Updated: “New” government

11 07 2019

King Vajiralongkorn has endorsed The Dictator’s cabinet list.

One of the “stories” is how, as expected, many of the junta’s henchman have transitioned into the “new” government:

Prayut will also double as Defence Minister, a key position currently held by General Prawit Wongsuwan, his deputy in the outgoing government.

Prawit will retain his position as a deputy prime minister and is expected to also be in charge of security affairs.

The new Cabinet also has eight other ministers who have worked with Prayut and Prawit in the current post-coup government: Somkid Jatusripitak, Wissanu Krea-ngam, General Chaichan Changmongkol, Uttama Savanayana, Don Pramudwinai, Suvit Maesincee, Sontirat Sontijirawong and General Anupong Paojinda.

But the biggest story is undoubtedly going to be about an army man and mafia figure, reported by AFP, 9 Sep 1998, and now being circulated in Thailand:

BANGKOK, Sept 9 (AFP) – Eighteen middle-ranking Thai military officers are being investigated for links to an international heroin trafficking operation, the supreme commander of Thailand’s armed forces said Wednesday.

General Mongkol Ampornpisit said the officers had been re-admitted into the military in the past two years and the scandal, the latest in a series to rock the Thai military, had prompted him to order that all recently re-admitted officers have their backgrounds checked.

“I have submitted the names of all re-admitted officers for the last two years to have their criminal backgrounds checked with the police,” General Mongkol told reporters, without elaborating on the heroin trafficking allegations.

He said he hoped the move to vet officers would help contain one of the biggest scandals to hit the Thai military establishment in many years.

The revelation of the heroin investigation follows another scandal involving an army captain at the centre of a murder probe, who had previously served a jail term in Australia for drug trafficking.

Mongkol conceded the military had been lax when re-admitting Captain Patchara Prompao into the armed forces after he was fired twice and convicted of narcotics trafficking.

Patchara is now in detention awaiting trial in a civilian court after he surrendered to police on Monday to face charges that he raped and then beat a male academic to death.

In June, amid a drive was to make the armed forces more accountable, the government demanded the military disclose the contents of secret bank accounts they had been allowed to keep.

Earlier this year the armed forces were accused by opposition politicians of involvement in vast illegal logging operations in northern Thailand.

It is also Thammanat who was reported in 2016 as being among more than 6,000 “influential criminal figures” being targeted by the junta in a nationwide crackdown. Back then it was Gen Prawit who stated that “[s]tate officials, police and military officers found to be involved with ‘dark influences’ must also be dealt with…”. Gen Prawit was reportedly in charge of “suppressing influential criminal figures.”

At the time it was considered that the regime’s political opponents were being targeted, a claim Prawit denied. When asked about specific individuals on the list – “former army specialist Gen Trairong Intaratat, better known as Seh Ice, and Capt Thammanat Prompao, a former close aide to Gen Trairong…” – Gen Prawit said “police will explain the offences they have allegedly committed.” He added that the two “might have done nothing wrong, but their aides might have…”. The report continued:

Gen Trairong, said to have close ties to ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was among four people mentioned in a leaked document from the 1st Division, King’s Guard.

The three others named in the document are Karun Hosakul, a former Pheu Thai Party MP for Bangkok’s Don Muang district; Capt Thammanat Prompao, said to be involved in several enterprises including lottery ticket distribution; and Chaisit Ngamsap, alleged to be connected to illegal activities in the Mor Chit area of Bangkok.

Gen Trairong and Capt Thammarat have denied the allegations.

In the same report, Gen Prayudh is reported as saying:

… those who break the law must be punished…. In the future, these people may support politicians. They must not be allowed to break the law and use weapons against people. Today, we must help to clear up the mess to make our country safe….

It seems that the once pro-Thaksin Thammanat has metamorphosed into a pro-junta man and the politicians he’s supporting are Prayuth’s and he’s now so trusted that he’s a deputy minister!





Sondhi gets jail time, bailed

9 08 2012

Readers will be interested in a brief story at The Nation that reports the sentencing of People’s Alliance for Democracy leader Sondhi Limthongkul to jail. As usual, it isn’t that simple, for he has been bailed on appeal.

The Rayong Provincial Court reportedly sentenced Sondhi “to two years in jail for defaming General Mongkol Ampornpisit, former chairman of the TPI Polene rehabilitation committee.” He also received a fine.

