With 3 updates: Students vs. the rotten system

13 09 2021

In recent posts, here and here, PPT has mentioned the increasingly aggressive tactics adopted by the regime’s police in confronting mostly young protesters. The police now face determined protesters.

The South China Morning Post reports that police face thousands of protesters – “young, angry and desperate for radical change – [who] come out to oppose a state they have lost all faith in.” Some are as young as 12. These protests are now daily and have a degree of predictability:

Protesters, some armed with paint bombs – the more hardcore among them, sling-shots and glass bottles – retreated then returned, a daily dance on Bangkok’s streets which is now threatening to spill out of control.

Protests now almost inevitably end in tear gas, broken bottles and rubber bullets.

The protesters speak to power and call for change: “No one in power has heard us, no one listens to us, they only intimidate and suppress…. So we will keep coming back.”

Their targets are not just the regime, but the rotten system: “… deepening inequality in a country where a tight-knit establishment of tycoons, military and monarchy dominate the economy and politics.” The quoted protester – aged 16 – says: “Inequality comes from these structural issues, everything is tied up here by monopolies of business and power…”. Her observation is testament to the alienation felt by many in the young generation.

Academic Kanokrat Lertchoosakul observes that:

This generation are a totally different species of political, active citizens that we have never seen before in Thailand…. They are a generation with mass awareness of their political rights and have superior analytical skills to their elders.

Prachatai provides another example of youth activism, reporting on the Bad Student activist group that has “launched a strike campaign to protest against the continuous use of online classes during outbreaks of Covid-19, which has been detrimental to students’ mental health and deprived many of an education.”

They are “demanding that the government provide students, education professionals, and members of the public with high efficacy vaccines as soon as possible so that the education system and the economy can continue.” They also want the Ministry of Education to “reduce tuition fees or impose a tuition fee moratorium, and provide whatever welfare is needed by students and their parents to keep young people in school.”

The group encouraged students “to stop attending [online] classes between 6 – 10 September 2021…” and the brief boycott was quite successful.

Bad Students have also joined the ongoing demonstrations and were there almost from the very beginning, saying: “We don’t want this rotten education system. We don’t want this stinking Minister. But we want our future back, and even better, is an education system that truly improves us…”.

Meanwhile, Thai PBS reports on students and other protesters still held without bail, including “seven core leaders of the anti-government Ratsadon group, who have been held on remand for about a month.” These detainees include Parit Chiwarak, Arnon Nampa, Panupong Jadnok, and Jatuphat Boonpattararaksa.

As the SCMP says, “Thailand is on a precipice … its politics once more a tinderbox of anger.”

Update 1: Sorry, we should have noted that the SCMP article was from August whereas the photos are more recent.

Update 2: Three stories at the Bangkok Post add to the analysis of the present moment in protest. In one story, police have said they will bring numerous criminal charges protesters. A second story says that police data is that 509 protesters have been arrested and a further 250 are being sought since the rallies began in July. That story also carries an important quote from Thalugas, welcoming the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration and the Thalufah group as rally “witnesses at the rally by young demonstrators in Din Daeng that evening.” Thalugas “said they should not be left to fight alone.” A third story is about a member of the older generation of protesters, Sombat Boonngamanong. He says: “We are at a crucial moment in democracy development…. This is a time when the ruling authoritarian establishment is trying to suppress the young, democratic generation.” His view is that “the nature of social movements has changed — because more people, especially younger generations, respect democratic values…. They do not tolerate authori­tarianism.”

Update 3: Prachatai reports on arrests in recent clashes. It has also produced a video on Bad Students:





Mafia military dependence

19 07 2021

The regime’s dependence on the military is an addiction to the military’s power. PPT posted on this recently when we observed that it it somehow “natural” that a military-backed regime, populated and commanded by generals, should use the military for civil actions.

