Militarizing the virus

11 07 2021

It it somehow “natural” that a military-backed regime, populated and commanded by generals, should use the military for civil actions.

Despite a mammoth police force and a huge civilian bureaucracy, the Bangkok Post reports that “Gen Chalermpol Srisawat, Royal Thai Armed Forces (RTAF) commander-in-chief, ordered 88 checkpoints in Bangkok be set up to accommodate the partial lockdown, while another 22 checkpoints were erected in surrounding provinces and 35 more in the four southern border provinces.”

The military’s supreme commander “warned that decisive legal action will be taken against those who break the rules.”

Military boot

We understand that some other countries have mobilized the military in actions related to the virus, but in general terms, it is the civil authorities that retain control and direction of operations.

In Thailand, however, it feels rather different, with the military taking a leading role, as they have in other interventions into civilian space, most notably when coups overthrow civilian governments or when civilian protesters are shot and murdered.

Therefore, it is no surprise to anyone when the military-backed government “naturally” turned to its armed allies for support in a situation of its own creation. Of course, the military loves this kind of action for it is trained and armed for the repression of its own citizens and each time it is seen intervening in civilian affairs it further naturalizes something that should be abnormal.





Monarchism and secrecy

25 04 2021

Prachatai reports on cabinet approved draft amendments to the Official Information Act. As with changes proposed for the registration and operation of NGOs, the approved amendment promotes and supports political authoritarianism that is rooted in monarchism.

As the report notes:

The Official Information Act B.E. 2540 (1997) was intended as the cornerstone of the people’s right to access state information….

Under the current procedure, the authorities are required to make a wide range of information accessible to the public on request, including cabinet resolutions, the structure of state agencies, policies, regulations, budgets and concession contracts with private companies.

Of course, the authorities could still legally “withhold or not give information that would damage the monarchy (Section 14), or that would damage national security, international relations, law enforcement or the wellbeing of a private individual (Section 15).”

Those bits of information on the monarchy would be available after a massive 75 years and after 20 years for other withheld information.

The draft amendment, however, expands the kinds of information that can be withheld and adds “a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a 200,000 baht fine for any ‘individual’ who discloses such information.”

The draft now states that withheld information is that which could be “used to damage the monarchy and information about royal security, cannot be disclosed.

In addition, the amendment:

… prohibits the publication of information about state security regarding the military, defence, terrorist prevention, international affairs related to the state security, intelligence, individual security and “other information about state security as announced by the Cabinet following recommendations of the Board.”

“National security,” dominated by issues surrounding the secretive monarchy, has “been interpreted in a highly military manner after the 2014 coup.” Nakorn Serirak, a lecturer at the College of Local Administration, Khon Kaen University, a former expert on the Information Board, said the:

increased presence on the Board of military officers expert in national defence, intelligence, counter-terrorism and security-related international affairs may cause a greater information lockdown when it comes to considering appeals against non-disclosure decisions.

The increased restrictions and penalties for those who disclose it will cause a “shrinking of freedom of information for Thais…”.

Mana Nimitmongkol, Secretary-General of the Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand (ACT), is also quoted. He says that the amendment will allow “the authorities to sweep many documents, like those to do with procurement or construction project details, under the security carpet, making it impossible to check corruption in projects.”

The descent into dark authoritarianism was the aim of the 2014 military coup and is a part of the military-monarchy dictatorship.





Remembering 6 October after 44 years

6 10 2020

44 years after the massacre at Thammasat University, Thailand remains under a under a military-backed regime, under an emergency decree and with a monarch who cut his political teeth in the aftermath of this terrible event.

The 6 October 1976 attack on students and supporters by rightist and royalist vigilantes was supported and promoted by elements in the police, military and in the palace. The then king was pleased with the outcome.

Each year we post on this day, remembering those who were murdered, burned alive, raped and beaten. Some of our previous posts: 2018, 2015, 2014, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.6 Oct

This year we link to just a few of the stories that are available:





Further updated: It’s still a military regime I

12 05 2020

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha appears far more comfortable when ruling under an emergency decree. Parliament is not his thing and with it not meeting, its (limited) significance is reduced to invisibility. And, the virus crisis has (further) reduced the (limited) scrutiny he gets from the (tame) media; less than during the full-on military dictatorship.

