategyPage answer:

Meanwhile the king is apparently also trying to negotiate a peace deal with the pro-democracy groups which have demonstrated that they still have the majority of voters with them. In late 2015 pro-democracy leader (and former prime minister) Thaksin Shinawatra called on his followers (the “red shirts”) to “play dead” for the moment and wait for the military government to allow elections. The military has agreed to elections in 2018 but only if some fundamental changes were made in the constitution. The king’s representatives have apparently been seeking a compromise deal that would allow Thaksin Shinawatra and other exiled democracy leaders to come home and abide by the new rules.

If there is any truth in this – it may just be an old story rehashed – then recent events have interesting potential meanings: think Jumpol Manmai as one once said to be close to Thaksin; think of Suthep Thaugsuban’s testy reappearance and emphasis on “democracy under the king”; and then think of the military’s manic obsession with red shirt and firebrand Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee. There’s more:

Since 2014 the troops have been ordered to arrest anyone who appeared to be leading resistance to the coup, but the anti-coup sentiments were so widespread that trying to decapitate the opposition by taking most leaders out of action did not work. The opposition had plenty of competent replacements for lost leaders and those leaders did not call for a civil war.

We do not get that sense of the red shirt opposition and certainly not from the Puea Thai Party. We actually think the military goons have succeeded in cowing much of the opposition, often through nasty but carefully planned example, i.e. capturing leaders and making their life a public misery so as to frighten others.

StrategyPage continues:

The king and the generals recognize that most Thais are fed up with the coups…. The royals have learned to keep their heads down, even though the military has always been staunchly royalist. The army and the king now seek to change this deadlock with “reforms” in the existing constitution.

We don’t think this is all true. The royals’ heads are always visible, scheming, wheedling, getting wealthy and allowing their status to be used against “threats.” Do they recognize that Thais are fed up with coups? Probably, but they can still pull them off whenever they feel the need to.

While the red shirts have lots of popular support, most Thais are more interested in economic issues and the army has not been able to deal with that because of widespread opposition to military rule in Thailand and abroad. The economic problems cannot be ignored…. So the army is paying attention to economic problems and is not doing so well at it.

That’s an understatement! The economy is looking awful and the junta is at a loss as to what to do. Its infrastructure projects are a mess of verbiage and little action. But StrategyPage has an upside (if you buy the “deal” notion):

The new 2017 compromise will restore elections with the king and armed forces believing they now have more power when the country is run by an elected government. The democrats note that long-term the kings and dictators lose. Most royalists recognize that if the king becomes too unpopular the monarchy could be abolished…. Actions have consequences.

Read in total, the article is highly contradictory, but the notion of the “deal” pops up often enough for this page to get a run.





Monarchy, junta and judiciary entwined

17 03 2017

In a couple of recent posts, PPT has emphasized the lawless or rule-by-law nature of the military dictatorship. Under this regime, rule-by-law is essentially lawlessness as the junta can make everything it does legal, while using law to repress and oppress all of its opponents, be they red shirts, “politicians,” grannies, kids or activists.

Lese majeste has been one important law used against political opponents and the prince-cum-king’s personal acquaintances, minions and consorts who fall out of favor. The threat of lese majeste, interpreted in ways that are not even covered by the law, threatens and silences many.

The junta uses Article 44 dozens of times to make illegal actions legal or to ride roughshod over law and procedure. Having come to power illegally through a military coup, later made “legal,” the junta uses law when it suits it, but makes law up as it feels fit. In other words, it behaves lawlessly but makes that lawlessness “legal” through “special” decrees.

The judiciary is complicit in both the manipulation of lese majeste and the making legal the junta’s lawlessness. Since the late king’s infamous intervention in 2006, the judiciary has been more highly politicized, with movement to judicialization, marking itself out as a royalist court that “interprets” law for the political advantage of royalists and its class.

The most recent example of the judiciary’s view of itself as “above” the hoi polloi is its use of “contempt of court” allegations and charges against anyone daring to question or criticize a court or judges. This is a ploy used by various courts in recent years, always in political cases.

In Khon Kaen, the Provincial Court is going after student activists.

This court, doing the junta’s work, has repeatedly refused bail for Jatuphat (Pai) Boonpattaraksa, the sole person accused of lese majeste for sharing a BBC Thai nes story on the new king. More than 2,000 others did the same thing and are not targeted. Jatuphat is charged and jailed simply because he is an anti-junta activist.

The director of the Provincial Court’s Prosecutor’s Office has accused several supporters of Jatuphat with “contempt of court for participating in a peaceful gathering to demand for … [Pai]’s release.”

In a junta pattern, the charges are targeted on activists considered leaders. The junta wants to threaten all by targeting leaders. The junta wants to decapitate opposition groups. The judiciary supports the junta’s work.

