Further updated: What a day!

9 02 2019

Thai PBS’s headlines

Yesterday was quite a day. Startling, bizarre and almost inexplicable.

The headlines were something to behold.

Of course, none of that seems to have caused the usual pundits from speaking on Ubolratana’s nomination, making all kinds of claims, almost none of which carried much factual content. Speculation reigned.

Then the king intervened, causing the same pundits to say something quite different a few hours later, sometimes contradicting their earlier predictions and speculative claims.

What can we say with some degree of confidence?

Khaosod English’s headlines

First, the idea of a member of the top-most members of the royal family standing as an “outsider” candidate for prime minister shocked most Thais, including politicians. As Khaosod put it:

There was a sudden silence across most of the political spectrum Friday after a royal nomination left a smoking crater in everyone’s election plans.

Many worried about what this meant for political development, observing that regular political robustness might be dampened and some worried how parties might reject her after an election. No one seemed to know what to do. In other words, decades of dull royalist compulsion and repression has left Thailand’s polity and many of its politicians with few options for marking difference and disagreement with the monarchy and royal family.

For example, when asked to comment, the junta’s legal specialist and Deputy PM Wissanu Krea-Ngam had no comment. When asked whether he was surprised, he quipped “Are you?”

The Democrat Party’s Nipit Intarasombat “wouldn’t give a specific response,” but he turned out to be correct when he said: “It’s still too premature. We’ll wait until the dust settles first.” It is a pity the pundits didn’t listen.

Second, royalists were dumbfounded. But more on this below.

Third, we know that Ubolratana was knowingly and wittingly proposed. She “thanked her supporters and vowed to lead the country toward a golden age.” She also declared her “commoner” status.

Fourth, the Future Forward Party took to the high ground, being the first party (as far as we know) to take a position. It restated “its position against a prime minister coming from outside of Parliament…”. That means a non-royal princess too.

Fifth, some royalists managed to oppose this move and did so on quite interesting grounds. This is probably the most significant response to the events. Paiboon Nititawan of the pro-junta People’s Reform Party asked the Election Commission to reject Ubolratana’s nomination. The EC went into hiding.

Paiboon’s reasoning previewed the king’s announcement. He said:

… the monarchy is a sacred institution that must not be drawn into politics, and pointed to an election law which bans any mention or use of the monarchy for political advantage.

Paiboon, a law scholar who has served as a senator and a constitution drafter, also argued that a 2001 Constitutional Court verdict ruled that any royal family member “either born or appointed with” the title of mom chao (the least senior possible rank) must remain neutral in politics.

In another report, he is quoted as stating that:

… Thai Raksa Chart might use the name of the princess for election campaigning. That would breach Section 17 of the election law, which bars candidates and political parties from using the monarchy…

He added:

The rank of nobility as written in some papers is another issue. The state of being a son and a daughter still exists in the royal institution though it is not in mentioned in the constitution. The fact is Princess Ubolratana is respected and treated as part of the royal institution. Use of the royal institution by any political parties is prohibited. It goes against the law….

On social media, Ubolratana was criticized by ultra-royalists who distinguished between her and the king, essentially dismissing her for having aligned with Thaksin Shinawatra.

Of course, there remain huge questions. One is important: How is it possible that Ubolratana could have nominated without consulting her brother? We know she’s flaky, but this is beyond flaky.

And now for our speculation: we think this series of events has further weakened the monarchy.

Update 1: Oops, forgot our sixth point, which is that we now know what Ubolratana’s political leanings are. What we don’t know is how much her leanings cost.

Update 2: Pravit Rojanaphruk of Khaosod adds another known:

But what is clear and can be said, is that the short-lived nomination of Princess Ubolratana by the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra party of Thai Raksa Chart brought back to the surface the bitter enmity between the pro- and anti-Thaksin camps like nothing else since the May 2014 coup.





Updated: Whistling in the wind

19 01 2019

Human Rights Watch has released a call  – likely to fall on deaf ears – for the military junta to “fully restore democratic freedoms so that all political parties can fully and fairly participate in the electoral process…. But so far the junta just keeps persecuting critics, banning peaceful protests, and censoring the media.”

