The election splurge II

3 12 2018

Just days after shoveling taxpayer funds out to shore up its electoral appeal, and soon after the devil party more-or-less officially stated that The Dictator is their man for the premiership after the election, the junta has come up with even more electoral giveaways.

This means that the de facto leader of the Palang Pracharath Party is Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha. So when The Dictator has his minions throw more money after votes, he does it for his party.

His latest scheme to pour funds into the party’s direction is seen by The Nation as blatant:

In a bid to garner popularity ahead of the election scheduled for February, the government has finalised plans to give more than 11 million low-income people free Internet SIM cards and other state subsidies that will together cost taxpayers billions of baht.

Mimicking Pansak Vinyaratn when he was with the Chatichai Choonhavan government in the late 1980s,

Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong said it would benefit farmers, for example, who could access market crop prices and other useful data in real time.

He said farmers would be able to follow price trends on low-cost smartphones so they could make more informed decisions on what and when to plant, avoiding issues like oversupply. The NBTC would work out the details, Apisak said, and low-income people other than farmers would also benefit from online access to improve their individual economic well-being.

As well as helicoptering cash, the new taxpayer-funded handout is the free internet access.

How much more will the junta shovel into the electorate in order to maintain its political control?

Yellow shirted anti-democrats reckon there’s nothing wrong with all of this. Look at Yingluck Shinawatra’s rice subsidy, they say. But they then forget that they demanded and got people jailed for years for this scheme. But no one is about to “investigate” the junta in they way they hounded Yingluck. Double standards? You bet.

 





Following the junta’s orders

4 07 2014

Every person in Thailand knows that the military junta wanted to direct what the constitution would look like, when they decide that the time is right to use a charter.

Interestingly, the Bangkok Post has reported on some of the requirements the dictatorship will ensure are in place.The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha is said to be “personally leading discussions on what should go into Thailand’s 18th constitution…”.

Junta boss Prayuth “chaired a meeting Thursday at army headquarters on Ratchadamnoen Avenue to examine details of the draft of the 45-section provisional charter…”. It was drawn up by a group of trusted royalist conservatives, including the detestable legal flunkey Wissanu Krea-ngam. He has reportedly “served seven different prime ministers and worked with ten different administrations throughout the course of his political career,” and that was only up to 2012. Now he serves another military dictatorship, doing its bidding on the charter. Here is an individual willing to do anything he is asked provided the fee is sufficient and the ego massaged sufficiently.

Wissanu Krua-ngarm (sometimes Krea-ngam), is a former deputy prime minister under Thaksin Shinawatra who jumped ship and went to the support of the royalists. Since then, he has accrued a remarkable number of company directorships, perhaps as his reward. He says these many corporate directorships and chairman positions for companies like Loxley Public Company Limited and Post Publishing Company Limited, are given to him because “those companies belong to my friends.” He was mentioned in a Wikileaks cable: “Prem [Tinsulanonda] had signaled his intentions and intimidated two cabinet members (Cabinet Secretary Borwornsak Uwanno and Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam) into resigning in June. Pansak [Vinyaratn] claimed that Prem had sent a clear signal by asking their view on whether constitutional provisions allowing the King to take on a political role might be invoked in the event of Thaksin’s death.”

The Post reports that the “draft interim charter provides for the establishment of a 200-member national legislative assembly, a 250-member national reform council and a 35-member constitution drafting committee responsible for writing a permanent charter.” All of those positions will be carefully screened by the junta. Apparently Wissanu needed only ten minutes to “brief” the junta on its basic “law.”

The interim charter gives the junta “special powers over the interim government to deal with security issues, as well as to grant amnesty to members of the junta who seized power from the Yingluck administration on May 22.”

Yes, you read it right, AMNESTY! PPT does recall that there was considerable disdain for the last effort to grant an amnesty, leading to large demonstrations that resulted in the anti-democratic movement and the opportunity for them and then the military to overthrow yet another government. Where are the complaints now? Back then, public pressure forced the Yingluck Shinawatra government to immediately withdraw its poorly conceived amnesty bill. Now, when a military junta wants an amnesty, there is not a peep from Bangkok’s anti-democratic middle class. Their bleating about amnesty turns out to be just one more example of enormous double standards.

