Send lawyers, guns and money

17 11 2011

At The Nation, the two promised law suits against the government for alleged mishandling of the nation’s biggest-ever flood disaster have now morphed to be a “string of lawsuits.” In fact, they are the same two cases mentioned a few days ago, but then this newspaper is pretty darn good at concocting headlines and stories, especially when attacking anything to do with “the evil ones.”

The two groups plan “to sue state agencies, PM and Cabinet for the flooding situation and seek damages for victims.” Srisuwan Janya, chairman of the Stop Global Warming Thailand Association “will file a lawsuit with the Administrative Court against more than 10 government organisations that have worked to address flood problems” on 19 December. This will include: “Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the Cabinet, the Flood Relief Operations Centre (FROC), the Royal Irrigation Department, the Meteorological Department, the Metropolitan Waterworks Authority, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat), and the Hydro and Agro Informatics Institute…”. Notice how the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration is missing.

At least, following our admonition yesterday, the other suit planned by Narong Phetprasert includes the BMA. He says the “list of defendants” is likely to include “FROC, the Agriculture Ministry, the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, Egat and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.

For a moment sounding like he has an ounce of political grey matter, Narong then collapses back into his more usual style when he adds that: “Although the previous government had mishandled last year’s flood control, the extent of flooding and damage did not warrant a court battle …, denying he was trying to target the Pheu Thai Party while sparing the Democrats.”

Working with the vivid yellow lot at the Law Society of Thailand ensures the anti-Puea Thai Party bias is clear. The coming together of the military, on a flood-induced wave of PR can’t hide its guns, with lawyers over money is likely to have opposition politicians in the Democrat Party shrieking with joy as they really enjoy having others do the heavy political lifting.

Academic likely to sue Bangkok governor

15 11 2011

That might be the expected headline if self-styled economist and activist Narong Phetprasert made any sense in his claims to be suing the government for flood mismanagement. However, we do not expect Narong to be taking on Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra for mismanagement over a botched order he signed for the late evening evacuation of Phaya Thai residents, withdrawn three hours later.

It is amazing – well, if we were truthful, we say it was simply par for the course – that the media lets this one float by, with the flood waters. As PPT has said, mistakes happen, but the bias of the mainstream media in attacking everything that Yingluck Shinawatra government does while mollycoddling the Army and governor would be breathtaking if it wasn’t now the norm.

Preparing to throw out another elected government

12 11 2011

PPT never imagined that the electoral defeat of July 2011 would be accepted by the defeated opponents of Thaksin Shinawatra, the red shirts, Yingluck Shinawatra and the Puea Thai Party. The Army, the entirely misnamed Democrat Party, yellow/multi shirts and their big boss backers have never accepted that defeat. They consider themselves the rightful owners and rulers of Thailand and consider elections a flawed political process. A couple of reports in recent days suggest how these groups are re-mobilizing with political tools they’ve used before.

The first report links to PPT’s astonishment expressed in a recent post regarding the threat by Chulalongkorn University academic that he would sue the government. We couldn’t imagine much from Narong Phetprasert, a founder of the Fascist-like neo-nationalist movement a decade or more ago, being take seriously. However, a more detailed and later report, makes it clear that his action is part of a strategy being developed by anti-government academics and activists. That these activists are rounding on the government is why the mainstream media is interested and promoting their “cause.”

Narong claims he has “discussed the matter with lawyers and found a couple of legal points that can be pursued.” His discussions have been with the notoriously yellow-shirted Lawyers Association of Thailand. He can’t expect a “class action suit which will cover not only those who are directly affected by the flood, but those who lost income as well” to be taken seriously, but that isn’t the point. The purpose of the action is to begin the active campaign to bring down the government.

He is supported by lawyer Srisuwan Janya, president of Stop Global Warming Association Thailand, also a driving force in the Lawyers Association of Thailand. Srisuwan “said people who are considering taking action should join a flood forum on Dec 15…. And those who want to sue the government cannot miss this…”. Kriangsak Woramongkolchai, a spokesman for the Lawyers Association of Thailand, joined the call to establish the flood was caused by mismanagement and to sue.

This activism is couched in populist terms but is meant to destabilize the administration and allow opportunities for a “movement” to develop and for the biased judiciary to be used. The pattern will be familiar to anyone who followed the rise of the People’s Alliance for Democracy in 2005.

