The junta’s lock

20 07 2018

The military dictatorship has now had more than four years to lock-in its rule and its rules. In establishing control over the military, it has had longer.

Around the time of the 2006 military coup, royalist elements in the military, aligned with the palace directly or through privy councilors Gen Prem Tinsulanonda and Gen Surayud Chulanont, marked certain military officers as untrustworthy due to their perceived alliance with Thaksin Shinawatra. These officers were sidelined, stymied and seen out of the military, mostly through the efforts of four generals: Sonthi Boonyaratglin, Anupong Paojinda, Prayuth Chan-ocha and Prawit Wongsuwan. Sonthi was soon discarded as too weak but the others remain, ran the 2014 coup and now plot and plan for the continuation of military guided “democracy” into the future.

That planning for the future involves something that Gen Prem did for years on behalf of the palace: managing succession in the armed forces so that loyalists are on top. In this context. loyalty means to the palace and to the junta and its regime.

It has been known for quite some time that the chosen successor for Gen Chalermchai Sitthisart as Army chief is Gen Apirat Kongsompong. Apirat is a ruthless rightist who has vowed support to The Dictator and taken a leading role in suppressing red shirts and other political opponents.

Last year, when the new King Vajiralongkorn approved the military promotion list, it was widely assumed that Gen Apirat had the king’s approval as Vajiralongkorn takes a strong interest in what happens within the armed forces. However, in May this year, there was an unconfirmed report that Apirat may have fallen foul of the erratic king. Within a couple of months, however, an announcement in the Royal Gazette saw Gen Apirat granted special special status as a member of the king’s personal security unit. If Apirat had fallen foul of the king, he must have completed his penance and/or service with flying colors, at least in the king’s eyes.

This has been followed by Gen Apirat getting plenty of media attention as the Defense Council is scheduled to meet on 25 July to discuss promotions and appointments, with the meeting chaired by Gen Prawit. Interestingly, most of the media stories are almost exactly the same, suggesting that this is a strategic leak by the junta, paving the way for Apirat and acknowledging that the king’s approval has been given.

Apirat, a graduate from Class 20 of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School, and in the military’s feudal system, “belongs to the Wongthewan clique and not the powerful Burapa Phayak circles of elite commanders — of which Gen Prayut and his deputy Gen Prawit are members — [yet] he is one of the regime’s most trusted lieutenants.” He has pledged allegiance to The Dictator. His loyalty has been earlier tested in 2010 and his bosses appreciate Apirat’s willingness to shoot down civilian opponents.

If the junta does decide to hold its rigged election next year, Gen Apirat will be expected to use his 200,000 + soldiers, the Internal Security Operations Command and various other resources of the state to deliver the votes needed for the “election” to appear to have been won by the junta’s parties.





“Elections” matter for the junta and its supporters

30 06 2018

Readers will be interested in a new op-ed by Pavin Chachavalpongpun. As the article is long and also likely to be able to be read in Thailand, we just highlight a couple of points.

Drawing on an observation by Italian Communist and Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci, Pavin observes that “[t]hese are the days when an old system refuses to die and a new system isn’t ready to be born.”

Reflecting on the current grim political situation, Pavin looks back to the rise of the People Alliance for Democracy (PAD) some 13 years ago. He argues that the “crux” of the political problem of the time was “apprehension among the royal political network concerning the rise of Thaksin [Shinawatra], who threatened to replace the old political order with his own.”

As the Shinawatras and their parties continued to triumph in elections after the 2006 coup, Pavin observes that this “coincided with the flagging power of the Thai monarchy.”

This characterization is a little off. The monarchy’s power wasn’t flagging but was being challenged by the rise of anti-monarchy sentiment associated with a political movement. That’s why the “royal political network sought to eliminate its enemies once more in a coup.”

Whether this had much to do with “manag[ing] the royal succession” remains debatable. But it is clear that crushing anti-monarchy sentiment and agitation was critical for both the military and palace as it was red shirts who constituted the existential challenge to monarchy and military. Pavin provides a neat potted history of the construction and maintenance of the military-monarchy nexus and its struggles with the rise of electoral politics.

Today, while it may appear that “the royal political network had won this political tussle,”Pavin isn’t so sure. He links this to the new reign and potential instability, where the “prospect of Thailand being ruled by a new unpopular king was daunting. While Bhumibol was able to safeguard the political benefits of the elitist class, his son, now King Vajiralongkorn, seemed unlikely to be able to guarantee the same” for that class.

