Remember the “ban” on populism?

15 08 2018

Long-term readers may recall our posts from the year following the 2014 military coup, where the junta and its puppet agencies all but declared “evil populism” illegal.

As the junta struggled with the sluggish economy, the serial failure economic minister Pridiyathorn Devakula tried a little economic stimulus, but declared it “not populism.” He made the important royalist distinction: “This is not populism, because I am not doing it for votes…”. I only want to stimulate the economy…. If we don’t stimulate it this way, what are we supposed to do?” Pridiyathorn essentially “explained” that he couldn’t be a populist because he was appointed by a military dictatorship. For him, a populist can only be elected evil politician.

When Pridiyathorn was dumped and replaced by former Thaksin Shinawatra minister Somkid Jatusripitak, royalists fretted that populism was being reborn under the junta.

As the military dictatorship worked to excise support for Thaksin and became determined to stay on for years and years, populist economic policies multiplied.

In all of this, though, in a report in the Bangkok Post it is was revealed that the junta decided to ban populism whenever there is an elected regime put in place: “The cabinet … approved a draft monetary and fiscal bill which includes controls on spending for populist policies. The move is aimed at preventing future fiscal problems and enhancing transparency in the state fiscal budget.”

As the junta has worked increasingly assiduously to uproot Thaksinism and embed The Dictator and military-backed regimes into the future, so-called populist policies have become the norm.

The Bangkok Post reports that “populist spending is nearing the cap of 30% of the annual budget…”.

What is called “pork-barrel spending” has reached “29.6% of the 2018 annual budget after the cabinet approved debt repayment extension and lower lending rates for small-scale farmers and a price stability scheme for the 2018-19 rice harvest…”.

That’s about 870 billion baht “to finance populist policies through specialised financial institutions or quasi-fiscal activities.”

If we understand the report, that 870  billion is from 900 billion baht budgeted for fiscal 2019…”.

As the Post points out, that one year’s spending is almost double the alleged “losses” by the Yingluck Shinawatra government on rice pledging.

Free (no) and fair (no) “elections”

14 08 2018

While we at PPT often appreciate the broader sentiments expressed, there are times when we wonder whether editorial writers have the memories of goldfish.

An editorial at the Bangkok Post set us wondering again when it stated “[t]he three years of excuses for delaying a free and fair election have run out.” 

Hey! Bangkok Post people! The military junta that has established a military dictatorship has never had any intention of allowing their “election” to be free or fair. You know this! SO why make false statements?

From the moment of the military coup in May 2014, the aim was to ensure that there could never be another election that permitted pro-Thaksin Shinawatra parties to form another government. By definition, by design and by repression, there could not be a free and fair election. That’s why the junta doesn’t want to set an election date and keeps delaying, for more than four years.

But you Bangkok Post people know this. You know that The Dictator “harshly enforces a ban on political activity” while he “himself is seen to be openly canvassing support for his own campaign.” That’s not free or fair.

You know that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha craves power and wants to stay on a premier for years and years. That can’t be free or fair.

The Dictator is not “skirting [skating?] very close to the line where Thais and foreign friends will describe any future election as neither fair nor free.” Gen Prayuth is well beyond that. The rules for the election, which pre-date the current manipulations, were never meant to be free or fair; they were meant to rig an outcome.

So stop all this babble about free and fair elections and say what they will be (whenever the junta chooses to hold them): unfree and unfair elections. They will be rigged elections.

How to “win” an “election” I

13 08 2018

A few days ago, PPT posted on the strategies the military junta may use to keep delaying its “election.” One thing we added was that the junta could hold an “election” and cheat and manipulate to win it (the Cambodia model).

All of this discussion was motivated by reports that the Puea Thai Party remained the most electorally popular party in the country. This despite all the repression and money the junta has used to make itself and its preferred parties “popular.”

Of course, we should have mentioned a longer term strategy that the junta has had percolating in the background all along: ban Puea Thai or decimate it by banning dozens of its politicians from contesting an “election.”

