Controlling media

19 02 2019

It seems that “fake news” is news that someone influential doesn’t like. A report on the military junta and “fake news” caught our attention.

The junta is reported as ordering “state agencies to issue immediate clarifications to counter distorted news in the run-up to the March 24 election.”

Deputy junta spokeswoman, Col Sirichan Ngathong said “[c]ertain pieces of information made available to people were embellished to give certain political camps the upper hand over their rivals…”.

The junta will use state agencies and its media resources to “prevent or curb distortion.” That sounds a heck of a lot like controlling the news for the junta’s party, Palang Pracharath.

With its own party running in the election and its head, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha as that party’s candidate, having the junta and “government agencies are working together to maintain peace and order and related authorities will meet people to disseminate correct and accurate information” sounds a lot like manipulating the media and using state resources for political advantage. This manipulation is made clearer still when it is candidate-prime minister-dictator-general-prime minister Gen Prayuth who is issuing the instructions.

The Election Commission should be investigating. It won’t because it mostly acts on the junta’s instructions.

While on the EC, a reader wondered if the silent partner in Palang Pracharath, Somkid Jatusripitak hadn’t said just a little too much about the political manipulation of the junta when he was quoted in a recent Bangkok Post story (see the clip on right).

We guess the EC won’t be interested in that either.

Updated: Nothing seems to change

19 02 2019

The reporting over the last few days seems to suggest little has changed in over a decade of military coups, elected governments illegally thrown out, scores of deaths and mass street demonstrations.

In observing this, we are leaving aside the continuing speculation regarding Thaksin Shinawatra’s failed bid to make a (semi-) royal fruitcake a prime minister. Those guesses range on a spectrum from the events were out of the box to ordinary, that they weakened the king or made him stronger, that the king knew what was going on or he didn’t, and even resurrect some perspectives from the 1950s to try to explain various scenarios. And there’s still the misleading view that Thailand is somewhere on a road to democracy. And that’s all from the same source in several articles.

But back to the nothing-much-changes idea.

First, we see The Dictator showing himself for his Palang Pracharath Party and the party using his picture on campaign posters while he remains deeply engaged in all kinds of state activities, spending and so on.

Meanwhile, his former boss, brother-in-arms and Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paochinda has “defended his [now] boss … by insisting that junta leader-cum-Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha should not step down before the royal coronation takes place in two months.”

Here the point being made to the electorate is that only The Dictator and the military can be “trusted” as loyalists. It was the anti-democrats of the People’s Alliance fro Democracy that proclaimed loyalty as a political issue of the era by donning royal yellow.

Second, to make the point about loyalty, none other than anti-democrat Suthep Thaugsuban is quoted as declaring that only a vote for his party (and pro-junta parties) “can prevent Thaksin Shinawatra from returning to power through its proxy parties…”. That’s a refrain widely heard from the anti-democrats for over a decade. And, Suthep appears to be admitting the electoral strength of the pro-Thaksin parties, something seen in every election from 2000 to 2011, when elections were free and fair.

Suthep’s claims that the anti-democrats could keep Thaksin’s “proxies” out saw him drawing on the experience of the repressive actions of the junta in forcing through its 2016 constitution draft in a “referendum.” Perhaps he expects/hopes for similar cheating in the junta’s “election.”

And third, Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong, who himself wielded war weapons against red shirt protesters in 2010, and who refuses to rule out another coup, has again declared that he will not be controlled by “evil” politicians.

After the military budget increasing 24% under the junta, the notion that it might be cut by an elected government prompted the evil but loyal Gen Apirat to order the “ultra-rightist song ‘Nak Phaendin’ [Scum of the land] to be aired every day on 160 Army radio stations across the country…”. This anti-communist song from the 1970s – another period when the military murdered hundreds in the name of the monarchy – was to be played twice a day. It was also to be played at the Ministry of Defense and and in all Army barracks:

The Army chief reasoned [PPT thinks that word is incorrect] earlier that the anthem broadcast was aimed at encouraging everyone to be aware of their duties and responsibilities towards the country.

The “duties” he means are to protect the monarchy and murder opponents of the military-monarchy alliance.

He was supported by Deputy Dictator, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, who supported the notion that politicians are “eveil” and deserve death at the hands of murderous loyalists. He said: “Listen to the song that the Army chief mentioned. Listen to it.”

