The rich win again

9 01 2020

PPT’s collective memory chugged into action after we read a headline at the Bangkok Post. Wichit Chantanusornsiri’s op-ed carried the title “Rich get richer, poor get the picture.” We had a vague notion that we’d heard that phrase before, and a bit of searching reminded us that it is a song by the Australian band Midnight Oil. The band has been activist, especially on environmental and indigenous issues.

Naturally enough, we were also reminded of the news about Australia’s bush fires. But it isn’t just Australia that is struggling with climate change and its impacts.

In Bangkok, as a result of severe drought and much reduced water flows in rivers, residents are facing increasingly salty tap water as sea water intrudes further up the low-flow river systems. Meanwhile, “rice fields there are already withering and the government has now banned farmers [north of Bangkok] who are growing off-season crops from using water from the Chao Phraya and Pasak rivers from Jan 20.” And then there’s the pollution: “Bangkok on Wednesday recorded the world’s third worst air quality on Air Visual, a popular app monitoring pollution, while City Hall is on high alert for a predicted rise in PM2.5 levels until the end of this week.”

But Wichit’s not talking about the environment. Rather, he’s interested in the new land and building tax law. The new tax is mainly meant to impact the “super rich people who have owned land in amounts so vast that they would have to spend a good part of their life if they wanted to walk around every plot of their land.” This is essentially the first new tax in Thailand since 1992.

Wichit points out that:

the now-dissolved National Legislative Assembly (NLA), appointed by the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order [the military junta], … passed the new property tax law, [and] watered down the rates recommended by the Finance Ministry and instead set more lenient applicable rates for the new tax regime that will mainly affect the rich (many of whom have served in parliament).

He explains:

In effect, this law will make the rich pay less than what they should do if the ministry’s proposed rates were adopted. For example, the NLA increased the appraisal value ceiling set on residential land and buildings, defined as principal homes, eligible for tax exemption to 50 million baht from the proposed ceiling of 20 million baht.

That means 99.96% of principal homeowners will enjoy such tax exemption because there are only about 10,000 people who own homes with an appraised value of more than 50 million baht.

While the op-ed loses focus, the point that the super rich have loopholes and got a better deal than they should have is clear enough. Of course, rewarding the rich in this way is standard practice for Thailand. The rich are indeed getting richer. We can’t imagine the king being asked for his full tax dues…. Meanwhile, the average Thai struggles on relatively low salaries, with little saving, a rudimentary welfare system and a rapidly deteriorating environment of choking air and water like fish sauce.

Midnight Oil’s lyrics do seem highly relevant, covering class, environment, war:





Denying constitutionalism, affirming neo-feudalism I

21 08 2019

“Modern” Thailand is looking increasingly like a neo-feudal kingdom. We know that the moniker “Kingdom” has become increasingly common as a kind of affirmation that Thailand has a monarchy. but that has usually meant a constitutional monarchy.

In the previous reign, the monarchy was steadily moved to a position of greater ideological, economic and political power and influence. In the current reign, which began under the military junta, more changes have been made that have further empowered the monarchy, including land grabs, new laws and constitutional changes.

Many of these changes have been enshrined in laws made in secret session by the junta’s appointed and puppet National Legislative Assembly. Others have a dubious legal basis in palace announcements (which the Constitutional Court has interpreted, in one case, as law).

Neo-feudalism enshrined

There’s also been the secretive destruction of symbols of the 1932 revolution. Such historical vandalism has been rightly interpreted as “announcements” of neo-feudalism.

The most recent “announcement” of neo-feudalism was Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s “solemn declaration before the King” legally meant to be made under Section 161 of the junta’s constitution. That section states:

Before taking office, a Minister must make a solemn declaration before the King in the following words: “I, (name of the declarer), do solemnly declare that I will be loyal to the King and will faithfully perform my duties in the interests of the country and of the people. I will also uphold and observe the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand in every respect.”

As everyone knows, Gen Prayuth read a different declaration:

I, (name of the declarer), do solemnly declare that I will be loyal to the King and will faithfully perform my duties in the interests of the country and of the people. I will also uphold and observe the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand in every respect.

Just for interest, a (random) look at other constitutions – here, the 1974 version – showed no difference in the required oath:

As far as we are aware, that oath has never previously been denied (at least when constitutions have been in place).

So, despite denials, this oath to the king rather than (also) to the constitution, is highly significant.