We were reminded of this strategy by a report at the Bangkok Post. As the junta and its allies have been filching “members” from Puea Thai – this report says at least 50 – it has talked, threatened, teased these defectors with various “offers.” Widely reported have been offers of favorable treatment in legal cases.

The report refers to so-called graft investigations by the National Anti-Corruption Commission. (Such cases are what the junta uses the NACC for; it is not interested in cases against the junta, only in the cases against the junta’s opponents.)

It seems there are two such political cases against Puea Thai that the NACC can rule on when the junta tells it to pull the trigger.

One “investigation” is a quite ridiculous case that seeks to ban politicians for a endorsing for a vote in parliament a bill that was quickly withdrawn. This voting is termed ” abuse of authority.” Under the Yingluck Shinawatra government, these then-MPs endorsed the amnesty bill.

The second case is about the 1.9 billion baht compensation the Yingluck government made available to all victims of violence during political protests from 2005 to 2010.

Opponents declared that these funds were mainly for “red-shirt protesters that support the party.” Perhaps that was because, attacked by the military, it was mostly red shirts who were killed and who suffered the more severe injuries. But the point was that all were eligible.

What the NACC “will look into [are] claims that compensation was not paid out in line with the 1959 Budget Procedures Act, causing more than 1.9 billion baht in damage to state coffers.” That’s every single baht of the funds in a case that can be determined whenever the junta needs to ban Puea Thai and/or its former MPs (who don’t do deals with the junta).

That case against more than two dozen former MPs “will come to a final verdict and forward it to NACC’s main board next month.”

Delusion and reality

10 08 2018

A report in the Bangkok Post suggests that the military junta is delusional. But we don’t think they are, at least not on this one. Rather, the junta’s minions at the National Legislative Assembly, are exceeding themselves in fabricating news, piling buffalo excrement mountain high. As we posted yesterday, the NLA, in doing the junta’s bidding and scrapping the (old) Election Commission’s selections for poll inspectors. It is clear that the junta, after falling out with the (old) EC, wants these appointments to be of their men and women.

As this move has been controversial, the dolts at the NLA’s Secretariat claim to have conducted an online poll on the move. Guess what? It “shows 100% of respondents support a bid by some NLA members to seek legal amendments to nullify the selection of poll inspectors — a move which could further delay the general election expected early next year.”

By Thursday, every single one of about 6,800 people who went to the site “voiced support for the proposed amendments which will effectively scrap the entire process…”. We actually believe this because we’d think the junta and the NLA mobilized soldiers, their cyber-snoops and other supporters to go to the site and “vote.”

Such stuffing of the “ballot box” may be a last ditch strategy for the junta when it comes to the “election” that may be held some time in the future. In making this prediction, we were reminded of some comments in a recent story by Shawn Crispin at the Asia Times Online, who was also betting on a “May election.”

Crispin points to “local media … awash with reports that the newly formed, pro-junta Palang Pracharat Party has poached politicians from both Peua Thai and the Democrats, with some local papers suggesting that either party could collapse under the weight of the supposed defections.” The Palang Pracharath lot reckon they have the “election” sown up under the junta’s rules. The report cites “Suchart Chanataramanee, the party’s co-founder and [Gen] Prayut[h Chan-ocha]’s military academy classmate, [who] has boldly predicted Palang Pracharat will win the next polls, though not with a majority. If no party wins an outright majority, the military-appointed Senate lends its vote to picking the next premier, a scenario that favors Prayut.”

But Crispin questions whether “the junta believes it is luring enough vote-winning politicians, as well as its own propaganda touting Prayut’s supposedly strong grass roots popularity, to finally hold long-delayed elections…”. He adds that “most independent analysts believe it will resoundingly lose.” He cites some statistics:

Reasons abound to doubt recent rosy pro-junta projections. Suan Dusit, a local pollster, showed in June that 55% of respondents saw Peua Thai as the country’s top party, with the Democrats at 34% and Palang Pracharat at a mere 17%. A National Institute of Development Administration survey in May also showed Peua Thai outpacing Palang Pracharat, though by a narrower 32% to 25% margin.

