Updated: The constitution and the king’s coup

10 04 2017

The New York Times carries an op-ed by David Streckfuss. It is titled “In Thailand, a King’s Coup,” and we guess it will be blocked here in Thailand before too long.

We are not sure we agree with all of it, but will comment later.

Update: Streckfuss is like everyone else. He’s reading royal and military tea leaves and trying to work out what is going on. We can’t do anything different. His hypothesis seems to be that the the changes the king demanded of the junta’s constitution might represent a slap to the military. We are not so sure.

He’s not entirely right when he says that one changes “allows the king to name a regent to act on his behalf, including when he is traveling outside Thailand. This strips the Privy Council, a royal advisory group known to support the junta, of its traditional authority to act in the king’s place on such occasions.”

This isn’t correct. In previous constitutions, the king has had the right to appoint a regent. The change that impacts the Privy Council is that the new constitution removes the Privy Council President’s role of acting as regent when there’s a void. Grand old political fiddler General Prem Tinsulanonda may not like that, but he’s frail and on the way out.

There’s also the capacity for the king to nominate a person or a group to act as regent. We are not sure how this might work.

Another change is that the king doesn’t have to appoint a regent when he’s (often) away. That is giving him a power he didn’t have before but which is an acknowledgement that the new king intends to be away a lot.

Most of the other changes are a rolling back to earlier arrangements.

Then there’s the hypothesis that the king has a political “clean slate” and that this may result in some kind of association with a more democratic Thailand, as Streckfuss has it, the king might “foster a somewhat more open political atmosphere…”.

Don’t hold your breath. For a start, the prince-cum-king does not have a “clean slate.” Anything but. He has been manipulative in events since his father became unable to do much. Think of his efforts to have the now disgraced Jumpol Manmai made police chief.

To date, over 64 years, PPT hasn’t seen any evidence that Vajiralongkorn is going to be a democratic king. We would be very surprised if he turns out to be this, but we’d welcome that almost as much as a democratic republic.

There’s no doubt that Streckfuss is right when he sees the proclamation of the junta’s constitution on Chakri Day as significant. But what, exactly, is the significance? Is it that constitutionalism resides in the monarchy? Is it that “[t]ying the promulgation of the Constitution to Chakri Day is significant …[as it] seems to signal that constitutions are a gift to the people from the monarchy…”.

That’s also a misreading. In fact, royalists have made this point since 1932. That’s why Thailand has the daftly rendered King Prajadhipok Institute, as if the king targeted in 1932 was the real founder of democratic constitutionalism in Thailand. That certainly is an ideological misrepresentation.

We can think of another rendering: if the constitution was granted by the king and on Chakri Day, will it constitute lese majeste if anyone criticized it or wants to change it?

(We must add that Streckfuss is wrong that the previous king criticized the lese majeste law.)





Updated: The junta’s constitution promulgated

6 04 2017

In a ceremony broadcast live on the national television feed, the king signed the (now) 2017 constitution.

As we watched, we were wondering when was the last time such a ceremony was held. The television commentators say that this was the fifth such ceremony since 1932.

No other royal was seen. Perhaps they are all away on holidays, beating the heat.

The Bangkok Post ludicrously claims that this was “an ancient ceremony.” That’s buffalo manure. How can a ceremony first held in late 1932 be “ancient”?

We do accept that it is not a ceremony “seen in almost 50 years.”

Perhaps the Post bought the propaganda invested in the ceremony, suggesting again and again that sovereignty resides with the monarch.

The ceremony began in a faux-ancient way, with the king being revealed from behind a curtain, standing above all. The rest of the ceremony involved massive groveling and crawling, again being symbolic of anything but democracy.

More than this, the ceremony was an effort to link the king and the junta’s constitution.

And, even more than this, the king appeared in military uniform, confirming that this is not a democratic constitution.

As yet, the secrets of constitutional changes demanded by the king have not been revealed.

Update: Further to the last line above, both Khaosod and the Bangkok Post have versions of the changes made. The former refers to changes to five articles and compares them, side-by-side, while the latter refers to six changes.





There is no justice III

2 04 2017

We recently posted on the death of Private Yuthinan [Yutthakinant] Boonniam who was was initially hospitalized with a swollen face and bruises before his death on Saturday. He is one of several army recruits who have died from beatings and torture by soldiers and officers.

The Bangkok Post reports that the “army chief has ordered a probe into the death of a 22-year-old private…”.

Army spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvaree warned stated: “Please have confidence. If it is concluded that any officer did this, he will surely face legal and disciplinary actions to the full extent…”.

That’s an “if.” As in other “investigations,” the recruit might be found to have fallen…. As if to calm the social media speculation, Winthai bleated that the “army chief would monitor the issue closely to ensure fairness…”. He means “fairness” to the army.

