Abuse of power over many decades

15 12 2018

A couple of days ago, The Nation reported that the  National Human Rights Commission Chair What Tingsamitr, recalling that Thailand had been one of the first nations to ratify the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, continues to have a serious human rights  problem.

While What mentioned several groups “responsible” for for human rights abuses, this was a remarkable effort to deflect attention from the main perpetrators. In fact, What had to admit that “state officials commit 90 per cent of human rights violations…”.

What appeared to want to whitewash this basic fact, babbling about “misunderstandings” and “different definitions” of human rights.

However, “Cross Cultural Foundation director Pornpen Khongkachonkiet argued that the root of the problem did not lie in misunderstandings, but came from the abuse of power and an absence of the rule of law.”

Pornpen got to the point that What preferred to avoid:

It is clear that most of the rights violations in Thailand occur in the same pattern – officials violating the rights of people. We have witnessed that again and again. When someone opposes the government and their policies, state officials turn on these people….

She cited several examples of oppression under the current military junta, noting that “rights violations against those who oppose the authorities are far more severe in cases related to the stability of the state and the monarchy.”

Pornpen observed that “key problems include a lack of proper investigation, court litigation and punishment against officers who commit these crimes.” That is, impunity, adding that violations and impunity are abetted by “a partisan culture within the justice system, which allows so many offending officers to walk free and even keep their job in official agencies.”

This situation has existed for decades. However, under the junta, Pornpen concluded, “the problem of human rights violation by the state … is worse than ever…”.

Illegal detentions and republicanism

14 12 2018

Khaosod reports that “[a]t least four people are being held incommunicado by the military on suspicion of belonging to an underground republican movement…”.

Prachatai reports that those arrested include Mrs. Laddawan Chewasut (age 62) and Mr. Suthawat Chewasut (age 31), the wife and son of Mr. Chucheap Chewasut or ‘Uncle Sanamluang’, the underground radio broadcaster who currently is living in exile.”

It seems that people believed to be from the military have interrogated at least a dozen people in recent days.

Khaosod states that the “soldiers who arrested the four reportedly told their families they would be taken to the 11th Infantry Regiment headquarters in Bangkok, but army spokesman Winthai Suvaree said he was as yet unaware of the matter.”

The Organization for a Thai Federation has reportedly uploaded a video condemning the arrests.

That Organization is reportedly run by a group of exiled activists in Laos. It’s difficult to gauge how much support it has, though its prolific and often very long online videos/broadcasts can have tens of thousands of views. As well as republican positions, the broadcasts often feature an array of rumors circulating in Thailand.

On YouTube there are several broadcasts under the banner of Organization for Thai Federation and Sanamluang20082008. Clicking the links opens sites probably banned in Thailand.

Followers of Uncle Sanam Luang have been associated with republican/separatist black T-shirts with a red and white flag emblem.

Thirayudh among the chickens

12 12 2018

In his annual musing about Thailand’s politics, usually delivered in a seasonal scruffy cardigan, one-time student activist, former communist, former critic of the monarchy, anti-democrat and “academic” Thirayudh Boonmee has delivered another of those waffling pronouncements that can be interpreted in several ways.

When he “likened Thai people to chickens in farms where they were under control from birth to death” it seemed that he took this as a state of affairs to be accepted.

He seemed pessimistic about “politics”, arguing that “Thais are too obsessed with political problems to realise they face other, more fundamental, issues — inequality, poor education, widespread corruption, and economic monopoly by large groups of capitalists.”

It seems quite strange to think of inequality, poor education, corruption, and capitalist oligarchy as being apolitical. We would consider such outcomes to be a result of Thailand’s anti-democratic politics, long periods of authoritarianism, the impunity of military murderers and the triad of military-monarchy-tycoon capitalists.

He seems to suffer a dementia moment when he falsely claims that it has been “[o]ver the past decade, [that] about 10 large groups of capitalists had been formed and they controlled most key economic sectors and politics…”. Most of the giant capitalists group have been around for decades and almost all align with the biggest capitalist conglomerate, the monarchy.

