Pavin interviews Chomsky

18 08 2018

We are not sure PPT has seen this interview previously, although the date is 2017. However, it was the Southeast Asia Globe that brought it to our attention.

In the video, Pavin Chachavalpongpun interviews Noam Chomsky. He begins with a question on monarchy and democracy.





How does that happen?

16 08 2018

With the military junta in its fifth year of rule, at times it does seem to lose even its own plot. Below are three news items that PPT struggles to comprehend.

First, in a financial scandal that looks something between a white-collar crime and a Ponzi scheme with new means, the Bangkok Post reports that a big investor on the Stock Exchange of Thailand and staff from at least three commercial banks “are suspected of being complicit in a 797 million baht (US$24 million) scandal involving a foreign investor and the cryptocurrency bitcoin…”. The banks are the big three: Bangkok Bank, Siam Commercial Bank and Kasikorn Bank. Police say that “several of the banks’ employees failed to report money transfers of 2 million baht or higher, a serious violation of bank rules.” Those rules come under the Anti-Money Laundering Office.

It was just a couple of days ago that The Dictator sacked the head of AMLO. That head had only been in the job for about a month. Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha used his unbridled Article 44 powers to send the AMLO boss packing. What’s going on there?

(Call us suspicious, but we do recall the big wigs being involved in the Mae Chamoy chit fund that was exposed in the 1980s. The Wikipedia entry states:

The fund had a large number of politically powerful investors from the military and even the Royal Household and as such there were calls for the government to bail out the banks and the chit funds. After discussions with King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the nature of which were not made public, the Mae Chamoy Fund was shut down and Chamoy Thipyaso was arrested. She was held in secret by the air force for several days and her trial was not held until after the losses for the military and royal personnel involved had been recovered.)

Second, the Nikkei Asian Review reports that the junta is dumping its Special Economic Zone projects. It observes:

Since taking power in 2014, the military-led government had floated SEZ projects with the idea of building industrial complexes in the poor, remote areas along the country’s border. The plans backfired by fueling property speculation and sending land prices substantially higher, driving up the costs of building the SEZs.

How does that happen? Perhaps it has to do with the third story, with the junta stating it now wants to concentrate on infrastructure rather than SEZs.

Third, the Bangkok Post reports that “Transport Ministry officials have confirmed that auctions for the construction contracts for all sections of the first phase of the Thai-Chinese high-speed railway project will commence by the end of the year, despite unsettled negotiations between both countries.” How does that work?

One way it works is by dividing up the work into “14 separate contracts, which will use design and construction blueprints from China.” Quite a few are going to be in the money!





Prayuth’s yellow partnership

24 07 2018

As usual, The Dictator takes every advantage of the palace. Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, campaigning for his continued premiership in the northeast “called for unity, saying people had to come together and embrace their Thai identities.” He said:

“There are good and bad people in every place, but we can’t divide into factions now because we all have the same color. This month everyone is yellow and united by the heart in being Thai,” Prayuth said, referring to the color of King Vajiralongkorn, who turns 66 on Saturday.

Of course, this twinning of military dictatorship and monarchy is nothing new, extending back to 1957.





The junta’s lock

20 07 2018

The military dictatorship has now had more than four years to lock-in its rule and its rules. In establishing control over the military, it has had longer.

Around the time of the 2006 military coup, royalist elements in the military, aligned with the palace directly or through privy councilors Gen Prem Tinsulanonda and Gen Surayud Chulanont, marked certain military officers as untrustworthy due to their perceived alliance with Thaksin Shinawatra. These officers were sidelined, stymied and seen out of the military, mostly through the efforts of four generals: Sonthi Boonyaratglin, Anupong Paojinda, Prayuth Chan-ocha and Prawit Wongsuwan. Sonthi was soon discarded as too weak but the others remain, ran the 2014 coup and now plot and plan for the continuation of military guided “democracy” into the future.

That planning for the future involves something that Gen Prem did for years on behalf of the palace: managing succession in the armed forces so that loyalists are on top. In this context. loyalty means to the palace and to the junta and its regime.

It has been known for quite some time that the chosen successor for Gen Chalermchai Sitthisart as Army chief is Gen Apirat Kongsompong. Apirat is a ruthless rightist who has vowed support to The Dictator and taken a leading role in suppressing red shirts and other political opponents.