We think that explaining the long political crisis by focusing on the succession has now been shown to have been overdone. In fact, there was no succession crisis. Rather, there was a crisis that emerged from the challenge to the military-monarchy nexus that came from the grassroots. It was that crisis that in part prompted the 2014 military coup.

Pavin is right that the new political system is not yet in place. That is why the junta wants 20-year “plans” and to control the election after putting new political rules in place. If the current junta succeeds and puts Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha in place following the election heading a coalition of unimportant military boot-licking pseudo-parties, then it will have given birth to the “new” system.

All the stuff about the “new monarch is lacking in moral authority” and so on is quickly being replaced by a “new” conservative royalism that is backward looking, nationalist and military sponsored, not unlike the monarchism invented under Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat.

Pavin concludes by asking”: “So, where does Thailand go from here? Will the upcoming elections mean anything for the country?” Remarkably, he can only say: “Elections, if they are to happen, may not deliver a genuine democratic regime.”

May not? Seriously, this is a desperate grasping at straws. They not only cannot deliver a “genuine democratic regime” but are meant to deliver – and designed to deliver – military political dominance for years to come save the prospect of “political violence” that Pavin briefly considers.

Finally, Pavin returns to “palace politics” which he says is “complicated and unpredictable.” It has always been so because the palace remains the most opaque and secretive of institutions. Pavin is certainly right to observe: “Since the Thai monarchy cannot be separated from politics, developments within the walls of the palace matter greatly to Thais.” That is probably how the junta and palace prefers it. The alternative of the people mattering has been pretty much erased by the junta’s selective and targeted political repression.





Rigged elections better than no elections?

18 06 2018

Pravit Rojanaphruk at Khaosod had an op-ed a couple of days ago that causes us to consider again the question of rigged elections being better than no elections at all.

Pravit essentially sees the formation of  “the ultra-conservative, ultra-royalist and ultra-nationalist Action Coalition for Thailand … [as] a sign that something is on the right track.” For him, ACT is “promoting its ideology to potential members and voters, and this is not a bad thing.”

He adds that this “is a positive development because Thai politics needs to be more ideology-driven and less dependent on outsized personalities and the notion of supporting the ‘lesser of two evils’.”

Although Pravit acknowledges that ACT is in fact led by “a very outsized personality. Suthep Thaugsuban,” he reckons other “key members took to the floor to espouse the party’s core doctrines of holding the monarchy above everything, ultra-nationalist oaths and aspirations for broad reforms.”

Pravit doesn’t say it, but the People’s Democratic Reform Committee also had plenty of other speakers on its stage.

So Pravit’s argument is not going so well… But, he does have a point: “… it is absolutely preferable to have fellow citizens trying to convince others to support them at a ballot box by peddling their ideas instead of mobilizing people to paralyze the capital…“. He adds: “… shifting that conflict and ideological struggle into electoral politics is a welcome development.”

It is difficult to disagree that an electoral system is better than dictatorship (not a point Pravit explicitly makes) or that electoral competition is not a better way to solve political disagreements than having the military murder protesters or protesters beating each other up or using gangs of thugs to disrupt protests by other groups.

Yet the idea that elections will simply resolve deep-rooted conflicts is naive. After all, it was elections that resulted in yellow-shirted street mobilizations. The reason was because the royalists, supported by elites, tycoons, palace and military, would not accept election results. They eventually rejected the notion of one-person, one-vote and majoritarian-based representative government.

That’s why the current, junta-developed constitution, its electoral rules and its so-called independent agencies and mechanisms have been put in place. The idea is that only one result can be permitted and that will be the victory of anti-democrats in a rigged election.

If they should happen to stumble and not get their preferred “election” outcome, what is to stop them rising again?

In cheering for a rigged election, Pravit goes too far in implicitly accepting that rigging and the anti-democrat agenda as the junta has enforced it. His hope may be that the anti-democrats do stumble and that a government more representative of those groups repeatedly beaten down may triumph is one most democrats would share. But, in the end, for the military dictatorship, in the short to medium term it looks like heads we win, tails you lose.