The lawsuit, dating from 2007, saw Mongkol claiming that Sondhi had defamed him in a broadcast talk show on 25 May that year. The report doesn’t note that Mongkol is a former close aide to Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda and a former supreme commander of the armed forces.

The short report says that the case revolved around Sondhi’s claim that “Mongkol had abused his authority to siphon money from TPI, which later changed its name to IRPC, by paying himself a huge salary as well as giving large fees to an advisory firm.” The Rayong Court decided that Sondhi was guilty and sentenced him to two years in jail, with no suspension of the term. As noted above, Sondhi has been released on bail pending his appeal.

The first point to make is that when advocates of the lese majeste law claim that it is “like the defamation law,” they can’t be believed. Sondhi gets immediate bail. Think of all the lese majeste cases where bail is refused again and again, and where sentences are regularly for 10-20 years.

On the case itself, and Sondhi’s involvement, the story is a longish one and PPT has to admit that we haven’t followed it too much. However, it is worth noting that General Prem’s associate General Mongkol was initially appointed to TPI by the Thaksin Shinawatra government. TPI was a festering sore amongst the companies that had crashed following the beginning of the 1997 economic crisis.  The Leophairatana family had refused to restructure the company as its debt mushroomed. As an incomplete Wikipedia page describes it:

When the crisis struck, it emerged that TPI owed US$3.2 billion in external debt to some four hundred creditors. In 1997, the group made exchange losses of … around 5 billion USD. All expansion plans were put on hold, and TPI entered into acrimonious negotiations with its creditors. In an attempt to retain control, Prachai [Leophairatana] put both the holding company and the cement firm, TPI Polene, into the bankruptcy court in 2000. Over the next five years, Prachai used lawsuits, political connections, public advertising, and nationalist posturing in his attempt to retain control. However, with … Thaksin Shinawatra’s term in office, …[and] a bankruptcy court ruling in 2005, the state-owned petroleum corporation PTT, became the major investor in TPI with a 30 percent stake and the family was reduced to a 15 percent minority.

Prachai also mounted media campaigns, painting himself as an injured party. General Mongkol was made head of the plan administrators charged with coming up with a debt restructuring plan for TPI. Prachai was eventually forced out and had to sell his remaining stock.

It is little wonder then, that Prachai became a solid member of the group of Sino-Thai businesspeople who opposed Thaksin and, some suggest, he became major funders to PAD. Readers might also recall that one of the cases that saw the Democrat Party get off charges that originated in the Election Commission, where Prachai and TPI Polene stood accused of an illegal transfer of funds to the Party. TPI Polene is still controlled by Prachai and his relatives (be aware that this is a large PDF, and if downloaded, read from about p. 143) and has continued to fight for it. There’s some more available on the story, indicating Prachai’s politics and his fallout with Thaksin.

Prachai has managed, despite once being Thailand’s largest debtor, kept his fortune, and is ranked 29th richest person in Thailand.

Sondhi appears to have appreciated Prachai’s support, and hence spoke for him and against General Mongkol. It should be added that the relationship between Prem and Sondhi has not been smooth, and this may be related to the Sondhi’s support of Prachai and his attack on General Mongkol. In addition, a major creditor to TPI was reportedly the Bangkok Bank, where Prem has long had connections and mutual support.





Cleaning up the palace’s mess

25 03 2012

In earlier posts (here and here), PPT commented on the questions asked of 2006 coup leader General Sonthi Boonyaratglin about who was behind the military’s seizure of power and trashing of the 1997 constitution, planning it and urging it. The following post is a bit convoluted, but this is because the current discussion of the coup is meant to obfuscate.

Sonthi

Of course, if one were to read the Wikileaks cables PPT has been posting, it becomes pretty clear that there were a bunch of academics, human rights “activists,” and members of the elite wanting a coup. And, as we noted in one of those earlier posts, those asking these questions now should have watched Prem, listened to the coup plotters themselves and even read Wikileaks.

The one Wikileaks “voice” that repeatedly saying there would be no coup was the military. But no one should ever believe them. That said, reading between the lines, it was also clear that Sonthi was clearing the decks for action against Thaksin Shinawatra.