He’s on stronger ground when he observes that the military junta:

had long planned to prolong its hold on power by allowing political parties to nominate outsiders as prime ministerial candidates, having 250 military-appointed senators with the right to vote for the prime minister, and by gathering political factions into the Palang Pracharath Party. All without caring about any criticism.

PPT has been saying that for a very long time. For most of that time, Thirayudh has been a junta supporter.

He’s certainly not alone in seeing that The Dictator has “a very big chance of … remaining the prime minister after the general election…”. The question is whether one supports that rigged outcome or not, and we think Thirayudh is comfortable with more military domination of politics even if he notes the problems politics “under the influence of the military, government officials, the intellectual elite and large groups of capitalists” brings.

He reckons that if the junta doesn’t engage in outright electoral fraud, “people would accept the next government of Gen Prayut[h Chan-ocha]…”.

Thirayudh’s claim that the junta’s government and its returned regime after an election is/will be little different from the Thaksin Shinawatra regime is amusing but inaccurate.

At the Bangkok Post, The Dictator himself is dismissive of Thirayudh as an aged dope in this comparison. Prayuth then babbled that Thaksin did wrong.

Overall, Thirayudh is boring, deceptive and deliberately forgetful. It’s time he stopped relying on his reputation of more than 40 years ago and gave way to a younger generation of real democrats.

Updated: Dissembling for Bahrain

12 12 2018

Late yesterday the Bangkok Post reported that the Criminal Court “approved the detention of a Bahraini footballer with refugee status in Australia for another 60 days, as Bahrain seeks his extradition.”

The Criminal Court allowed the Immigration police “a further 60 days to allow procedures for his extradition.”

The report adds that “[l]ast Friday, the Attorney-General’s Office submitted the AlAraibi extradition case to the Criminal Court on behalf of Bahrain, because there is an outstanding arrest warrant for him in the Arab Gulf state.”

A photo from The Guardian

And then it says. “… AlAraibi was stopped by immigration police on Nov 27 after arriving in Bangkok from Australia for a vacation with his wife, following a request from Bahrain,” while noting that “Thailand has no formal extradition agreement with Bahrain.”

All of this sounded a bit contrived for PPT, so we looked a bit more for some details. It turns out that the regime in Bangkok is dissembling.

A report by Australia’s ABC News has these details:

“[The court] says the [Thai] Government is still waiting for the official extradition request, so during that process they cannot grant bail,” said Nadthasiri Berkman, one of the lawyers working on his case.

This contradicts a statement released by the Thai Government on Saturday.

That statement is reproduced in part:

“The detention was carried out in response to the red notice alert received from the Interpol National Central Bureau of Australia and the formal request from the Bahraini Government for his arrest and extradition,” said the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a statement that repeatedly misspelled Mr AlAraibi’s name as “Oraibi”….

It seems very clear that the military regime is acting for Bahrain. Indeed, it is dissembling for that country’s monarchy.

As well as spelling errors, the idea that a red notice came from Australia is unlikely and appears to contradict the NCB’s role. That’s not to say that an error might have occurred in Australia, but it was Australia that provided his refugee status and presumably scrutinized his travel documents and permitted him to leave Australia. In this context, the report states:

… His lawyer was at a loss to explain how the Interpol red notice might have come from Australia, when significant diplomatic resources are being mobilised to advocate for his safe return.

“I don’t understand that either … it’s contradicting information,” said Ms Berkman….

Interpol has a policy of not issuing red notices — effectively international arrest warrants — in the case of refugees, and withdrew the notice for Mr AlAraibi on December 3.

The ABC report has more:

Another lawyer working on the case — Somchai Homlaor — said the way Mr AlAraibi was detained suggested the Thai Government had acted because of diplomatic pressure, rather than international law.

Somchai stated: “This is a political case…”. We think it is more than a political case, involving friendly monarchies.

Update: It turns out that the Australians did tell Thailand that al-Araibi was visiting. The Sydney Morning Herald refers to this as “outrageous.” It seems that Australia’s “Department of Home Affairs [has now] attempted to distance itself from Araibi’s detention. The Department:

confirmed the Interpol National Central Bureau in Australia had “advised Thai authorities in relation to the scheduled arrival of a person who was the subject of an Interpol Red Notice”.