Apirat partially revoked the order later, with the song continuing to be broadcast inside the Army Command at noon. As former Thammasat rector and historian Charnvit Kasetsiri expressed it,

Other than calling for a return to absolute monarchy, they’re now rehearsing ‘Scum of the Earth,’ too? History will repeat itself if we don’t learn from it. And where will that path take us? Better or worse?

It leaves Thailand in its ultra-conservative, ultra-royalist time warp.

Clearly, the Army commander and the Defense Minister are campaigning against pro-Thaksin parties and for The Dictator and the party of the rightists, Palang Pracharat.

That’s not new. Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, then head of the Army, demanded that voters reject Thaksin parties in 2011. However, this time, the threat is louder, nastier and very, very threatening.

Nothing much changes.

Update: PPT noticed that the Election Commission has issued a warning that “posting text, sharing or commenting on messages that defame political candidates violates the Computer Crime Act.” So how will the EC respond to Gen Apirat’s condemnation of Puea Thai and other pro-Thaksin parties as “scum” and actively campaigning against them? As a puppet agency our guess is that it will do nothing.

On the cheating campaign trail

17 02 2019

Thai PBS recently reported that The Dictator, in his role as prime minister “toured Bangkok’s … Chatuchak weekend market today (Saturday) and chatted with both vendors and shoppers.”

In fact, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha was campaigning for his Palang Pracharath Party.

As the party’s prime ministerial candidate, he was “[a]ccompanied by Deputy Prime Minister [Gen] Prawit Wongsuwan, Interior Minister [Gen] Anupong Paochinda and Deputy Transport Minister Pairin Chuchotethavorn…”.

The campaign message is clear, with the current and future prime minister appearing with the two generals who were with him in defeating the red shirts and overthrowing the last elected government. The old team is united, loyal  and ready to rule for another four years.

The Dictator stated that “the current Pheu Thai- Palang Prachart conflict spurred him on.” That is, only the devil party can defeat the disloyal Thaksinites.

Updated: Targeting The Dictator

15 02 2019

At least two legal moves that target the prime ministerial candidature of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha for Palang Pracharath are in the works.

The Nation reports that a “[p]ro-red shirt lawyer Winyat Chatmontree has … petitioned the E[lection] C[ommission] to consider disbanding the Phalang Pracharat Party, whose founding, he alleged, had outside influence.” That “outside influence” is identified as The Dictator. Winyat argues that the party is essentially a creation of the military junta and Gen Prayuth.

Winyat argued that the EC should “disqualify Prayut as a candidate for the post-election premiership because he is the incumbent premier and head of the National Council for Peace and Order and thus a state agent, and as such is legally prohibited from seeking any ministerial post.” He’s referring to section 98 of the junta’s constitution.

Winyat poked the EC, saying that it should make its decision speedily, as it did in the Thai Raksa Chart case, and thus avoid being seen to apply double standards. Doing otherwise, Winyat said, could see the EC “accused of being negligent in their duty.”

Meanwhile, as reported by the Bangkok Post, former policeman and leader of the Seri Ruam Thai Party, Pol Gen Seripisut Temiyavet:

… will ask the Election Commission to disband the pro-regime Palang Pracharath Party for nominating the man who seized power in a military coup as its prime ministerial candidate.

Pol Gen Seripisut said:

 I’d like to ask Khun Prayut: You seized power from someone else. Although you’ve been granted a royal pardon, is your action deemed hostile to the constitutional monarchy?

He also urged the EC to be evenhanded in making an expeditious ruling.

As a puppet agency, it would seem unlikely that the EC will act against The Dictator. After all, the “investigation” of Palang Pracharath’s banqueting case has conveniently been “forgotten.”

Update: Thai PBS reports that Winyat’s petition was made for the Puea Thai Party.

Analysis of recent events

15 02 2019

PPT has refrained from mentioning much of what passes for analysis of the events of the past week. One reason for this is that most of it has been highly speculative and bound in rumor.

Some self-styled analysts and quite a few academics have produced speculative accounts. Several managed to come up with different interpretations of the same events. Some have seemingly reproduced other accounts. Some of the more careful have come up with possible scenarios, allowing readers to choose the version that suits their perceptions and biases.

Perhaps that’s why PPT found New Mandala’s “Q&A: Supalak Ganjanakhundee on Thailand’s week of chaos” useful. Supalak is editor of The Nation. We highly recommend reading it, and we only present some highlighted bits and pieces here.

