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.





The anti-democrats and the junta

14 03 2016

The military junta appears in more political trouble than it has been since seizing power in May 2014. Like most other military leaders who have a chance at pushing the nation about, this lot have come to enjoy the power and influence.

The junta head honchos are looking so desperate to stay in power that even their political allies among the anti-democrats are looking somewhat jaundiced – a pale yellow.

The Nation reports that the junta is getting support from its flunkies but that other (former?) allies are leaning away. It quotes Suriyasai Katasila, former People’s Alliance for Democracy co-leader, who wryly observes that the junta is “so interested” in “designing special mechanisms, namely selected senates, that the public has grown sceptical about its promises to relinquish power.”

He backs the reform agenda pushed by the son of PAD, the People’s Democratic Reform Committee,  saying the junta “should instead come up with concrete reform plans, set clear missions, steer the reforms and encourage various segments of the public to cooperate.” In other words, set the “reform” agenda and move on.

At the Bangkok Post, the deeply yellow columnist Veera Prateepchaikul lists a litany of junta demands and failures, stating:

… the proposed five-year transition period will be challenged. Sooner rather than later, the junta will realise it should stick to the original roadmap and return to the people the right to have a say in their own future.

He means an election, the very mechanism he opposed not that long ago.

Also suddenly wanting an election are senior members of the Democrat Party, renowned for both losing elections and boycotting them.

Deputy leader Nipit Intarasombat urged Constitution Drafting Committee chairman Meechai Ruchupan stick with the current draft charter and “principles.” We are not sure how Nipit would judge “principles” but he seems content with the anti-democrat “reform” agenda adopted by the CDC.

He seems worried that the military will stay on warning of “heavy public resistance if it [the CDC] gave in too much [to the junta], which would carry grim prospects for the charter referendum at the end of July.”

Another Democrat Party leader, Ong-art Klampaibul warned the junta to “listen to reason and not impose their will on the CDC.” He’s happy with the undemocratic notion of functional constituencies, “considered an indirect election, [“electing”] 200 senators from 20 social groups, 10 from each, [which] would vote across the groups to elect members of the Upper House.”

The anti-democrats seem to feel that they have a “suitable” constitution that will prevent true popular representation but fear the weight of the men in green.





First takes on the junta’s draft constitution

30 01 2016

PPT hasn’t had a chance to look at the draft 270-article, 95-page constitution in any detail, but there are commentators who have (a PDF of the draft can be downloaded, in Thai). While most of the provisions have been flagged in recent weeks – at last the most controversial, we thought we’d combines some of that commentary here.

In the Bangkok Post, the anti-democrat agenda of the drafters and junta is made clear by the aged military flunkey Meechai Ruchupan: “”Given the limited time, we have drafted the best constitution within the 2014 interim charter’s framework. We want it to be the charter that can efficiently suppress corruption and does not whitewash wrongdoers…”. He referred to the draft as a “reform constitution.” In the Khaosod report linked below, Amorn Wanichwiwatana, spokesman of the junta-appointed Constitution Drafting Committee, said the redesigned election system, will “prevent parliamentary dictatorship…”. He added: “It won’t be majority rule…”.

The CDC and junta are pandering to the anti-democrats and the fearful middle class. The anti-democrats will probably be happy (but see below), although the Democrat Party may be less so. However that party is able to lie in any bed.

One of the provisional clauses gives the military an extra three months in power, which The Dictator will have asked for. However, if the referendum dumps the charter, then military rule will be around for as long as the junta wants. In another interesting transition arrangement, if the charter gets up in the referendum, Article 44 remains in place through to a new government being formed. In essence, the draconian Article 44, which empowers the military junta to do anything it wants, stays in place. This allows considerable interference in referendum, election and the formation of any new government.

Pravit Rojanaphruk has an article at Khaosod that has a listing on some of the main (and, by now, well known) aspects of the military junta’s charter, in his sub-headings: Unelected Prime Minister and New Electoral System; Rise of Constitutional Court and Unelected Agencies Over Elected Government; Unelected Senate, Lack of Public Participation and a Less-Than-Democratic Charter. He also has some commentary.

Nipit Intarasombat of the Democrat Party doesn’t quite say it, but the charter tries to take Thailand back to a period of small parties, coalition building and busting, unelected premiers and vote-buying. The old political schemer and chief Privy Council meddler General Prem Tinsulanonda must be as pleased as Punch to have his political system essentially resurrected in this draft charter.

Nipit declares that the outside prime minister a threat: “This is unprecedented, and nowhere in this world can we find [such rules]. It allows for an outsider to become prime minister without being elected,” adding that the voting system “was designed in such as way as to ensure that no single party will ever gain outright majority in election…”.

The Puea Thai Party’s Chaturon Chaisaeng, saw the remarkable political power allocated to the Constitutional Court in legal terms:

“Having the power to define what constitutes a crisis and to use that power [over an elected government] is a serious dismantling of the check-and-balance system of the three branches under a democracy,” Chaturon said. “In getting it to try to solve [political] crises, the court will be increasingly dragged into politics. This is outside the democratic system, and will itself more easily induce crises.”

In fact, the new powers for the Court and for other independent bodies are to create a substitute for the monarchy’s political role, no longer considered reliable. Royalists and the elite figure they can maintain conservative control of the Constitutional Court.

Interestingly, a senior adviser for the People’s Democratic Reform Committee and regularly on their stage in 2014, Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, also a former member of the now defunct National Reform Council, told the Bangkok Post that “the structure of parliament set out under the draft charter is flawed and outdated and goes against the principles of democracy.”