The Dictator’s comfort zone – within the hard shell of the military – is showcased in a Khaosod report. In an odd move, Prime Minister Gen Prayuth “ordered a public survey to gather opinions on whether the emergency decree should be lifted, officials said Monday.”

It does seem strange that a “strongman” feels the need “survey” public opinion on a topic that has generally been considered a matter of science and public health. But we do know that the military junta used “surveys” to “assess” public mood. These surveys were usually conducted by the military and related bodies.

And so it is now:

National security official Gen. Somsak Rungsita said the survey will be conducted by the National Intelligence Agency and the Internal Security Operation Command. It will cover questions regarding the next phase of business reopenings and public opinion on emergency decree, he said.

Yes, the emergency decree. If those junta/military-backed agencies show that “people” are “happy” for the generals and their minions to bungle on under strict controls, then we might expect the emergency decree to be extended beyond the end of May.

Reassuringly, and suggesting that the “survey” is something of a smokescreen, Gen Somsak declared: “The decree has to be eventually revoked. It can’t stay forever…”. In the usual idiotic manner of generals, he added: “Please don’t link it to politics since the enactment of emergency decree is purely for the health of citizens.” Of course, it isn’t all about health.

Even the Democrat Party’s Ong-art Klampaiboon dared suggest that “the government” of which he is a part but in which his party has no influence, “should assign academics to conduct the questionnaire instead of intelligence agencies.” We’d ask why a competent government even needs a survey unless it is to justify more unaccountable (military) rule.

Update 1: The regime has now denied the above report despite it being clear that the earlier reports were accurate. National Security Council secretary-general Gen Somsak Roongsita has stated “Gen Prayut[h] … does not have a policy and has not issued an order” to carry out a survey on the issue…”. Ho hum.

Update 2: Ho hum indeed! Khaosod reports that Gen Prayuth has squashed talk about the emergency decree being lifted at the end of May. The report states:

National Security Council sec-gen Gen. Somsak Roongsita also told the media on Monday that it is “highly likely” that Thailand’s State of Emergency will end on May 31, citing surveys by two intelligence agencies.

“Both agencies were quite satisfied with the overall public health and safety situations,” Somsak said. “[They] believed that the general Thais have good understandings of the need for social distance at the time of the pandemic outbreak.”

Gen Prayuth seems to want the decree in place for longer, claiming health concerns. As usual, it is confusion erring on the side of repression.





Back to military dictatorship

4 04 2020

We all know that the current regime is the military’s regime. While it might have played with parliamentary politics for a short time, following a rigged election, the virus has allowed for the re-institution of military dictatorship.

Looking around the world there’s lots of democratic backsliding over the virus. Of course, there was already considerable backsliding over the past few years, and the coronavirus seems to have accelerated this slippery slope.

Like other leaders, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has declared: “In prevention and assisting the people, we will follow the principle of health before freedom…”. Fearful populations jump into line.

Gen Prayuth has declared a state of emergency and instituted a nightly curfew nationwide.

An interesting and disturbing Thai twist to this global restriction of civil liberties and political freedoms is the use of the military.

It is reported that Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong “has appointed military units to survey areas nationwide from 10pm to 4am” during the curfew.

Gen Apirat “made his remarks while presiding over a meeting of the Army Operations Centre through video conferencing to follow up on the Covid-19 pandemic at the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters…”.

As we mentioned previously, it does seem that the military is running the country. Gen Prayuth looks increasingly like a processing terminal for the military brass.

Gen Apirat has stated that the Army leadership has “appointed the Directorate of Operations to order the deputy director of the Internal Security Operations Command in each Army region to cooperate with provinces to conduct a survey…”.

Oddly, this order is sent from Gen Apirat to himself as he is the ISOC deputy director. It is unclear whether the regime has “ordered” the military to do this. It looks much more like the military flexing its muscles.

Odder still, Gen Apirat oversees organizations that have flouted civilian orders during the virus crisis and caused dozens of infections. (Still no apology or serious “investigation” as far as we can tell.)

It does look like the military is in charge. This is dangerous for Thailand.





