Abhisit, Yingluck and ISOC

29 09 2011

It was always kind of assumed that the Abhisit Vejjajiva government used the Internal Security Operations Command for its own political purposes. However, it is good to see this confirmed in the Bangkok Post.

The Post points out that ISOC “has become the latest battlefield amid continuing power struggles that the Yingluck Shinawatra government and the army commander are struggling to contain.”

The report states:

The past government led by the Democrat [Party]… reportedly exploited the Isoc’s vast networks, all the way down to community level, to promote itself and block deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra from returning to Thailand, and to fight _unsuccessfully _ the Pheu Thai Party’s rise to power.

At that time, Abhisit Vejjajiva, then prime minister, held the ex officio position of Isoc director and assigned army chief and deputy Isoc director Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha to act on his behalf.

In essence, the last government teamed up with the army chief and army chief-of-staff Gen Dapong Ratanasuwan, who is secretary-general to the Isoc, to direct the organisation.

At that time, friends of Gen Prayuth and Gen Dapong from Class 12 at the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School were appointed to all commanding positions at the Isoc.

The unit’s annual budget is more than 8 billion baht.

Further:

during the Democrat [Party] tenure, the Isoc also implemented a so-called economic solution project. It was reported that this was actually aimed at convincing people, especially in the North and the Northeast, not to support the Pheu Thai Party.

The Isoc also implemented an anti-narcotics campaign before the July 3 election. The campaign was viewed as an attempt to tame Pheu Thai canvassers.

Abhisit and his government politicized this organization and was supported enthusiatically by the military’s leadership. Puea Thai wants to claw this back. It should.

However, Yingluck did this by trying to appoint the horrid Panlop Pinmanee to be “the government’s chief advisor,” this has been opposed by many (including PPT). It is also opposed by Army boss General Prayuth, but for different and highly political reasons.

Prayuth wants to retain control. He is battling to keep the Puea Thai Party government from controlling the major security organizations.





Baby steps and backward steps

21 09 2011

While there has been some good news on the new government, especially in recent days, there are also some odd reverses being reported.

Good news has come with, for example, Yingluck Shinawatra’s statement that lese majeste is to be addressed. Bad news is seen in a report from Prachatai where it is revealed that Minister of Interior Yongyuth Wichaidit has had the not too bright idea that the previous government wasn’t all that good at protecting the monarchy.

PPT might agree if Yongyuth meant that the emphasis on lese majeste and the monarchy’s willing political entanglements had done little more than reveal the true nature of the monarchy and its associated regime.

Yongyuth, however, states that the monarchy is “above” policy and “to protect the institution was the soul and spirit inherent in the blood of all Thai people.” That’s royalist nonsense and ahistorical drivel. But then this bombshell:

The government has the idea to revive village scouts in concrete form for the sake of the reconciliation of Thais to encourage them to love the country and religion, and to be an important force in the future.  No budget will be allocated for this, but [the government] will promote the idea of sacrificing for the country.  And the main task is to fight the drugs problem….

PPT recognises that there is some mixing of policies going on here, but the sentiment associated with “reviving” the village scouts is truly retrograde. Of course, the scouts were never gone. They may have aged, been turned into cyber-scouts seeking out lese majeste, and so on, but they remained close to the Border Patrol Police and cherished their links to the monarchy (see the scan of the first page of an old academic article (left). Here is how they were described in the official U.S. history of the period:

Political tensions between leftist and rightist forces reached a bloody climax in October 1976. On October 5, right-wing newspapers in the capital published a photograph of student demonstrators at Thammasat University reenacting the strangling and hanging of two student protestors by police the previous month. The photograph, which was later found to have been altered, showed one of the students as being made up to resemble the king’s son, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. The right wing perceived the demonstration as a damning act of lèse-majeste. That evening police surrounded the campus of Thammasat University, where 2,000 students were holding a sit-in. Fighting between students and police (including contingents of the paramilitary Border Patrol Police) broke out. The following day, groups of Nawa Phon, Red Gaurs, and Village Scouts “shock troops” surged onto the campus and launched a bloody assault in which hundreds of students were killed and wounded and more than 1,000 arrested. That evening the military seized power, established the National Administrative Reform Council (NARC), and ended that phase of Thailand’s intermittent experimentation with democracy.

The idea of re-engaging the right-wing village scouts belongs to the right-wing of the 1970s and the Jurassic royalist elite of today, not to any serious government.

A second story that reminds PPT of old days and bygone ideas is the Bangkok Post report that the self-proclaimed killer General Panlop Pinmanee is an adviser to Prime Minister Yingluck and wants his old job back at the International Security Operations Command (ISOC).

It isn’t that often that we agree with both the Post’s yellow-hued opinion page scribes and with the bitter Suthep Thaugsuban on anything. However, we agree that the ever-ambitious Panlop is simply someone who should be bypassed. In fact, he is another general who should be tried for his abuses over many years.

Panlop was once accused of involvement in an assassination attempt on Thaksin. Panlop denied this in a curious way:

Thaksin sacked Pallop, a retired Army general, after a car belonging to an Isoc officer was found packed with a significant amount of explosives and parked near the prime minister’s residence on the route normally taken by his motorcade.

The officer, Army Lieutenant Thawatchai Klinchana, was later arrested and charged with possessing explosive materials, including TNT, without a permit.

“You know me. If I was behind it, I would not have missed,” Pallop, visibly shaken, said. “I wouldn’t have sent Thawatchai to drive around Thaksin’s residence. I would have set it off without any warning.”