That movement led to the 2006 coup, so it is no surprise to see the military carefully positioning itself as an ally of anti-government forces. In a report at the Bangkok Post, sprouting the mantra that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her coalition government face “declining popularity,” the alternative government appears to be identified as residing with Army boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha and his forces.

On the survey data, PPT urges readers to look at Bangkok Pundit’s account which bears the hallmarks of maturity, perspective and some critical thought – all qualities sadly missing from the Bangkok Post in recent times.

Reflecting the opinions of the mainstream media and anti-Puea Thai Party elements in Bangkok, reporter Wassana Nanuam claims the “floodwaters are washing away her credit and, in contrast, boosting the popularity of the armed forces, especially the army under Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, because soldiers have become the core group helping flood-affected people.”

She then claims: “In Bangkok and suburban areas alone, army trucks and boats are everywhere, giving passengers a free ride when the public transport system is paralysed and comes to a standstill in some locations where the high level of water makes the roads impassable for buses and other ordinary vehicles.” PPT points out that this is a gross exaggeration that parrots politicized propaganda.

Anyone who watches Thai television (other than the Army’s own propaganda channel) recognises that the Army is active but that so too are thousands of ordinary government officials and huge numbers from the private sector.

Wassana claims that the “floods are making people forget about the negative image of the army last year, when soldiers used force to break up the anti-government rally of the red shirts in the heart of the capital.” She means when they used snipers to gun down scores of people, in a massacre that was reminiscent of several previous attacks on civilians by the military. Of course, there are other assessments of the military’s flood role that are not nearly so positive.

But then Wassana gets to the point of this propaganda and to what is an important point that is probably felt to be best made in a story that repeats all of the pro-Army propaganda: “More importantly, the present role of the army has made Gen Prayuth ‘a star’…”. She says “the public” is making “comparisons between him and the prime minister.”

PPT has posted several times on how reporters and opinion page writers have been demanding strong leadership. Of course, these are the same lot who hated Thaksin Shinawatra’s strong leadership…. They only want unelected strong men.

Wassana makes the all too obvious point about the Army’s PR offensive: “[t]he rising popularity of the army is not an encouraging sign for Thai politics…. Gen Prayuth is seen as being on the side of “the amataya” or aristocracy which stands against Pheu Thai and United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship.” Water coup talk again? It seems that Wassana wants to raise exactly this point.

The army is unable and unwilling to wean itself of its control addiction, and Wassana reveals the leadership’s current political position: “the government has been a failure in its handling of the crisis. Ms Yingluck lacked leadership, did not put the right man on the right job, played a political game with the Democrat Party which controls the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, and spent more energy trying to save Pheu Thai’s constituencies in Bangkok from flooding than other areas…”. It matters little whether this assessment is even marginally accurate, for it is a statement that the military is at war with yet another elected government.

Prayuth himself is playing a careful game, allowing Yingluck to be criticized by his underlings and then denying responsibility and claiming to not be mutinous like pretty much all the leadership of the Army. But, and here Wassana is correct, the “power play between the army and politicians will not end…. The conflict between the two and the way in which Ms Yingluck and Gen Prayuth are going in their different directions could give the Democrats or ‘the amataya’ a chance to widen the rift so as to pave the way for the army to oust the government.”

More pointedly, she asserts that “it may be possible that Gen Prayuth might be used to confront the youngest sister of ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, when the army on one side and the UDD and Pheu Thai on the other, have very fragile relations. Gen Prayuth’s position remains unchanged. He does not like the red shirts or Thaksin. He is determined to protect the monarchy and lives with the motto that ‘Country Above All’.”

April Fools’ Day in November

11 11 2011

PPT opened the newspapers and read the various blogs today and wondered if it was April Fools’ Day. Truly, some of the media has stories today that could easily be an April Fools’ Day prankster’s hoax.

The Bangkok Post had a gem to begin the list. It reports that “Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, an MP and leader of the Matuphum Party” has filed an urgent motion “seeking the establishment of a House committee for national reconciliation…”. As the story notes, General Sonthi is “the former army chief who led a military coup that toppled the Thaksin Shinawatra government on Sept 19, 2009.” Given that the post is 3 years out on the date of the last military coup, perhaps it is a prank to think that the general who sent the tanks out is seeking “reconciliation.”

