With two updates: Open-mouthed disbelief V

10 09 2019

It is now clear that having been an international heroin smuggler is no bar to being a minister in Thailand.

Indeed, several deputy prime ministers and the prime minister himself have supported Deputy Agriculture Minister Thammanat Prompao, a convicted drug trafficker. In common with the mafia-like Thammanat, most of those supporting him are military men, and used to operating with absolute impunity.

Gen Prayuth

In the Bangkok Post, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, speaking after a cabinet meeting, “said that he would no longer comment on legal cases against cabinet ministers because they had been clarified by those involved.”

“Clarified” seems to mean he accepts Thammanat’s all too obvious public lies.

Gen Prayuth, who relies on Thammanat as an enforcer in his coalition, told reporters to forget the story. He considered that they should look at previous governments and their faults and problems. As well, he “explained” that “all [current] cabinet ministers were subject to background checks.”

Background checks seem to count for far less than staying in power. Staying in power requires thugs like Thammanat.

Meanwhile, Thammanat himself seemed to believe that lies can be doubled down with more lies. He reportedly claimed that that “the Australian drug case had occurred more than 30 years ago and he had already clarified the matter.”

“Clarified” seems to mean he accepts Thammanat’s all too obvious public lies.

Thammanat, clipped from Khaosod

Despite the evidence sourced from the Australian court, “Thamanat insisted that he never confessed because he had done nothing wrong.” Wow! He went on: “He … dismissed as untrue the Australian report which cited court files.”

We assume that such lies are made on the basis of two beliefs. First that Thammanat reckons that Thais are a collection of morons who will believe any buffalo manure he serves up. Second, he expects to enjoy the impunity that is afforded to all big shots in Thailand.

Thammanat then further manipulated the truth saying he “was convinced that the report was written by someone in Thailand as part of a move to discredit the government, and had instructed his lawyers to prepare civil and criminal suits against those involved.”

Are police and military now in search of these evil people? Sadly, they probably are and will seek to frame someone.

Thammanat also threatened to sue the Australian newspapers that published the court reports. That seems like bravado and buffalo manure.

In Australia, The Age has an editorial (also in The Sydney Morning Herald) that says its “expose of the dark past of one of its [Thailand’s] new ministers shows the challenges facing its threadbare democracy.” It notes the role of the military and monarchy in crushing democracy in the country.

Thammanat is representative of both (or claims to be). As the prime minister and several deputy prime ministers have shown, he certainly represents this military-backed government.

Update 1: An anonymous correspondent tells PPT that one reason Thammanat is feared by journalists (and others) is because he has been seen to sport the loyalty logo that the king gives out to the most trusted and appreciated royal servants. We don’t know and the correspondent didn’t say, but assume it is this one (left). Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong sports one and so does Chirayu Isarangkun, Gen Prayuth and more. We haven’t seen this particular logo on the chest of the convicted heroin smuggler but the king link is in the stories, as told by Thammanat himself when he was busted.

Update 2: Watching television news and discussion shows today it is interesting that – at least in those seen – that while the Australian drug trafficking and Thammanat’s conviction and jailing was mentioned, it seemed the big deal was Thammanat’s denigration of coalition politicians. He’s Palang Pracharath’s fixer and in a recent interview likened his job not to a mafia enforcer but to a monkey trainer constantly handing bananas to his coalition monkey politicians. As a result, one micro-party pulled the plug on the coalition.

It still seems that the media is paralyzed by the threat of lese majeste and fear of the king.





Rabid royalists battle “liberalism”

7 09 2019

This Reuters report has been widely distributed, but deserves attention.

It notes the rise of a rightist ultra-nationalism as those who are insufficiently royalist are attacked as “chung chart” which “translates roughly as ‘nation-hater.’ Here, nation equals monarchy and support for the military and its current political regime.

Opposing that regime, the military or being considered insufficiently royalist means being seen by royalist-rightists “as a threat in a kingdom…”.

Royalist-rightists are identified as “waging an increasing battle against the opposition on social media and in the courts, illustrating the deepening political divide in the southeast Asian nation.”

