Taxpayers squeezed

13 07 2017

The royals and the military are in cahoots in ripping off the Thai taxpayer.

The military is the biggest spender at present. The most recent bit of kit added to the ever-expanding list of big-ticket item for the military is a flight of Korean jets. That follows submarines, tanks, helicopters and armored personal carriers. In total, the bill under the current military dictatorship is is tens of billions of dollars.

The royals aren’t spending that much, but it is the wealthiest royal family in the world, according to Forbes. It is also dragging in hundreds of millions of baht each year from state coffers. Think of the two jets the king uses, dozens of expensive cars, his many residences, his jail, pets, girlfriends, antiques, security, and far more. It is far more than a gravy train.

Then there’s the other members of the family, each sucking at the taxpayer’s teat. One of the king’s daughters has been bathed in money for all of her foibles and fancies. The latest report on her gives a brief view into the lifestyle of this selfish royal:

If there were a prize for most enthusiastic fashionista on this list, the Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana of Thailand would undoubtedly get the title. As it is, she’s been crowned Most Stylish Princess In The World instead. A regular on the front row at couture, a designer in her own right (she showed in Paris a few seasons ago) and with a wardrobe that boasts pieces by Chanel, Balmain and Hermes, shrinking violet and modest style maven she is not. Unafraid to experiment with more out there, non-princessy looks – including exaggerated shoulders, leather and tuxedos – she’s definitely changing the face of modern royal fashion.

Taxpayers screwed again.





A triple threat?

11 07 2017

Academic Nicholas Farrelly, who runs New Mandala, has produced a report for Australia’s Lowy Institute, sometimes described as a “think tank.”

Quite a lot of the Thailand commentary at Lowy has been bland and not particularly analytical, but Thailand’s Triple Threat (only three?) deserves a reading. The abstract is:

King Vajiralongkorn’s elevation to the Chakri throne comes after decades of whispers that he is an unsuitable king for Thailand. Despite these concerns, the military leadership has swung behind their new monarch. But the potential for future turbulence under the government led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha is high. The fluid situation in Bangkok is complicated by the potential escalation and expansion of separatist violence in southern Thailand. The question is how will Thailand respond to the triple threat of King Vajiralongkorn’s ascension, the entrenchment of military rule, and the potential escalation of separatist violence emanating from the southern provinces?

The most likely future for Thailand is one in which the authoritarian instincts of the military and the monarchy reinforce their mutual survival pact. Nevertheless, at the core of Thailand’s triple threat is the possibility that the untested nexus between the new king and the powerbrokers in the military will prove insufficiently strong. Even if everything goes according to plan, today’s authoritarian establishment in Bangkok risks inspiring new challengers to its interests. And if everything goes bad at the same time, Thailand would struggle to maintain its position as one of Southeast Asia’s most successful societies.





Release Pai XIV

26 06 2017

We are pleased to pass on the news that Jatupat Boonpattaraksa, or Pai Dao Din, is said to have “passed the last subject of his undergraduate course last Friday…”.

He’ll be celebrating in his jail cell where the military thugs have had him locked up for six months on a trumped up lese majeste charge.

But celebrate he should. This young man, through his stoicism, intellect and commitments, makes the knuckle-draggers in the junta look more ridiculous each day they lock him up. He’s no threat to them or to the monarchy. Indeed, the monarchy and military are more dangerous for each other than a new graduate in Khon Kaen can ever be.

Jatupat’s father, Viboon, also a lawyer, pondered “what his son would do if or when he is released.” He thought:

Perhaps he will go into the field to collect information about human rights violations. Or perhaps, he will return to Loei province where he will offer legal assistance to local communities….

Well, we guess he is a threat to some. By helping the downtrodden he threatens the elite and their comfortable lifestyles, built on the backs of good working people, exploited mercilessly for decades.

Viboon “gathered with dozens of others at Chit Lom BTS station on Thursday to call for the release of Mr Jatupat.” That effort was broken up by 50 thug-police.