The officer involved was Panlop’s driver. Panlop explained he was an experienced leader of “death squads,” so he would not have pussy-footed around in killing the premier.By 2008, Panlop was a yellow shirt (see picture right).

Oddly, Panlop later went over to Thaksin’s side and was a divisive but dangerous figure, apparently accepted because he was prepared to spill the beans on royalist coup plotters.

Prior to this, Panlop was already notorious for his murderous actions at the Krue Se mosque. This is Wikipedia’s account:

It was revealed that Pallop’s order to storm the mosque contravened a direct order by Defense Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to seek a peaceful resolution to the stand-off no matter how long it took. Pallop was immediately ordered out of the area, and later tendered his resignation as commander of the Southern Peace Enhancement Center. The forward command of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), which Pallop headed, was also dissolved. A government investigative commission found that the security forces had over-reacted. The Asian Centre for Human Rights questioned the independence and impartiality of the investigative commission. In 3 May 2004 during a Senate hearing, Senator Kraisak Choonhavan, noted that most of those killed at Krue Se Mosque were shot in the head and there were signs that rope had been tied around their wrists.

Why anyone would even think of dealing with Panlop is remarkable statement of extreme pragmatism. But Panlop says “he was ready to work there [ISOC] once he was ordered to do so.” Let’s hope the order never comes and this ambitious old man is sent packing or down with the navy’s submarines.

These are worrying and contradictory times.





Red shirts as communists

18 05 2010

PPT is having difficulty posting on things other than current events. However, we wish to comment on an Asia Times Online report from 13 May 2010 by William Barnes. Barnes is a journalist with long experience in Thailand and has a bit of a scoop in getting Therdpoum Chaidee, a former communist and union leader from the 1970s to speak to him about the red shirts.

Therdpoum, if PPT’s memory is correct, was a strong supporter of the People’s Alliance for Democracy. But as a former member of the CPT, he can claim to have been a “colleague of key protest leaders” of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship’s (UDD). His argument is that the “relative success of Thailand’s red-garbed anti-government protest group in outmaneuvering the government and military owes much to Maoist revolutionary thought and guerrilla tactics.”

PPT is not sure how much credibility to give such a claim when the PAD were supported by many former members of the CPT – at one time they had almost the whole last politburo of the CPT on stage! This point is made later in the article. However, the attempt to link red shirts to communists is at least an interesting claim to make,and not for the first time.

The claim is that some of the red shirt leaders learned their political strategies with the CPT. We suppose that is a truism, but what is claimed? The main point seems to be that the CPT decided that “strategy has necessarily required violence…”. Well, yes, they were fighting a people’s war. And it is that claim that was made earlier , for red shirts. But it wasn’t the CPT red shirts making the claim. Rather it was their former enemies from the military – Seh Daeng and Panlop Pinmanee.

If the CPT-ified strategy was to use the “threat of violence, to divide and immobilize Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government,” it hasn’t worked. Therdpoom is cited on old CPT strategy: “The revolution walks on two legs. One political leg and one army leg. Violence is the essential ingredient in the mix. That is what we were taught,” but is this a “revolutionary situation”? The claim is that the “UDD has publicly portrayed itself as a non-violent, pro-democracy movement, a line many international media outlets have perpetuated.” That’s only partly true. The international media has spent a lot of time trying to show that some red shirts are armed.

It is said that “UDD leaders have threatened ‘civil war’ if security forces crack down on their supporters…”. Again, that’s partly true. The red shirts have warned of a civil war if there is a crackdown, as a consequence of such an action. And, Abhisit has used the term as a threat and claimed the need to crackdown to avoid a civil war.

The article spends some time on Thaksin, but doesn’t explain how this big-time capitalist has become a communist…. Or why the red shirt demand has been for a dissolution of parliament rather than a revolution (although there might be a hint of republicanism as being revolutionary, but that would be a bit of a yawn for a communist revolutionary).

Therdpoum claims that the “people who are the real planners, not the people up on stage making protest speeches, these people probably keep a very low profile, but they must calculate that aggression is vital…. Aggression paralyzes and divides opponents. This is what we were taught, this is how a smaller force can defeat overwhelming power. The message was: divide and conquer.” This claim is one that does the rounds regularly amongst academics and journalists – that the on-stage red shirt leaders are stooges (usually for Thaksin).

Therdpoum is said to have been a communist but “later renounced the ideology.” It says that , Seksan Prasertkun and “current UDD leaders Weng Tochirakan and Jaran Dittapichai, were drilled in Maoist revolutionary theory” in Hanoi.

PPT is unable to immediately check this for accuracy; maybe a reader can confirm or deny it.

The “five tactics they learned for unseating a government included: divide your enemies; form a united front; use provocative violence; secure the loyalty of people inside the ruling regime; and, finally, win over the army.” He adds: “That is what we have seen. The government people have been quarrelling about what to do. Some senior figures have a divided loyalty. The army and the police cannot move. Provocative violence has been very successful…”.

The article suggests that the UDD’s shunning of  “hard policy debates in favor of simple credos of justice denied and the hypocrisy of elites” is communist strategy. PPT doesn’t recall a lot of hard policy from the yellow shirts either, and this is suggestive of street and rally politics rather than communism.