A couple of days ago this was reaffirmed in a Bangkok Post report where Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, the self-selected prime minister, was said to have “instructed the armed forces and the national police to join hands with City Hall to arrange for more than 200 rapid deployment teams to carry out door-to-door testing for Covid-19 in the worst-hit parts of the city.”

The military and police usually combine and arrive at homes when arresting regime opponents for sedition or lese majeste or when threatening and intimidating the regime’s opponents. So having them show up – in uniform – is threatening and scary for many.

Military repression

Public health maneuvers

And, that’s what it is meant to be as the regime’s aim is aimed “finding and isolating infected people to curb soaring transmissions in the capital…”. It is reported that the “teams will go door to door to offer a free Covid-19 testing service to people.”

“Offer” is not the right word except in the Mafia context of “an offer you can’t refuse.”

Perhaps if the regime had sufficient testing, where people didn’t have to camp out over night, might have been a public health way to do this, but this is a military-backed regime, populated and commanded by generals, skilled in hierarchy and order rather than civil administration.

In addition, it seems that the regime is unable to come up with any sensible idea about how to deal with bed shortages. Again, it takes the military route, with Gen Prayuth ordering the “armed forces to support vehicles and facilities to transport Covid-19 patients from Bangkok and its surrounding areas to return to their home provinces to undergo treatment on a voluntary basis because of bed shortages in the capital and its surrounding provinces.”

“Voluntary” is not the right word except in the Mafia context of “an offer you can’t refuse.”

The regime is addicted to military authoritarianism.





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.





Gen Prayuth derided

8 07 2021

As the virus situation deteriorates further, there are increased calls for Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha to go, including this at Thai Enquirer. Frankly, Gen Prayuth should have been jailed in 2014 when he led an illegal coup. Trouble was, he was supported by both monarchy and military, a seemingly difficult combination to defeat.

He’s still got diehard yellow shirt support, but is lampooned on social media and the pressure mounts.

Most recently, Rap Against the Dictatorship have made another powerful music video, deriding the regime and its costly alliance with the monarchy.





Secret money

24 06 2021

A recent story in Thai PBS reveals the secret funds used mainly by the military. Of course, the existence of secret funds has been known and controversial for many years, but this report seeks to remind us of the corruption of parliamentary and budgetary processes by the power of the military.

Vaji's bahtBudget papers are voluminous and the budget vetting committee has limited time to scrutinize it. Even so, the opposition reckons it has found secret budgets worth more than Bt1 billion in the 2022 budget. These are funds allocated to state offices with no stated use. That is, their use is secret.

The budget vetting committee can cut some budget items but cabinet can reinstate them, and the committee can agree or not, but the budget still goes back to parliament. One way the committee can get some action is by drawing attention to some items members consider problematic. That seems to be what’s happening here.

In this case, it is reported that the budget bill “was criticized by both opposition and some government MPs for allocating large unexplained funds for national security and military purchases at a time when COVID-19 is crippling the economy.”

Puea Thai Party deputy leader Yuttapong Charasathien “cited the lack of details available for the budget allocated to several state agencies.” Mostly he refers to the military. The report states:

The Thai Army set Bt290 million for its secret operations, with Bt62 million going to the Navy, Bt30 million to the Air Force, Bt32 million to the Office of the Permanent Secretary for Defence, and Bt55million to the Thai Armed Forces Headquarters, said Yuttapong who is also a member of the budget vetting committee.

Military money

Add in the 20 million baht allocated to the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre, and the security operations account for a secret 427 million baht.

But that’s not all: “Also unexplained is the Bt558 million of spending for the Prime Minister’s Office, which supervises the National Intelligence Agency and National Security Council, who are set to receive cloaked budgets worth Bt232 and Bt50 million respectively.”

That’s at least 750 million baht for secret operations.

Yuttapong asked: “What is the purpose of the secret spending? Is it for information operations [IO] and to monitor opposition activities?” We take that as a rhetorical question.

Other unexplained secret funds go to the Foreign Ministry and Labour Ministry. No one seems to know why these ministries need secret funds.