Get rid of the horrid monarchy law

2 05 2018

A Nation Editorial deserves attention as a call for reform of the despot’s political law of choice, the lese majeste law. It has been used brazenly to repress.

PPT has posted hundreds of times on the misuse of this law. It has been used in ways that are unconstitutional and unlawful. Persons have been convicted for what they did not say, for what they did not write. Some have been convicted for “crimes” against persons not covered by the law. Mothers and children have been convicted. Disabled and sick persons have received long sentences. Persons have been convicted on forced guilty pleas when they were not guilty. Sentences have been huge and the treatment of prisoners on lese majeste charges has been tortuous and unlawful. It has been used against political opponents and against some who have fallen out of favor in the palace itself.

The editorial states that “Somyot Pruksakasemsuk’s release after years in prison affords a chance to reflect on deeply unfair abuses of the law.” We could not agree more.

It says his “release from prison on Monday … should prompt the authorities to review the draconian lese majeste law, which was designed specifically to protect the monarchy but continues to be misused for political ends.”

Of course, it was “designed specifically” protect the military and politico-business elite. It protects a system and a configuration of power, not the monarchy on its own. The monarchy is the keystone for a repressive power structure that sucks wealth to those associated with the military-monarchy-tycoon elite or, as some say, the amart.

On the particular case, the editorial states that Somyos was jailed as a political opponent. It states that “[i]t was not and is not illegal to be aligned with the red shirt movement supporting former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and his regimes’ policies. And it was unfair for Somyot to have been identified as anti-monarchy without evidence.”

It reminds us that Somyos was arrested and jailed by the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime “as he was circulating a petition calling for Article 112 of the Penal Code – the lese majeste law – to be amended.” Indeed, Somyos was targeted because he opposed the very law that was used against him. The amart have a sense of purpose when opposing those who endanger the power structure.

The editorial states:

Article 112 is quite straightforward. It says anyone who defames insults or threatens the King, Queen, heir-apparent or regent shall be imprisoned for three to 15 years. The authorities’ case against Somyot was that he had published in his magazine two articles by Jit Pollachan, a pseudonym used by an exiled politician. The law was applied beyond its intended scope and meaning. The two articles merely mentioned the roles of the monarchy. There was no inherent insult to the monarchy.

Indeed, a majority of lese majeste cases fall into similar “misuses” of the law. But that’s the point. Lese majeste is designed to be used in these ways to protect the power structure.

It continues:

Thus, cases are often handled as though Thailand was still an absolute monarchy rather than a nation under the modern rule of law. People charged with lese majeste are routinely denied bail and held in pre-trial detention for months. Somyot was denied bail 16 times.

As the editor of a periodical, Somyot should have been protected by the Printing Act and the Constitution’s safeguards covering freedom of expression. But the Constitutional Court ruled in October 2012 that lese majeste breaches represented threats to national security and thus overrode any such protection.

When the editorial concludes by observing that “Somyot’s case should give all citizens pause for thought. Political reform is badly needed, and this unfair practice in particular has to be rolled back,” it makes a point that is very significant. It will scare the regime and those who benefit from this law.





Rolling back 1932 one piece of property at a time II

7 04 2018

The palace and Crown Property Bureau have been active in recent months as they seeks, for the king, to consolidate what he considers the “royal precinct.” We have previously mentioned assertions of royal control over the Bangkok or Dusit Zoo, Suan Amphon and the Ananta Samakhom Hall. And who can forget the illegal (and still unexplained) removal of the 1932 plaque that the king and the junta must have thought sullied the “royal precinct.”

The most recent territory marking involves the Royal Turf Club and the Nang Loeng horse-racing track, also in Dusit district. It is reported that the CPB has demanded the Royal Turf Club vacate the property in 180 days.

Anant Waiwitaya, a CPB legal affairs officer recently wrote to the club “to demand the departure.”

For many years the very large property has been in the hands of aged military people who benefit from gambling and while having been in operation for more than 100 years, is most recently remembered as the home of anti-Thaksin/anti-Yingluck grey activists under General Boonlert Kaewprasit’s Pitak Siam. This group was supported by all kinds of old royalists and conservatives who began the initial agitation against Yingluck. Boonlert was – maybe still is – secretary-general of the Royal Turf Club.

The CPB’s Anant noted that the lease had expires and that the Royal Turf Club had to vacate the property and its “track, five-storey stand, two six-storey parking buildings, a five-storey management building, a one-storey structure and a swimming pool.”