Last year, when the new King Vajiralongkorn approved the military promotion list, it was widely assumed that Gen Apirat had the king’s approval as Vajiralongkorn takes a strong interest in what happens within the armed forces. However, in May this year, there was an unconfirmed report that Apirat may have fallen foul of the erratic king. Within a couple of months, however, an announcement in the Royal Gazette saw Gen Apirat granted special special status as a member of the king’s personal security unit. If Apirat had fallen foul of the king, he must have completed his penance and/or service with flying colors, at least in the king’s eyes.

This has been followed by Gen Apirat getting plenty of media attention as the Defense Council is scheduled to meet on 25 July to discuss promotions and appointments, with the meeting chaired by Gen Prawit. Interestingly, most of the media stories are almost exactly the same, suggesting that this is a strategic leak by the junta, paving the way for Apirat and acknowledging that the king’s approval has been given.

Apirat, a graduate from Class 20 of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School, and in the military’s feudal system, “belongs to the Wongthewan clique and not the powerful Burapa Phayak circles of elite commanders — of which Gen Prayut and his deputy Gen Prawit are members — [yet] he is one of the regime’s most trusted lieutenants.” He has pledged allegiance to The Dictator. His loyalty has been earlier tested in 2010 and his bosses appreciate Apirat’s willingness to shoot down civilian opponents.

If the junta does decide to hold its rigged election next year, Gen Apirat will be expected to use his 200,000 + soldiers, the Internal Security Operations Command and various other resources of the state to deliver the votes needed for the “election” to appear to have been won by the junta’s parties.





Making royal propaganda from the cave II

15 07 2018

While PPT refrained from commentary on the remarkably uplifting cave rescue, we have said a few things about its use for palace propaganda purposes (here, here and here). Our point has been to point out that the kind of royal propaganda is nothing new, but that this is an opportunity for the palace to boost the image of the new king in ways that are not all that different from his father. Royalism is so deeply embedded in the military and bureaucracy that there is a constant search for opportunities to make the monarch look good, kind, generous, loving of his people, etc.

The latest efforts have involved both a familiar pattern and one that strikes us as somewhat new. The familiar involves the promotion of the former Navy diver who died in the cave and providing a royally-sponsored funeral ceremony. If academic Serhat Unaldi referred to something called “working towards the monarchy,” this propaganda exercise kind of reverses the process, allowing the monarchy to gain credit from the death of someone considered popular, a hero or worthy in other ways. Such actions are not always simple and cynical efforts by the palace but invariably bestow considerable credit on the monarch.

Governor Narongsak

The less familiar involves something we noted in our first comment on the efforts in Chiang Rai. In that post we observed the dress of Governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn. Initially in the search, he appeared in a “loyalty” outfit. Appearing appropriately loyal is required in royalist Thailand under the military dictatorship. At the time, we thought he might be wearing a sky blue Snoopy cap,along with a yellow scarf.

In fact, the cap bears the king’s rather childlike cartoon figures which also recently appeared on shirts. He wasn’t the only one wearing the outfit in the early days of the cave drama. Narongsak seemed to ditch the outfit as the search became very serious and he handled himself commendably. So did others.

However, after the huge elation following the successful rescue of those in the cave, the blue caps and yellow scarves are back in big numbers. As hundreds showed up to volunteer to assist in the cave area clean-up, it seems that they were all provided with these symbols of loyalty. Remarkably, the regimented volunteers all managed to show up in very similar yellow shirts.

This “uniform” was also on show in some of the very early pictures that came from the boating tragedy in Phuket where 48 persons seem to have perished. It seems that the idea of associating monarchy with a tragedy saw the “uniform” ditched.

The Bangkok Post has a some pictures from Chiang Rai following the joyous outcome there. The “uniform” is de rigueur. We clipped one of those here.

Way off in the distance in the photo is the picture of the king that the volunteers are saluting, all lined up in their identical outfits. It is clear that there’s a palace propaganda effort underway. Yellow and sky blue are the kings chosen colors.





An interfering monarchy II

13 07 2018

Just over a week ago PPT commented on the cave rescue and the king’s self-selected role.

We noted that the king had ordered – a “royal order” – that “cave search-and-rescue training will be introduced to the curriculum of all branches of the armed forces…”. That was announced by The Dictator. The report cited went on to say that the king was “[w]eighing in on how the nation’s armed forces should be trained…”, and ordered that “the skills and knowledge used to rescue 12 boys and their football coach be incorporated into their training…”.

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha immediately did as decreed, declaring: “[We] can adapt the rescue plan into diving and swimming lessons for the special operation forces in the future.”

We asked what business does the king have in “decreeing” how the military should be training? We also asked how many similar emergencies are there likely to be in the next few decades?