The hireling explained that it was “normal” for those who ran unlawful coups to get amnesty. It is also normal for them to hire mouthpieces to say this for them. It may be normal on both counts, but it remains reprehensible.

One of the junta’s main “prescriptions” for the constitution is said to be “a measure to regulate national budget spending and prevent misspending of state funds on populist policies that would jeopardise the financial system…”. We assume that the junta will exclude its own populism from the requirement.

Wissanu was able to confirm that the military dictatorship is happy with his consultant services, and “there should be no problem with the draft and when the final document is ready…”. Of course not, for he just follows Prayuth’s directives. In fact, Prayuth reportedly instructed the legal flunkies “to make changes to the draft as suggested by the junta.” We suggest that Prayuth’s “suggestions” are orders.

These directives require the “reform council” demanded by Suthep Thaugsuban’s anti-democrats, making it clear that Suthep’s claims about his dealing and planning with Prayuth clear.





The northeast and politics

10 03 2013

At  the Huffington Post an op-ed by Stanley Weiss who “is founding chairman of Business Executives for National Security (a non-partisan organization of senior executives who contribute their expertise in the best practices of business to strengthening national security),” blah, blah, blah, who refers to the role played by Pansak Vinyaratn in linking Thaksin and his sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra:

Pansak (from Wikipedia Commons)

Pansak (from Wikipedia Commons)

Dubbed “Thaksin’s Oracle” in U.S. diplomatic dispatches revealed by the website “Wikileaks,” Pansak served as chief political advisor to Thaksin and serves as chief policy advisor to Yingluck. He has been at the heart of a strategy that has transformed rural [North] East Thailand into an economic powerhouse….

PPT readers will know about Pansak from a bunch of Wikileaks cables. Where the story gets interesting is in explaining Thaksin’s political success that Pansak makes some comments that interested PPT:

“A famous Cornell professor once lived in Northeast Thailand and came up with a term to describe the people there: cosmopolitan villagers,” Pansak tells me. “When the Thai party first started 11 years or so with Thaksin, we researched the northeast and found a net positive income — not from rice, but from other activities. Thai people in the northeast have more passports than Bangkok Chinese. They work in Gulf States and are cosmopolitan. We found that info and no one else cared.”

In fact, it wasn’t a Cornell professor, but Charles Keyes of the University of Washington in Seattle, and his “discovery” was long after Thaksin had come to power and been ditched by the palace-military coup. The “discovery,” if it was made back when Thaksin came to power and is not Pansak explaining in hindsight, is remarkable for the period in 2000-2001, when no other political party cared a fig for the Northeast:

The great innovation of Thaksin and Pansak (along with U.S.-trained academic Somkid Jatusripitak) was “the increased role of government in the allocation of credit,” as Chulalongkorn University Professor Pasuk Phongpaichit writes. But not just anywhere: “Thaksinomics” focused the government’s attention on the poor and rural areas of Thailand. Arguing that “a country is a company and a company is a country,” the self-described “CEO Prime Minister” approached the national economy like a business, looking for ways, as Pasuk explains, to “mobilize any dormant or unexploited assets including unused natural resources and neglected human resources.”

At the same time, the focus on farmers in these poor rural areas reflected Pansak’s earlier experience and ideas from the period when he worked with Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan, back in the late 1980s.The rest of the political story is well-known and Thaksin’s remarkable political longevity amongst people in the Northeast owes everything to his “populist” policy innovations.

Today Pansak says:

“The northeast keeps developing…. They have a more independent structure and exports are going straight to airfields. And VAT (tax) collection there has gone up by double digits. It’s a huge success story.”

“But,” he adds, “The Thai elite refuse to admit this success.”