We are sure there’s plenty more commentary to come.





Another plot…

16 07 2015

The military dictatorship has managed to come up with quite a few “plots” since its 2014 coup. Several of them have been for media consumption. Some have been to frighten or threaten. Others have been to jail “plotters.”

The most bizarre so far came from General Thawatchai Samutsakhon, a military member of the National Reform Council.

Before we get to that claim, recall that the same general came up with the absurd claim that the Dao Din students being under the influence of an “ill-intentioned foreign organisation” that brainwashed them. The father of one of the students claimed Thawatchai had made this stuff up.

Reveling in his role as political jester, Thawatchai was quoted a couple of days ago alleged that “two political parties, whom he refused to identify, were preparing to mobilise up to a million people to descend on Bangkok to overthrow the government.”

It seems he thinks the (anti)Democrat Party and Puea Thai are joining to overthrow the military dictatorship. Perhaps he had a dream? Perhaps he is delusional? Or just mad, for he also accused the “parties of being behind violence in the deep South.”

The response of the (anti)Democrat Party was almost as bizarre:

Democrat Party member Nipit Intrasombat said: “I would like Thawatchai to be more specific on which political party [was behind the incident] so that state authorities can sue the party concerned by sending the case to the Election Commission (EC) – to have the parties dissolved. This way, no one would be mistaken.”

Nipit seems to want to suggest there is a plot! No one else of any consequence seems to agree. While Thawatchai claimed to be citing “intelligence reports,” the National Security Council contradicted him. Despite the nonsensical claims, General Thawatchai continues to be an Army commander and puppet legislator.





Further updated: Blame and other games

12 04 2015

Readers will be aware of the deadly [sorry, not deadly, but certainly damaging] car bomb in Koh Samui, causing several injuries. There is little evidence about the culprits or about the reasons for the bombing. There has been no claim of responsibility to date.

What is remarkable is that all political sides seem to agree that the attack was politically motivated, and as The Nation reports it, “aimed at challenging the government.”

The junta claims “there were ill-intentioned groups seeking an opportunity to disturb peace and instigate violence.” It reckons that because it has cracked down so hard in Bangkok that “the perpetrators have moved to other areas.”

Democrat Party deputy leader Nipit Intarasombat said the bomb “was the work of anti-government groups and had nothing to do with the southern insurgency…. The culprits focused on a tourism place. They want to demonstrate their power…”.

Thaworn Senneam of the anti-democratic People’s Democratic Reform Committee said the attack “was the work of someone who wanted to cause problems for the government and the country’s economy…”.

Puea Thai Party’s Worachai Hema believed “the attack was aimed to discredit the government after it imposed Article 44 to keep peace and order.”

PPT got a bit lost, however, when the junta spokesman said “initial reports revealed that the people responsible for the car bomb was the same group that had planted a bomb in Bangkok.” We understood that the junta had claimed to have arrested those responsible for the Bangkok bombing. Yet this turns out to be the wrong bombing!

Military “intelligence” suggests that “there is a possibility that the perpetrators were southern insurgents or natives of southern border provinces who have expertise in assembling car bombs and were hired with the same motivation as in the case of the bomb blast on Soi Ramkhamhaeng 43/1 in Bangkok…”.

That bomb was on 26 May 2013, injuring seven people. Conveniently, those responsible were sentenced less than three weeks ago. As far as we know, these men, all from Pattani, did not give up anyone else.

That attack, when the Yingluck Shinawatra elected government was in office, has been attributed to “southern insurgents.” A report in The Nation observed that some linked 2014 blasts in “Sadao and Phuket [to] attacks back to the May 26, 2013 attack on Ramkhamhaeng Soi 43/1 by an insurgent cell.” It added that political leaders at the time “maintain[ed] the Ramkhamhaeng bombing was not linked to unrest in the deep South…”. Yet, “security officials confirmed that the attack was a bid by one of the longstanding separatist groups to enhance its leverage in negotiations…”.

That report also stated that “a group did claim responsibility for the Ramkhamhaeng operation, stating its aim was to be at the negotiating table.”

If readers can explain all of this confusion, we’d be happy to learn more.

Update 1: Not prizes for guessing what this update is about. The Bangkok Post reports that all of the politicians quoted above, as well as the junta spokesmen, may all be wrong. The report states that “might have been caused by a local business or political conflict…”. That’s “according to a report from the government committee on solving problems in the southern border provinces.” At the same time, a red shirt supporter has been detained.

Update 2: As noted in our first update, a red shirt supporter had been arrested. Khaosod reports that Narin Ambuathong was arrested in Nonthaburi on 11 April. The military dictatorship’s spokesman stated that Narin was arrested an held under the draconian Article 44 of the junta’s interim institution, which allows the military to search properties and detain individuals without warrants and to interrogate them in secret, usually military, locations for seven days. He was arrested because of Facebook posts that appeared to refer to trouble in Suratthani. This report also refers to a fire that “broke out at Surat Thani Cooperative Store on the mainland, though no one was injured. Police say the store belongs to Suthep Thaugsuban, former deputy chairman of Democrat Party and leader of the street protests…”. While the idea of a cooperative being owned by Suthep seems odd, the implication is that the bomb and fire were linked political acts. Despite the earlier claimed link to the Soi Ramkhamhaeng bombing of 2013, the report says the “military junta has also insisted that the incidents are not related to the ongoing insurgency in the southern border provinces…”. They seem to be having trouble getting their story straight.