This call comes as HRW releases its annual World Report 2019. This one has the subtitle “Reversing Autocrats’ Attacks on Rights,” which has remarkable resonance for Thailand.

HRW may be whistling in the wind as their press release notes that “[i]n December, Thai authorities blocked access to the Human Rights Watch’s Thailand web page.” That additional effort at blocking has been noted by us as well.

While whistling in the wind, we should have been astonished to read that the Election Commission secretary-general Jarungvith Phumma has said “his office has yet to look into a fund-raising report from the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), which held a Chinese-style fund-raising banquet on Dec 19 last year.”

No surprise there. After all, despite a little arm wrestling over the royal decree, the EC remains a puppet agency.

This view of the EC as a sham seems confirmed in the same report, where secretary-general Jarungvith Phummais quoted (presumably accurately) saying the agency will “investigate” claims by “Democrat Party deputy leader Nipit Intarasombat that some politicians, with the aid of local authorities, are inducing voters to release their ID cards in exchange for 500 baht.”

This old-fashioned caper is “suspected” (really!!) of using the “citizenship cards to commit fraud in the general election.” But then Jarungvith is quoted as making a truly breathtaking claim: “the EC does not have enough information at this stage to say if the practice is considered an offence under election-related laws.”

If it isn’t, then renting ID cards will become standard practice. Who needs voters when you can rent their ID cards and vote for them.

And, finally – and this is all in a single report – Jarungvith

… declined to comment as to whether [The Dictator] Gen Prayut[h Chan-ocha] and [government spokesman and Palang Pracharath Party member] Mr Buddhipongse [Punnakanta] should be allowed to continue to appear on weekly television shows in the run-up to the general election after complaints that the platform may give an advantage to certain parties.

The EC at work

It seems that any backbone that might have existed at the EC is now a gooey sludge at the bottom of a rancid canal.

But never fear, the EC is planning some real work. It says it is “prepared to launch a six-week campaign to raise awareness of the need for a free and fair election at more than 430 schools…” in Bangkok.

We are not at all sure which election they mean to promote as free and fair, but it won’t be the junta’s election, whenever that is held. And we can’t help wondering how many school children in those schools will be voting or renting out their ID cards.

Update: Srisuwan Janya, secretary-general of the Thai Constitution Protection Organisation, has added to the problems the EC has in covering up for the junta’s election cheats. The Palang Pracharath Party now claims its big fundraising dinner didn’t raise 650 million baht. The Party “posted the list of donors at its head office on Friday,” showing a “total at 90 million baht…”.

Srisuwan went further, observing that “donations from three companies under the King Power group totalling 24 million baht might violate the political party law, which prohibits anyone from donating more than 10 million baht a year to a party and any juristic person from giving more than 5 million.” The companies are: King Power Suvarnabhumi Co Ltd and King Power Duty Free Co Ltd giving 9 million baht each and King Power International Co Ltd with a 6 million donation.

According to the Bangkok Post, its individual donors included: “Pongkavin Jungrungreangkij, a son of former transport minister Suriya Jungrungreangkij … with 5 million baht.” On the list of 24 companies donating were: Mitr Phol Co Ltd (6 million baht), Saijo Denki International Co Ltd (6 million), Sky ICT (5 million), TPI Polene (3 million), TPI Polene Power (3 million), Loxley (3 million), Khon Kaen Sugar (3 million ) and the Thai Cement Manufacturers Association (3 million).





“Democrats” are anti-democrats

12 10 2018

The Democrat Party has always been a party of royalists and anti-democrats.

The Bangkok Post reports that analysts now think the “Democrat Party has a chance to form a coalition government led by pro-regime parties rather than cooperating with Pheu Thai as the opposition…”.

While current leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has “insisted that the party under his leadership would not support dictatorship and said if the party were to form a coalition government, its partners must have shared values,” ironically, this does not rule out either possibility. After all, Abhisit and his party supported anti-democrats and have worked in concert with the military when they were most recently in government.