Supalak says that both Thai Raksa Chart and Puea Thai are under threat and the former will be dissolved by the Constitutional Court according to the so-called Royal Command:

The court will probably rule against the law, as the courts often do—the appeal to something outside the law, to make judgements on the law. If we are to make a clear argument, there is no legal status to the royal command.

The “election” campaign will now be dominated by the junta’s party attacking the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra parties as disloyal:

[Palang] Pracharat will try to create a political discourse against the Thaksin camp, by arguing that he brought the royal family into Thai politics—this is a dirty thing in Thai society. It’s not appropriate to have high society running in dirty politics. Now Pheu Thai is in a very awkward position indeed.

It is noted that Thaksin’s gambit was  not supported by many progressives who believe that there’s no place for royals in democratic politics. Supalak doesn’t rule out a pro-royalist alliance between Palang Pracharat and the Democrat Party.

The comment that “Thaksin underestimated the King” seems self-evident:

the royal command on Friday night was not a law. A royal command can only be applied within the [royal] house, not to people outside the house and particularly not in the political sphere. So it was logical for Thaksin. He might have calculated that this outcome was possible, but he underestimated the King. The other possibility is that the King changed his mind—otherwise Prayuth might not have shown his confidence by jumping into the game.

Later Supalak adds:

The royal command is an interpretation of the law…. The royal command has implied that if you’re born into the royal family, you cannot resign. I think that’s a very ambiguous interpretation to establish the monarchy above the law.

Supalak dismisses analysis that has the king commanding the military and opposed to the junta:

I don’t buy the theory that the King is so strong. I understand that he is trying to build the influence of his faction in the military…. His power is not—well, he could not have consolidated his power already. It will take time to have everything under his control. From my understanding, the military wants to have their own voice…. Now we live in a situation where the monarchy and the military are in tension over who will control who. It will take a few years for a clear picture to emerge….

The King commands loyalty from some factions of the military but people like Prawit and Prayuth want to be like people like Prem—middlemen between the palace and the military. They’re building their own regimes but this might also take time as they each hedge their bets.

In moving forward, Supalak is, in our view, making a good point in observing:

If you combine the idea of network monarchy and the deep state together, we might say that the overall effect is the emergence of some new regime that combines the military, the monarchy and capital. Big capital is always willing to support the monarchy, willing to support the military. Pracharat is the perfect model for combining royalty, the military and capital. The difficulty [in consolidating a model] is the unpredictable character of the King.

On the king’s politics:

… the monarch is not interested in institutionalising its power, working through laws, custom, norms and tradition. We cannot simply say—refer to the constitution for the role of the monarchy. Every constitution in recent history has been designed to enhance, not limit, the role of the monarchy. The trend is towards a direct form of rule. The people surrounding the King are not trying to institutionalise the monarchy.

On the future of free and open discussion:

The trend will not be an opening up [of discussion]. It will be a closing. Look at what the King has done since he took the throne—the message has been that he wants the country to be in order, disciplined. Look at the way he dealt with the constitution. He amended the constitution after the referendum—that’s the standard by which he exercises power. It’s not the rule of law. I really have little hope and will be pessimistic that our country will be ruled by the rule of law…. We are living with fear.

Updated: Doubling down on Thaksin II

13 02 2019

Gen Prayudh Chan-ocha reckons his “roles as prime minister and the [Palang Pracharath] PPRP’s prime ministerial candidate are two different things…”. The trouble is he is unable to distinguish between the two and neither can anyone else.

A good example is his continuing use of the media, The Dictator has “insisted he won’t end his role as the host of Sat Phra Racha Su Kan Phatthana Yang Yangyuen, which means “The King’s Philosophy for Sustainable Development”, a television programme that is aired every Friday night.”

Most observers would consider this a clear use of media for promoting the General-Candidate-Dictator. The double standards are obvious to all.

The double standards are further exemplified by his administration’s suspension “of digital TV broadcaster Voice TV for 15 days for allegedly airing provocative content.” Of course, Voice TV is identified by the junta as pro-Thaksin.

The Nation reports that this ban by the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission was ordered by NBTC commissioner Lt-General Perapong Manakit who declined “to specify details of the ‘provocative’ content…”. The content “was aired on the Tonight Thailand programme on December 16, as well as on Wakeup News on January 21, 28, 29 and on February 4.” It was mildly critical of the junta.