The claim that the red shirts have been “pumped full of toy-town leftism and told to hate every institution that has held this country together” is a somewhat arrogant claim made by Therdphoom. PPT attended a number of red shirt rallies and saw none of this. Some of the red shirt literature is more leftist, deriving from particular groups, but that is more sphisticated than Therdphoom allows. He seems to have become a monarchist and that is where his fear lies: “I worry that the bitterness and hatred produced by this propaganda now runs so deep it will cause tension and problems for a long time…”.

He claims: “Many of them [red shirts] are now absolutely convinced that Thaksin was the best leader in Thai history, that he was a kind and generous man who holds the solution to all their problems. They don’t need a program – they just need a new Thai state with Thaksin in charge. It has become very emotional – as it was designed to be…”.

PPT agrees that many red shirts are convinced that they did better under Thaksin than any previous leader. We disagree that the idea that Thaksin should return to head government is so widely held. But if we are talking of beliefs held, perhaps Therdphoom should also ask why his allies simply hate Thaksin and think that all his supporters are ignorant, duped or paid.

Therdphoom makes a claim that yellow-shirted intellectuals and journalists are passing about: “The red shirts …  now… [have] a hand-picked core of ‘professional revolutionaries’ chosen for their loyalty and street smarts…”. These people hide the “deep secrets” and “hidden messages” that are “revealed to only a privileged few in the movement, while an even smaller number know the entire strategy…”.

It seems that “Therdpoum believes that the UDD’s sincere left-wing members are using Thaksin and anticipate the opportunity to eventually dump his personal agenda in favor of the establishment of a more socialist society. Some of the former communists who took up arms and fled into the jungle in the 1970s and 1980s and were once in Thaksin’s inner circle include Prommin Lertsuridej, Phumtham Wechayachai, Sutham Saengprathum, Phinit Jarusombat, Adisorn Piangket and Kriangkamon Laohapairot.”

But, as the article points out after mischievously naming these people: “Its unclear how many of those former communists are now active from behind-the-scenes in the UDD’s planning and strategy.”

The article’s author claims that “UDD organizer Jaran Dittapichai told this correspondent that the protest group had adopted ‘Mao Zedong’s method of thinking’ and some of his techniques, including the establishment of a united front.” But this seems to amount to nothing when Jaran adds: “I was a communist and several leaders were former communists … but the red shirt people don’t like communism or socialism. We use his principles to build up our front and to work with people who are not red shirts, but who are fighting for democracy like us.” In other words, they adopt united front tactics that long predate Mao. In any case, Mao’s main revolutionary strategy was countryside encircling the cities and peasant revolution. The current actions look more like the Paris Commune than a rural-based armed revolution.

While it is interesting to be regaled by former CPT member Therdphoom, his ideas amount to little more than a guess, made into a rumor that satisfies some in the trembling middle classes who fear that the red shirts are cousins of the Khmer Rouge.





Red/yellow differences and political tactics

26 03 2010

PPT seldom cites Thanong Khanthong as an accurate source for anything other than the views that circulate in the yellow-shirt rumor mill or for opinions filched from the ASTV/Manager. He is one of those “opinion” page writers who thinks that any opinion, no matter how outlandish, deserves to matter, even when it is built on everything other than a verifiable source.

In The Nation (26 March 2010) opinion pages today, Thanong has his usual mix of old and new rumors, but he also reveals a strange irritation that the current red shirt rally has been non-violent. He seems to share the opinion of the horrid General Panlop Pinmanee who more than a week ago said the red-shirt rally was failing because it was more dramatic. Thanong concludes: “Without a dramatic physical clash, there is no way the red shirts have bargaining power over the government.”

He later blames all the little bombs going off on the red shirts, suggesting their “true” core, but doesn’t explain why he arrives at this position in the absence of any evidence.

Thanong also seems miffed by what he sees as the red shirts changing their demands and he lists a bunch of what he claims these are. PPT isn’t sure what he does with his time, but all the “demands” he lists have been a part of the red shirt discourse for some time. We get the feeling that Thanong is complaining that these red shirt positions on amart, inequality, double standards and so on have actually move the political discourse onto their turf.

Then he makes some quite accurate comments regarding the differences between the red shirt protest and the yellow-shirted People’s Alliance for Democracy. Thanong says the “red shirts do not enjoy the luxury of time as the yellow shirts did in 2008 when they staged a marathon rally before succeeding in seeing out the Samak and Somchai governments. Then, the military, the judiciary and the Bangkok middle-class appeared to play the same tune with the yellow shirts. Even so it took 193 days to unseat two governments.” In fact “appeared” is not a strong enough word. There’s no doubt that these three groups gave whole-hearted support to PAD and its mission. Sounding very much like a Democrat Party politician PPT heard, Thanong says the “red shirts are only getting support from the police.” He continues: The Bangkok middle-class, the military and the judiciary are not on their side.

Thanong’s conclusion is that “it is almost impossible for the red shirts to force out Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva through the normal game of Thai politics. And adds, “Abhisit understands the game, so he is in no hurry to hold talks with the red shirts. In fact, it’s unlikely he would hold any formal talks with the protest leaders.” In any case, Thanong says that if the red shirts “want to talk about social injustice, Abhisit would be happy to dish out some populist policies in exchange crowd dispersal.

PPT thinks Thanong is correct to observe the differences in the red shirt and yellow shirt rallying. He is also right to consider that Abhisit is unlikely to do anything serious about negotiating.