Polls conducted by the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), a military spy agency, have consistently shown that Peua Thai would resoundingly win new polls, a person familiar with the surveys told Asia Times. Those results haven’t changed even with Prayut’s recent populist-style forays upcountry, the same source says.

Crispin then wonders whether there will be an election, saying the junta “still has election escape routes…”.

One is the king’s coronation, and that hasn’t been announced.

Another is that the king could ask for amendments to the election laws.

Then there’s the unnamed “official close to the premier [who] says some in the junta remain reluctant to hold elections that could tilt towards instability while Thailand holds next year’s rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), a statesman role Prayut would apparently relish as a prestigious capstone to his tenure.”

And there are others not mentioned: the junta may just decide to stay on; the junta could create instability so it can stay on; the election inspector fiasco could delay the poll; the queen might die and require a military-managed funeral; the junta could hold an election and cheat and manipulate to win it (the Cambodia model); and so on.

Whatever excuse, with Thaksin Shinawatra criticizing the junta and declaring his forces will win the long struggle, the junta will be considering all its anti-democratic options.

Broken “election” promises

7 08 2018

Everyone in Thailand knows that the military junta has made promise after promise about a forthcoming “election,” only to renege. So often has this happened that it seems like the junta is simply lying about “elections.”

Helpfully, Khaosod (see last link below) has come up with a list of these. By no means complete, this listing does keep tabs on the untruths flowing from the mouths of dictators:

Digital dopes

30 07 2018

Something called OpenGov sells itself as “entrepreneurial” and with a “purpose” to “Inform and Empower,” but unfortunately chooses to do this by being “dedicated to sharing ICT-related knowledge and information between governments.” Naturally enough it seems to reside in state-heavy Singapore.

Its recent article on Thailand it claims that “Thailand” is “looking to promote equality when it comes to digital access. The Thai government has partnered up with Google in a bid to reduce the digital divide that exists in Thailand.”

Interesting indeed that the military dictatorship is partnered with Google.

It reports on the “first Google for Thailand event … held in Bangkok yesterday under the theme of ‘Leave No Thai behind’. During the event [G]oogle announced a series of initiatives that it will be undertaking, in partnership with the Thai government. These initiatives include, free high speed public Wi-fi that will enable more Thai businesses and consumers to contribute to the growth of the digital economy.”

No Thai left behind, in Bangkok. As might be expected, Bangkok already has the highest internet penetration rates, with one measure listing it among the world’s top 25 cities. For the country, with about 33 million users, Thailand ranks 116th in percentage of population served.

But back to the article. Back in 2013, it says, the “Thai government announced that it was working towards increasing digital access in Thailand through increasing mobile penetration from 52% to 133% in 2020.” In terms of smartphone penetration, Thailand actually ranks about 31st in percentage terms.

So Thailand ranks reasonably high and Bangkok is probably fully saturated. So the deal seems to be about business and providing (precarious) employment for more people.

In other words, the “partnership” is about assisting the military dictatorship, but the article says nothing about the junta’s efforts to control the internet, its massive censorship of online discussion and its ubiquitous snooping.

So all the text on “opportunities.” “easy access” and feeling “more secure with accessing national and important information online” is waffle and ignores the basic political fact: Thailand is not open.

And neither is OpenGov when it mentions “the Prime Minister of Thailand” and its “government” without noting that the former is a military dictator and the latter is a military junta.

New king, old king, same story

29 07 2018

On Saturday evening, The Dictator and his junta buddies got their best uniforms on to hail the king on his birthday.

As far as anyone can tell, the junta, the military it represents and the monarchy continue their anti-democratic partnership that has crippled Thailand’s political development for about six decades.