Yuttapong states: “If agencies cannot explain their need for such funding, it should be cut…”.

Overall, the “national security budget worth Bt387.9 billion, or 12.5 percent of the total budget.” Meanwhile, spending for public health is 306.7 billion baht.





Military, dictators, and money

2 05 2021

There’s a story at something called the Atlas Institute for International Affairs which sounds very 1960s and argues that militaries kept “fed” with taxpayer funds don’t intervene politically. This long discredited notion is in part based on work on Thailand. The fact that coups in Thailand bear no relationship to that military’s ability to grab loot from the taxpayer should alert the authors. Think of “self-coups,” coups against military leaders and other rightists, and, most recently, the coup against Yingluck Shinawatra, when spending on the military increased.

That said, there’s no doubt that Thai military leaders love kit and money. One graph in the Atlas story demonstrates how the military has benefited by sucking the taxpayer of the people’s money.

Military spending

What is clear, is that following the 2006 and 2014 coups, the military has been rewarded and the taxpayer filched. We might also observe that military and military-backed regimes also shovel taxpayer funds to their ally, the monarchy.

The other group that does well following military political interventions is the Sino-Thai capitalist oligarchy and their conglomerates. They get to such at the taxpayer teat via the contracts and concessions doled out by the regimes that reward their loyalty to military and monarchy.

Several times already this group has come to the rescue of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s regime. And as Prayuth’s mafia coalition struggles with the virus, once again, Thailand’s top business groups “offered to join the government in a mass rollout of Covid-19 vaccination from June as the Southeast Asian nation grapples with its worst coronavirus outbreak since the pandemic began.”

Gen Prayuth’s faltering vaccine “strategy” has the support of “the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the Thai Bankers Association and the Tourism Council of Thailand,” with special mention made of “[b]illionaire Dhanin Chearavanont’s Charoen Pokphand Group and VGI Pcl…”. VGI is the profitable advertising arm of the Skytrain enterprise owned mostly by the Kanjanapas family.

It seems that these groups plan to not only prop up the regime, but the king’s vaccine company as well:

Thai owners of malls, commercial real estate and industrial parks will provide spaces for vaccination camps once the country receives more vaccines from June, while other businesses will assist in distribution and logistics, communication with the public and procurement of more doses….

The Bangkok Post – which is interlinked with the conglomerates through directors and major shareholders – manages to come up with the outlandish claim that, like frontline health workers, the “men in suits turn saviours,” joining “medical heroes in trying to give [the regime’s] slow vaccination drive a shot in the arm…”. These are, it claims, “a crop of saviours stepping out of their boardrooms to rally behind vaccine procurement and national vaccination efforts…”.

Observing that the “country’s economic powerhouses are being seen as an emerging sturdy force that can help prop up the government…”, the Post doesn’t acknowledge that, so far, they haven’t actually done anything apart from prop up their regime.

Of course, more vaccination is also good for business, so the tycoons are in a win-win-win situation. And, propping up the Gen Prayuth and his limping regime of hucksters, criminals, and thugs, guarantees profits, concessions, and contracts.

Money greases a lot of wheels, but the benefits flow mostly to military, money, and monarchy.





Mad authoritarianism

23 04 2021

There’s been considerable discussion in recent days of a draft law that would allow state monitoring of NGO funding and supervision of their activities. This amounts to a predictable deepening of control by an authoritarian regime. At the same time, it is reflective of a quite mad authoritarianism as the regime has increasingly come under the influence of ideas of conspiracy that dominate the “thinking” of mad monarchists.

Thai PBS reports that the effort to strictly control civil society organization and dominate political space by limiting NGOs by the “monitoring of NGO funding and supervision of their activities” through the Bill on the Operations of Not-for-Profit Organisations “stems from fears of foreign intervention in local politics and adverse impacts of NGOs’ foreign donations on national security.”

That report cites Amnesty International as saying that other states have also introduced “restrictive laws and policies, and stigmatising rhetoric…”. The examples provided include “Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, India, Hungary, and the Philippines.”