The government’s control of the media means that it can manage the messages and images projected. It seems the government is happy enough for its supporters to arrange small, media-oriented “demonstrations” of support from what the media portray as the “silent majority,” to promote huge displays of military “security” and to let the small bombs maintain “the fear” amongst the middle class and hope that the red shirt staying power declines.

Of course, in a volatile environment, things can change rapidly. Recall the boost PAD got when violence erupted on 7 October 2008. However, Thanong’s assessment of the red shirt need for violence seems misplaced in circumstances where the red shirt discourse on power remains relatively strong despite government media dominance. But it is tough going for them to maintain the rally and the enthusiasm of supporters.





What a royalist says about politics

24 03 2010

It is always useful when royalists go into print and share their views on politics and the monarchy. Asia Times Online (24 March 2010) has just posted a long story and interview with never-elected prime minister and ardent royalist Anand Panyarachun. The article refers to Anand as a “palace insider [who] epitomizes the ammataya, or aristocratic elite, that Thailand’s red shirt-wearing United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) protest group claims to be up against in a ‘class war’ for democracy.”

As the article notes, the UDD sees Abhisit Vejjajiva and his government as being “propped up by conservative interests and criticized top royalists, including Privy Council members selected by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, as impediments to democracy.” Anand has long been a spruiker for the monarchy, especially to foreigners, and regularly recycles his Thai monarchy speech. He’s sometimes seen as a royalist who is also “liberal” in terms of politics and is an insider, being at the top of the board at the royal bank, the Siam Commercial Bank.

In this post, PPT simply provides a commentary on Anand’s comments to the ATO.

Anand might well be seen to be again displaying his alleged political liberalism when the ATO says that he believes “holding new elections would help to resolve the country’s escalating political crisis, but not be a cure-all.” He adds: “Elections cannot resolve everything, but they may be helpful in accelerating the resolution of the problem.”

PPT prefers to view Anand as a political conservative, and this article displays his political position quite well. In addition, it provides some useful insights into how the people at the top and around the palace think.

Take the election comment as a starting point. In an earlier speech, Anand had expressed dismay about “Western” complaints about the overthrow of Thaksin Shinawatra by the coup in 2006: “I never thought that some Westerners would equate elections with democracy.” And in this interview, when he speaks of elections, he’s not giving any ground to his opponents, predicting an election “next year.” Well, yes, that’s what’s supposed to happen as the government’s term expires at the end of next year. Only the UDD could derail this. Anand is firmly committed to the current order.

Like all good royalists, Anand believes that democracy is not really what Thailand is about. “Thailand will continue to muddle through with its particular brand of democracy, which he describes loosely as an ‘ad-hocracy’ where politicians improvise and ‘roll with the punches’.” Thailand is different from the West, because “In Asian culture, particularly in Thailand, everything is personal. And that’s not good for democracy.” While Lee Kuan Yew might have pointed out that Asian-style democracy was not real democracy because of Confucian group orientation, Anand is essentially on the same conservative line – Asians are different.

What does Anand think of the UDD? He says “They must be bankrupt of ideas. And there’s no leadership. These three or four guys … use rhetoric all the time. They have no credibility. Some of the more credible figures in Thaksin’s camp never came out. [Former prime minister and Thaksin ally] Chavalit [Yongchaiyudh] disappeared. [Former Internal Security Operations Command deputy director] General Panlop [Pinmanee] is where? Nobody came out. I think in Chavalit’s mind he knew it was a lost cause, these demonstrations. And they must have spent a fortune.”

This is the view of a royalist insider. PPT wants to unpack it. The UDD is “bankrupt of ideas.” That’s a bit rich from the royalist camp that has been peddling the same monarchist ideas for decades. Aside from that, those who are “bankrupt of ideas” have succeeded in changing the political debate in Thailand. While much of the current media discussion of “class war” is a mulch of ideas from the Cold War and from the uninformed – here we mean from opponents of the red shirts – there’s no doubt that the political discourse is now of phrai, amat, double standards and inequality. Opponents and supporters alike have adopted this lexicon.

Even Anand is required to engage. He says: “When they try to incite demonstrations into a movement of class warfare, that will not work in Thailand. The communists tried 25 years ago. It will not work because there’s no such thing.” Not only does Anand forget how extensive the communist movement was in Thailand, but he uses the “communist” label to damn the current red shirt movement and scare the Bangkok middle class and elite.

None of the opponents of the red shirts consider that the rich and powerful in Thailand have been waging their own class war for decades. Worker and peasant movements have been repeatedly smashed and disorganized. Those from the lower classes who stick their heads up and refuse to be co-opted find life difficult, if they are permitted to keep breathing. Opponents of the monarchy are regularly threatened, charged and jailed with laws that provide and protect privilege.

On Chavalit, Anand is wrong, although not entirely so. At the beginning, Chavalit seemed reluctant to get involved and was in hospital. Now, however, he has provided his support and appeared on the red shirt rally stage with the leaders of the movement. With respect to Panlop, this is an odd comment. Anand says that Panlop is a “credible figure and yet the red shirt leadership wanted him sidelined because of his penchant for violent actions. The royalists and the government seem to want the red shirts to be constructed to fit their own propaganda and beliefs about the movement.