The Post reports that “Deputy Democrat leader Nipit Intarasombat explained that Mr Abhisit’s stance is that he will not support a dictatorship of any kind, be it a military or parliamentary one — a situation where one political party controls parliament so completely it can do whatever it wants.”

In other words, no alliance with Puea Thai (or with any other majority party). Parliamentary democracy and the will of the people is still rejected as it always has been by Abhisit and his party.

Nipit denied “talk that the party may eventually lean toward supporting a military dictatorship…”. But few believe him. This is because many in the party would love to jump back into bed with the military.





Not criticizing The Dictator

13 06 2018

The puppet National Legislative Assembly has worked hard for the military junta. Passing laws, delaying laws, speaking the junta’s language and being loyally anti-democratic.

So deeply committed to their junta employers is this hotch-potch of lazy generals, rewarded anti-democrats and automatons that, as Khaosod reports, “[m]ore than three quarters of [all] the bills made into law by junta-appointed legislators have been passed without a single vote of opposition…”. As the report has it: “The Internet Reform Dialog group found that 77 percent of 292 bills have been passed in their third reading without a single nay…”.

One of the appointed marionettes says this is the wrong way to look at it. Wallop Tangkananuwat reckons the process of deliberation is important and that the vote represents just a decision on the NLA’s final outcome.

That may be true, but the lack of any opposing voices means that almost no bill is actually debated by the somnolent puppet legislators. Relatively few major changes to the junta’s bills, unless approved by The Dictator.

Even the Democrat Party’s Nipit Intarasombat, “an eight-time former MP with the Democrat Party, said those results would only appear normal before a parliament appointed by a dictator.” He adds: “That’s how the system work[s]. In a dictatorial system, it would be abnormal if there are voices of opposition.” He’s right.

The iLaw’s Narongsak Niamsorn says it is also a result of the simple fact that “of the current 248 NLA members, 144 are active-duty or retired military officers, 66 are government officials and 11 are from the police force. That adds up to 221 – 90 percent – of the body’s 248 members.”

It is a rubber-stamp parliament that dare not criticize the junta or The Dictator. But then the NLA has no reason to criticize, being peas of the same anti-democratic pod.





Prem, the junta and rising criticism

22 01 2018

Brief reports state that nonagenarian Privy Council chairman and political mover-and-shaker of years gone by, Gen Prem Tinsulanonda has announced he “will not be able to attend a traditional reception party on Sunday night to mark Royal Thai Armed Forces Day for health reasons…”.

Naturally enough, reporters reckon this must be further evidence that the old man has run out of patience for Generals Prayuth Chan-ocha and Prawit Wongsuwan.

We don’t know, but are tempted to believe Lt Gen Pitsanu Phuthawong, Prem’s taxpayer-funded aide, who says Prem, “has eaten less and felt weak since early last week.” But then Prem is said to be still chairing Tuesday Privy Council meetings and he usually loves military shindigs as he bathes in his former glory.

Pretty much all the other reporting is of disenchantment – for the yellowish lot – and exasperation – for those who have opposed the junta since the coup.

The Democrat Party, with leaders who have been staunch supporters of the junta, is now regularly rolling out critics of the junta who appear to provide “advice” to the junta.

The latest is Deputy Democrat Party leader Nipit Intarasombat. He said the yellow “dream” of “reform” is now unlikely as “some key figures in the government are embroiled in scandals stemming from allegations over a lack of transparency.”

Nipit sees no way out for The Dictator who protects Prawit as his elder “brother” unless he behaves more like a politician and protects his own ass.

The failure to deal with such scandals means:

the government and the regime seem to be moving away from the path of reform as the regime begins to interact with political groups which were former allies of the Pheu Thai Party, such as politicians from the Sasomsap family who wield political influence in Nakhon Pathom province.

This is causing huge dissatisfaction among the yellow ones.

Nipit even complained that “it was strange the regime is more keen to foster ties with certain politicians than the Democrat Party, which is the chief rival of Pheu Thai.”

Despite all of this, Nipit reckons Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha will easily become an outside premier.

