All used up

8 11 2018

When the royalist establishment deemed it crucial that it oppose elected governments, it supported the creation of “movements” with allegedly “charismatic” leaders, using “civil society” to bring down those governments. Backing them were royalists from business, including the giant conglomerates, and the military.

First there was Sondhi Limthongkul and the People’s Alliance for Democracy. It drew on considerable middle class discontent with Thaksin Shinawatra and his regime but was driven by royalist ideology.

After a series of false starts, the second great “movement” was the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, led by the royalist anti-democrats of the Democrat Party and fronted by Suthep Thaugsuban.

Of course, neither movement was able to bring down the elected governments. That required military coups in 2006 and 2014.

When they had done their work, the fact of their invention by the royalist strategists of the military, business and palace was seen in the manner in which the “movements” vaporized once their usefulness was over.

And, look at the leaders. Both had a capacity to mobilize supporters and this worried many in the military. At the same time, the military knew that it “deserved” to be on top and that the upstarts they created had to know their place.

Sondhi was targeted for what was either an assassination bid or a brutal warning to know his place. No one was ever charged, but it is interesting that the media at the time suggested that both Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda were considered “suspects” in the Sondhi shooting.

Suthep thought he was a “star” and “popular,” but the military put him in his place following the 2014 coup, having to enter the monkhood. While Suthep is back and campaigning for his Action Coalition for Thailand (ACT) Party, it seems his “movement” has evaporated and his capacity for garnering the political limelight has been lost under the military junta. Interestingly, this return is a backflip and, according to one op-ed, not popular with his former PDRC supporters (and presumably its backers).

The op-ed continues: “… Suthep seems to have overestimated his popularity, thinking it could be on par with the backing he received from PDRC supporters during the time he led the street protests.” He was disappointed: “his recent jaunts in several areas to recruit members for the party have apparently received a cold response.” This caused “core PDRC supporter Arthit Ourairat … calling for Mr Suthep and other PDRC leaders who have joined ACT to stop their political activities.” Arthit might have poured money into the PDRC but is an ardent anti-democrat and probably is 100% behind The Dictator’s bid for extended power. Tellingly, the man who funded and funneled money to Suthep and PDRC reckons that “people ‘no longer believed them’.”

Anti-democrats want a military-dominated regime and Suthep’s usefulness, like Sondhi’s before him, is over. Suthep’s response will be interesting as his face, position and wealth depend on state links.





Thailand’s new uniform

26 07 2018

Under the previous king the rule for dress became yellow. If you weren’t wearing yellow, doing anything public or with government officers became more difficult. Yellow became a sign of loyalty. That’s why the People’s Alliance for Democracy chose the king’s birth color – they were saying and displaying their royalism and their loyalty.

Even opponents wore yellow before they became red shirts.

Under the new king a new uniform has emerged. We mentioned this in a previous post. There it was associated with the cave rescue.

Reading the news regarding the dam tragedy in Laos, we noticed that Thailand was preparing and sending aid. Sure enough, the persons doing the preparation were in the same uniform. The people wearing the royal uniform are regularly described as “volunteers,” although officials get into their loyalty kits as well.

As far as we can recall, the initial push on a new uniform for the then crown prince was Bike for Mom in 2015. Then it was the queen’s color of sky blue, with touches of yellow.

From Khaosod

A couple of months later, it was Bike for Dad, and then the king’s yellow dominated, featuring blue.

If one looks at the standards for the king and when he was crown prince, the combination of these colors is seen. It now seems that Thailand’s displays of loyalty is to be regimented in this way going forward.

Of course, having “volunteers” doing good works dressed in the king’s colors gets him lots of credit, and that’s exactly what the palace propagandists intend.





Updated: Prayuth’s recruiting tour I

24 07 2018

Using state funds, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha is campaigning for appointment as prime minister long into the future. His current campaign trip is to Ubol Ratchathani and Amnat Charoen.

As in previous campaign trips, this one was about promoting preferred political parties and to display former opponent politicians who have slid over to the military and junta’s Palang Pracharath Party. The skid mark to that party has been lubricated with promises of projects and money.

While expressing (again) his disdain for the media and a touchiness that makes him nasty and vindictive towards critics, The Dictator told them to stop reading newspapers and learn to love him. He then declared: “If anyone criticizes me, I just punch him in the mouth…”. He added that “he has never hurt anybody and … [he] has the right to protect himself against bullying.”

This is a jaw-dropping lie. Prayuth has use laws on sedition, lese majeste and various junta decrees to harass, arrest and jail thousands – that’s his “punch … in the mouth” and these “punches” hurt not just the individuals involved but undermine the body politic, shaping Thailand as an authoritarian society.