With his son, the family remains determined to “be strong and fight for [Jatupat] in the way we know best…”. After all they have faced, it is remarkable that the family still thinks that there is a better Thailand, buried below the injustice muck and detritus of the military dictatorship.

The only way to be sure is to get rid of this corrupt military regime that goosesteps in time with the monarchy.





Guns and grenades I

5 06 2017

Over the past several years, we have had several posts on military involvement in weapons trafficking. Often this trafficking is one of the money-making ventures used by senior commanders  to produce illicit loot and unusual wealth. In short, arms trafficking is a perquisite of rank, using underlings to move and sell the weapons.

Of course, such actions can involve rogue soldiers but it is the impunity they get from their uniforms and the political dominance of their bosses that allows them to engage in illicit money-making.

There are two recent reports worthy of note about military gun-running and weapons trading.

The first is of a mail-order weapons scam. Military grenades were being sent via couriers. This came to light when “eight M67 grenades were found with a courier” in Bangkok.

The military were involved in the investigation. That seems odd in itself, although police are mentioned later in the report.

As usually happens, they were able to immediately blame “a network of 30 people including a Bangkok-based soldier…”. It is said that “a source” claims “the military had been tracking as many as 30 people suspected of trading in grenades by taking orders from customers in many provinces.”

The “source said the real sender was an engineering sergeant in Bangkok who had stolen grenades from a Bangkok army unit with the intention of selling them.”

The 1st army commander Apirat Kongsompong reportedly “ordered tough actions against any soldier behind the thefts and illicit grenade trade, and against any supervisors who failed to prevent the crime.” Yet it is claimed the “network” has been highly active. Army boss Chalermchai Sitthisart had “ordered army units to cooperate with the police investigation into the grenade sales and check their weapons stocks.”

Any “connection between the illegal grenade sale and three recent bombings in Bangkok” were denied.

The notion that soldiers and officers have long been involved in arms trafficking is not addressed.

The second story is of an ISOC officer running guns. This case came to light after a pickup ran off the road in Trat.

The story is that “local residents and naval paramilitary rangers rushed to help the slightly injured driver from the badly damaged vehicle” when they found weapons and ammunition, in the pickup, being driven by “an air force officer…”.

The officer is said to be “in custody.”Again, he’s held by the military and the police seem not involved, although they too are mentioned later in the report.

The pickup was carrying “29 AK-47 rifles, four 7.62mm machine guns, 4,147 AK-47 bullets, and 53 grenades to be used with launchers inside the vehicle.” In addition, it is reported that “[a]uthorities also found a rocket-propelled grenade, 42 machine-gun magazines, a hand grenade and ten 9mm bullets.”

(We do recall that “investigations” of 2010 events by the military stating that the military didn’t have AK-47s.)

The air force officer driving “was identified as Flt Sgt Pakhin [or perhaps Manas] Detphong of Wing 2 from Lop Buri, attached to the Internal Security Operations Command in Bangkok.” He is said to have “refused to make a statement about the weapons and authorities had yet to find out what his destination was.”

ISOC is an internal security agency that reports to the prime minister and which is under the command of the army’s boss, General Chalermchai. ISOC has been involved in numerous operations to undermine people’s sovereignty and has undermined several governments. No one in it may be trusted.

Very interestingly, “Vice Adm Rattana Wongsaroj, marine commander for Trat and Chanthaburi provinces,” rushed to the navy site where the officer was being held.

An alleged civilian accomplice was given VIP treatment in moving through military border checkpoints, immediately suggesting high-level backing.

This report does note that this “case is the latest in an innumerable series of incidents that expose what appears to be lax security at Thai military facilities where weapons are stored.” That makes Apirat’s gruff statement seem all too tame. He knows as well as everyone else that weapons trading is lucrative for many in the military and makes generals wealthy.

 





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…”.