For Anand, as for Abhisit, all this trouble is Thaksin-related. Thaksin is surrounded by acolytes “of many kinds. Real converts. Some people genuinely fawn and worship Thaksin, but there are so many converts who do it for their own personal agenda, their own interests, their own financial interests. So he’s been hearing only one side of the story and I’m sure he was misled by these leaders who say they can embark on a very, very important, a very, very decisive sort of battle.” Thaksin has been misled by those who seek wealth. The refrain of being misled and paid usually refers to rural voters, so this is a neat twist. That said, isn’t the palace surrounded by acolytes of exactly the kind Anand says make up red shirts? Anand could fall into this category, and he hasn’t done all that badly by his own fawning.

At least the red shirts, with “all these antics and stunts” haven’t engaged in “violent actions.” Anand is thankful for that. And, despite being “bankrupt of ideas,” Anand does a mental backflip with a degree of difficulty of 4.5 and comes up with this: “Some of the issues raised by the red shirts are, in my view, valid…”. What might these ideas that are not bankrupt be? Anand says: “the widening gap between the rich and poor, unequal opportunities.” And making exactly the same comment as Abhisit – who’s coaching who? – Anand then says: “but they have existed for a long time in our history of democratic rule [huh?] and these issues have existed in all other societies, in other countries…. These issues are not newly invented and they did not happen in Thailand only in the last few years. Every government has tried to address these issues but nobody has a quick fix.” Maybe there’s no coaching and its just that position and privilege breeds a similar outlook.

Anand and Abhisit would love to think that they are right about these big and important issues. Are there really no changes in these patterns over time? Bangkok Pundit has an excellent post on exactly this issue related to wealth and income inequality, so there’s no need for PPT to repeat that. We’d just point out that governments regularly make decisions that change these patterns, in both the short and medium terms. The fact is that if you are in the bottom half of Thai society, most governments have changed these patterns for the worse. If you are up the top, you’ve generally done very nicely. Class war at work perhaps?

Getting truly, deeply royalist, Anand warns that the red shirts can’t be trusted: “I think there’s deep suspicion, rightly or wrongly, that the reds have some other issues under a hidden agenda. I think there is this confusion about the legitimate issues and, shall we say, illegitimate questions.” Of course, he means to imply that the “reds” as he calls them are really republicans.

PPT really appreciated Anand’s comment when asked under what circumstances Thaksin might return to Thailand. We had said some time ago that this palace has a long memory for its opponents and is remarkably resolute in dealing with them. So Anand’s comment is confirmation: “I don’t see much prospect of his return. I’m not quite sure his strategy is a correct one…. in the past two years he has been perceived, rightly or wrongly, to have gone beyond the point of return in terms of his rhetoric, in terms of his actions.”

After blathering on about the usual propaganda position on the monarch’s constitutional duties and rights, a la Bagehot, Anand sounds almost apologetic for the lack of reform – “evolutionizing itself” – in the monarchy. He complains that the Thai monarchy hasn’t had much time to reform and, he complains, “you have to be fair to us, sometimes we cannot go faster than what the people want.” Blame “the people,” for it is they who don’t want the monarchy to change. That’s the language of despots.

Anand continues to make another weird statement: “there is a deep affection and deep loyalty towards our King and our constitution by an overwhelming majority of the people.” Perhaps a slip of the tongue? For we know that there’s not nearly an overwhelming majority for the 2007 Constitution. For the king perhaps? Maybe, but who knows. Would anyone in their right mind ask the question in a survey, and would any sane person answer that they dislike the king?

Still, Anand knows that succession will inevitably see the supposed popularity decline. Even now, he estimates that 10-20% of the population does not want the monarchy. He adds that a further 20-40% don’t care all that much.

Bangkok Pundit also comments on this aspect of the story and is worth a read.

Anand seems to still support Abhisit and the Democrat Party and he is convinced that the “army is not that stupid. They know they bungled the last one and the coups in the past have never been able to resolve the nation’s problems.” PPT is sure that he is wrong. The army’s silent coup of 2008 showed that they learned that running a government was tough. So they sit behind the scenes and pull whatever levers or strings that are necessary. Brokering a government and standing behind it while that government doles out money and military hardware and allows the military to do pretty much as it pleases is a very neat strategy.





Red shirt debates

7 02 2010

When the People’s Alliance for Democracy was cranking up in 2005 there was an ever so brief brief moment when a broad coalition of anti-Thaksin Shinawatra groups seemed like a movement for democracy. PAD was soon taken over by the ego-driven Sondhi Limthongkul, a failed but resurrected media tycoon. His ethnic Chinese slogans, hyper-nationalism and wild black magic beliefs were soon on display as he linked with military, palace and security figures on the right.

The red shirts, so long lampooned by their opponents as little more than Thaksin acolytes, appear to have hit upon strategies with some broad traction – anti-coup, highlighting double standards. They also have a couple of recent victories against the military leadership and Privy Councilor Surayud Chulanont. Their smaller demonstrations have been highly effective. But for a while this week they seemed in danger of being shanghaied by the strange ideas of a couple of dangerous men.

The more democratic strategists amongst the red shirts have long cringed at being associated with General Panlop Pinmanee and Khattiya Sawasdipol (Seh Daeng). The unreformed right-wing military men are associated with some of the most evil elements of the post-Cold War Thai army. Vicious, manipulative and seemingly unprincipled nak leng, their antics of the past couple of days risk having the red shirt movement seen in the same light. (For readers unaware of the background of Panlop and Seh Daeng, just Google about a bit and prepare to be startled by their claims of political murder and so on.)

