Further updated: Media reprimands Gen Apirat

20 02 2019

Army commander Gen Apirat Kongsompong has been hammered by the media today. For example, the Bangkok Post had an editorial, two op-eds and a story all highly critical of his attack on campaigning politicians as “scum.”

In the story, it was reported that “[p]oliticians demanded … the army chief remain neutral in the lead-up to the … election after he rebuked them for calling for defence budget cuts and revived an anti-communist song…”.

Actually, it is a song that belongs to extreme rightists and ultra-royalists, most recently used by the yellow-shirted royalists People’s Alliance for Democracy and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee to attack pro-Thaksin Shinawatra groups and politicians.

In other words, Gen Apirat was reaffirming his ultra-royalism as an anti-democratic rightist. The notion that he will be “neutral” is farcical. The military is never politically neutral.

Commenting on this, Ploenpote Atthakor points out that one of the (false) justifications for the 2014 military coup was about eliminating political conflict. As she points out, Gen Apirat is promoting conflict. For PPT, it is clear that the military has been stirring conflict throughout recent decades. The military is the problem.

Even determined anti-Thaksinista, Veera Prateepchaikul points out:

Many people may love the song and call it patriotic. But for a person like me and many others who are old enough to have witnessed the horrors of the “October 6” massacre and heard it being blasted around the clock before that fateful day by the army-run Yankroh radio station alternating with the hateful phone-in comments against the students inside Thammasat University, this is unquestionably a far-right hate song for its association with this bloody history.

The Post’s editorial comes straight to the point:

The troubling response of the army commander to a rather benign political campaign promise has quickly escalated. Gen Apirat Kongsompong didn’t just try to refute the call to cut both the military budget and the number of general officers. He retaliated by reviving the most hateful song in Thai political history, and promised to flood military bases and the airwaves with it. It is a move with an ironclad guarantee of major political and national division.

It continues to condemn Gen Apirat, saying what was:

hugely disappointing and inappropriate was Gen Apirat’s instant and ill-formed leap into the political campaign. The decision of the highest ranking army officer to step into the election debate was questionable. What is indefensible is his order to revive and propagandise his soldiers with the noxious and odious 1970s song Nak Phandin.

Yet it is hardly out of the ordinary. Gen Apirat, like his predecessor Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha have made their careers by being palace loyalists, rightists, and murderous military bosses.

Perhaps the most interesting commentary, however, was at Thai Rath, which outlines Gen Apirat’s family story. His father, Gen Sunthorn Kongsompong, a diminutive rightist also known as “Big George,” was a corrupt leader of the 1991 coup. The paper points out that, following a dispute between Sunthorn’s wife and mistress in 2001, people were stunned to learn that the property under dispute was valued at over 3.9 billion baht.

Thai Rath goes through the whole story of this corrupt general, the father of the current military commander. Being a powerful military boss has been lucrative, but for the Kongsompong clan, the wealth siphoned was conspicuously huge. We have no evidence of who shared in that huge wealth.

Update 1: It is not just the media that has gone after Apirat. As Prachatai reportsAs Prachatai reports:

… student activist Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, along with other members of the Student Union of Thailand, also went to the Army Headquarters to read an open letter to the Army Commander in Chief protesting Gen Apirat’s comment on ‘Nuk Paen Din.’

Following that:

… political activists Ekkachai Hongkangwan and Chokchai Paibulratchata held a demonstration at the Royal Thai Army Headquarters in response to army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong’s order to broadcast the controversial Cold War anthem ‘Nuk Paen Din’ (‘Scum of the Earth’) on all army radio stations and over the intercom at military headquarters.

Update 2: As might be expected, the military and its rabid response to politicians has been defended by what the Bangkok Post describes as “Chulalongkorn University political scientist Panitan Wattanayagorn…”. Panitan is neither a “political scientist” nor an “academic” in the true senses of these words. Rather, he is a toady of the military and in its pay. He’s a propagandist for the military, lying that “army chief Gen Apirat spoke out in response to the proposed defence budget cuts because he intended to defend the interests of rank-and-file soldiers who would be affected by any spending cuts.” It is a ludicrous fabrication. Defending the murderous military is nit the work of serious academics.





A decade of PPT

21 01 2019

A decade has passed for Political Prisoners in Thailand. We admit our huge disappointment that we are still active after all these years.