It is also clear that, if they can get away with it, Gen Prayuth and his regime (and the palace) are seeking to make the discussion of the unconstitutional oath go away, with no rectification and no winding back of this act of embedding neo-feudalism.

The Bangkok Post reports an opposition demanded parliamentary debate on the neo-feudal oath “will likely occur next month…”. This announcement came from the government’s Deputy Parliament President Supachai Phosu. It is said that it is “up to Parliament President [and member of the government coalition] Chuan Leekpai to fix a date for the debate, which will proceed without a vote.”

Whether it happens is open to debate. What is clear is that the parliament’s bosses are trying to delay and quieten things so that Gen Prayuth, his regime and the palace can get away with unconstitutional actions and the further embedding of neo-feudalism.

Meanwhile Gen Prayuth said “he is too preoccupied with work to explain” his actions.

Gen Prayuth made his oath ashe and the king intended. They seem confident that they can break the most basic law. As it was under the junta, Thailand remains essentially under a lawless regime.





Updated: Cheats cheating I

12 06 2019

As everyone knows, Thailand remains a military dictatorship and no government has yet been formed to replace it. Indeed, in a recent ranking, Thailand was determined as “unfree,” ranking between absolute monarchy Brunei and troubled countries with Zimbabwe and Iraq. The “unfreedom” will continue, with dozens of junta orders being converted into laws that will apply into the future, backing a backward constitution that permitted a rigged election.

That rigging has been a vast and expensive project that could, if unchecked, allow the odious cheat Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha to remain as prime minister for another eight year as the unelected Senate he selected will vote again in four years if Thailand has another election.

The selection of the Senate has been a closely-held secret for months simply because of the thoroughgoing cheating it involved. Because the junta has gotten away with a coup, political repression, corruption, a fake constitutional referendum, a rigged and stolen election and more, it figures nothing can derail it now, so it has released some details of its cheating.

In the selection of The Dictator as premier, we know that every single unelected puppet senator voted for their boss (the Senate president abstained, but would have voted for his longtime boss if necessary).

We now also know that the “reserve list” of 50 senators, “publicized in the Royal Gazette, include Election Commission sec-gen Jarungvith Phumma, foreign minister Don Pramudwinai, former deputy governor of Bangkok Pol. Lt. Gen. Amnuay Nimmano, and former member of the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly Prapan Koonme.”

The listing of the EC’s secretary-general indicates how just how flawed the EC is, run by junta puppets and automatons. Rigging an election requires a cheating EC. Having delivered the junta its “victory,” this puppet secretary-general will likely get his reward.

More cheating is confirmed by junta legal thug Wissanu Krea-ngam. It is reported that “[u]nder mounting pressure from transparency activists and political parties,” he has released “the identities of the selection committee who contributed to filling the 250-member junta-appointed senate.”

It should be surprising – but, then nothing is surprising any more – that:

Among the committee were six senators: former deputy PM Gen. Chatchai Sarikulya, former deputy PM Air Chief Marshal Prajin Juntong, former deputy PM Thanasak Patimaprakorn, deputy junta head Adm. Narong Pipatanasai, former labor minister Pol. Gen. Adul Saengsingkaew, and former president of the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly Pornpetch Wichitcholchai.

Wissanu has made unbelievable claims about the committee was “politically neutral” and that the secrecy about membership was to prevent “lobbying.” Of course, all the “lobbying” was actually the junta pulling all the strings.

He has also insisted – again unbelievable – that “members of the selection committee abstained from voting or attending the voting session if their name came up in the candidate roster,” while their brothers voted for them, saying “I can confirm that no member ever brought up their name in the selection process. Everything is on the record…”.

While we have no doubt that if he released “the record,” it would confirm his account. After all, the junta has scribes who can fabricate any record it likes. How Wissanu can say such things with a straight face is a measure of how low the junta – and Thailand – has sunk.

Now the cheating cheats have to ensure their continuing political domination for another eight years.

Update: The Bangkok Post has a few more details on the great Senate scam. The junta’s fixing panel that put the scam together had 10 members becoming nine when Pornpetch resigned. Six of them (see above) became members of the Senate they selected for the junta. The other four were Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, Wissanu, Gen Anupong Paojinda, and deputy PM Somkid Jatusripitak, all of whom are likely to be ministers in the “new” government. In other words, every one of the junta’s panel are now holding positions – or soon will be – in the junta’s “new” government as well as holding such positions under the junta. What can we say? The whole thing is a massive scam foisted on the nation by the junta. It seems there is no way of holding this bunch of election crooks accountable for any of their cheating.