The Nation (5 February 2010) reports that both men recently met with Thaksin. On Wednesday, Panlop is reported to have said that an “armed offshoot” of the red shirts would be formed and that General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh “would lead the red shirts to victory.” Seh Daeng reportedly added that “the organisational structure of the opposition movement was now complete with Pheu Thai as the party, the red shirts as its front and the armed units.”

Other reports don’t refer to “arms” but to a “people’s army for democracy” or, as The Nation has it, bizarrely, a “People’s Army for Democracy under His Majesty the King.” PPT suspects that some of the mainstream media are beating the story up. Certainly, the yellow-shirt media has been strong in seeing a “people’s army” communism at work. As examples, see the remarkable bleating of Thanong Khanthong in The Nation (February 5, 2010) and of Boonlert Changyai in Matichon, summarized here.

As a footnote, Boonlert states that the real political competition is “between the Thaksin-backed Puea Thai Party and his red-shirt supporters on one side and Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda and the Abhisit Vejjajiva government on the other…”.

But back to Panlop and Khattiya. They demanded that the government “negotiate a settlement with Thaksin or risk facing an eruption of violence in which even Thaksin would not be able to control what the red shirts would do.”

That doesn’t sound like a “people’s army.In fact, in a later story, Panlopinsisted that the ‘people’s army’ would not be armed. However, it would be an effective people’s army which had clear policies and adhered to peaceful struggle. It should be able to draw more people to join it in a larger number than sympathisers of the red shirts…” (Bangkok Post, 6 February 2010). Perhaps, but the damage to the image of the red shirts has been significant.

Chavalit was forced to deny the claims, saying in The Nation, “I resumed my political activities because I aspire to bring about social unity, and peace by peaceful means…”. He added that “he was in complete agreement with ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who he believes is an advocate for peaceful means,” considering himself a “part of the movement to advance justice and democracy but not in a violent way.”

Red-shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan also “said his movement would not resort to violence and insisted its members would fight through peaceful means” (The Nation, 5 February 2010) for whom the civil war has begun.

Despite the backtracking Panlop and Seh Daeng have allowed the government and the military to engage in scare tactics, recall the Songkhran Uprising and to make preparations for violence, with (Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban saying that the “people’s army” statement is a “threat to national security.”

Panlop has now said that he has left the red shirts (Bangkok Post, 6 February 2010). Claiming that Jatuporn said he did not represent the views of the red shirts,” Panlop explained that he would end his participation in the UDD. If any serious incidents took place in February, it should be clear that he had anything to do with them.

Here’s the issue for the red shirt movement. Panlop and Seh Daeng might have their uses, but allowing them to have a high profile risks allowing the far right to take over the movement. That happened to PAD as the democratic and anti-royal groups were sidelined by a right wing led by Sonthi, Chamlong Srimuang and Prasong Soonsiri, in cahoots with the palace. A rightist takeover of the red shirts would doom it to a clash between rightist forces or worse, a deal amongst rightists. That’s bad for democracy and bad for human rights.





Panlop on inevitable violence

1 01 2010
The reprehensible multiple human rights abuser, General Pallop Pinmanee, now with the Peua Thai Party, has joined the chorus suggesting a “final showdown” is virtually inevitable (The Nation, 1 January 2010).

Panlop is pushing for an amnesty for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as “the only way to prevent political violence…”. He argues that a political resolution depends on whether “both sides are willing to accept each other’s terms.” If not, he predicted violence “by April.”

He also warned the military against staging another coup. He said that his side wanted only “amnesty to Thaksin,” warning that “if this is not met by the other party, it [conflict] is not likely to end. And if it doesn’t end, I’m afraid things will inevitably turn violent when [red shirts] assemble around February…”.

He called for negotiations. However, Panlop pointed out that the “government appears to have shut the door on such attempts and refused to accept the conditions put forward by Pheu Thai in its offer for national reconciliation…”. He also urged the government to speed up the red shirt royal pardon request for Thaksin.

Panlop warned that red-shirt protesters would not again back down as they did during April’s Songkhran Uprising and he noted that the “recent donning of a military uniform by Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda resembled an incident prior to the September 2006 coup.”

PPT has been pointing out that the yellow-shirt alliance appears to be coming together and preparing for a “final showdown” and it appears that the aged generals and the red shirt right-wing are content to stir this pot.

A reader suggests that rather than inevitable violence, this strategy is brinksmanship on the two sides. If it is, it is remarkably dangerous.





PAD rallies

15 11 2009

The Bangkok Post (15 November 2009: “PAD rally for the country, against Thaksin”) reports on the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) rally in Bangkok. Sounding rather like 1976, PAD called “on Thai people to help protect the national institution, religion and the monarchy.”

Some 10,000 people – about what the police had predicted – rallied at Sanam Luang “waving the national flags and signs with messages condemning ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.” PAD leaders accused Thaksin of “actions … treacherous to the country…”.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban explained: “The government is unbiased. The Internal Security Act is not enforced since the PAD has not moved to Government House yet…”. Suthep knows that his statement is untrue, for the ISA has been imposed for all red shirt rallies, with just one exception.

As some had predicted, there has been minor violence from a small explosion, with the Bangkok Post reporting a grenade attack “causing at least 10 injuries.” The attack came as “PAD core member and New Politics Party leader Sondhi Limthongkul was on the stage to deliver his speech on why the country needs a monarchy institution at around 8.55pm.” The “unidentified attacker on a motorcycle hurled a grenade towards the backstage, and quickly fled after the blast, the police said.”