Sound familiar? It should. Nothing much has changed in this royalist-rightist agitation since recently-released Sondhi Limthongkul and the People’s Alliance for Democracy signed up with the monarchy for ousting Thaksin Shinawatra in 2005. He and PAD were followed by royalist-rightist groups such as the Dhamma Army and Santi Asoke (since 2005), No Colors/Multi Colors (from about 2010), Green Politics Group (since 2007), Thai Patriot Network (since 2008), Siam Samakkhi (since 2011), Network of Citizen Volunteers to Protect the Land (2012), Pitak Siam (2012), Sayam Prachapiwat (2012), the White Mask group, People’s Army Against the Thaksin Regime (2013), the so-called Rubbish Collection Organization (2014), and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (2013-14).

This is just a selection of ultra-rightists, many associated with the military’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC). All have been anti-Thaksin. The current lot say:

they are acting in the name of the palace and the army also say they get no direct support from those institutions. Government spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat declined comment on the issue and said Thailand is a free country.

We are sure that there are ultra-rightists who act independently in the cause of promoting the world’s wealthiest monarch, a grasping playboy as a symbol of “the nation,” but we doubt that the military and ISOC are uninterested. After all, they’ve manipulated or arranged most of these groups over five decades.

Claims by by Defense Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich that the “military is not behind any groups…. The military does not support anyone engaged in activism outside parliament” are false.

The report claims that “chung chart” was made popular by The Democrat Party’s Warong Dechgitvigrom, who says:

I see this as liberalism that destroys traditions and the monarchy by claiming to be democratic…. We need to fight them through ideology. The New Right is a political ideology.

Akechai. Clipped from TLHR

The ideological fight usually leads to legal actions and violence. Indeed, there was plenty of political violence in the last days of the junta. Think of the repeated attacks on Sirawith Seritiwat and Akechai Hongkangwarn, among others.

As the report notes, “army chief Apirat Kongsompong … has described Thailand as being in a ‘hybrid war’ against enemies of tradition” and the rightist-royalists are working in support of his “war.”

The current targets of rightist-royalist angst and wrath include the Future Forward Party – who Warong considers false democrats and nasty “liberals.” That party also worries Gen Apirat as they are too popular; the military fears popularity that translates into votes.

The report cites former PADista and Democrat Party minister Kasit Primya as saying: “The two sides are becoming more entrenched…”. There might be more than two “sides,” but as far as we can tell, the “sides” have been deeply entrenched since PAD.

So it is that Future Forward and its supporters are painted by ultra-nationalist rightist-royalists as “want[ing] to destroy the Thai system [monarchy] and change it to the Marxist-Socialist system…”.

On social media, hatred of identified opponents is fanned. Such hatred has long proved useful of the military when it mobilizes violence to support military-backed regimes or to destabilize elected governments.





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.





Updated: Torture, murder

25 08 2019

Back at the end of July, Prachatai reported that “Abdullah Isomuso, 32, was admitted to the intensive care unit of Pattani Hospital on 21 July after he was found unconscious in his cell at the Ingkhayutthaborihan Military Camp in Pattani.” At the hospital he was reportedly unresponsive.

He had been “detained under Martial Law on 20 July for suspected involvement in unknown insurgent activity, after a group of military officers searched his house in Sai Buri District…”.

Police were said to be “investigating,” and “went to the Inquiry Unit at the Ingkhayutthaborihan Military Camp to gather evidence.” However, as usual, “when they asked to see footage from the CCTV cameras inside the Inquiry Unit, officials at the camp said that all of the cameras were broken.”

It is “standard procedure” in cases where there are deaths in custody or alleged murders by the military for the military to claim the cameras are broken or even to conceal the evidence provided by CCTV.

Civil society groups “express[ed] concerns that Abdullah might have been subjected to torture while in detention.”

Meanwhile, those who came to visit Abdullah at the hospital were photographed by police.

Now, Abdullah has died, with the Bangkok Post reporting that this death resulted “from injuries sustained during an interrogation by security authorities.” That suggests that he was indeed tortured.

While “Col Pramote Prom-in, the spokesman for the Internal Security Operations Command’s Region 4 Forward Command, on Sunday confirmed the death of Abdulloh and promised transparency in the inquiry into his fate,” this seems impossible. After all, there has almost never been a case of official torturers and murderers being seriously investigated or held to account.

The authorities operate with impunity.