The CPB stated that it “had to use the land and the buildings.”

The report says: “Initiatives to relocate it were discussed during the previous governments of Chuan Leekpai and Thaksin Shinawatra.” Nothing resulted.

We see the action as another effort to create the “royal precinct,” rumored to include plans for a massive palace. The map below shows that the king’s moves over the last six months have massively expanded his territory.





Weekend reads

1 04 2018

We are still kind of catching up from our downtime a weeks or so ago, and want to recommend some interesting material for our readers. Hopefully our military censors/blockers will also learn something from these stories.

At the Bangkok Post: The Cambridge Analytica/SCL Group story is belatedly addressed for Thailand – we commented about 10 days ago – but adds little to the story, although there seems an attempt to diminish the possible role of the Democrat Party even though the only Thai cited is Chuan Leekpai. If there were links between the Democrat Party and/or its government and SCL, look to the party’s Anglophiles for the connecting points.

On the extrajudicial killings at Prachatai: Yiamyut Sutthichaya writes that  “March 17th marked the first anniversary of the death of the young Lahu activist, Chaiyaphum ‘Cha-ou’ Pasae. He was shot dead by a soldier…”. As far as we can tell, nothing sensible has happened on this case since day 1. It has been a cover-up. Read the account, weep for Chaiyapoom and weep for Thailand under the junta’s boot. This is a case of official corruption far more egregious than the Deputy Dictator’s watch saga. The latter interests the middle class who seem to care little for rural kids murdered by military thugs.

“No conspiracy”: The Dictator says he’s stuck to the “roadmap” and there’s no conspiracy to further delay the junta’s promised election. Everyone knows this is a mountain of buffalo manure, but The Dictator keeps saying it. No one believes him – no one – and Alan Dawson at the Bangkok Post calls him out. While at the Post, go and read the stir caused for the junta when Thaksin suggests that Puea Thai will do well when an election comes along. That’s also what the polls say, including the junta’s own polling. That’s also why the junta is splashing taxpayer funds about, seeking to buy supporters.

Insidious Internal Security Act: In talking with political scientist Puangthong Pawakapan, Kritsada Subpawanthanakun reminds us that the the Internal Security Act has now been around for 10 years. A tool wielded mainly through ISOC, it is used to undermine political opponents of Thailand’s establishment. This is highlighted by the fact that the current law was implemented by Gen Surayud Chulanont’s government, put in place by a military junta and borrowing Surayud from the Privy Council. The links between ISOC and the palace are long, deep and nasty.

For more on ISOC: Nutcha Tantivitayapitak writes of “ISOC’s cultural mission” in “the ideological promotion process of ‘nation-religion-monarchy’ by the security agencies…, especially after the enforcement of the 2008 Internal Security Act. Security agencies such as ISOC, which has power over civilian agencies, moved forward in ideological indoctrination through cultural tools.”





Rolling back 1932 one piece of property at a time I

27 03 2018

Khaosod reports:

For the first time in 95 years, the annual Thai Red Cross Fair is in jeopardy after the organization lost access to its longtime venue.

The fair, which was to be held in early April, is now postponed until late this year, a Red Cross official said Tuesday, because Suan Amphon, a century-old exhibition hall adjacent to the Royal Plaza, became unavailable.

“At our last meeting, the director said there would be a fair in November, but we haven’t decided on the venue yet,” Red Cross spokeswoman Chananya Nambutr said.

Chananya said the organization’s permission to use Suan Amphon was revoked.

 “If we could still use Suan Amphon we would, but there might be some reason that we can’t use it anymore,” she said.

First held in 1922, the annual Red Cross Fair draws visitors to its numerous booths and raffles. It was held every year, even under Japanese occupation though at another location, until 2017’s period of national mourning imposed after the death of King Rama IX.

Of course, there’s a silence in the report. When Red Cross spokeswoman Chananya says:  “If we could still use Suan Amphon we would, but there might be some reason that we can’t use it anymore…”, the reason is left unspoken. The reason is that the king is taking back the whole area of the so-called Royal Plaza for political and personal reasons. The political reason is to erase all legacies of 1932. That’s a passion he shared with his father, although the king seems more determined even that his father was. The personal seems to be a desire to develop a lavish and large palace precinct.