But in royalist Thailand, he who must be obeyed gets what he wants. Naval Special Warfare Command chief Rear Admiral Apakorn Yukongkaew has stated that “[s]kills unfamiliar to Thai Navy Seals but key to the successful rescue” of the kids and their coach in the cave “will be added to the training regimen of the Navy’s elite unit to better prepare them for unexpected situations.” He says that the operation prompted thinking “about arming themselves with the skills needed to navigate flooded, dark and murky passageways.”

We doubt that. This is coming from up high. When Rear Admiral Apakorn was asked “to name a priority for his Seal unit after returning from the cave rescue mission” he states that “Seals need cave-diving training…”.

To be honest, this is a bizarre response that only makes “sense” in the context of the royal command. And that makes very little sense.

Perhaps there’s also some nationalism at work when it is reported that the Navy team “handled the risks and pressure at Tham Luang well, but they still needed to be guided by world-renowned cave divers who also joined the rescue operations.” Nationalism is dangerous in such circumstances and the administration’s quick action in calling in experienced cave divers from all over the world was exactly the right thing to do.

We think the BBC gets it right too when it asks and answers:

Could the Thais have done this on their own?

No, and few countries could. Cave diving is a very specialised skill, and expert cave rescuers are even rarer.

Thailand was fortunate that an experienced caver Vern Unsworth has explored the Tham Luang cave complex extensively, and lives nearby.

He was on the scene the day after the boys disappeared, and suggested that the Thai government needed to invite expert divers from other countries to help.

The Thai navy divers who went down initially struggled, because both their experience and equipment were for sea diving, which is very different. They were driven out of the caves by rapidly rising flood water, and finding the boys seemed a hopeless cause.

Once foreign divers arrived, from many different countries, the Thai authorities allowed them to devise first the search, and then the enormously complex rescue. It was a huge logistical operation involving hundreds of people, building guide rope and pulley systems, putting in power and communication cables.

It is to Thailand’s credit that it was organised so well, and there was no attempt to diminish the foreign contribution.

So when a king who wasn’t at the scene and has no experience in caves or rescue operations provides daft advice, he should be ignored, not blindly followed. Monarchs need to be kept in their legal and constitutional place.





AI on academic harassment

9 07 2018

Readers might have imagined that the profoundly ludicrous charges against academics and students from Chiang Mai University may have slipped away into nothingness. However, the military junta seems intent on harassing these persons with a view to silencing other academics and deadening academic discussion within Thailand. So the ridiculousness continues.

The last we remember of this case was that in August 2017, when the Army brought charges against Prof Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, director of the Regional Centre for Social Science and Sustainable Development at Chiang Mai University, Pakawadee Veerapatpong, Chaipong Samnieng, Nontawat Machai and Thiramon Bua-ngam. They met Chang Phuak police and were fingerprinted.

These persons attended and organized the International Conference on Thai Studies at Chiang Mai University in July 2017. They all denied charges brought against them, which seemed to be something to do with breaching the junta’s ban on political assembly. Human Rights Watch referred to the charges as bogus.

Of course, the 13th International Conference on Thai Studies was not a political meeting but an academic meeting. It was the military junta that politicized it by provocatively sending uniformed and plainclothes police and military officers to snoop and spy on the event, apparently looking for any topic or even a few words that might offend military and monarchy.

It was this snooping, spying and efforts to censor that saw those charged and others protest the heavy-handed surveillance of the 13th International Thai Studies Conference.

According to Amnesty International, two academics, two students and a writer were charged last week. The charge is “holding an unlawful political gathering…”.

AI states:

These absurd charges would be laughable were it not for the potentially grave consequences for those involved, and what they say about the parlous state of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in Thailand…. All these students and academics did was make a peaceful, satirical comment about the heavy military presence at a university conference. For this, they could face up to six months in jail under a repressive decree introduced by the military government. Pushing this case through the judicial system highlights the crippling measures authorities are instituting to silence academics and gag any form of dissent.

Further, AI calls on the military junta to “drop these ridiculous charges and repeal the military decree that outlaws peaceful public assemblies of five or more persons. They must also put an end to the prosecutions, harassment and surveillance of academics, activists and intellectuals that has blighted the country since the coup.”

As far as we can tell, in strict terms of the junta’s decree banning public assembly, these five cannot even be considered to have come together as five and to have engaged in a political assembly. But legal facts have never prevented the junta from using “law” for harassment and repression.

At the  at Chiang Mai University in July 2017, members of the group held up a banner stating in Thai that “An academic seminar is not a military base,” alluding to the  by security forces in uniform and plainclothes.