And who is to conduct the “investigation”? Army chief General Chalermchai Sitthisat “ordered the 45th Military Circle to conduct the investigation and promised severe punishment if any officer was found responsible for it…”. That’s another “if.” In case readers hadn’t noticed, the 45th Military Circle is the owner of the prison of the 45th Military Circle, where the unexplained death occurred.

So, again, the military not only investigates itself but the very military unit responsible is investigating itself.

That, we suppose, represents military “justice.”

Frighteningly, Colonel Winthai states: “In the meantime, a concerned army unit is taking good care of the family of the victim to ensure that all parties are fairly treated…”.





Going after kids II

19 03 2017

A tragic report at Prachatai sounds like something from the 1960s or 1970s. It reports that:

On 17 March 2017, soldiers and other security officers of Pha Muang Task Force deployed at a checkpoint in Mueang Na Subdistrict of Chiang Dao District in Chiang Mai Province summarily killed Chaiyaphum Pasea, a 17-year-old Lahu ethnic minority.

The soldiers claimed that they found certain amount of amphetamine in the car Chaiyaphum was sitting in and that he was resisting the authorities to arrest him by pulling out a knife before running into a bush.

The security officers added that when they found the suspect in the bush he was about to throw a bomb at the soldiers, so they shot him.

The only civilian witness to these events is in custody (and in grave danger). The report explains Chaiyaphum’s background:

The killing of Chaiyaphum raised many questions because he was an active youth activist who participating in many events to promote the rights of ethnic minorities in Northern Thailand.

On 15 March, he was among the 19 youth representatives of ethnic minorities who attended a youth activist forum organised by the National Institute for Child and Family Development in Bangkok.

He was also awarded a prize at the 16th Thai Short Film and Video Festival for a short film called ‘Belt and Comb’ and several of his short documentaries were broadcasted on Thai PBS.

The late activist is also a gifted song writer who composed ethnic folk songs about his communities.

This does not sound much like a drug-taking, knife wielding bomb thrower to us. Like probably every one else, we cannot help bu think that this is just one more murder by the military state. Expect military denials, even more ridiculous stories and claims by them and impunity for the murderers.





New military “hero” organizing “reconciliation”

6 03 2017

It has been recognized that Lt Gen Apirat Kongsompong is flying towards the top. When a military regime is seeking to embed authoritarianism, it often happens that the lure of running things, having lots of power and the chance to acquire great wealth causes aspiring green shirts to take a shot of becoming the next military political “hero.”

Most regimes see upstarts pushing the bigger bosses. For example, Field Marshal Phibun had to watch out for not only royalists but also for General Sarit Thanarat and Pol Gen Phao Sriyanon. General Prem Tinsulanonda had the palace on side, but had to see off “Young Turks” uppity generals like Arthit Kamlang-ek.

Now it is General Apirat’s chance.

apirat

The Bangkok Post has been reporting on Lt Gen Apirat rather too consistently than his bosses might like. The latest has him arranging for the “governors of 21 provinces in the Central Plain [to]… team up with officers from the 1st Army to gather views of people in their provinces on national reconciliation as the government expands its push for forging unity upcountry.”

“People” has an odd, junta-friendly, definition, generally meaning “groups” like bureaucrats, academics and business people. The lower rungs of society only rarely get defined as “people” worthy of having “views.”

To kick off the (real) people-free “reconciliation” PR exercise, “governors were invited to have a talk with 1st Army commander Apirat Kongsompong on Friday…”. Somewhat garbled, the report goes on to write of “their joint move” in a “meeting of the chiefs of all units under the 1st Army and representatives from the Internal Security Operations Command.”

It all sounds rather like something arranged in the 1970s about counterinsurgency. Back then, the governors were the key link between the military and civilian bureaucrats. The arrangement meant the military dominated civilian administration.

Lt Gen Apirat has a similar view today, saying “the governors will be the ‘key men’ in this initial stage to gather useful opinions from people from all walks of life.” As it was several decades ago, it is the “military chiefs [who] will serve as supporters and coordinators to invite target groups to air their views at the roundtable meetings…”. And they will have to listen and learn to junta propaganda.

Which groups? They will be “local politicians, scholars, state officials and business persons in the provinces and community leaders and non-governmental organisations.” The real people still can’t be trusted.

The report states that they “will be encouraged to talk on 10 topics, set by the panel appointed to work on a process to restore national unity, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon…”. That is, the selected “trainees” will “discuss” only junta-approved stuff.

In case readers wondered, “national unity” was destroyed by Thaksin Shinawatra being a “divisive” figure. The military is not “divisive” despite its penchant for gunning down protesters.

Lt Gen Apirat declared that he wanted “all participants to adopt impartial attitudes…”. We doubt he understands the meaning of “impartial.”