Nipit seems to ask for The Dictator to pay attention to his party.

Meanwhile,  Puea Thai is more critical, saying “the government now faces crises entirely of its own making which threaten its downfall.”

Party secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai reckons the junta faces a crisis of confidence in leadership, another on its “flip-flops on the election roadmap, that it lacks transparency and another crisis over its distortion of the rule of law.

A weak and illegitimate military regime is dangerous.





Never-ending military dictatorship

1 11 2017

For some time, on all sides of politics, there’s been a view that “after the funeral” was going to be a time for more political action. Indeed, the military dictatorship had hinted at a possible loosening. But seriously, who could believe them? Judging by some headlines, apparently quite a few believed the junta’s (false) assurances. It is as if Thai politics has a learning curve that begins from zero with each military regime.

Prachatai reports that “[a]fter raising hopes, the junta head will not be lifting the ban on political activities even though the royal cremation is over…”. No one should be surprised. This is a military dictatorship. It does what is in the best interests of its own rule.

The Dictator let it be known that he “is too busy responding to the long-running flood crisis to consider lifting his junta’s ban on political activities.” He let the floods do their damage and added to the plight of people in farming areas by flooding them to save Bangkok and the royal funeral. After all, a flood in Bangkok at that time would have been inauspicious, so poor farmers had to be up to their necks in water.

The ban on political activity will remain “to ensure social order and stability.” Is anyone aware of threats to “social order and stability”? We guess not, but the junta can concoct such threats at any time it wants.

We also guess that the coronation is considered the next big deal and the junta will again want total control, not just for itself, but to keep the unpredictable king happy.

The pathetic military bootlickers at the Democrat Party warned that: “If the ban is not lifted by the end of the year, there will be problems…”. But then the Deputy Democrat Party leader Nipit Intarasombat stated that “he would be open to partially lifting the ban…”. That partial lift would allow “politicians and political parties to meet and register members to form new parties and elect their executive boards.” That’s it….

General Prayuth Chan-ocha “once again that the junta will revoke the ban when the proper time comes.” He opined:

I ask you to trust me. I myself am aware and thinking about this issue. But imagine if everything explodes!  And you can see that today it is still unsettled. Lots of people are still slandering each other…

Politicians reckon the more than three year ban (so far) “is preventing them from preparing for the upcoming election.” No kidding? That’s the point of the ban.

The irritable Dictator complained:

Don’t keep asking me how I will remove the ban. It makes me unable to think, so it’s slow. If you keep asking, I can’t really think. Let me think of a conclusion first, then I will reveal everything. It will be in time….

He means in time for the military dictatorship’s “election.”

Pro-democracy activist Sirawith Seritiwat got it right when he said of “promised” elections: “Let see what they will cite next to stall it further. There probably won’t be elections next year, and there will never be elections unless pro-democracy forces pressure them…”.

At the Bangkok Post, The Dictator has the next excuse ready. He said the election, “tentatively scheduled for November 2018, can only be held after the organic bill on the election of MPs is enacted and the new Election Commission (EC) members are chosen…”.

To date, “nobody has … applied for the [EC] posts.”

Other excuses are likely to be the coronation and another death in the royal family.

Why does the junta worry about the “election”? After all, it made the rules, controls the rules and is going to control everything anyway post-“election.” We feel it is a gradual weaning the population off elections and better establishing a royalist authoritarianism.

 





Junta’s political strategy I

1 06 2016

Any use of the word “strategy” when referring to Thailand’s military dictatorship is likely to be overcooked. Yet the media has been writing of the junta’s strategy coming to the referendum.

One way of looking at the recent and much-hyped lifting of a travel ban on some politicians is that the military junta is declaring a political victory. And, that that “victory” allows the military a timely opportunity to “loosen up” prior to the constitutional referendum, where it craves increased support. Not only does it want the constitution to pass that vote, but some see the referendum as a measure of support for the junta and the royalist authoritarianism of the junta, to be embedded in the political system going forward.