Of course they don’t. They still imagine that the people of the Northeast are just cheap barbers, laborers, entertainers and waiters and waitresses who can be shoved around and exploited politically and economically. As the article explains:

Now that the poor and rural populations have awakened, there may be no turning back. “Thaksin let the genie out of the bottle,” a senior Western official tells me. “The northeast is tapped in and now awakened.”





“Journalism” in the parallel universe or reporting for The Nation

1 01 2013

Sometimes it is as if the journalists at The Nation live in a parallel universe. As an example, read the latest year-end assessment by three journalists – Somroutai Sapsomboon,
Kittipong Thavevong and Samudcha Hoonsara. Their view seems to be that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is lucky to have retained her position. Their headline is: “Yingluck enters 2013 a survivor.”Nation logo

They are writing about a premier who won a landslide election in July 2011 and retains a popularity in surveys that is well above that of opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva. So how is it that these journalists can begin their report with: “Thanks to powerful supporters, the PM has made it [survived] despite the brickbats”? They obviously don’t mean the electorate is considered amongst those “powerful supporters.” The norm in an electoral democracy is for a premier to maintain the broad support of the electorate and the confidence of parliament. Yingluck has both.

They go on to tell readers that Yingluck “has survived more than 15 months in office despite repeated attacks from critics and opposition politicians on her alleged ignorance, lack of political experience, and tendency to stay adrift of key issues.”

The point seems to be that there hasn’t been a military or judicial coup to oust yet another elected government. They seem to think that the real forces in politics, in the elite, the military and the palace would have or even should have chucked her out by now.

But these “journalists” refuse to give Yingluck any credit for her political “longevity”: she can only survive “thanks to support from many experienced and influential politicians behind her,” including “her brother Thaksin.” This statement is not one that expresses another norm of electoral politics – leaders have teams of advisers and have to deal with fractious issues. The Nation team seems to think that one-man politics (and “man” is probably the right term) is somehow better than working as a government and through parliament, for Yingluck is criticized as “invisible politically” and for insisting that “hot issues” are “matters for Parliament…”.

Worse, according to this set of “reporters,” Yingluck “needs much support and assistance … from experienced politicians and advisers in order to survive.” Her “political crime” seems to be that she has “trusted aides” and has advisers who “prepare her statements and often updates her on current affairs.” The idea of a Thai premier being advised and updated by experts and experienced politicians seems somehow anathema.

Of course, this is sour grapes journalism. The idea that Abhisit had no advisers is ludicrous when, say, Chuan Leekpai taking a significant role in dealing with major challenges for the Democrat Party and Abhisit. Thaksin relied on trusted advisers including Pansak Vinyaratn. And, we can hardly refer to earlier premiers like Chatichai Choonhavan without mentioning his group of advisers at Ban Phitsanulok.

When the report mentions Abhisit, it is a to make excuses for him and to criticize Yingluck for not (yet) having to face determined street politics. Abhisit “faced open shows of hatred … [and] was harassed often by small groups of red-shirt protesters in public.” And, of course, “Abhisit’s government was severely interrupted by the red shirts’ street protests in 2009 and the unrest and riots in 2010, which paralysed Bangkok for more than two months and led to more than 90 deaths under a government crackdown to end the stand-off.”

All of that excuses Abhisit’s politicized rule and the military- and palace-backed repression that caused a huge electoral backlash for an illegitimate government. Yingluck is seen to have only faced “a protest in November by the Pitak Siam group, which lasted less than one day. The protest was easily subdued, thanks to an efficient and swift crowd-control operation by the police…”. The reporters conclude: “She will need to try harder and be more hands-on in government affairs to silence the critics and reassure the dubious public.”

Parallel

The parallel universe near The Nation building

This is nonsensical stuff. Rather than being praised for avoiding huge street politics and heading a popular and elected government that doesn’t kill and maim street demonstrators and locks up few political opponents, it is as if the journalists are saying her “cooler” approach to politics is somehow unfair when compared with the hapless Abhisit and his authoritarian approach to politics! The “public” is not dubious about Yingluck and she remains ahead of Abhisit in all polls of leaders.