Notably, also, Thai Rak Thai Party strategy advisers seemed unable to conceive of Sonthi carrying out a coup. Certainly, they seemed to underestimate his capacity for rebellion, whether of his own volition or prompted by Prem or others in the palace.

The junta, with the white-haired Prem, meeting the king and queen on the night of the 2006 coup

The current question is whether Sonthi was ordered by higher-ups to act against the Thaksin government. Most assume that Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda had pushed General Sonthi into the 19 September 2006 coup. Others talk about the queen’s role.

What is the purpose of this discussion now? As ever, some royalist cynics think  that both Major-General Sanan Kachornprasart and Sonthi are in the pay of Thaksin Shinawatra. Both are seen, at The Nation, denying this. Sonthi said “he wanted to rectify the damage caused by the coup, not rescue Thaksin…”, while Sanan says “he wanted to clear up any misunderstandings and was not acting on Thaksin’s behalf to take revenge on Sonthi.”

If the latter were the case, the idea would be to dump all the blame for the putsch on Sonthi alone. That seems unlikely to us, and PPT looking at the issue cynically would point out that blaming Sonthi would whitewash the palace and Prem.

It seems to PPT that the current questioning could be about a range of political maneuvering, most of it associated with the palace’s political role. It could be designed to clean up some of the post-coup mess that has been sheeted home to Prem’s meddling in politics from his position inside the palace. This could be at Thaksin’s urging, as part of his determination to get back on-side with the monarchy and monarchists that seems to hate him. It could also reflect a desire on the part of some in the palace to sideline Prem as succession draws ever closer, by hoping that his role in the coup will be further spotlighted.

What we might do, rather than join conspiracies, is just look at what’s being said and see where that takes us.

At The Nation, we hear that General Banchorn Chawalsilp has been joining in, saying that “Prem instructed his former aide General Mongkol Ampornpisit to tell Sonthi to outline the truth behind the coup…”.

As a note on this, Banchorn is seen as having been close to General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, which should not have him rushing to Prem’s side.

But do Banchorn or royalists or even Thaksin really want the truth behind the coup? The truth? They can’t handle the truth. Notice that Jack Nicholson is in military uniform, ranting about honor and protecting all that is good. It seems to fit very well. Royalists don’t want the truth because it would reveal royalists like Prem manipulating politics. It may reveal more than the smoke and mirrors that are the hallmark of the palace’s political interferences.

Prem receiving the armed forces in 2009

Banchorn tells us that “Prem was concerned that he was being perceived as the mastermind behind the coup…”. Of course he was concerned, for this connection was very obvious, seen in his donning of military uniform as he traipsed around military bases, privy counselors in tow, demanding loyalty to the throne and not the government. Of course he was preparing the ground for a coup.

The current claim seems to be that Prem urged Sonthi to “reveal” a “truth” as if the “truth” will somehow and miraculously exonerate Prem of any responsibility. The problem for Prem is the public record of his actions against the Thaksin government.

Why “clear” Prem of responsibility? One reason could be simply because cleansing his record is believed by some royalists to be important in buffing the propaganda that the palace is “above politics.”

The report in The Nation could easily be seen as a part of this process, stating as it does: “After taking over as junta leader, Sonthi projected himself as a royalist and tried to justify the coup as a move to safeguard the monarchy.” And, at another place it reinforces this point:

Sanan said he had no ill intentions towards Sonthi, but wanted the public to learn the truth about the coup. Over the past five years, Sonthi has been deflecting the blame on others and the coup remains a mystery, he said, arguing that fences could not be mended if people were misled to believe that Prem was behind it all.

The implication is that Sonthi “used” the monarchy. PPT even begins to feel a bit of sympathy for the not-so-bright Sonthi, who was used for palace and elite purposes in 2006 and is now to be the palace’s fall guy again. We wonder if he’s prepared to do that?

Maybe he is, for the report states that “Sonthi initially refused to shed any light on the issue, though he subsequently conceded that Prem was not involved in the coup.”

But maybe not forever:

Sonthi reportedly completed writing six books, including his biography, before he entered politics [PPT guesses that The Nation considers running a coup isn’t about politics…] as leader of the Matubhum Party last year. It is believed that these books will be published after his death to avoid unintended repercussions on leading figures.

Sonthi might reveal the role of “leading figures”? Perhaps he’ll explain the role of those behind Prem?