Update: There’s been quite a media storm over this case. Worth considering are:





Neo-feudalism and the military

23 08 2019

In most countries that have a professional military, the forces have become hi-tech and high-skilled that are generally focused on providing security of borders and beyond borders.

Thailand’s military is far from that professionalized military. In fact, it is a force that is mostly concerned with internal security, making it a highly politicized organization, led by bureaucrats rather than well-trained professionals and bent on molding the political order to its preferred shape. Coups, torture, repression, military-backed political parties and corruption are its stock-in-trade.

Monarchs and military

For most of the last 70 years, the military’s politicization and political dominance has involved the monarchy. And, for most of that time, the military has been the dominant partner in that political coalition.

But that balance has been changing as the monarchy has aggregated ideological, political and economic power to itself.

That change has seen the military requiring the ideological support of the monarchy in pulling off its most recent political interventions. In this reign, while so far short, there has been a rapid development of royalist neo-feudalism. We have posted on this several times, most recently, here.

Clearly, King Vajiralongkorn considers himself a soldier and he no longer sees his constitutional position as head of the Thai Armed Forces as symbolic. He’s given the military special attention and he’s taken control of several now-former military bases and of some forces. According to Khaosod, the king is now engaging in efforts to stamp his mark on the military more broadly.

That report, reflecting its source, is somewhat vague, but reveals that a “team of 100 soldiers will be introducing a new training program devised by … the King to the army nationwide…”.

Suthida in the uniform, earrings and makeup of a General

It is claimed that these 100 officers “were trained under the new protocol by the King’s royal guard corps…”. The royal guards are claimed to be an elite corps, mainly through their proximity to the palace rather than for any particular military skills or training. It is better known for its brightly colored uniforms, spiffing ceremonial hats and for having the heavily decorated king’s wife and official concubine as leading generals (neither with any military background).

It is claimed that the “novel program” of 10 weeks’ duration and which comes without any detail, “was reportedly introduced by King Vajiralongkorn in order to enhance soldiers’ physical endurance, nutrition, psychology, and motivation.”

It is “added that the policy was endorsed by army chief Apirat Kongsompong.” Would he do anything else? He’s also a neo-feudalist but we wonder if his military ancestors are somewhat taken aback by having a now aged part-time soldier, trained mostly in the late 1960s and early 1970s, directing how the “modern” army should be trained?

As the report points out, “[s]ince taking the throne in late 2017, … the King has been introducing changes to the armed forces, such as new salute, new haircut for police, and new police uniform color.” All that is window-dressing, but this seems rather more “interesting” as the king seeks to make the army his army.





Political violence and official impunity

2 07 2019

Gen Prawit Wongsuwan is administratively in charge – still – of all security units. He has finally spoken of the attack(s) on activist Sirawith Seritiwat. He wasn’t very convincing when he “denied being behind a recent attack that left a pro-democracy activist in a critical condition.”

He went on in junta-speak: ““I don’t condone violence. Whoever causes unrest in the country must be punished…. The case is still unclear. It is under investigation.”

Gen Prawit managed to maneuver into to ultra-rightist narrative when he added that he did not know if the attack was politically motivated or a “personal issue.” This plays into the “fake news” (that Prawit claims to want to end) from ultra-yellows and the junta’s own, including the reprehensible Pareena Kraikupt of the Palang Pracharath Party and police “leaks” to a rightist newspaper that claim “Sirawith might have been attacked by loan sharks due to a family debt…”, which Sirawith’s mother has vehemently denied.

Meanwhile, national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda “aired his suspicions that both attacks on Sirawith were orchestrated by the same group.” Brilliant! No wonder he is police chief! But then he managed to support the rightists thugs and their aim, warning “that it wasn’t safe to get political in public, saying that activists should avoid campaigning publicly…”. That’s what the thugs (and the junta) want. He also mentioned that police “couldn’t guarantee their [activists’] safety.”

Some of the reporting/op-eds on the cowardly attack is worth considering.

Veera Prateepchaikul at the Bangkok Post observes the brazen attack, claims of state connivance and the attackers’ apparent nonchalance, “convinced they would never get caught.” He is right to say that the “unprovoked violence deserves condemnation in the strongest terms.”