By this, we mean that PPT should have gone the way of the dinosaurs, being unnecessary as Thailand’s political prisoners, its military dictatorship and political repression would have been a thing of the past. But political dinosaurs flourish in Thailand’s fertile environment filled with fascists, royalists and neo-feudalists. Sadly, the political climate in  the country is regressing faster than most pundits could have predicted.

When we began PPT on 21 January 2009, we hoped it would be a temporary endeavor, publicizing a spike in lese majeste cases to an international audience. Instead, a decade later, we are still at it and dealing with the outcomes of royalist politics gone mad. We now face the repressive reality of the continued dominance of a military dictatorship, brought to power by an illegal military coup in 2014. This regime is underpinned by a nonsensical royalism that masks and protects an anti-democratic ruling class. Royalists have fought to maintain a royalist state that lavishes privilege, wealth and power on a few.

In “protecting” monarchy, regime and ruling class, the military junta has continued the politicization of the judiciary and is now rigging an “election” that may, one day, be held, if the king finally decides that he will allow an election. That “election,” embedded in a military-royalist constitution, will potentially be a political nightmare, maintaining military political domination for years to come.

A better, more representative and more democratic politics remains a dream.

When we sputtered into life it was as a collaborative effort to bring more international attention to the expanded use of the lese majeste and computer crimes laws by the then Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and his anti-democratic Democrat Party. That regime’s tenure saw scores die and thousands injured in political clashes and hundreds held as political prisoners.

The royalism and repression that gained political impetus from anti-democratic street demonstrations that paved the way for the 2006 military coup and then for the 2014 military coup have become the military state’s ideology. Those perceived as opponents of the military and the monarchy were whisked away into detention, faced threats and surveillance and some have died or been “disappeared” in mysterious circumstances, and continue to do so in recent months.

This royalism and repression has also strengthened the monarchy and the new monarch. The junta has supinely permitted King Vajiralongkorn to assemble greater economic and political power. It has colluded with the palace in aggregating land for the monarch that was previously set aside for the public. It has colluded in destroying several symbols of the 1932 revolution, emphasizing the rise of neo-feudal royalism that leaves democracy neutered.

On this anniversary, as in past years,  we want an end to political repression and gain the release of every political prisoner. Under the current regime, hundreds of people have been jailed or detained, subjected to military courts and threatened by the military. The military regime is not only illegal but is the most repressive since the royally-appointed regime under Thanin Kraivixien in the mid-1970s.

The 2006 and 2014 coups, both conducted in the name of the monarchy, have seen a precipitous slide into a new political dark age where the lese majeste law – Article 112 – has been a grotesque weapon of choice in a deepening political repression.

From 2006 to 2017, lese majeste cases grew exponentially. Worse, both military and civil courts have held secret trials and handed out unimaginably harsh sentences. And even worse than that,  the definition of what constitutes a crime under the lese majeste law has been extended. Thankfully, in 2017 we were unable to identify any new lese majeste cases and some in process were mysteriously dropped. We don’t know why. It could be that the military’s widespread crackdown has successfully quieted anti-monarchism or it might be that the king wants no more cases to get public airings and “damage” his “reputation.”

The last information available suggest that there are at least 18 suspects accused of violating Article112 whose cases have reached final verdicts and who remain in prison.

As for PPT, despite heavy censorship and blocking in Thailand, we have now had more than 3 million page views at our two sites. The blocking in Thailand has been more extensive in 2018 than in past years. This is our 7,999th post.

PPT isn’t in the big league of the blogging world, but the level of interest in Thailand’s politics and the use of lese majeste has increased. We are pleased that there is far more attention to political repression and lese majeste than there was when we began and that the international reporting and understanding of these issues is far more critical than it was.

We want to thank our readers for sticking with us through all the attempts by the Thai censors to block us. We trust that we remain useful and relevant and we appreciate the emails we receive from readers.

As in the past we declare:

The lese majeste and computer crimes laws must be repealed.

Charges against political activists must be dropped.

All political prisoners must be released.

The military dictatorship must be opposed.





Guessing game

17 01 2019

The guessing game about the junta’s “election” continues, although The Nation reports that The Dictator has finally actually stated that the 24 February date is off. Now everyone and his buffalo knew this, but Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has been reluctant to say it, fearing the palace and/or loss of face.

Then he babbled before stating something potentially rather significant. The babble was this: “We’re going towards full democracy.” That’s buffalo manure. For an analysis of why this is buffalo manure, see the op-ed by Zachary Abuza a couple of days ago.