The Nation and several of its journalists operate in a parallel universe that has a deep yellow tinge to it. Yingluck has done more than simply “survived.” As academic Kevin Hewison recently explained, the political cooling has been a successful political strategy: “The underlying rationale for all this has been a determination that the Yingluck administration should remain in place for a full term and gain re-election.” Another academic, Duncan McCargo, notes that: “Yingluck has gradually gained in stature, [and]… an extended term of office for Yingluck Shinawatra now looks increasingly probable.” For once the “ivory tower” seems fairer, more realistic and rational.





Updated: Wikileaks, Pansak and Surin

30 12 2012

WikileaksAs mentioned in an earlier post, PPT has finally found the time to get back to Wikileaks cables and is looking through the 6,000 or so cables to see what we missed in our past viewings. We are doing this in a systematic way, trying to ensure that we don’t double-up and re-post something we’d commented on previously.  We are now working our way through the 2006 cables.

Two cables get our attention in this post. The first is from a meeting with Thaksin Shinawatra’s close adviser Pansak Vinyaratn and the second from a talk with the Democrat Party’s Surin Pitsuwan. Both cables revolve around politics and monarchy.Boyce

PPT has previously posted on comments made by Pansak. In an earlier cable, this one dated 9 March 2006, Pansak meets with Ambassador Ralph Boyce and then Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Southeast Asia Eric John (who later became ambassador to Thailand). PPT thought we had covered this one previously, so if we are doubling up, we apologize.

At a time when People’s Alliance for Democracy rallies were expanding, Pansak is said to have “brimmed with fatigued confidence.” He even felt a “military coup improbable.” According to Pansak, denouncing “the ‘arrogance’ of the political opposition”,

the current political crisis is the “last hurrah of the old wealthy class,” according to Pansak. This cabal of political and economic elite who have dominated modern Thai society are “absolutely, deeply resentful” of Thaksin, who Pansak suggests is a new type of businessman and politician. Pansak said he told Thaksin, “all of these people who have lost their role in society, who have lost their shirts because of arrogance, want to come back (and defeat Thaksin.)” This “unholy alliance” of big business, the Democrat Party and “some people close to the palace” remain feckless. They have no specific programs or platforms and lack even the leadership to defeat Thaksin….

Thaksin

Thaksin, Pansak claimed, “has strengthened democracy…”. By this he seems to mean that “Thaksin’s power base ‘is the people’,” with Thai Rak Thai Party “took only five years to capture the hearts and minds of the people.”Again, Pansak pans the “immature” established “elite who have dominated the country for so long have focused too much on a form of representative democracy that meets their needs and minimizes the voices of the masses.”

Boyce decides that Pansak claims are a “humorous efforts to paint Thaksin as a man of the people…”. In all of the cables we have seen, apart from being an ardent admirer of everyone in the palace, Boyce shows a congruence with the elite in usually being unable to understand Thaksin’s popular appeal.

At the same time Pansak reveals the Achilles heel of the aggressive Thaksin and an arrogant TRT: “In the past, journalists were thrown in jail…. Now, we sue them, because we believe in the custom of democracy.”

Of course, the monarchy wasn’t missing from the discussion. Pansak refers to “the King’s personal private secretary Arsa Sarasin had called Democrat Party Chief Abhisit Vejjahiva [sic.] to ask him if he would like to meet Thaksin at the palace to discuss the current crisis. Abhisit refused, saying that if the palace would like him to meet with the PM, they would have to submit a list of subjects for discussion first.” This invitation is confirmed by the ambassador and by Abhisit to the media.

Pansak made “a cryptic sentence or two that seemed to suggest a preference for a respected but politically uninvolved monarch.” He is quoted as saying:

“To revere the King in the correct manner is to allow him to be in the palace with happiness and his eunuchs only come out of the palace to go to the supermarket. So always fund beautiful roads for eunuchs to go back to the palace…the situation now is, build beautiful roads for eunuchs to go back to the palace.”