The Nation (16 November 2009: “Five injured in blast at rally”) reports 5 injured and a man arrested. The rally continued.

Update 1: A more measured report is in from AFP. The AFP report has a crowd estimate of 20,000 (based on television coverage, this seems a better estimate) and an explosion but cite Sondhi as saying: “four protesters were hurt” when “two men on a motorcycle threw a firecracker.”  He gave no more details and police were investigating.

Update 2: As usual, New Mandala commentator Nick Nostitz has a perspective and some interesting pictures of this rally and the PAD rally in Bangkok, including pictures of those injured by the explosion. Note that Nick estimates 35,000 attending.

Update 3: Police claim that the explosion was caused by an M-79 grenade. They say that the attacker “launched the grenade with the M79 launcher from the City Pillar Shrine near Lod Canal, or about 350 metres away from the yellow-shirt gathering. The grenade’s trajectory indicated that it could not be thrown by a person from a close distance.” The report says 12 were injured.

PAD leader Sondhi is reported to have said “Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, the Puea Thai Party chairman, and Gen Panlop [Pinmanee], also a Puea Thai member, might be behind the attack.” Both deny involvement. The military has also denied involvement.

Update 4: From the rally, it is reported that PAD leaders claimed that the “event was ‘colourless’ (without political stripes)” but also urged all people “to put aside their political beliefs and unite behind the institution of the monarchy.” Sondhi said: “The nation comes before colours.”

He also said that “PAD would hold another gathering on Dec 5, His Majesty’s birthday,” and called for “the annihilation of “traitors”. Phibhop Dhongchai, another PAD core leader, read out a six-point statement stressing that Thailand is indivisible and will always be governed by its constitutional monarchy.

PAD also criticized Thaksin “for damage he has inflicted on the country,” and for “acts of treason by conspiring with the enemy, understood to be Hun Sen, in undermining the country’s stability. PAD also attacked Hun Sen.

Small PAD rallies were also reported in Yala and Satun.





Thaksin assassination case

19 08 2009

Back in the days when Thaksin Shinawatra was still prime minister he claimed that he was the target of more than one assassination attempt. The most widely publicized was a car bomb in August 2006.See another Nation story here. Photos of the car and explosives are available.

See the Reuters report here, which includes the wondrous quote from Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) man Panlop Pinmanee who was accused of involvement. Panlop told reporters he had nothing to do with any plot, but that if he had wanted Thaksin dead, he would be dead. He explained that he was experienced at organizing death squads, and said: “It’s impossible that I would assassinate the prime minister. If had wanted to do it, I would have done it more subtly…”, adding, “If I had wanted to kill him, the prime minister would not have escaped.”

At the time, anti-Thaksin personalities ridiculed the whole idea, with some even suggesting that Thaksin had staged a publicity stunt or worse. One commentator stated that the assassination claim was: “a claim that few believed and many saw either as a bid for sympathy or a cover for a security crackdown by loyalists or both.

For a while the case seemed to go away, especially under the military-backed government led by privy councilor Surayud Chulanont, when it seemed that the lower-level military accused of involvement would not be subject to serious investigation. However, back in June, it was reported that progress was being made on the case when a verdict was postponed by the military court.

Now the Bangkok Post (19 August 2009: “Jail terms in Thaksin ‘car bomb’ case”) reports that the verdict has been delivered. The “Bangkok Military Court cleared three suspects of the charge of attempting to murder prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006, but jailed them for illegal possession of explosives and firearms.”

ISOC men Lieutenant Thawatchai Klinchana, Colonel Surapol Supradit and Lieutenant-Colonel Manas Sukprasert were “sentenced the three to six years imprisonment and a fine of 4,000 baht each for illegal possession of explosives and firearms.” Apparently the court considered that there was insufficient evidence to convict them of the car bomb assassination plot. Why? Because a “body search of Lt Thawatchai [who had been driving the car and] who was arrested that day, had not found any evidence of a device to activate the explosives in the vehicle…”.

So despite the failure to convict these military men on the assassination attempt, that the conviction on illegal possession of explosives and firearms shows that there was a plot to kill Thaksin. The masterminds were not and probably will not ever be found, but the coup that followed suggests that the military and palace, who planned and ran the coup, probably saw the coup as Plan B after the assassination plots failed.

Update: The Bangkok Post (20 August 2009: “Officers cleared of attempt to assassinate Thaksin”) uses this somewhat daft headline to kind of assert that there was no assassination bid against Thaksin. The reason is explained: “The court acquitted the three of the attempted murder charge after it heard the bombs had not been wired to go off, that Lt Thawatchai had not held a remote control to detonate them, and Thaksin’s limousine had already passed the flyover.”

This is the kind of reporting that is infuriating for some. One can say “read between the lines” or one can just say that the reporter is being dumb. PPT is not sure which, but the idea that military men can drive around in cars full of explosives, park it on the prime minister’s normal route, and that this is not an assassination bid is just dumb. But then again, those who tried to kill Sondhi Limthongkul seemed to fire hundreds of rounds without killing anyone.

Perhaps Thaksin and Sondhi are lucky that the military is just so hopeless and incompetent in Thailand. However, the idea of measuring competence by successful assassination of political figures is distasteful.





Surayud, the Privy Council, Piya Malakul and the 2006 coup

29 03 2009

Reports flowing from deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s accusations regarding moves to oust him, which eventually led to the 2006 coup, are coming thick and fast. PPT reports them here because they are revealing details about the political events of 2005 and 2006 that have resulted in both deep political divisions in Thailand and the increased use of lesé majesté charges in highly political ways.