“The Interpol Red Notice was not put in place by Australia; the existence of the Interpol Red Notice would have come to the attention of Thai authorities when the person attempted to enter Thailand. Any action taken in response to the Interpol Red Notice is a matter for Thai authorities.”

This Department is headed by Australia’s most right-wing ministers who recently described parliament as an obstacle and disadvantage for government. PPT assumes that he would find kindred spirits in Thailandl’s military junta. In the past few days, a Greens Party senator in Australia, Jordon Steele-John, attacked the Department of Home Affairs secretary, describing him as:

a man of a dangerous right-wing disposition who has successfully created a department in his image and who now stands on the cusp of achieving a lifelong goal of empowering the Australian government with the ability to keep the general populace, who he regards as nothing more or less than helpless sheep, safe and sound….

While we don’t know much about Australia’s politics, but we get a picture of authoritarians working with authoritarians.

Burying Constitution Day

11 12 2018

With all of the palace propaganda going on, it was almost impossible to notice that 10 December is Constitution Day in Thailand. Of course, the anti-democrats, royalists and military junta have little time for the basic law, especially when it was delivered by the People’s Party in 1932.

Interestingly, after struggling through the royal propaganda at the top of its website, there was a story on Constitution Day at the state’s National News Bureau.

As might be expected, the story is vague.

While it observes “the importance of the administrative document,” the story declares the day one for “celebrating its 20 incarnations throughout the democratic history of Thailand.”

What can we say? This is quite simply an outlandish manipulation of several things. First, a constitution for Thailand in 1932 was revolutionary and it was, before the resurrection of monarchy under fascistic military regimes, on a par with nation, religion and monarchy. Second, only anti-democrats “celebrate” 20 constitutions. In fact, the fact of 20 charters is a dismal reflection on the ways that military dictators have smashed democracy in Thailand every time it has emerged from the monarchy-military sludge that mires the country.

The story then gets royalist, declaring that: “Constitution Day in Thailand marks the date King Rama VII graciously signed the first charter into effect on December 10, 1932.”

In fact, there was nothing gracious about it. Thailand’s first constitution was essentially anti-monarchy and the king and his royalist supporters vigorously opposed it. Initially, King Prajadhipok refused to sign it, objecting to his loss of powers. As Wikipedia has it, “the charter provoked fierce resistance from the palace.”

When it came to the 10 December charter, which replaced the “draft” document of June 1932 following the palace’s political maneuvering, it gave “the monarchy a significant increase in authority compared to the temporary charter.” Even so, royalists remained aghast about the diminution of the king’s majesty. We suspect that, if they actually read that charter, today’s royalists would be similarly shocked.

We note that this political struggle over the constitution is covered by the propaganda bureau’s claim that: “The charter placed the Kingdom’s monarch in a position of great respect.” While that’s kind of right, it deliberately censors the political debates and conflicts.

Where the story links to the current military dictatorship, it engages in a fairy tale:

The 20th constitution, drafted when the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) assumed power in 2014, came into effect on April 6, 2017, and is considered a restart of democracy in Thailand….

We wonder if it is only the junta that “considers” the monarchy-promoting and anti-democratic junta constitution as having anything to do with democracy.

Further updated: Biking with the king

10 12 2018

With all the hoopla associated with the king’s latest self-promoting bike ride yesterday, we have been trying to find the usual grossly inflated figures for the number involved. As has been the case for several decades, big turnouts are important for demonstrating “popularity.”

Sadly, the reports we have seen mention “thousands” but not much else. There are also loads of photos and videos of the king in Lycra and helmet but showing relatively small numbers of other cyclists. The Nation reports “thousands of participants and spectators.” We did notice spectators along the route, but again the numbers seemed low and there was obviously a rent-a-crowd or, more accurately, order-a-crowd.

Some social media accounts say there were almost 700,000 nationwide, but that sounds more  like a Ministry of Interior fudge as it doesn’t match the vision or images.

NHK reported that “[a]bout 3,500 people joined” the ride in Bangkok. We assume tens of thousands of extra parking spots were empty.