Buffalo manure “democracy”

27 01 2020

A few days ago the Bangkok Post included a report that “Thailand was the biggest mover in The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2019 Democracy Index, rising 38 places in the global rankings…”. That was a surprise. More astounding though, The Economist Intelligence Unit considered that the military junta’s “conversion” of itself into a military-backed regime with a government manufactured out of what should have been an electoral defeat makes Thailand a “flawed democracy” rather than what was previously a “hybrid regime.”

PPT has been a collective fan of The Economist’s coverage of Thailand’s politics in recent years. However, this “ranking” suggests that its Intelligence Unit has lost its IQ.

How on earth does The Economist Intelligence Unit decide that: “The biggest score change in Asia occurred in Thailand, which finally held an election in March 2019, the first since the military coup in May 2014. Voters had a wide array of parties and candidates from which to choose, and this helped to restore some public confidence in the electoral process and the political system…”. It seems that the “election led to improvements in the scores across all five categories of the Democracy Index, but the sharpest increase was recorded for electoral process and pluralism.”

How on earth does The Economist Intelligence Unit decide that Thailand is a “flawed democracy”? It defines these in this manner:

These countries … have free and fair elections and, even if there are problems (such as infringements on media freedom), basic civil liberties are respected. However, there are significant weaknesses in other aspects of democracy, including problems in governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation.

This puts Thailand in the same category as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Italy and Indonesia. This is nonsensical, but that’s what the “numbers” say to The Economist Intelligence Unit.

Thailand is a country where political repression is widespread, an election was rigged over several years, opposition parties were dissolved, the courts have been made political bodies, “independent agencies” made tools of the military-backed regime, activists are beaten, arrested, threatened, disappeared and murdered, the military has a parallel administration and operates outside the law and with impunity, the Senate was selected and appointed by the junta and operates for it…. Do we need to go on? And need we say that for four months of 2019, the country was a military dictatorship.

Thailand is no longer a “hybrid regime,”which The Economist Intelligence Unit defines as:

Elections have substantial irregularities that often prevent them from being both free and fair. Government pressure on opposition parties and candidates may be common. Serious
weaknesses are more prevalent than in flawed democracies—in political culture, functioning of government and political participation. Corruption tends to be widespread and the rule of law is weak. Civil society is weak. Typically, there is harassment of and pressure on journalists, and the judiciary is not independent.

That sounds like Thailand. More academically-based definitions seem to fit Thailand too, as summarized at Wikipedia:

A hybrid regime is a mixed type of political regime that arises on the basis of an authoritarian as a result of an incomplete democratic transition. Hybrid regimes combine autocratic features with democratic ones, they can simultaneously hold political repressions and regular elections. The term “hybrid regime” arises from a polymorphic view of political regimes that opposes the dichotomy of autocracy or democracy…

So we ask again, how on earth does The Economist Intelligence Unit come up with this stuff?

According to one account:

How did the EIU come up with a scoring system that is supposedly accurate to two decimal places? What it did has the semblance of rigor. It asked various experts to answer 60 questions and assigned each reply a numerical value, with the weighted average deciding the ranking. Who are these experts? Nobody knows.

The Economist Intelligence Unit has responded to such criticisms, but, in fact, still gives the unnamed experts 60 questions with a 3-point scoring system: 0, 0.5, 1. It also claims to use other measures:

A crucial, differentiating aspect of our measure is that, in addition to experts’ assessments, we use, where available, public-opinion surveys—mainly the World Values Survey. Indicators based on the surveys predominate heavily in the political participation and political culture categories, and a few are used in the civil liberties and functioning of government categories…. In addition to the World Values Survey, other sources that can be leveraged include the Eurobarometer surveys, Gallup polls, Asian Barometer, Latin American Barometer, Afrobarometer and national surveys. In the case of countries for which survey results are missing, survey results for similar countries and expert assessment are used to fill in gaps.

With all of this (pseudo-)science – such as the Asian Barometer – The Economist Intelligence Unit gave Thailand a score of 6.32.

PPT did the 60 questions (see the appendix to the report) and came up with a score of 4.50, which would have Thailand ranked closer to Pakistan, a so-called hybrid regime.

We’d suggest that The Economist Intelligence Unit might spend a little more time reading The Economist on Thailand’s democratic failure and efforts at re-feudalization.





Updated: Reprehensible regime

17 01 2020

In what seems like a somewhat naive statement, Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2020 states:

The Thai government of Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha elected in March failed to improve respect for human rights or restore genuine democratic rule after five years of military dictatorship….