Then the self-appointed prime minister decided to repeat lies about the junta’s recruitment campaigns. He “dismissed allegation[s] that his mobile cabinet meeting in Ubon Ratchathani was intended to ‘poach’ former MPs from political parties to join or ally with parties that is supportive of him, saying that it is the people who will decide whom to elect into the parliament.”

That lie was never believed by anyone and when The Dictator fronted an arranged crowd of about 1,500 at a local zoo, the welcoming group included “Supol Fongngam, a former Pheu Thai MP, and 14 other former MPs from the same party.” They had been invited by provincial officials, working under the Ministry of Interior and for the junta. It is widely known that most of these politicians will “defect to a pro-Prayut party.”

Prayuth’s campaign slogans seem to revolve around the classic anti-democrat/People’s Alliance for Democracy/People’s Democratic Reform Committee mantras about “uneducated,” “ignorant” and “duped” villagers electing the wrong people. The Dictator “blamed society’s ills on the public choosing ‘the wrong leaders’ and suggested in future they select a more ‘responsible’ prime minister.” He means himself.

Perhaps the premier should also be reminded that his electoral rules and constitution are designed to prevent people from selecting the premier, leaving that to a parliament that is meant to be dominated by junta parties and junta appointees.

Update: Interestingly, Prayuth also lied about the cabinet meeting. He stated: “he would not be ‘giving away’ millions of baht from state coffers to woo voters.” Yet the cabinet meeting is considering “Bt10 billion for development projects” in the region.





Elections, populism and campaigning

12 07 2018

Current Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak was an important member of Thaksin Shinawatra’s economic team, responsible for the policies labelled “populist” by opponents and “policy corruption” by the People’s Alliance for Democracy. Others considered the policies as examples of vote-buying by using state funds.

As the military junta embedded its rule following the 2014 military coup it looked to extend its time in power, Somkid was brought in as an “economic czar” to engage in policy plagiarism and improve the junta’s economic performance with doses of Thaksin’s policies.

From the Bangkok Post: Somkid and his master

Somkid adapted himself well to the military dictatorship and has now become one of the critical ministers in the junta’s efforts to “win” its rigged election. Somkid may tell himself that he’s just a technocrat but he’s become a willing tool of military dictatorship. This pattern of technocrats supporting authoritarian regimes is not unusual. In Thailand, it was a defining feature of Gen Sarit Thanarat’s regime, put in place in 1958 and extending to 1973 and the long Gen Prem Tinsulanonda regime.

Somkid has now become a junta politician, dealing with two other Thaksin traitors, organizing a political party that intends to have The Dictator continue in power for years to come.

In preparing for the “election,” Somkid’s attention is not just on organizing the Palang Pracharath Party but to ensuring that huge transport infrastructure projects (valued at almost 1 trillion baht) are in place for the Sino-Thai conglomerates to continue using state budgets for enrichment and pouring funds into the poorer parts of the population who make up the majority of voters. (As the poor spend most of the money they receive, this consumption spurs businesses, as Thaksin proved.)

As Somkid showed when he worked for Thaksin, such policies are powerful vote winners.





“Elections” matter for the junta and its supporters

30 06 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





The beginning of the end of Puea Thai?

26 06 2018

The military dictatorship has worked determinedly to destroy the political base of the Shinawatra clan and the Puea Thai Party. Crushing support for them has been an important element of the dictatorship’s “election” plans.

The regime has been having some success. While the electorate in key areas seems to still favor Puea Thai over other parties, the junta has seemingly been more successful in undermining the party by luring politicians to support junta-associated parties.

Yet this may not be enough to guarantee an “election victory” for the junta and its supporters. The “nuclear option” has always been to dissolve Puea Thai. It seems that the junta may have pushed that button.

It was only late last week that former People’s Alliance for Democracy leader Suriyasai Katasila demanded an “investigation” into Thaksin Shinawatra’s recent conference call with some Puea Thai members.

Suriyasai demanded that “the Election Commission (EC) to set a precedent for political parties to follow by ruling on whether former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has violated the Political Party Act – something that could lead to the dissolution of the Pheu Thai Party.”

He alleged that Thaksin’s call and Yingluck’s recent birthday party in London both constituted violations of the 2017 Political Party Act.

With lightening speed, the EC launched a probe. Its secretary-general Jarungvith Phumma seemed to have the investigation finished as soon as it had begun. He was quoted in the linked story as saying he “expects it will take two weeks to establish whether a video call made by ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra to Pheu Thai Party members likely broke the law on political parties…”.