At Andrew MacGregor Marshal’s Facebook page, he’s spent considerable effort linking to social media posts complaining about delays, road closures, river closures and more. He also writes that the king showed up several hours late. We haven’t seen that reported elsewhere, but then Thailand’s media isn’t about to discuss such matters for fear of the dire consequences.

The king appeared with daughters and concubines. We didn’t notice the usual junta limpets involved.

We guess that, despite the seemingly small crows, the regime, palace and dutiful media will crow about a rousing success.

Update 1: There’s been a death among participants in the king’s bikeathon. Sitthichai Banjerdsuk reportedly dies of a heart attack. The king is sponsoring the funeral. Without trying to be too macabre, it needs to be pointed out that his is not the first death associated with this kind of palace propaganda event (see here and here). Their “auspiciousness” is greatly reduced by such deaths.

Update 2: It turns out that there are now two reported deaths from the latest biking event.

What happened to that palace “crisis”?

9 12 2018

Readers may recall that, in the period before Vajiralongkorn came to the throne, there was a widely-held view that there was a “succession crisis” in Thailand.Nothing was seen publicly, although when the incoming king did not take the throne for a period, the media was abuzz.

Earlier, PPT wrote that it had to be admitted that Wikileaks, the 2006 coup, the role the palace played in that, the royalist opposition to electoral representation, the infamous birthday video, and the rise of the successionist line in blogs and on social media have changed the way most of the world thinks about Thailand’s monarchy.

There were also those stories circulating that the then Crown Prince was close to Thaksin Shinawatra and red shirts. This even led to a forlorn hope that the new king might be “more democratic.”

Then there were stories about rifts in the palace, most notably between the then prince and Princess Sirindhorn, who were characterized as competing for the throne. One story reckoned she was preparing to decamp for China if her brother became king.

PPT wasn’t convinced by this successionist argument., but we couldn’t ignore the way discussion of succession merged with rising anti-monarchism.

We can’t determine whether this crisis was a beat up based on limited evidence coming from an opaque palace, wishful thinking, an effort to destabilize the palace under the junta or something else. What we did notice was that the 2014 coup had a lot to do with snuffing out anti-monarchism.

In the end, it turns out, the biggest “crisis” for the palace occurred in late 2014, when the king-in-waiting “cleaned” out his family and continued a palace cleaning and reorganization that saw dozens of lese majeste cases and saw many jailed and some die.

All of this is a long introduction to a new op-ed by Pavin Chachavalpongpun at FORSEA. On all of the above, he now states: “There was no such war. Vajiralongkorn was already firmly in charge of palace affairs before his father passed away in October 2016.” He adds:

After the long authoritative reign of Bhumibol, some would have hoped that the new monarch would be more open, liberal even. Yet, they were wrong. Now that Thailand has installed a military-trained king on the throne, who is determined to expand the monarchy’s powers, the country’s future does not seem bright. The new monarch promises authoritarianism rather than democracy.

The op-ed deserves attention for its focus on what Vajiralongkorn has been doing on the throne:

Vajiralongkorn is striving to re-establish the power and authority of the royal institution, fully enjoyed by Thai kings prior to the abolition of absolute monarchy in 1932….

This is the first time since 1932 when a new Thai king holds more formal power than his predecessors. The entrenchment of the monarchical power has been made possible by a renewed alliance between the monarchy and the army through a repressive military regime.

His economic and political power has expanded. Under the junta, no one can say anything much about this.

Pavin mentions the huge land grabs in Bangkok:

has taken into his possession a number of major public buildings in Bangkok, from the Dusit Zoo to the Nang Loeng Horse-racing Track. Both are located within the close radius of the royal palace. The confiscation of these buildings was supposedly meant to be an expansion of the spatial power of the new king. A dream of redesigning Bangkok to mimic London where royal properties have been integrated finally comes true under Vajiralongkorn reign. The only difference is that whereas the British royal parks are open for public, those in Thailand will be forever shuttered.

The grabs in the area of the palace – also including Suan Amphorn, the so-called Throne Hall and the current parliament buildings and land – have coincidentally been about erasing 1932.

In terms of politics, it seems pretty obvious that all of this palace work depends on the extension of authoritarian rule.