On the road to nowhere (new)

24 05 2019

Is wasn’t hard to predict the final “election” result. PPT predicted a junta “win” a long time ago. The “win” was never in doubt as the whole process was rigged.

HRW’s Sunai Phasuk put it this way:

The March 24 general election was structurally rigged, enabling the military to extend its hold on power. While maintaining a host of repressive laws, the junta dissolved a main opposition party, took control of the national election commission, levied bogus criminal charges against opposition politicians and dissidents, and packed the Senate with generals and cronies who will have the power to determine the next prime minister, regardless of the election results.

What wasn’t clear is that the bumbling generals would be snookered by the electorate. Thai voters, despite all the rigging and repression still voted for anti-junta parties, with the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra Puea Thai Party winning a plurality.

Despite this, the junta’s puppet party, Palang Pracharath, will head up a coalition of some 20 parties. While a great deal of bargaining has gone on, pro-military parties like Bhum Jai Thai and the anti-democrat Democrat Party were always likely to saddle-up with the junta – after all, they have supported it for years and worked for its coup back in 2014.

In a throwback to December 2008, when the military midwifed a government led by the Democrat Party’s Abhisit Vejjajiva, it is reported that there was:

a meeting between Gen Prayut[h Chan-ocha], his deputy Prawit Wongsuwon, Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul and Democrat secretary-general Chalermchai Sri-on at a military camp in Bangkok…. They discussed coming together to set up a government with the PPRP as the main party, the sources said, adding that given the atmosphere of the meeting, the “deal” to form the next government is almost sealed.

The wheeling and dealing is over who gets what. Bhum Jai Thai wants a bunch of potentially lucrative cabinet slots that all seem focused on benefits for the Buriram clan. The Democrat Party wants anything at all that will allow it to look stronger than its horrid election result suggest.

Following the junta’s clear message, via the Election Commission and Constitutional Court, that it intends to grind the Future Forward Party into political dust, the deals were more easily struck, with most of the remora micro-parties and even the middle-sized parties rushing into the octopus-grasp of the junta.

How strong that grasp will be is yet to be tested. A 20-party coalition is a recipe for instability or for massive corruption in keeping it together. There’s also the “Prem model” who tried to ignore party and parliamentary bickering and ruled as a cabinet-led government. Like Gen Prem, Gen Prayuth has a tame Senate. In fact, the Senate looks rather like the puppet National Legislative Assembly of the past few years.

A weak coalition government with an autocratic premier suggests that The Dictator will require strong support from extra-parliamentary sources – the king and the military. Neither is likely to be maintained without cost and deals.

Back in the 1980s, the main threats and support for Gen Prem were extra-parliamentary, and despite the image of a period of stability, saw several coup attempts.





Keeping it junta

19 05 2019

As the junta’s Palang Pracharath party maneuvers stealthily toward establishing a “new” government there are several indications that very little is going to change.

We have already seen how the Senate has been packed with junta cronies, including relatives, generals and flunkies from the last junta-selected puppet National Legislative Assembly. Nepotism and cronyism were characteristics of the military dictatorship up until now. That’s only going to deepen and extend.

The senate

Part of the “negotiations” among junta-loving parties has to do with the allocation of cabinet slots. That’s because, as in the past, before the 1997 constitution, coalition governments were a grand buffet, with prime cabinet spots meaning a party could make cartloads of money to prepare for the next election or pay MPs to stay in line or both. That’s happening now.

As that happens, we read that The Dictator, who still hopes to be made premier by all his flunkies in the Senate, wants “the Defence and Interior ministries in the next government to ensure national progress…” to remain with junta figures. So it could well be that the aged watch-man Gen Prawit Wongsuwan remains in that post, to repress and sanction at will, and to use all the military’s resources to ensure the “new” government looks pretty much like the military dictatorship.

But don’t be surprised if its Gen Anupong Paojinda in that slot as the Deputy Dictator is struggling with health. If not defense, then Anupong probably stays at Interior where he’s been responsible for neutralizing the red shirts and helping out with election rigging.

And the repression, opacity and secretiveness of the regime is likely to continue.





Crony senate

14 05 2019

As simply everyone expected, a Senate has been unveiled by the military junta that is packed full of junta supporters, backers and lackeys:

Khaosod reports: “Military top brass and the junta’s inner circle dominate the full list of 250 appointed senators unveiled to the public on Monday, ending months of secrecy.”