Sanan is also seeking more on this, when he asks about the infamous “royal audience that Sonthi received on September 19, 2006 – the night of the coup.” Sanan says that many:

believed that Prem summoned Sonthi to see the King, hence Sonthi should clarify this meeting because Prem was seen arriving at the Palace after arrangements for the royal audience had been completed.

Would this, in the age of mobile phones and so much other public information, exonerate Prem. Absolutely not. However, the reading could be that someone else in the palace invited the respectful and loyal generals to the palace for a meeting that Sonthi has commented on at Wikileaks, in discussion with U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce:

I began by asking Sonthi about the audience with the King last night. Who had attended? He said Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda had brought him, Supreme Commander Ruangroj and Navy Commander Sathiraphan in to meet the King. Sonthi stressed that they had been summoned to the palace; he had not sought the audience. He said the King was relaxed and happy, smiling throughout. He provided no further details.

In the same cable, Boyce explains that this audience was important: ” Sonthi was relaxed and calm. Clearly the royal audience was the turning point last night.”

If nothing else, perhaps we can observe that the beneficiaries of this new discussion may not be those who began it, for the story of the coup is something that has many players and manipulators at work.





A country for old men?

22 09 2009

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With so much happening in Thailand’s politics in the past few weeks, it has been difficult to keep up. Seeing the bigger picture is a challenge.

Following our retrospective on Thailand three years after the 2006 palace-military coup, where we attempted to be positive, we now offer some observations regarding the current situation.

We begin with the police chief debacle. Why has this appointment been so drawn out and so conflicted? Of course, there are the related views that Thaksin Shinawatra controls the police or that the police support Thaksin. Another view is that there was a tug-of-war going on between coalition partners. There is truth in both perspectives. However, PPT suggests that there is more to this dispute.

Reports suggest that Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda (b. 1920) is at work. We won’t go into great detail for Bangkok Pundit has collected some of the comment on the police chief saga and most especially on the latest debates on who should get the job, including from ASTV/Manager and the Bangkok Post (17 September 2009: “New twist in police drama”) where there were guarded comments “new influential players.”

Police General Jumpol Manmai, the “alternative” candidate is known to be close to Prem and The Nation (17 September 2009: “Top Cop : Deadlock remains”) had stated that Jumpol “is known to have very strong backing outside the Police Commission, and lobbying was said to have reached fever pitch in the past few days.”

So is it Prem who is lobbying? Probably. Why? We suggest it is because, for some years, the palace and Privy Council have been trying to get increased control over the legal system. There has been a heightened urgency to this in the battle to root out Thaksin and his “regime.” Retired judges have been brought onto the Privy Council.

In what has clearly been a deliberated strategy, five of the last seven appointments to the Privy Council have been from the courts. The odd ones out were Admiral Chumpol Patchusanont (Former Commander of the Royal Thai Navy) and General Surayud Chulanont, who was appointed after he left the army and stepped down to be premier appointed by the military and then went back to the Privy Council when that guest appearance ended.

The former judges on the Privy Council are: Sawat Wathanakorn (appointed 18 July 2002 and a Former Judge of the Supreme Administrative Court); Santi Thakral (15 March 2005, Former President of the Supreme Court of Justice); Ortniti Titamnaj (16 August 2007, Former President of the Supreme Court of Justice); Supachai Phungam (8 April 2008, Former President of the Supreme Court of Justice); and Chanchai Likitjitta (8 April 2008, Former President of the Supreme Court of Justice and Minister of Justice). That so many judges are appointed send a clear message regarding intent. The king’s speeches to judges confirm the palace’s intentions. That such links to the judiciary have been put to use in the battle against Thaksin is seen in the ample evidence of meddling in the courts.

The palace has also been keen to have its people at the top of the police. In recent years, Police General Seripisut Temiyavet was said to be a palace favorite. When the military took over in 2006, Seri was made acting and then Police Commissioner and became a member of the junta’s Council for National Security.

At about the same time, long-time palace favorite Police General Vasit Dejkunjorn, once the Chief of the Royal Court Police for the Thai royal family, was put in charge of a review of the police force. At the time, this was reported as an attempt to clean up the notoriously corrupt force and to break Thaksin’s alleged political hold over it. As late as just a week or so ago, the Democrats had Vasit look into corruption in the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority.