The activists are:

Phayu Bunsophon, Chatmongkon Janchiewcharn and a female student activist (who does not want to reveal her identity), the three law students of Khon Kaen University who are members of Dao Din group, and Narongrit Upachan, a political science student from the same university who is a member of NGC.

The court will hold a hearing on the case on 24 April 2017, essentially considering its own evidence. Whatever the outcome, the court, complicit with the junta, is seeking to threaten and  silence.





Going after kids I

17 03 2017

A few days ago, PPT posted on the military junta “going after grannies.” Now, sadly, we must post that the junta has gone after kids. Not university students who have been anti-coup activists, but a 14 year-old kid holding a sign against the use of Article 44 against Wat Dhammakaya.

The grannies weren’t jailed, but the kid has been.

In danger of junta arrest

This is not the first time the junta’s thugs have gone after kids. In 2016, the goons grabbed a couple of 8 year-olds for play determined as anti-junta. In the same period they determined that other kids were “threatening” and perhaps in the hire of “politicians.”

In the current case, Prachatai reports that “police … revealed that they have arrested a 14-year-old disciple of Dhammakaya Temple for protesting against the junta’s use of Section 44 to tighten control around Dhammakaya Temple’s complex.”

Khaosod reports that the boy was recently bailed after a week in juvenile detention.

Khlong Luang police in Pathum Thani Province confirmed that they arrested the boy on 8 March 2017. He was arrested with three other adult protesters.

The police claim they “arrested him for holding a banner to protest against the junta’s use of Section 44 of the Interim Constitution…”.

Col. Samart Srisiriwiboonchai, who is the acting chief thug at Khlong Luang Police Station, said “it was necessary for police to arrest and prosecute the boy.” It seems the police felt threatened:

“They were together, so we arrested them together…. They were obstructing our operations. They were not peaceful protesters as they claimed. They acted in an aggressive way.”

Another thug-cop simply stated: “The kid violated the NCPO [junta] order…”.

The boy’s father sought to bail him of 10 March but was rejected. On 13 March, another bail attempt was rejected. On 14 March the boy’s mother submitted another bail request and this was also rejected.

On the last attempt the court declared “that the parents of the detainee are living separately and do not seem to be able to raise him properly, so he should be taken care of by the JOPC [the juvenile detention center].”

Whatever one thinks of Wat Dhammakaya, the machinations of the junta are astounding. Recall that this is happening as the junta’s 46-member shopping team are “defending” its horrendous human right record before the U.N. in Geneva.

As ever, the military dictatorship shows its true nature by its unconscionable behavior.





Even more palace cleansing

15 03 2017

The prince-cum-king has been cleansing and reorganizing the palace – his palace – for quite some time. One of the most high-profile bits of cleaning was the ousting of his former consort, the former Princess Srirasmi back in late 2014.

Since then there’s been a constant churn of people and officials close to the prince-now-king.

Now a report of yet another purge, this one in Khaosod English, which we reproduce in full:

The royal household announced a number of reassignments Monday in a reshuffling of the ranks.

Six palace aides working under His Majesty the King were stripped of their rank, some due to alleged misconduct, while five officials were promoted by the monarch for their service. Nineteen civil servants also left the royal household, four of them senior officials known as grand chamberlains.

Among the six military officers who lost their status were two officials, Cmdr. Jaruwan Changmool and Maj. Thanapon Yooman, who were expelled for serious offenses described in the Royal Gazette on Monday.

A royal statement said Jaruwan was slacking in her duties.

“[She] did not develop herself, lacked enthusiasm; was idle, and lacked correct judgment which caused damage” to His Majesty’s household, the Royal Gazette said in its proclamation stripping her of her rank.

Another statement accused Thanapon of multiple offenses, including disobeying orders from His Majesty the King himself.

“[He] used inappropriate words and behavior; disputed royal commands; displayed arrogance, insolence and insubordination; committed gravely evil acts; behaved carelessly in his bureaucratic duties; procrastinated; and neglected his bureaucratic duties,” the statement said.

Four other officers were stripped of their rank on technical grounds. The Royal Gazette said they had recently moved up two ranks within six months, which is not allowed under military regulations.

On the same day, His Majesty the King also promoted five members of his household corps, including three air force officers and two colonels, to generals, citing excellence in their services.

Meanwhile, 19 officials were fired from the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary. Four of them held the rank of deputy director to the royal household, a title known formally as grand chamberlain.

The Royal Gazette did not say why the officials were expelled.

Some details of this article have been been omitted to comply with the criminal royal defamation law.

The machinations in the palace, this lot coming as the king jetted off to Germany, are quite amazing. In fact, “amazing” is probably too limited a term. It is bizarre.

We wonder if lese majeste charges will follow.

Obviously, the king has the support of the military dictatorship as he behaves in this odd manner.