In the Thai case, the bill appears to reflect the increasingly frenzied deep yellow shirt conversations about CIA (meaning the USA) and Jewish (meaning George Soros) conspiracies to undermine the monarchy. There’s no evidence for such conspiracies, just an ever-mounting social media gnashing of teeth and tan ever-higher piling of buffalo manure, some of it egged on by organized anti-Western bloggers and “news” outlets. Such sources have waged a campaign against “colour revolutions” and, since the rise of the red shirts, have increasingly focused on Thailand. In Thailand, their deeply conservative narrative has been couched in “radical” terms, railing against “American imperialism.”

This narrative caught on among yellow shirts who themselves had dealt in fictious notions of conspiracy against the monarchy that constructed accounts of the Finland Plot to bring down the monarchy and of Thaksin Shinawatra’s anti-monarchism.

Such conservative fictions were easily imbibed by military monarchists. One result is this bill to control civil society groups. It was the post-junta cabinet, dominated by military monarchists that “in late February approved in principle the Bill on the Operations of Not-for-Profit Organisations, which would require NGOs to report their financiers and amount of funding, to have their accounts audited, and to ensure that their activities are lawful.”

Thai Enquirer refers to the Bill as the “Operation of Non-profit Organizations Act,” and notes that the “legislation was proposed by the Council of State…” which cited the concerns that resulted in the draft bill, including that NGOs “receive funding from foreign persons or entities.” Nothing new there; it has been a standard operating procedure for decades. However, in these reactionary times, there’s a view that this “might adversely affect the relationship between Thailand and that of other countries.”

Thai Enquirer explains what the Bill will do:

This draft bill, if passed into law, would require NGOs to register themselves with the Director General of the Department of Provincial Administration, prior to commencing its activities in Thailand. Once registered, they will be additionally required to comply with rules and conditions prescribed by the Minister of Interior, in addition to those requirements set forth in the legislation.

In addition, NGOs would be subject to an annual disclosure viz-a-viz sources of funds and must file an annual tax report to authorities. And, more horrendously, the NGOs can only receive funding from foreign persons, entities, or groups of persons, only for the purpose as prescribed by the Minister of Interior. Failure to comply with these requirements would subject the NGOs to criminal sanctions. Potentially imprisonment for persons involved.

It is unclear whether receiving funds to engage in political advocacy such as calling for the amendment of the constitution would be one of the permissible purposes. However, given the government’s track record and how the government MPs have reacted to iLaw’s requests, it is reasonable to fear that the purpose of political advocacy would not be permitted.

The article continues, noting that the regime:

does not wish to appear subtle about its motives either. It includes as material substance of the law that the bill would effectively ensure that NGOs are operating in Thailand without “Tai-ya-jitr” (hidden agendas). It remains unclear what “hidden agenda” means in this context. Is advocating for democracy … under the authoritarian regime regarded as a “hidden agenda?” … One might therefore reasonably conclude that this law is aimed at curtailing the activity of liberal NGOs….

The regime “has provided numerous hints about how it intends to use the law,” citing “a senior intelligence official specifically cited a statement signed by 13 human rights organisations … as demonstrating the need for further control over organisations working in Thailand.” That statement by human rights groups “condemned the government’s use of force against protesters.”

As The Interpreter observes:

Since a military coup in 2014, however, civic space and fundamental freedoms have taken a beating in Thailand. Authorities have harassed activists, cracked down on protesters and obstructed the proceedings of civil society. But these actions have failed to fully extinguish dissent, and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government has now proposed a draconian new law governing associations and organisations, which, if passed, would do more to crush civic space and undermine Thailand’s role in the region than any other effort by the Thai government in the past decade….

Under the proposed legislation, any group engaged in non-profit activities – no matter how small, informal or unorganised – would be required to register with the ministry. Student groups, community organisations, protest movements, artistic collectives, social clubs and short-lived associations would all fall within the remit of the law.