In his denial that he was involved in planning Thaksin Shinawatra’s downfall, Privy Councilor (at the time and again now) General Surayud Chulanont (in the Bangkok Post, 29 March 2009: “Surayud says Thaksin coup claim untrue”) is reported to have said that he had “no desire nor was in any position to plot the overthrow of Thaksin.” Even so, the report states that Surayud is considering the call from General Panlop Pinmanee for him to quit the Privy Council.

The Post report has more details than the one in The Nation, mentioned by PPT in an earlier post, and reveals that “he had met prominent judges at the Sukhumvit residence of Piya Malakul, chairman of Pacific Intercommunications company, in early May 2006 as claimed by Thaksin.” It is added that Surayud stated that those at the dinner “never discussed any plan to organise a coup.” The General also “conceded [that] Panlop Pinmanee, the former deputy director of the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) – whom Thaksin claimed had leaked the coup plot involving Gen Surayud to him – was also at the meeting.” Surayud says that “everyone was exchanging views on national affairs over dinner…” but “We never drew any conclusion about seizing power…”. He also is reported to have said that he went to the dinner because, “As a privy councillor, he needed to be well-informed, meet people and seek out information.”

Further, General Surayud is reported as denying “Thaksin’s allegation he had informed His Majesty the King that Thaksin did not respect the monarchy. The accusation was baseless, as were claims he volunteered before the King to topple the government, Gen Surayud said, adding Thaksin was always paranoid about a coup…. He had no idea why Thaksin attacked him and Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda.”

Meanwhile, Vice Admiral Pachun Tampratheep, an aide to General Prem, said “Thaksin often made veiled references to Gen Prem as a person behind moves to remove him. He said he was not worried those accusations would paint the Privy Council in a negative light as Thaksin loyalists never viewed the council positively anyway. Many people still had faith in Gen Prem, said Vice-Adm Pachun.”

In a related report in The Nation (29 March 2009: “Piya defends Surayud”), Piya Malakul has defended and supported General Surayud. Piya is reported to have claimed that “It was just ‘a dinner among friends.’ It wasn’t, as alleged by former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra, a ‘secret meeting to plot the Sept 19, 2006 coup.’ Piya said. Piya told Matichon Online that he had hosted the dinner after His Majesty the King had on April 25, the same year, urged the judges … to find a solution to the country’s political crisis at the time.” Piya added, “I only wanted to hear what the country’s top judges who happened to be my friends had to say about the situation…”. Surayud, in the Post reports, claims that he only personally knew Supreme Administrative Court President Ackaratorn Chularat.

The Nation links to one of their blogs, Thai Talk, by Suthichai Yoon (29 March 2009: “Piya Malakul, the dinner host, said there was no talk of coup”). Drawing from Matichon (29 March 2009: “ปีย์ มาลากุล เปิดตัวยัน สุรยุทธ์ ถก 3บิ๊กตุลาการ”ปัดวางแผนรัฐประหาร แค่ดินเนอร์-แม้ว-อ้อ ก็เคยมา”), the report continues: “He [Piya] first invited Mr Akrathorn Chullarat, President of  the Administrative Court, and Mr Chanchai Likhitchitta, President of the Supreme Court, to the dinner. ‘I had known Mr Akrathorn since we were both boys,’ Piya said. He then called up Gen Surayud and Mr Pramote Nakhonthap, an academic, to invite them to join the dinner. Mr Charan Pakdithanakul, then secretary general of the Supreme Court’s President and currently a member of the Constitutional Court, also joined the dinner.” Piya is adamant: “I can confirm that there was no talk of a coup or about who was going to get what position. There was not a single military officer there. How could we discuss a coup?”

According to Matichon, the 7 attendees at the dinner were Piya, Surayud, Panlop, Ackaratorn, Charnchai Likhitjitta, Charan Pakdithanakul and Pramote Nakornthap. Each of these persons has had particularly high profile roles that have impacted political developments since April 2006.

Piya Malakul na Ayuthaya is a 72 year businessman with close palace connections. Matichon includes extensive details about Piya, in Thai. Other available information on this seemingly colourful and influential figure:

Paul Handley (Asia Sentinel, 8 September 2008: “The King Never Smiles: Book Excerpt”) refers to Piya’s role in 1992 and calls him the “king’s media adviser” and a “palace agent.” In the agitation over Thaksin’s letter to President Bush, Piya is mentioned as one of those who perhaps leaked the letter and promoted the response against Thaksin.

In a note to the McCargo and Ukrist book, The Thaksinization of Thailand, Piya and Pacific Intercommunications are mentioned. The company lost valuable contracts with the army after Thaksin reorganized the military hierarchy in late 2003 (also here). In the struggles for control of iTV, Piya, who was iTV’s vice chairman in charge of news operations, “was removed from the editorial board after he criticised the ‘politicisation in favour of the owner and candidate’,” referring to Thaksin.

When Pramual Rujanaseri’s controversial book (Phrarajaamnat or The Royal Prerogative) came out, the author stated that Piya, an editor at Advance Publishing Company, stated that the king liked his book. The book was very popular, not least amongst PAD leaders like Sondhi Limthongkul.

During his short time as prime minister in 2008, Samak Sundaravej claimed that a “half-bald man” he called Ai Terk was undermining the government and country. It is believed that he refered to Pin.