Michael Montesano says this of Vasit: “Briefer of CIA director Allen Dulles during the latter’s late-1950s visit to Thailand, veteran of anti-Soviet espionage in Bangkok, long the Thai Special Branch’s leading trainer in anti-Communist operations, and palace insider at the time of his country’s most intensive counter-insurgency efforts, Police General Vasit Dejkunjorn ranked among Thailand’s most important Cold Warriors.” His own background in the shadows of the Cold War did not prevent him from being of an office holder at Transparency International in Thailand. Vasit remains a warrior for the palace in his columns in Matichon and as a royalist speaker. For a very short time Vasit was deputy interior minister for Chatichai Choonhavan being raised from his position as deputy police chief.

Vasit is 79 or 80 (thanks to a reader for this information), been “retired” for years, but keeps popping up in strategic locations. His political views reflect the position of the palace. For examples of his royalism and extreme views, see here and here.

Meanwhile, over at the Democrat Party, at present it seems that chief adviser Chuan Leekpai (b. 1938) is the power behind Abhisit. In recent years, Chuan has been increasingly outspoken in support of Prem. In recent days, Chuan has become the link between Prem and the government. For example, just a few days ago, as PAD fired up on Preah Vihear, Prem became involved, with the Bangkok Post reporting that “Gen Prem is reportedly concerned about the possibility of tensions spinning out of control if it is not attended to properly. A source said former supreme commander Gen Mongkol Ampornpisit, one of Gen Prem’s closest aides, paid a visit to Chuan Leekpai, the former prime minister and chief adviser of the ruling Democrat Party, at the party’s headquarters in August, to convey Gen Prem’s concern over the border developments.” The Post considers that Prem’s concern nudged Abhisit to send Foreign Minister Kasit to arrange a broadcast “assuring the Thai public that the country has not yet lost a single inch of land area in regard to the Preah Vihear dispute.”

As PPT shown in recent postings, Abhisit has been promoting increasingly nationalist and royalist causes. We won’t detail all of this again, but it is clear that Abhisit is not stupid. His emphasis on right-wing, conservative and nationalist strategies is a reflection of the views of his strongest backers. We see this backing as involving Chuan, Prem and the palace more generally. It seems Abhisit doesn’t have much support within his own party, so this backstopping, is keeping him in his position, has to be acknowledged. So Abhisit, with the support of important and highly conservative and royalists, adopts measures that hark back to a darker past.

Of course, the recently launched project called “Thai Unity” reflects the views king (b. 1927) and currently in hospital. His call for “unity” is a conservative refrain heard since the days when the king feared he might lose his throne to communists.

Abhisit’s calls to nationalism and patriotism may seem anachronistic and even dim-witted but they are an accurate reflection of the fact that the conservatives are bereft of new ideas. Hence, we have loyalist Anand Punyarachun (b. 1932) promoting nonsense like the interview with Stephen B. Young, the “Patronizing White Man With Degree Reassures Thai Elites With Unexamined Rhetoric” upon Thailand and believing that he makes sense and has something to say. What he actually says is that these old men haven’t a clue what the new Thailand is about.

The result is that all they can do is fall back on projects that are emblematic of the military-authoritarian governments of past generations.

Related, the huge effort to protect Prem in recent days is also to be understood as a part of this conservative project (see here and here).

Add in the remarkably expensive efforts to “protect the monarchy” through the use of lese majeste and computer crimes laws and the debt to the elders adds up to a government that is becoming increasingly conservative, more repressive and is normalizing authoritarianism.

While PPT points to this authoritarian slide, we also celebrate and support the courageous struggles of those within Thailand who continue to speak out even as they are watched by the current surveillance state. In 1997, Burmese Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi urged those outside Burma to “Please use your liberty to promote ours.” Comparing the current waves of royalism and the increasingly repressive Democrat Party-led state to the Burmese military regime would be factually incorrect and politically dangerous, yet there seems a determination to take Thailand back.

Thailand is now at a precipice between, as we noted in our coup anniversary post, the potential for deepening democratization, and the potential for unbridled repression at the hands of state, para-state, and royal actors. It is important to continually observe and criticize repression, and call for justice – especially for those jailed by repressive laws and those awaiting trial. A democratic Thailand will be a place where these old authoritarian men have a place, but it won’t be a place that celebrates their anachronistic ideas through government programs that enhance repression.

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