It establishes a “mandatory registration scheme overseen by the Ministry of Interior” and gives “authorities expansive powers to control and monitor groups of all sizes and types.”

Under the current authoritarian regime, the proposed law’s “broad terms and steep penalties would likely be wielded arbitrarily against independent-minded individuals and organisations.”

It imposes harsh penalties for failing to register: “individuals associated with an unregistered group could be punished with up to five years’ imprisonment.”

…The law would give the Ministry of Interior sweeping powers to determine the conditions under which registered groups operate. Activities backed by foreign funds would require pre-approval by the ministry, with foreseeable consequences for groups that frequently come into conflict with the government. More worrying still, the law would allow officials to inspect a registered organisation’s office and access its emails without justification or judicial oversight. It provides no safeguards against governmental misuse or arbitrary application of the law.

…Moreover, the selection of the Ministry of Interior as the ministry responsible for enforcing the law is telling. The Ministry of Interior oversees local administration and internal security within Thailand. As a result, it frequently comes into conflict with community associations, non-governmental organisations and other groups that would be governed by the law. The surveillance and enforcement powers granted by the law would bolster the ministry, to the detriment of those seeking to hold government officials accountable for corruption, human rights abuses or other misdeeds.

Such requirements and such intrusive surveillance mean that the government would determine which NGOs could register and what they could do, if they receive international funding.

The Interpreter further observes:

Adding to the law’s recklessness, the timeline set forth for registration – 30 days from the date of enactment – does not provide enough time for the ministry to register the thousands of currently unregistered groups operating in Thailand. If it were passed, numerous organisations would be forced to cease operations, and many would never reopen.

That is likely one of the aims of the legislation.

Each of the reports mentioned in this post reports on responses from NGOs. Among many issues, they note that the law is in conflict with several provisions of the constitution – not that such matters have ever bothered this regime – and that the law would allow “authorities to harass civil society groups and activists critical of the government by categorising them as NGOs.”

The Interpreter concludes:

If enacted, the proposed law would devastate Thai civil society and could lead to an exodus of international organisations currently based in Thailand.

Clearly, the regime’s support for the monarchy and the need to suppress anti-royalism puts it in alliance with all kinds of mad monarchists. For them and the regime, only conspiracy theories can “explain” attacks on their beloved monarchy and monarchist ideology. When mixed with the regime’s military-induced love of hierarchy and order, the outcome is a political system that is deeply authoritarian. The threat is to make Thailand forever authoritarian.





Know the military

31 03 2021

While the New York Times has written about the murderous military in Myanmar in its “Inside Myanmar’s Army: ‘They See Protesters as Criminals’,” the parallels with Thailand are unmissable. Some points from the article:

[The military] occupy a privileged state within a state, in which soldiers live, work and socialize apart from the rest of society, imbibing an ideology that puts them far above the civilian population. The officers described being constantly monitored by their superiors, in barracks and on Facebook. A steady diet of propaganda feeds them notions of enemies at every corner, even on city streets.

snipers

Following orders in Thailand

The cumulative effect is a bunkered worldview, in which orders to kill unarmed civilians are to be followed without question….

The capacity for murdering civilians is stark and, in both countries, has been definitional of the armed forces for decades:

Today, the Tatmadaw’s foes are again domestic, not foreign: the millions of people who have poured onto the streets for anti-coup rallies or taken part in strikes….

“They see protesters as criminals because if someone disobeys or protests the military, they are criminal,” Captain Tun Myat Aung said. “Most soldiers have never tasted democracy for their whole lives. They are still living in the dark.”

The military’s penetration of society is deep:

Although the Tatmadaw shared some power with an elected government over the five years preceding the coup, it kept its grip on the country. It has its own conglomerates, banks, hospitals, schools, insurance agencies, stock options, mobile network and vegetable farms.

The military runs television stations, publishing houses and a film industry….