The Nation recently reported that the junta “was scrutinising its [coup] orders issued earlier to ban politicians and political activists from leaving the country such as order 1/2557, 2/2557, 3/2557 and order 80/2557.” These orders essentially prevented some Puea Thai Party politicians and some red shirt activists from leaving “the country without [the junta’s] permission.”

None of the banned persons listed had ever been charged with any crime. It was just the junta’s way of repressing and watching them.

The junta announced that it “lifted the travel ban to reflect the improved political situation and to ease political tensions ahead of the referendum.” That led to suggestions that the junta was declaring political victory and that this was part of a “strategy” seeking to embed its polity going forward.

But, then, the junta did warn: “We did not ease all the rules as we need to maintain tight grips on some issues.” The statement also added the royalist claim of “we are all Thais”, declaring: “We relaxed the rules because we believe we are Thais alike…”.

Khaosod reported that some of the previously banned politicians in Puea Thai welcomed the move. The coup-loving, election-losing Democrat Party’s Wirat Kalyasiri said the move was “a good sign” and claimed it “will lead to reconciliation.” He may have jumped the gun. More thoughtful on the Democrat Party side was Nipit Intarasombat who said: “I don’t feel happy or excited that this order will be repealed, because it shouldn’t have been there in the first place…. Personally, I even think that the repeal comes too late.”

The Nation son reported that “activists” and “scholars” were less happy. Lifting the ban did not “respond to the needed assurance that people’s rights and liberty are protected, and also fails to fulfil the junta’s desire to ‘look good’ in the eyes of other countries.” They thought the junta was responding to “the international community’s recent criticism of the human rights situation in Thailand.”

Chaturon Chaisang pointed out that “although the junta had abrogated the travel ban, many measures still applied to the select group of activists and politicians. The ban on financial transactions that is applied against some of them is still in place, he said, adding that the threat of temporary detentions also remained.” And, he quite rightly pointed out that the list was never enforced by the junta against politicians it liked: “Many activists, although on the list, could go abroad as long as they do not slam the junta…”.

We were’t so sure. The travel bans have not really been front page for those criticizing the junta. Arbitrary detention, lese majeste, military courts and arbitrary powers are more significant. Except that the junta then followed up with another “concession.”

The junta has announced that “no longer will use military camps as venues for ‘attitude adjustment’ re-education sessions, instead sending dissidents to ‘friendlier’ government buildings for the talks.” In other words, it is going to harass opponents, and seek to “persuade them not to speak out against policies and actions of the military regime,” but not in military camps but somewhere else.

Where? “[P]ovincial halls and police stations will be used to house the political opponents…”. We guess the difference is that the abductions and detentions will be “civilianized.” As Deputy Prime Minister and General Prawit Wongsuwan said “of the forced incarcerations,” “the sessions would continue and those summoned would still have to report to military officials.” So “civilianization” is about location, not who is doing the abductions, detentions, interrogations and intimidation.

Adding to the seeming non-significance, the Bangkok Post reports that The Dictator has “rejected calls for the regime to relax the ban on political activities, saying politicians have failed to improve their behaviour.” Paternalism runs deep in the hierarchical military. He added that “content posted on social media and media interviews indicated certain politicians have not stopped making mischief.”

As ever, General Prayuth Chan-ocha angrily rejected such calls declaring “he was not considering easing other restrictions, as it could lead to public disorder and threaten the regime’s political roadmap.”

Failed Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva wants the junta “to allow political parties to engage in activities that would help them prepare for reforms.” As usual, he resorted to weasel words, assuring the junta that politicians like him would be “good.” Politicians “who want to cause trouble, he said, would “resort to secretive means to achieve their ends…”.

In the end, neither of the steps is hugely significant. The major elements of repression and arbitrariness remain in place. Whatever the junta was “thinking,” and we are sure something must have been ticking in someone’s head, it was clear that the move was not a “softening” as some editorials claimed.

Our guess, and that is all it is, is that they are looking beyond the referendum and how they can fix an election in 2017 (should it go ahead). Our guess on top of our guess is that, like juntas before them, they are looking at which politicians to bring into a military party. That requires some accommodations to be made.