The second cable is also dated 9 March and begins with a comment on the monarchy, with the Democrat Party Deputy Leader and former Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan is headlined as having “voiced his hope that the Palace would convince Prime Minister Thaksin to step down.” As the Kingcable has it:

When DAS John asked where he thought the situation was going, Surin said that he hoped that someone such as Privy Council Chairman General Prem Tinsulanonda would be able to weigh in with the Palace’s authority to persuade Thaksin to go for the sake of the country’s stability. He opined that otherwise Thaksin will not likely go without being pushed. If Article 7 comes into play, Surin said, the King could appoint a new Prime Minister and “fair and transparent” elections be scheduled…. The Ambassador asked if the DP had lines through to the Palace towards this eventuality. Surin said he thought not, but that the DP was “hopeful” that the Palace would decide “enough is enough” and tell Thaksin to go.

Surin’s next claim was that Thaksin and TRT were engaged in vote-buying for the 2006 election, which his party was boycotting.

Nothing much ever seems to change in the (un)Democrat(ic) Party. In a kind of bizarre failure to recognize that Thaksin and TRT had been weakened by the Shin Corp sale, Surin seems blinded to the changes that had taken place quite rapidly following this deal. He lists Thaksin’s “consistent evasion of the law and misuse of authority” and drones about how Thaksin had

… manipulated all of the country’s supervisory mechanisms — the Security and Exchange Commission, the Constitutional Court, the Election Commission, the Tax Department, etc…. Even the nominally independent courts are suborned by Thaksin through bribery. In addition, Thaksin controlled the electronic media and much of the print media, Surin complained.

He seems unable or unwilling to see anything other than a dominant Thaksin:Surin

DAS John asked how he would address critics who say that the DP is a “spoilsport” that, cognizant that the Prime Minister would win in a new election, will try to bring him down by other means. Surin responded that the political and governmental system itself has gone bad under Thaksin — constitutional controls have been undermined by the Prime Minister and electoral watchdog bodies compromised.

A politically despondent Surin seems to think that Thaksin is too popular for event the king to intervene: the king “would be reluctant to oust a populist leader elected by a large majority of the populace and still apparently enjoying great popularity outside of Bangkok and the DP’s traditional stronghold in Thailand’s south.” The Democrat Party seemed out of ideas and hoped for royal political rescue.

Update: Interestingly, our post appeared just as The Nation published a story on the end of Surin’s 5-year term as ASEAN Secretary-General. While supplicant academics praise him, PPT wonders why, after 45 years, ASEAN attracts so much attention but achieves so little.





Wikileaks: Thaksin’s Chamlong and palace problems

23 12 2012

PPT finally has time to get back to Wikileaks cables and is trying to look through the 6,000 or so cables and see what we missed in our past searches of them. We are doing this in a systematic way, trying to ensure that we don’t double-up and re-post something we’d commented on previously.  At present, we have worked through 2005 and are now slowly getting through 2006.wiki

In a cable dated 21 February 2006, Ambassador Ralph Boyce discusses Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s political problems, including mounting opposition from the palace. He concludes that “[t]hings are getting worse for the Prime Minister.” Boyce states that Thaksin’s options are few as “the opposition,” while “not enormous, just won’t quit.”

Boyce sees the “anti-Thaksin coalition” as boosted by “Chamlong Srimuang, a retired general and former governor of Bangkok, was a prominentpolitical figure in the 1980’s and 1990’s” and a “prominent leader of the 1992 democracy movement” joining. He says Chamlong has “star power” and adds that his “criticism of Thaksin is especially noteworthy as he was the PM’s first political mentor…”.  Chamlong’s “Dharma Army” was set to participate in an upcoming anti-Thaksin rally. Boyce says the opposition “smells blood.”

Part of the reason for this change and polls showing a decline in Thaksin’s popularity is attributed, Boyce says, to “the modest but notable shift in the media…. Papers that formerly ignored political stories or toed the government line are cautiously increasing their coverage of criticism, particularly of the Shin Corp deal.”