Criticizing the junta is not allowed, even in an election campaign where the junta has its own party and Gen Prayuth is its candidate for PM.

Prachatai notes that Sirote Klampaiboon, a political analyst for Voice TV, observed:

The closer to the election date, the freer the press should be. But today Voice TV may be suspended for 15 days. The screen will be black, meaning that when you turn on a TV, all of our programs will not be there. I don’t know if there are people in power ordering the involved organization to suspend us, but this is the disgusting use of state power to coerce the people. It is especially so when you want to resume your government, send ministers to set up parties to support their own partisans, and when the PM candidate of Phalang Pracharat has made phone calls to force every TV channel to broadcast one-sided of yours for 5 years.

The Bangkok Post reports that “Voice TV executive Mekin Petplai said the station would petition the Administrative Court, seeking compensation for damages which would total more than 100 million baht.”

The Nation notes that Voice TV “the NBTC over its decision to twice temporarily close down the TV station – in 2014 and in 2017 – and to suspend many of its programmes on 17 other occasions.”

Prachatai reproduces Makin’s press release.

With all the attention to the princess thing, it seems that the junta and its puppets are going for broke in making it less likely that pro-Thaksin parties will do well at the polls.

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that the “Thai Journalists Association, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association and the Online News Providers Association said Wednesday the NBTC must exercise its power wisely so as not to impede on freedom of the media.” They called on the NBTC “to review its order suspending Voice TV’s broadcasts for 15 days.”

Sadly, as has often been the case, these associations crawled before power, complaining that “controversial programmes should be dealt with case-by-case…” and “called on the media to act cautiously in reporting political news to ward off criticism they are acting in favour of any particular political parties. Additionally, they need to avoid any reporting or rhetoric that could spur divisions…”.

For years, these associations have unable to demand media freedom without spineless caveats.

Dissolving a Thaksin-related party

10 02 2019

Students remind us that the junta’s Palang Pracharath Party is meant to be under investigation by the Election Commission for its big bash banquet claimed to have raised shiploads of loot.

The EC said that “investigation” would take weeks.

A much faster “investigation” is promised for the Thaksin Shinawatra-linked Thai Raksa Chart Party. The Bangkok Post reports that royalists are pushing hard for the EC “to dissolve the Thai Raksa Chart Party for nominating Princess Ubolratana as its prime ministerial candidate, even though it has now agreed to withdraw the nomination.”

As we recently posted, rabid yellow shirt Paiboon Nititawan of the pro-junta People’s Reform Party asked the Election Commission to reject Ubolratana’s nomination. It seemed that Paiboon’s reasoning may have previewed the king’s announcement (although the timeline is a bit hard to discern).

Paiboon is now leading the push for the EC to follow the king’s on his sister’s political fun and games and sink the pro-Thaksin party.

Interestingly, Alan Dawson at the Bangkok Post observes:

In five days (or less), the Election Commission will drive a stake through the heart of TRC. What is unknown about unravelling the princess’ attempted political entry is whether it will once and for all end the ninth life of the man nicknamed Cat [Thaksin].

Paiboon “said it was evident in the royal announcement that the nomination of the princess was linked to the monarchy, whose members could not be involved in politics. Thai Raksa Chart must end everything…”. He means the party must self-dissolve or be dissolved and all of its nominations for constituencies and party list are finished and vanquished for this election.

Paiboon, who previewed the king, now says:

Bringing a high-ranking member of the royal family to politics, in whatever manner, is an act in violation of royal tradition and national culture and highly inappropriate….

He essentially claimed the king’s proclamation as law: “the royal announcement is very clear and people understand it.” He also:

cited Section 92 of the 2018 Political Party Act, which stipulates that the EC, after obtaining credible evidence that a political party has committed an act deemed hostile to the constitutional monarchy rule, must propose the dissolution of the party to the Constitutional Court.

Thai Raksa Chart has already cancelled several campaign events and two other pro-Thaksin parties are being very careful and quiet.

The EC has already stated it will consider the “case” on Monday.

It is anyone’s guess as to how great the damage to the Thaksin camp is. However, the main beneficiary will likely be the junta’s party.

Was this a plot, a plan or just fortunate for the anti-Thaksin camp? Was it a ruse to lead to the postponing or canceling of the “election”?