To say that the military dictator’s government was “elected” in 2019 gives the military-backed, royalist regime too much legitimacy. It should never be forgotten that the military junta rigged the electoral rules and only cobbled together its coalition by having its Election Commission change the rules as the vote count was completed.

And, no one ever expected that the “new” government – which was really not very different from the junta’s government. The parties that joined the government were all composed of royalist supporters of the 2014 coup.

Coup plotters and election cheats

With those caveats, it is still worth reading the HRW report summary on Thailand. The report itself is a list of abuses by the regime that is little different from the 2019 report.

Convicted heroin smuggler

The regime seems little troubled by law or to have any moral compass. While not mentioned in the report, this is a government that has senior men who have been coup plotters, breaking the law and destroyed a constitution. It has other ministers who are flip-flopping opportunists. It also has a convicted heroin smuggler as a deputy minister.

Land grabber

And now the government’s Palang Pracharath Party has made land grabber and (if the law was actually used) criminal Parina Kraikup an appointed member of a House Committee on anti-corruption.

Nothing is bizarre enough for this essentially lawless regime. There might be a point to having a corrupt MP on the committee – she’d knows about corruption up close – being the daughter of a multiple hit-and-run former MP and local godfather figure.

It is a regime of reprehensible criminals.

Update: It is interesting to read the Bangkok Post’s editorial excoriating the EC. This is in the context of the efforts by the regime and ruling class to be rid of the Future Forward Party on trumped up charges and in a process that was probably corrupt and maybe illegal. But that’s just one of the EC’s biased actions meant to favor its bosses and the Palang Pracharath Party and the ruling regime. As the Post observes:

Given that its decisions have far-ranging impacts across the political landscape, the agency’s [the EC] seemingly dubious handling of many key political cases has steered the country’s democracy towards an increasingly dark and gloomy future.





The rich win again

9 01 2020

PPT’s collective memory chugged into action after we read a headline at the Bangkok Post. Wichit Chantanusornsiri’s op-ed carried the title “Rich get richer, poor get the picture.” We had a vague notion that we’d heard that phrase before, and a bit of searching reminded us that it is a song by the Australian band Midnight Oil. The band has been activist, especially on environmental and indigenous issues.

Naturally enough, we were also reminded of the news about Australia’s bush fires. But it isn’t just Australia that is struggling with climate change and its impacts.

In Bangkok, as a result of severe drought and much reduced water flows in rivers, residents are facing increasingly salty tap water as sea water intrudes further up the low-flow river systems. Meanwhile, “rice fields there are already withering and the government has now banned farmers [north of Bangkok] who are growing off-season crops from using water from the Chao Phraya and Pasak rivers from Jan 20.” And then there’s the pollution: “Bangkok on Wednesday recorded the world’s third worst air quality on Air Visual, a popular app monitoring pollution, while City Hall is on high alert for a predicted rise in PM2.5 levels until the end of this week.”

But Wichit’s not talking about the environment. Rather, he’s interested in the new land and building tax law. The new tax is mainly meant to impact the “super rich people who have owned land in amounts so vast that they would have to spend a good part of their life if they wanted to walk around every plot of their land.” This is essentially the first new tax in Thailand since 1992.

Wichit points out that:

the now-dissolved National Legislative Assembly (NLA), appointed by the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order [the military junta], … passed the new property tax law, [and] watered down the rates recommended by the Finance Ministry and instead set more lenient applicable rates for the new tax regime that will mainly affect the rich (many of whom have served in parliament).

He explains:

In effect, this law will make the rich pay less than what they should do if the ministry’s proposed rates were adopted. For example, the NLA increased the appraisal value ceiling set on residential land and buildings, defined as principal homes, eligible for tax exemption to 50 million baht from the proposed ceiling of 20 million baht.

That means 99.96% of principal homeowners will enjoy such tax exemption because there are only about 10,000 people who own homes with an appraised value of more than 50 million baht.

While the op-ed loses focus, the point that the super rich have loopholes and got a better deal than they should have is clear enough. Of course, rewarding the rich in this way is standard practice for Thailand. The rich are indeed getting richer. We can’t imagine the king being asked for his full tax dues…. Meanwhile, the average Thai struggles on relatively low salaries, with little saving, a rudimentary welfare system and a rapidly deteriorating environment of choking air and water like fish sauce.