Boyce then refers to “a surprisingly candid comment from a Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defense…. Admiral Banawit … noted that the [anti-Thaksin] demonstration on Sunday would be big and that ‘the government would fall’ because ‘Chamlong is very effective.’ He seemed pretty cheerful about it.” PPT assumes this is Admiral Bannawit Kengrian for Boyce comments: “Banawit is an acolyte of Privy Council Chairman Prem Tinsulanonda, which makes his enthusiasm for Thaksin’s downfall doubly interesting.” This move to palace and Prem opposition is what Boyce sees as “interesting.”

Boyce also mentions a meeting with Thaksin adviser Pansak Vinyaratn where the ambassador asks “what would happen if the situation got worse and something provoked an intervention by the Palace.” Pansak is reported to have said “TRT would not allow this to happen, tacitly acknowledging that such an intervention would be inimical to Thaksin’s interests.”

While Boyce says he can’t see any “sign as yet that the King or his closest advisors want to get drawn into this kind of political role,” the simple fact that he asks Pansak and the link to Bannawit and Prem says that the palace is deeply involved in political scheming and suggests a link to the anti-Thaksin opposition.





Wikileaks: Pansak on palace opposition to Thaksin

3 01 2012

On 5 September 2006, U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce met with Pansak Vinyaratn, described as “one of Thaksin’s closest advisors and political strategists.” This Wikileaks cable describes the meeting.

Pansak (from Wikipedia Commons)

Pansak is reported as saying that:

Thaksin’s enemies — and specifically Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda — hoped for his ouster in September. Prem and his allies hoped to get rid not only of Thaksin, but also Thailand’s democratic system, Pansak asserted. The royalist oligarchy wanted to return to a prior era in which the Palace, not democratically elected politicians, would reign supreme.

See Pansak’s earlier comment on this here.

Pansak also claimed that Thaksin’s enemies:

“… want to assassinate him.” They envisioned that this act would force the King to intervene in politics and prompt a restructuring of the current system of governance.

Pansak further claimed that:

Prem had signaled his intentions and intimidated two cabinet members (Cabinet Secretary Borwornsak Uwanno and Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam) into resigning in June. Pansak claimed that Prem had sent a clear signal by asking their view on whether constitutional provisions allowing the King to take on a political role might be invoked in the event of Thaksin’s death.

It seems that Pansak reckoned that the “machinations” out of the palace were odd in that “Thaksin had consistently shown respect for the royal court and had defended the King’s interests.”

Interestingly, the first example Pansak draws on is the publication of Paul Handley’s The King Never Smiles:

Thaksin had sought to protect the King’s reputation when an American author recently published a tell-all book about the royal family.

More importantly, Pansak adds,

Thaksin had taken steps to promote and protect the assets of the Crown Property Bureau (CPB). Thaksin had substantial assets of his own with Siam Commercial Bank (SCB), in which the CPB was a major stakeholder — and an SCB figure who was also a relative of the Queen (NFI) had even represented Thaksin in negotiating the highly controversial sale of Shin Corp to Singapore’s Temasek Holdings.

Pansak reckoned that royalists “feared that Thaksin’s policies, which benefited and empowered the rural majority, would erode their own standing.” He added that they “were against democracy…”.

In a later reported comment, Pansak laments that:

Tragically, while the royalists and oligarchs were undermining Thaksin, the political landscape was bereft of credible alternative leaders. Given the King’s age, it was imperative for the Thai population to begin preparing psychologically for the King’s passing and for a transition to a system increasingly reliant on democratic structures rather than royal authority. The current crisis forestalled such preparation, however.

He reportedly added: “It’s all about Prem becoming Regent…”.

Turning to the military, Pansak gives an indication of why it was that Thaksin was prepared to travel overseas in September, despite all of the ongoing rumors of a pending coup. He is reported to have

acknowledged the military was split along political lines, and this lack of unity would prevent a move by Army Commander Sonthi Boonyaratglin against Thaksin.

How wrong he was! But this is also contextualized in Boyce’s comment that, despite “a defiant tone,” Pansak “seemed resigned to the eventual triumph of those whom he considers to represent Thailand’s old order.”