A second set of stories has Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra both resigning.

The Nation has the Democrat denying plans to force Sukhumbhand to resign over the flood woes. The party adds that “there was no justification to pin blame the Bangkok inundation on Sukhumbhand. Over at the Bangkok Post, the rumor that Prime Minister Yingluck is about to step down or be forced out is again run. It is said that this is to “show of responsibility for failing to resolve the flood crisis.”

The story is again denied. The Post adds in a Bangkok University survey that shows an approval rating for the government of 48%. Thankfully, Bangkok Pundit has some adult commentary on this survey. BP points out that Yingluck, struggling with the largest natural disaster in 50 years, has an approval rating just slightly below that of Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva when he was premier in late 2010. Interestingly, she ranks higher than Abhisit on “decisiveness” and the Bangkok Post conveniently forgets to mention that the 48% ranking is higher than that received by Abhisit in December 2010. And we say it again, Yingluck is struggling with the largest natural disaster in 50 years.

The same Bangkok Post story gets further into ripping yarns when it quotes Payap University’s Paul Chambers who guesses that Thaksin Shinawatra has been “quiet” on the floods because he is “lying low.” Chambers says “Thaksin has generally remained more silent than expected…”. We assume more quiet that Chambers expected. But think about this claim. If Thaksin had been vocal, he would have been criticized and Yingluck deemed a puppet. Claiming he is too quiet is remarkably silly and intellectually dubious.

The Nation has criticism of Yingluck for not attending “the world class Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) meeting in Hawaii this weekend…”. That’s right, for not attending. Why? This is the suggestion: “It was not a good idea for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to cancel her plans to attend … as she is effectively losing a chance to put Thailand in its rightful place at the international forum.”

Well, no. Her deputy and commerce minister Kittirat Na Ranong is scheduled to attend, so Thailand does not lose its “rightful place.” But think of the outcry if she went! She’d be accused of abandoning the country and the flood victims. Going to the meeting could be political suicide.

In another story at the Bangkok Post – there seem to be a rash of them – it states that the Democrat Party, led by Abhisit, has been highly critical of the Puea Thai government’s budget which includes 120 billion baht for compensating flood victims and post-flood reconstruction and rehabilitation.

Abhisit criticised the allocation because it “lacked details and possibly failed to guarantee transparency.” He also reportedly “disagreed with the government’s plan to raise 120 billion baht for flood compensation by cutting funding from other projects.” Abhisit was especially critical of “populist policies.” Of course, these are the policies that helped get the government elected and most are likely to be stimulatory for the economy next year.

But then Abhisit seemed to get lost. He criticized “corporate tax cuts” as populist and then worried that the government would increase taxes from “business operators, particularly small and medium ones, who are already suffering in the floods…”. So what is it that he wants? It seems he wants anything but the government’s election pledges and plans to rebuild after the largest natural disaster in 50 years.

The Bangkok Post has another classic nonsense story that criticizes the government for having “appointed a committee to formulate strategies to rehabilitate and rebuild the country for the future headed by former deputy prime minister and respected economist Virabongsa Ramangura” and another committee that “will draw up water resources management strategies to deal with flood problems…”.

Why is this criticized when just a day or so ago the Post complained that “This [flood] disaster has shown that inexperience in working and dealing with the bureaucracy and the politicians, as well as the differing and conflicting views of experts, academics and advisers, has resulted in missteps by the prime minister.” Now it criticizes her for “having to rely heavily on technocrats to restore its [the government’s] bruised credibility as it faces waning popularity after clearly failing to cope with the flood crisis.”

On the same story, the seemingly amnesiac editorial scribes at the Bangkok Post have this: “Cabinet’s appointment on Tuesday of three respected outsiders to help plan a systematic, long-term strategy to manage water resources and prevent a repetition of the current crisis, is indeed welcome news.” Whereas the previous article claimed it was all a political set-up, the editorial names appointees it considers “the country’s top experts in their … fields.”