He also “revealed” that there was an extra topic: “referring to a question raised by [The Dictator] … who wants to know how all parties view the ongoing problems facing the country and how they can help solve them bringing back a peaceful atmosphere.”

Um. Ah. Huh? The other issues in a reconciliation meeting don’t to this? Yes, we get it, Apirat is posterior polishing. When making a run for the top, ensure that current incumbents don’t feel they are in trouble or being destabilized. Butter them up and appear “loyal.”

All this faux “opinion gathering” at the provincial level has “to be completed within this month.” We guess that the military already has the required “opinions” on its lists.

These “opinions” will be processed by – you guessed it – the military: “Once the governors finish their work, the opinions will be sent to a sub-panel led by permanent secretary for defence, [General] Chaicharn Changmongkol.”

This might be good PR for the junta. It is also keeping Apirat in the limelight, where he prefers to be.





Updated: Thailand’s culture of torture

1 03 2017

A day or so ago, the Bangkok Post reported on the military dictatorship’s puppet National Legislative Assembly having “dropped legislation to criminalise torture and disappearances after years of working on the bill…”.

The United Nations Human Rights Office and NGOs reported on this.

Because Thailand has long been dominated by the military, torture is not only “not a criminal offence … and perpetrators cannot be prosecuted,” but it is essentially standard practice among the military and police.

Torture as used by the current regime ranges from the blatant use of torture such as beating, choking and electric shocks when persons are taken into custody to deliberately delayed, long, drawn-out and secret trials of lese majeste suspects who are often shackled.

Meanwhile, the “lack of a law on disappearances leaves a legal loophole that means security officials who abduct people and kill them, imprison them or send them to a third country may never be brought to justice.”

The UN stated that the “decision not to enact the bill is … a devastating blow to the families of those who have disappeared. They have the right to know the truth.”

The Post report adds that:

Amnesty International said last year Thailand’s military government has allowed a “culture of torture” to flourish since the army seized power in a 2014 coup, with allegations of beatings, smothering with plastic bags, waterboarding and electric shocks on detainees by authorities.

In the face of ample evidence of torture, the military regime lies that none of this is true.

Update: Khaosod reports that a “senior Justice Ministry official said the regime remains committed to enacting legislation against torture and enforced disappearance despite belief the bill died recently in a subcommittee.” No details provided….





Father and son

25 02 2017

On roughly the anniversary of the 1991 military coup, another supported by Thailand’s middle class, dependent on the military and monarchy to keep them above the feared masses, it is interesting that the Bangkok Post does a feature on the son of that coup’s leader, General Sunthorn “Big George” Kongsompong.

Dad dies in 1999, having been held in low repute following the blood-letting of May 1992. As might be expected, Sunthorn was well-heeled and split his time between Thailand and France after the coup group was disgraced.* For more on the 1991 coup, see PDFs here and here.

His son, First Army Region commander Lt. Gen. Apirat Kongsompong, has been on the up and up since he proved himself a red shirt hater in 2010, shooting at protesters in one of the first “hot” clashes of that uprising.He’s been rewarded by the coup group with promotions and cushy money-making positions.

apirat

Apirat

The Post gives him glory with its headline: “Army chief in the making?”

It notes that this year “tension is building on several fronts” for the military junta, “which needs a commander it can trust to help iron things out.” That seems to be just the deal for Apirat, who is making the news more often than he should. Yet, as the story correctly observes,

The NCPO and the armed forces, particularly the army, are one and the same. Naturally, when the going gets a little tough on the political road, the council looks to the army to to steer a course of action required for pacifying heated issues, which could potentially spiral out of control.

Within the army, it says, Apirat is “one commander stands out from the crowd, who is known for his combat skills.” He can be relied on to wage war against anyone seen as a threat to military and monarchy.

The Post also notes his role in seeing off the lads from the south complaining about a coal-fired power station. That group seemed to like him and saw him as a factional leader facing off against the old guard in the junta. That’s unlikely at present as he owes the big boys leading the junta.

On the coal dispute, this:

Lt Gen Apirat said it was necessary to end the protest peacefully and quickly, citing an intelligence report of a third party and anti-government elements attempting to politicise the protest and whipping up an undercurrent for their own political benefit.

That’s buffalo poo, but you get the picture. Apirat knows that his protesters are political allies.

Apirat is positioned for higher position because he heads up Bangkok’s military garrison. He’s got a finger in the funeral stuff at Sanam Luang and his men are backing up the troops and police at Wat Dhammakaya.

When the “election” comes around, you can be sure that Apirat and his troops will be busy arranging the result in Bangkok. Apirat seems likely to emulate his father at the head of undemocratic forces.

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*Some accounts suggest that Sunthorn was close to Thaksin Shinawatra.