Midnight Oil’s lyrics do seem highly relevant, covering class, environment, war:





Denying constitutionalism, affirming neo-feudalism II

27 08 2019

Thailand has reached yet another political crossroads.

The military dictatorship was responsible for the 2017 constitution. The charter as designed by the junta was meant to maintain the junta in power for years to come. Unlike the 1997 constitution, it was never meant to be an imperfect effort to democratize the nation and to give average people a say in governance. The 2017 charter was an exercise in maintaining the power and position of the ruling class.

The king demanded changes to the junta’s constitution – and got them. The changes he wanted shifted power towards the palace.

Self-crowned

But this was not enough. The king wants more. He’s keen to remake Thailand as a neo-feudal political system with him at the pinnacle.

As we posted a week or so ago, the failure of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha to say all of the oath required by the constitution is very likely the king’s idea. Under the provisions of his own constitution, Prayuth was meant to say:

I, (name of the declarer), do solemnly declare that I will be loyal to the King and will faithfully perform my duties in the interests of the country and of the people. I will also uphold and observe the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand in every respect.

He babbled something along these lines with the struck through words left out. In other words, it is the king that matters, not the constitution.

We guess the king reckons everything went skewiff for the monarchy when a constitution was foisted upon it in 1932.

There’s been controversy over the oath, with parliamentary debate likely and complaints made. Yet, today, the king has made his position crystal clear. As Khaosod reports it:

the King has instructed Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his cabinet to hold true to their oath and solve the country’s problems earnestly.

In messages presented to cabinet members in an elaborate ceremony at Government House today, King Vajiralongkorn also expressed moral support for the government and urged it to be strong. The messages were personally signed by … the King.

Prayuth and the cabinet members received copies of the message one by one in front of a portrait of King Vajiralongkorn.

For the feudal lord (clipped from Khaosod)

Yes, that’s right, the king is off in Europe and thinks so little of the constitution and people’s sovereignty, he reckons some certificates for ministers, his expression of support and a portrait of himself will see off the opposition and “his” government will not have to worry too much about the constitution. Rather, the government will serve the king, not the people (or even the whole ruling class).

Meanwhile, it seems the Ombudsman somehow missed the message. As the Bangkok Post reports, that office has sent the oath issue to the Constitutional Court. We guess that court will do as expected and affirm that king and government may ignore the constitution.

That’s the political crossroads. Are Thais now willing, after more than 70 years of royalist preparation, to ditch constitutionalism and return to a modern, reinvented feudalism or neo-feudalism?

This is where all of the political action against electoral democracy of recent years has led. Under the leadership of palace, military and yellow shirts and supporters the question is now how far people are willing to discard their rights and what remains of a ragged political system in favor of an erratic and grasping king and his spineless minions.





No change, more repression

10 07 2019

Despite claims that the military government is ending, it remains in place, essential a government of the junta, headed by the junta’s prime minister who will also be the post-junta/junta-backed prime minister.

The (almost) end of the rule by junta government has some useful attributes. For example, as reported by the Bangkok Post, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha issued a decree stating:

The NCPO [junta] issued announcements and orders to facilitate administration and national reform and to promote unity and reconciliation among people. Now that the implementation of some of them have been completed, they no longer serve a purpose….

All offences under the NCPO orders, whether committed before or after this order takes effect, will be in the jurisdiction of the courts of justice [not military courts]. The cases being tried by the military court will also be transferred to the courts of justice….

And, despite having used Article 44 just yesterday, Gen Prayuth says he won’t use it again.

Even so, “[s]ome special laws enacted by the junta’s absolute power will stay in place even after the new government takes over…”. As has been noted previously, however, many of the activities of the junta have been sucked up into the military and in particular, the Internal Security Operations Command.

As the Bangkok Post notes in an editorial about recent attacks on activists and repression and threats to opponents, this is the style of “rule of a repressive military regime, not a civilian one.”

It notes that “state surveillance on activists remains ongoing and the same kind of heavy-handed suppression of political dissent can be expected under the new civilian government,” confirming that the junta “has already ensured that such a campaign will be led by the military … [and] Isoc…”.