The Bangkok Post is beginning to look rather scrappy and unprofessional in its work at present. But never mind that for it never forgets to genuflect and look to the heavens. In a remarkable statement, the Post seems to dismiss the need for these committees or experts with a royalist rant: “Dr Sumet [Tantivejkul] is expected to highlight His Majesty’s ideas on water resources management. Thus far, the King’s ideas and advice have been ignored all along by successive governments. Sixteen years ago His Majesty warned that we had wrongly allowed factories and industrial estates to be built in natural water catchment areas and in areas regarded as a natural flood path. He suggested that floodways be constructed to facilitate the flow of water runoffs. Today, we have all seen the consequences of ignoring His Majesty’s sound advice. Will the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra pay heed?” It seems that the only thing worth doing is to watch the endless re-runs on television of the king lording it over bureaucrats and others with his homespun advice.

The Post even resurrects the sufficiency economy nonsense with a claim by the allegedly “highly respected Professor Rapee Sagrik” that “the countless footpath stalls in Bangkok run mostly by rural folk, and the fact that the majority of taxi drivers are from the Northeast” should “not have had to leave their homes and farms…”.

This is yet another call for a Bangkok cleansed of those buggers who do all the work and then vote for Thaksin. And the Post concludes with a prayer for the repatriation of rural types to their proper place, outside Bangkok: “We only pray this crisis washes away egregious GDP-driven strategies and clichéd concepts such as ‘New Thailand’. Getting the country back on its feet would be sufficient unto the day.”

Finally, in a story that appears to only be in the “In Brief” section of the printed Bangkok Post on 10 November, if it was needed, a reminder that opportunism remains standard for academics. Chulalongkorn University labor economist Narong Phetprasert is planning to sue the government for “mismanagement of the floods.” He is cited: “I’m not a water expert. But as an upcountry native, I know that when water runs off, it will overflow river banks and nothing will stop it.” If he knows that, how can he sue the government?

Nothing can stop an academic for hire from running off at the mouth. Narong is seldom short of a verbal and occupational position; this is the same labor economist who opposed the Puea Thai Party’s plan to raise wages by 40%…. He previously worked for both the Thai Rak Thai Party before opposing it and was said to be working with the military junta. He was later appointed to Abhisit’s “national reform” committees.

It has been one hell of an April 1st in November.


Updated: Reform by the elite and for the elite

11 07 2010

Update: New Mandala is trying to put together alternative profiles of the people involved in the reform panels. Worth a look.

Much of the media has included analysis and reports on the formation and make-up of the so-called reform panels headed by Prawase Wasi and Anand Panyarachun. PPT commented here. The Nation had a useful article a couple of days ago.

While Anand and Prawase as the heads of the National Reform Committee and the Reform Assembly promised a “plan for a better future for the country,” critics pointed out that the “handpicked and appointed” members was claimed to “come from different backgrounds with a vast range of expertise,” there was very limited representation from groups outside the established elite.

For example, yellow-shirt ideologue Chai-Anan Samudavanija was just one of several prominent People’s Alliance for Democracy supporter appointed, along with poet Naovarat Pongpaiboon, who has composed odes to PAD. When it came to representation from “critics,” this came down to well-know figures like political economist Narong Phetprasert, retired academic Nidhi Eowsriwong, monk Phra Paisal Wisalo, historian Srisak Vallibhodhama, former student activist Seksan Prasertkul, and sociologist MR Akin Rabhibatana.

None of these people can be seen to represent the poor or disadvantaged in society. Nor are they uncompromised. For example, Akin has worked for many years at the Crown Property Bureau. Narong has a background in the racist “neo-nationalist” movement of the 1990s.

Anand and Prawase will “gather and analyse facts and information” while also inviting “people to offer their opinions about reforms.” They claim the focus will be on “the problem of social inequality.” PPT suggests that the best way to view these committees are as being an opportunity for the ruling elite – itself not entirely united – to sort out what it is prepared to throw to the masses in order to re-establish its desired state of “social harmony.”

The first meeting of Anand’s panel was greeted by protesters from a group calling itself “Network of Social Activists for Democracy.” They read out a “statement heavily attacking the Anand panel. The statement said that the committee was set up to “buy time” and to act as a government tool in distracting the public attention away from the recent political unrest, in which many people were killed and a thousand others were injured. The statement said participation in the government-initiated reform efforts was tantamount to supporting the government’s legitimacy in the use of force against red-shirt protesters.”

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