The Dictator then said: “There will be an election no matter what…. [The election date] will be changed but still it will be by May 9.” We are interested in the “no matter what” bit. We are guessing that there’s pressure to delay everything until after the coronation. At the same time, with no royal decree, the junta seems to be grasping at rice straw and defining the constitution in a manner that gives it the most possible time in scheduling a rigged election.

Another report has Gen Prayuth declaring: “There will be an election before coronation…. We have to organize both things together, but we must give time to the coronation preparation first…”. Royalism trumps elections, even a rigged election.

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post is reporting on a quiet arm wrestle between the Election Commission, the junta and the palace.

Before writing more, though, we have a response to a reader who asks whether it is the king or the junta holding things up. That reader wonders if a royal decree has been signed but that it is being withheld from publication in the Royal Gazette. Like everyone else outside the upper reaches of the dictatorship and the palace, we don’t know. However, it would seem that withholding the decree would both damage the junta and would amount to an act of lese majeste. So our guess is that the delaying is in the palace and that the junta’s bosses are fuming but hamstrung by their own royalism.

Back at the EC, it is reported that it “is highly likely to select March 10 as the election date as it has agreed that the 150-day deadline for the general election to be completed as set by the charter should include the poll results endorsement.” Of course, that would seem to contradict The Dictator’s assessment, so there’s a tussle going on, with the EC trying to get some clarity.

Another version, reportedly from a senior EC official talking to Reuters, is: “There are now two possible dates … March 10 or March 24…”.

EC secretary-general Jarungvith Phumma stated that EC “commissioners had agreed that the completion of the election process mentioned in the charter must include the poll results endorsement. This is the first time the EC has spelt out its stance on the issue.” It’s likely putting the EC in conflict with The Dictator.

Jarungvith, however, reconfirmed that “while the EC is authorised to set the poll date, the government is responsible for announcing the election. The EC is required to set the date within five days of the decree being published in the Royal Gazette.”

There’s no decree, so the arm wrestle continues.





Pessimism or optimism?

16 01 2019

Pessimism and optimism are measured in different ways when it comes to politics, depending on where one is standing.

Surasak Glahan at the Bangkok Post joins the pessimists:

Cambodia had a “fake” national ballot in June. Bangladesh held a “farcical poll” blighted by intimidation late last month. Thailand is worse. It can’t event hold a general election as planned.

It is now two weeks since the royal decree “allowing” an election date to be selected was supposed to emerge from the palace. Notions of a constitutional monarchy seem a thing of the past.

If the notion that the “palace, bureaucratic and military elites” won’t be able to “consolidate their hold on power through the establishment of a semi-authoritarian regime,” sounds like a good outcome of a delayed election, then academic Prajak Kongkiarti’s piece at New Mandala is worth a read.

His conclusion is another glass half-full, half-empty proposition:

elections are only the beginning of a new round of struggles to set the terms of a political order that has yet to settle. It will be difficult for the NCPO to establish a robust authoritarian regime, but nor will Thailand transition to a stable, democratic system.

Less optimistic is the increasingly threatening behavior of Army chief and current palace favorite Gen Apirat Kongsompong.

He’s both warned those campaigning for an election date to be set and ordered his troops to “monitor” political parties as they campaign.

On demands for an election, Gen Apirat warned activists: “you should also draw the line on your own actions and don’t step over that line…”. He said he would “deploy security forces to maintain peace and order during the rally” by activists planned for Friday.

No one seems to know if a royal decree will emerge and it is the lack of the decree that causes pessimism on an “election.”





Still no royal decree

14 01 2019

As far as we can tell, there’s still no royal decree that would allow the Election Commission to set a date for the junta’s “election.” Despite all its rigging, the junta must be coming to realize that this delay will cost pro-military parties. Voters will see that the junta is rigging an election they don’t even want, leading to something the junta wants to call a “democracy,” but which will be a sham.

Already, protests are expanding. While still relatively small, the protests show the junta that it is losing votes by the day. The protestsers declared:

Today we have almost completely run out of patience with the duplicity and the repeated attempts at excuses, and with the accusations to silence the media and the people calling for the fundamental rights of citizens. We present this ultimatum to the NCPO Government:

  1. No delay: the election must be held no later than 10 March 2019 because otherwise, the ECT will not be able to announce election results within 150 days of 11th December 2018 when the Organic Law on the Election of MPs was promulgated, thus making the election unconstitutional and invalid.
  2. No cancellation: the election must not be cancelled by tricks, excuses, or legal technicalities, even though there are attempts to do this today and there will be in the future.
  3. No extra time for them to remain in power through the constitution written to give them an advantage, whether by using 250 votes from the appointed senate to support their hold on to power, or by using its status as the government with complete authority over the budget, or by shifting government officials around without scrutiny during the election campaign, or by discrimination favouring the political party that was set up to keep them in power. This can all be held to be election fraud.