The outcome of the quick “investigation” – being reported to the EC today – is probably going to be a “larger probe,” which is the second step in dissolving the party.

That the “investigation” is politically biased is not in doubt. The EC has not even discussed the “case” with the Puea Thai Party.

Jarungvith said “the EC was reviewing what Thaksin discussed with the Pheu Thai members and was also keeping a close eye on whether the former premier’s words were being adopted as part of the party’s guidelines or policy.” He added that the EC “would check to see if the party was toeing Thaksin’s line.”

Official red shirt leader and former Puea Thai MP Nattawut Saikua made the obvious point that the EC should also monitor “other” parties as “a rival party urge … [Puea Thai] former MPs to defect.” He observed that the Palang Pracharath Party was under the influence of “outsiders.”

He’s right. Palang Pracharath is controlled by the junta. But he’s wrong to expect even-handedness  from any agency associated with the junta and its “election.” It is all rigged.

Whether the EC “investigation” leads to the dissolution of Puea Thai or not, in the junta’s warped view of the political world, this is a win-win case. If the party is dissolved, its parties do better in the “election.” If the case is dropped, Thaksin and Puea Thai will have been warned and are likely to have to campaign exceptionally carefully and quietly, while the junta’s parties will be unconstrained. It is all rigged.





Updated: Suthep’s political party

2 06 2018

Readers will probably remember that the military junta was grateful to the Democrat Party’s Suthep Thaugsuban for plowing the ground for its military coup in 2014 through his formation and manipulation of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee.

Readers might also recall that the junta got agitated when Suthep claimed a role in planning the coup and that it was also concerned by Suthep’s capacity for political mobilization. They seem to have threatened him and sent him off to the monkhood.

Since then, Suthep has been careful in his political steps, clearly not wanting to become a target for military assassination, as was yellow-shirt leader Sondhi Limthongkul.

Finally, though, a new political party has been formed as a political vehicle for Suthep and some of his PDRC colleagues. It is called Action Coalition for Thailand (ACT).

It keeps Suthep as a “member” while the frontman Anek Laothamatas is said to be a founder. He’s failed politician who took funds from corrupt politicians and also from the current junta. He was also with the deeply yellow Thailand Reform Institute that brought royalists and anti-democrats together at Rangsit University. Many appear associated with Suthep’s Party.

Anek has been with the Democrat Party, once worked for Thaksin Shinawatra and is a former Communist. For a time he paraded himself as an “academic.” That he now appears as a “Bhumibolist” should be no surprise for someone who can change his political spots as easily as he changes his ties to a clownish bow-tie for his media appearances.

Clarifications. We say he’s a Bhumibolist referring to a clipped image from The Nation, below, where he wears a Bhumibol election pin and has books on the dead king carefully arranged for the photo op. We say he’s fronting Suthep’s Party because that is what he calls it:

Suthep will be just an ordinary party member, with no executive position in the party and no positions in the future, according to Anek. He also said that having Suthep as a member, the ACT could be viewed as “Suthep’s party”.

Unlike other parties, ACT  “will not elect its leader and other party executives at its maiden meeting.” They will do it later, knowing that the junta’s “election” is months away. The party also needs 500 members and Anek says it is short of that.

Some 250 members will meet at their political alma mater, Rangsit University, owned by yellow-shirt moneybags Arthit Ourairat today:

In addition to Anek, those attending the meeting will be former Democrat Party secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban, who headed the PDRC until its demise following the 2014 coup, Rangsit University deputy dean Suriyasai Katasila and former National Reform Assembly member Prasan Marukapitak, according to Thani Thaugsuban, a former Democrat MP and Suthep’s younger brother.

Suriyasai, Prasan and Thani are formerly key figures in the PDRC, which led massive street protests between November 2013 and May 2014 against the government led by the Pheu Thai Party. The rally culminated in a military coup in May 2014 that overthrew the administration.

Many were previously involved with the People’s Alliance for Democracy.

Anek was generous to say that “he was going to resign from the current positions, before working at the new party.“ At present, Anek is still in the pay of the military dictatorship. He is “serving as chairman of the committee on political reform, which is part of the junta-appointed National Reform Steering Assembly, in addition to being a member and an adviser in other committees.” He gets a very handy income from the junta.

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that, despite all of his previous statements that he had “left” politics, the former Democrat Party godfather Suthep is to be a “co-founder” of ACT. He’s fortunate the T in ACT doesn’t mean Truth.