He’s also correct to observe that “there has not been a word from any other incumbent ministers except …[Gen] Prawit Wongsuwon…”. He notes their silence on previous attacks on Sirawith and other anti-coup activists. And, he’s has little doubt that the “attack on Mr Sirawith was politically motivated.”

But, then, as ever, Veera wants to compare this violence with that under Thaksin Shinawatra. While political violence occurs under all regimes, the culprits and motivators of political assassination, beatings and enforced disappearance are almost always believed to be police and military. In recent cases, He also mentions the murder of former ministers in the 1940s, by police. It isn’t clear why Veera does not look at the rise of royalist-rightist violence sponsored by the military in the early 1970s.

(He might also get his facts right. He states that “whistle-blower Ekkayuth Anchanbutr went missing without trace in 2013 during the government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.” In fact, according to Wikipedia and The Nation reported Ekkayuth’s “body was found in the southern province of Phatthalung…”.)

Then there’s Paritta Wangkiat who is a columnist for the Bangkok Post. She observes the rightist cheering of the political thugs. That’s the “He deserves it”response, “with apparent satisfaction…”. Some on social media “referred to the activist as a ‘saboteur’ against the nation who deserves to suffer from even more attacks.”

She’s right to observe that these “recent attacks reflect the current state of polarisation in Thai politics with a dangerous rise in incidences of violence.” Her comment that the rightist “acceptance and encouragement of the use of violence against someone with a different political ideology speak volumes about our sick and rotten society” is worth considering.

But she looks to the past decade when, again, her view should be more historical. This kind of violence, conducted with impunity, is a defining characteristic of Thailand’s military and its efforts over several decades to “protect” monarchy and promote anti-democracy.

While Veera neglects it, Paritta does mention the impunity with which the military under Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and Gen Anupong Paojinda shooting down dozens of protesters and injuring hundreds more or the cheering associated with that, including from the Bangkok Post.

Sadly, she gets amnesic when she refers to “unidentified killers.” Letting the murderous military off the hook for their dirty deeds contributes to its impunity.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

On another point, however, she offers insight by observing the class nature of political violence. She notes that:

Thais are expected to know “their place”, be submissive and accept oppression…. This attitude of submissiveness and obedience has been embedded in society making it a perfect match for an authoritarian regime.

Such attitudes are the bread-and-butter/rice-and-fish sauce of the military and royalist rightists.

Where she gets it wrong is to argue that there is apathy towards political violence. There’s no apathy, on any side. Rather, the problems is that the military and other authorities operate this barbaric way with legal impunity.





Destroying Future Forward

11 06 2019

Over the past decade or so Thailand’s ruling class have repeatedly rejected the will of the people. It has achieved this its armed wing in the military that has seized power twice, slaughtered protesters and assaulted and repressed. It has also used the judiciary to enforce its will, several times dissolving popular parties.

It is doing it again. The Future Forward Party, which did surprisingly well in the junta’s 2019 election, is being punished and it will be destroyed.

So far, the regime – still the junta – has moved, through the puppet election Commission and the Constitutional Court, to charge the party’s leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit with several alleged offenses and has succeeded in having him kept out of parliament. It has also brought charges against the party’s secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul.

In another report of the determination to eliminate Future Forward, we learn that the slavish lapdogs at the EC have “accepted a petition against the Future Forward Party (FFP) over claims by some of its MPs that they were offered money to vote for Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha as prime minister…”. No complaint against Palang Pracharath has been seriously investigated because the EC and that party both belong to the junta.

Another tactic used by the ruling class has been to use its parliamentary wing to destabilize elected governments. This was seen when its former attack party, the so-called Democrat Party, deliberately damaged parliament and went to the streets with the ruling class’s anti-democratic street gangs.

The new, preferred ruling class party is the junta’s Palang Pracharath. Already, we see that it has descended into the maniacal monarchical slime to attack Future Forward’s spokesperson Pannika Wanich.

Everyone in Thailand knows that this is a witch hunt and that Future Forward is being targeted and will be destroyed. Yet it seems nothing can be done. The junta’s control remains strong. More importantly, the ruling class, its junta and its minority of anti-democrats have learned that overturning the people’s votes is rather simple. And, if it gets out of hand as it did in 2009 and 2010, well, the opponents can be killed and jailed.