With the Army chief overbearing and threatening, his stance was challenged. Thai Raksa Chart’s Chaturon Chaisang “lashed out at army commander Apirat Kongsompong for accusing people campaigning against the delay of being ‘troublemakers’.” Chaturon said “freedom of expression is a civil right and that as long as the law is not broken those who exercise free speech are not making trouble.”

The Army’s response suggests the tack it is likely to take as tensions mount. Its spokesman Col Winthai Suvaree “defended Gen Apirat’s remark, saying the army chief was concerned about the atmosphere as the nation prepares for the King’s coronation events on May 4-6.” Clearly, coronation trumps elections while the palace seems uninterested in elections.

The Bangkok Post notices that the junta’s response to criticism is mimicking that for the August 2016 referendum on the constitution. That was a sham referendum. But, with constitution in place and the senate selection underway, as the protesters point out, Thailand could well be looking at a military dictatorship with the junta-selected senate acting as an NLA and the junta going on and on. That would be with with support from the palace. In other words, nothing changes.





“Election” date unknown I

9 01 2019

There’s very heavy blocking going on in Thailand at present, suggesting that the confusion over the “election” is raising angst within the junta and its puppet agencies.

The Nation points out the all too obvious: the “much-anticipated Royal Decree on the election, which will allow the Election Commission to fix the poll date, has yet to be issued…”.  It was promised by the junta for 2 January. So far, nothing.

The junta has been mumbling about the need not to interfere with the king’s coronation, which was suddenly announced on 1 January.

What is The Dictator’s position on delaying his “election”? When asked, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha said “he did not know when it [royal decree] would be published in the Royal Gazette.” He added: “It will be when it will be…. I haven’t said anything about a delay or no delay.” He has no idea. He’s stuck between a rock and the palace.

He then got irritated, saying: “All the countries I have visited, they understand [about coronation]. So, what do you want from me?” We weren’t aware that he had visited any countries since 1 January. Or is it that he already told foreign leaders about a poll delay before he told the Thai people? We doubt this and don’t think Gen Prayuth knows what’s going on in the palace or, if he does, he’s not going to say anything.

While the Deputy Dictator and serial luxury watch “borrower” Gen Prawit Wongsuwan “guaranteed” that his junta’s “election” would be held by 9 May, he hid the cause of the delay – lack of a royal decree – Gen Prawit hid behind the EC: “He … said that the authority to set the poll date rests with the EC.”

Catch-22: EC can’t do anything until there’s a royal decree. Why there is no royal decree? It seems that neo-feudal Thailand prevents the question and cannot allow an answer, at least in public.

The EC is at least maintaining a public image of pressuring for a royal decree to be issued. EC president Ittiporn Boonpracong made the position clear: “We don’t have any election date model and we’re waiting for the royal decree…”. No royal decree, no election date, and no election.

And around and around we go.





Election (probably) delayed IV

6 01 2019

PPT was wrong when we speculated and asked: if the king’s coronation really is a problem, why does the commentary not criticize the monarch for choosing a date that screws up elections?

Going by an ultra-royalist outburst National Legislative Assembly President Pornpetch Wichitcholchai, people are being critical of the palace.

The yellow-hued Pornpetch has “warned critics to refrain from blaming the coronation ceremony for causing a potential delay of the election.” How dare they!

He implies the king can do whatever he wants – which is increasingly true – and, supporting the junta, declares that the Election Commission “must choose the appropriate timing for the election and to make sure that it does not not affect the auspicious ceremony which, he added, would bring joy and happiness to the Thai people in general ‘because they have high respect for the Monarchy’.”

Now, apart from the now usual but still ridiculous monarchism that marks Thailand’s every move and the monarchist shibboleth, he is effectively warning the EC that it could face lese majeste accusations if it doesn’t move the election as the junta and presumably the palace wants it.

He added a comment that “the government must make sure that all the preparations related to the coronation ceremony befit a very special event.” In other words, only the junta can do this.

We can’t help wondering if this claim, which was also made by commentators to justify the 2014 coup, carries any weight with those commentators today.

In the end, blame the junta for postponing an “election” for almost five years and blame the palace for choosing a date that the know screws the election schedule.

Mutual backscratching? Who knows.