More than this, though, the birthday presents an opportunity to celebrate the presumed defeat of the anti-monarchism of the period before the coup.

This is why the birthday celebrations seem so familiar. Nothing much seems to have changed since the old king: new king, old message. Perhaps the only change is that no one (yet) has to listen to the rambling of he who must be obeyed.

If readers think back to all the talk and words printed about a succession crisis and how much Vajiralongkorn was hated, feared and the wrong person for the position, the wonder is that it never really happened, and that (maybe) there was more hope that there was a crisis than there really was a crisis.

Now all the monarchy stuff and the propaganda just feels so familiar. Heck, even some Puea Thai Party supporters are praising the new king as a great king.

As in the past, the media are required to provide the outlet for palace propaganda, whether coming from the palace directly or just manufactured by royalists. Looking just at the English-language efforts of The Nation and the Bangkok Post, we see little different from years gone by, except for the fact that they have had to stretch a bit to fit the new king into the palace narrative.

in one item, The Nation wishes to advertise the king’s alleged sympathy for the downtrodden. Of course, this theme was long-term propaganda fodder for the past king, pointing to royal projects (publicly funded since the 1980s). In the new story, which will be recycled year after year, readers are told that a poor village in the northeast (no coincidence that its oppositional heartland) has “a new life thanks to a Royal initiative.” It is added that the villagers owe everything to “the efforts of one very special individual…”. No prizes for guessing that its King Vajiralongkorn.

Apparently the then crown prince visited in 2000, and immediately ordered things done that miraculously changed the villagers fortunes. All of the “innovations” mentioned in the article and attributed to the crown prince-now-king sound exactly like those attributed to his father.

The point is to tell one and all, but especially the monarchy’s political base in the urban middle class, that the “results of this royal project, one of the many models that exemplifies His Majesty King Rama X’s resolution to fulfil the wishes of His Majesty the late King Rama IX and work for the benefit of all Thais.” That the villagers troubles inconveniently arose from royal-sponsored dam projects is overlooked.

The rest of the article is the usual story of how grateful every villager is and how successful the royal projects have been. Royal magic works wonders: “Every time we think of the royal graciousness, we shed tears of joy. Wherever Their Majesties visit, prosperity comes to those areas.” How could it be otherwise?

The Bangkok Post takes a different tack, inventing the new king as a great sportsman. According to this tale, the new king has followed the old king “on several paths including sports.” Who knew?

The story claims the king “was once known as the ‘Football Prince’ but is now renowned for his involvement in cycling.” Of course, he’s been a great sportsman since birth: “The King’s love for sports is obviously in his blood through his late father, a great athlete and patron of sports…”.

“Great athlete” seems to mean that the former king won a medal skippering a dinghy. That victory saw Bhumibol proclaimed “king of sports.” Now it is Vajiralongkorn’s turn. (Just by “chance,” when Bhumibol won his medal, he shared first place with none other than his eldest daughter.)

Vajiralongkorn is said to have been talented at every sport he’s tried! But now he’s a “major supporter of Thai cycling” since he headed the Bike for Mom/Dad stuff. Most sporting associations seem to be headed by serving or past generals. So a quote from president of the Cycling Association of Thailand Gen Decha Hemkrasri is quoted: “”We have enjoyed success thanks to enormous support from [then] HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn…”.

And so the story goes on.

The Nation also gets into reporting congratulatory messages (perhaps message is a better way to put it) from other royals and global leaders. Apparently His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan of Brunei Darussalam has consented to send message of congratulations to King of Thailand His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, on the occasion of the King of Thailand’s 66th birth anniversary.” We’d have thought there’d be more than this – after all, Vajiralongkorn is head of state – but maybe the story was run on Brunei based on the length of the title.

In short, nothing has changed and the same palace propaganda – with the help of junta repression – is ensuring that the new king get the reverence his father had and that the international media repeatedly says he lacked. That will change too, unless the erratic Vajiralongkorn has yet another public meltdown.