The Nation states: “Many of the newly appointed senators are from the ruling junta and people close to its key figures.”

The Bangkok Post: “The Royal Gazette on Tuesday published an announcement on the royally-approved list of 250 senators, including 66 army generals…. The Senate list includes the names of 105 people with ranks in the military or police….

None of this is a surprise. Perhaps some hoped that the members of the junta might demonstrate at least a pinch of political decorum, but that is misplaced as the military junta has repeatedly demonstrated that is has no shame at all.

Some other quotes from the reporting linked above are worth preserving here, demonstrating that the junta is a chip off the 1991 coup group and operates as a representative of yellow-shirt interests. (Those who imagined that the red-yellow divide was gone should look more carefully at the manner of the junta’s operations.):

The list – mostly handpicked by junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha – includes generals, loyal government technocrats, 15 ex-ministers who served under Prayuth until their resignation last week, and even a younger brother of the junta leader.

Hardline critics of ex-leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who remains a popular figure among opposition voters, also made it to the final cut. They include poet and activist Nawarat Pongpaiboon, former anti-corruption chief Klanarong Chanthik, and royalist law scholar Kamnoon Sitthisamarn….

The announcement dated on Saturday included Gen Preecha Chan-o-cha, younger brother of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Adm Sitthawat Wongsuwon, younger brother of Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, Klanarong Chantik, former secretary-general of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), former deputy prime minister Chatchai Sarikulya, former national reform member Khamnoon Sitthisaman, former foreign trade director-general Duangporn Rodphaya, and former national security council secretary-general Thawil Pliensri.

Among other senators were Pornpetch Wichitcholchai, former president of the National Legislative Assembly, former NACC chairman Panthep Klanarongran, forensic expert Khunying Porntip Rojanasunan, former deputy agriculture minister Luck Wajananawat, and former tourism and sports minister Weerasak Kowsurat.

More than a third of  the newly appointed senators have military or police backgrounds….

But one surprise is this for the conflict of interest and nepotism it involves:

Some of the new Senate’s members sat in the committee tasked with nominating senatorial candidates to be selected by the National Council for Peace and Order.

More than 100 of them are retired or active high-ranking officers from the armed forces and the police, including 70 from the Army, 12 from the Navy, eight from the Air Force and 12 from the Royal Thai Police.

Many new senators are family members of people in power.

These include General Preecha Chan-o-cha, who is the younger brother of Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha; Air Vice Marshal Chalermchai Krea-ngam, who is the younger brother of Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam; Admiral Sitsawat Wongsuwan, who is the younger brother of Deputy Premier and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan; and Som Jatusripitak, who is the elder brother of Deputy PM Somkid Jatusripitak.

Nothing more or less can be expected from the military junta. Be prepared for this kind of cronyism to breed deeper corruption. After all, that’s the pattern of past military-dominated regimes.





Abject nepotism

12 05 2019

The military junta has demonstrated that it is determined to monopolize political power; it is the way of military dictatorships.

PPT is full of posts about its political repression, martial law, use of military courts, nepotism and corruption. The junta has filled the bureaucracy, “independent” organizations, courts and appointed bodies with junta puppets and flunkies.

This is why a story in the Bangkok Post, where Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan has defended The Dictator’s nepotism, is now “normalized” for Thailand.

Gen Prawit, himself having been accused and never properly investigated for corruption, “defended the appointment of ex-permanent secretary for defence [Gen.] Preecha Chan-o-cha, the younger brother of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, as a senator, saying the retired officer has experience as a lawmaker.”

He means the experience of seldom attending the puppet National Legislative Assembly. His brother appointed him to that and several other posts as well. See what we mean by “normalized.” Of course, there are a long string of complaints about Gen Preecha, big brother and nepotism, none of them adequately “investigated” by the puppet anti-corruption authorities, all of them staffed and headed by junta lackeys.

The list of 250 senators handpicked by The Dictator and the junta has been sent off to the king in Germany, a bunch of junta members, government ministers, NLA members and other junta associates have resigned from posts in order to constitute the unelected swill of the Senate.

Nepots: clipped from the Bangkok Post

Gen Preecha was reported to be “among 60 members of the … NLA … who resigned from their posts this week ahead of taking up roles as senators. At least 15 cabinet ministers also stepped down for the same reason.”

This cartoon, from The Nation is about the state of politics in the country and seems accurate enough:

It is from 1992 and pretty much still relevant today. With the military and its men still controlling politics, bootlicking is rewarded and nepotism and corruption will deepen.