The cloistering of the military, on bases, separates them from broader society and there’s a history of nepotism and the creation of cross-generational military families:

Officers’ children often marry other officers’ children, or the progeny of tycoons who have profited from their military connections….

The class-like military sees threats from civil society and creates conspiracies, often fueled by the very same international conspiracy theorists targeting rightists and royalists in Thailand:

The cloistered nature of the Tatmadaw may help to explain why its leadership underestimated the intensity of opposition to the putsch. Officers trained in psychological warfare regularly plant conspiracy theories about democracy in Facebook groups favored by soldiers….

They see foreign “interference”:

… the “black hand” of foreign influence. George Soros, the American philanthropist and democracy advocate, stands accused in Tatmadaw circles of trying to subvert the country with piles of cash for activists and politicians. A military spokesman implied during a news conference that people protesting the coup, too, were foreign-funded.

When the military is behind a government, it remains powerful, even when elections are permitted:

Even during the five years of political opening, a quarter of the seats in Parliament were reserved for men in green. They didn’t mix with other lawmakers or vote as anything but a bloc.

Sadly, all of this is very familiar.





Warong wrong

21 03 2021

Royalist politician and ardent coup promoter Warong Dechgitvigrom gets much wrong. In one of his recent tirades, he’s again looking for external links to domestic political opposition to his beloved military-monarchy regime.

He claims to have found a conspiracy to “discredit the Thai monarchy, military and judiciary…”. He believes that Parit Chiwarak’s tirade against the injustice of lese majeste is a conspiracy mounted via “author Andrew MacGregor Marshall, who is wanted in Thailand for lese majeste offences, [and who] tweeted photos of Parit reading [his] statement” in the courtroom.

Warong’s complaint about discrediting the monarchy, military, and judiciary is way off mark. Each of these bodies is already largely discredited. The monarchy is widely seen as erratic, neo-traditionalist, corrupt, and out of step with the modern world. Across the globe, the king has been lampooned for his very odd behavior. The military is a fascist organization that specializes in repression and murder of political opponents. The judiciary is a legal joke and a partisan institution, doing the bidding of the monarchy and military.

Parit’s rehearsing of a statement showed that his is a political trial. Nothing more, nothing less.

Warong’s search for a conspiracy is misguided and quite mad. No doubt his audience of mad monarchists will cheer but that makes him no less bonkers.





Money for nothing

8 03 2021

Being a general in Thailand confers power and wealth. A general can amass huge wealth with seldom any investigation of that “unusual” wealth , can use slave conscripts around the house, might get free housing, electricity and water for years and decades, and can even murder with impunity. After all, for decades now the military has run the lucrative game show that is Thailand’s government.

In what has become an annual ritual, the Royal Thai Armed Forces have announced that they plan to slim down the number of generals and especially those who do nothing more than whack golf balls on military courses and collect the benefits.

The linked report states:

According to the Defence Ministry, out of the total, 400 generals work in the Royal Thai Army (RTA), 250 in the Royal Thai Navy (RTN), 190 in the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF), 250 in the RTARF and 300 in the Office of the Permanent Secretary of Defence.

As these numbers seem rounded, we suspect there are more of these suckers of the taxpayer teat.

The report says the “armed forces are embarking on an ambitious programme to trim the number of generals in its ranks by 25% by 2029, amid doubts that the plan will ever come to fruition.” There’s reasons to be cynical as the same claim is made every year and then drifts off into the mists of corruption and grasping.

In the coming year, the “target” ain’t that “ambitious” at 5-10%, but that will not be achieved.

One of the scams is explained:

Defence Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich insisted the downsizing of the armed forces actually started when the cabinet approved the employment of civilians in the Defence Ministry in June last year.

Under the scheme, those recruited by the military to serve in certain fields such as medicine, law, accounting or administrative affairs are not given military ranks, he said.

So there’s no downsizing. Gobbling up loot, “protecting” a ridiculous neo-feudalism, and repressing political opponents of the whole corrupt system is too important and too lucrative.