May Day and the military boot

1 05 2018

State enterprise unions played significant roles in both sets of yellow-shirt uprisings in 2005-06 and 2013-14, siding with the People’s Alliance for Democracy and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee. In both instances, the idea of unions of any ilk joining forces with royalists and the military seemed somewhat odd.

But having done so, you would think that the military would cut them some slack for May Day marches. It seems the junta has done just that, picking and choosing which workers get support.

Khaosod reports that “[h]undreds … took part in the state enterprise union’s rally … without any interference from the authorities”

However, at other rallies, soldiers “seized banners from marching workers demanding democracy today in northern Bangkok, while a union leader was detained at a downtown police station for staging a protest in front of the United States embassy.”

Labor rights campaigner Sripai Nonsee said her group in Pathum Thani was held by police and soldiers who “demanded to see the banners they were carrying. Banners that mentioned elections and democracy were confiscated…”. She added: “[t]hey looked for words like election and democracy, especially election…. They told us to give them up.”

The activist said soldiers and police met with her yesterday to discuss today’s rally, and allowed them to carry the banners as long as they didn’t hold them up. Security officers reneged on that promise today, she said.

Meanwhile, union activist Boonyuen Sookmai “led General Motors workers to hold a rally in front of the US embassy on Wireless Road earlier this morning. He said police took him to Lumpini Police Station after he submitted the workers’ complaint to an embassy official.”

The GM workers rallied “to protest the automobile firm’s expulsion of 300 union members in November.”

State enterprise union leader Chalee Loysoong “explained” that his people celebrated “National Labor Day,” a hangover of the despotic past and of the despotic present and “not the international spirit of May Day.” Chalee claimed the workers preferred a fair to anything that highlighted worker rights and grievances.

The picture is clear: the state enterprise unions remain puppets of anti-democrats and the fascist regime.

In fact, though, “scores later joined a demonstration down Ratchadamnoen Avenue organized by the Labour Confederation of Thailand.” This rally saw activists take turns “condemning the military government and calling for an election within this year on a truck as they marched down the historic avenue. Speakers included anti-coup activist leader Sirawith Seritiwat.”

That’s more like it!





Caving in

1 04 2018

The repression associated with lese majeste is critical for the maintenance of the status quo in Thailand. So critical in fact that even the thought of an amendment to the law is greeted with threats of violence. As it has been for seven decades, the rightist alliance between monarchy and military is a keystone for the establishment order in Thailand, with lese majeste, ultra-royalist ideology and murderous enforcement are the means for maintaining that conservative order.

When the Anakhot Mai/New Future/Future Forward Party was recently formed, ultra-royalists foamed and fumed about a young academic lawyer, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, who had once called for minor amendments to Article 112 of the criminal code. Ultra-royalist Sonthiya Sawatdee “petitioned the Election Commission … to disqualify the FFP. He alleged that Piyabutr’s previous involvement with the anti-lèse majesté group Nitirat had caused conflicts among the country’s population, in violation of the Organic Act on Political Parties.”

Knowing that in royalist Thailand Sonthiya’s banal claim may well carry weight, Piyabutr immediately went into reverse political gear, declaring “he would not press the issue of amending the lèse majesté law in the new party…”. He is quoted: “I insist that I will not involve the party in the issue of amending Article 112 of the Criminal Code and will not press the issue in the party…”.

Piyabutr’s backpedaling has opened debate.

Exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul, himself a victim of ultra-royalist and military attacks, “commented that without the issue of amending Article 112, the new party would be just a smaller version of the Phue Thai Party.” He saw a familiar path being taken whereby the young become prematurely old as they flinch on the most significant political issue of recent years, the monarchy.

Somsak believes that the new party didn’t have to say anything:

“When the party’s general meeting (to pass policies, select executives, etc.) happens, and Piyabutr or other important party members see that it is inappropriate to put the issue of Article 112 into the policies because it will lead to the party’s disqualification, then just remove it and register without this issue. So what’s the necessity of yesterday’s announcement [by Piyabutr]? I can’t’ see one…”.

He might have added that the new party has little chance of attracting large numbers of voters, so the strategic withdrawal on monarchy means little more than another ultra-royalist and military victory in its crusade to “protect” the monarchy and, thus, the establishment.

Puangthong Pawakapan of the now-defunct Campaign Committee for the Amendment of Article 112 was less critical, saying Piyabutr ‘s vow was unsurprising as “the political establishment never hesitates to suppress those who challenge the royal defamation law, making an amendment to Article 112 through legislative measures nearly impossible.”

Puangthong added:

“The difficulties in this issue are not about the number of votes in the parliament, but it is a sensitive issue that political parties are afraid to touch because they will be easily attacked by anti-monarchy allegations…. This is why all political parties are afraid to fix this issue. This is why people’s signatories and the draft amendment [to Article 112] by the CCAA 112 was immediately rejected by the Parliament Chairperson, who was at that time a Phue Thai MP.”

It is clear that Puangthong “believes that Piyabutr’s statement was a strategic move to ensure that the FFP will wins seats in the parliament, which will allow the party to make progress on other significant political missions, like eliminating the military influence from Thai politics.”

We recall, back in 2004-2005, so-called progressives signing up to the People’s Alliance for Democracy and its royalist agenda, using a similar line of argument. They may have been anti-monarchy or even republican, but saw the need to get rid rid of Thaksin Shinawatra as being so crucial that they could accommodate the royalist stuff, and fix the monarchy later. How did that turn out for them? Most are now ardent royalists.





Supporting the junta’s political agenda

3 03 2018

New political parties are emerging from the junta’s primeval electoral rules slime.We apologize for all the square brackets and inverted commas that follow, but these are necessary to indicate the contrived nature of politics arranged by the military dictatorship.

According to a Bangkok Post source at the Election Commission, several parties “want their party names to include the words ‘Pracharath’ (people-state partnership) or ‘Thai Niyom’ (Thai-ism) — from the government’s [they mean the junta’s] key [populist-electoral] development schemes which are now becoming popular catchphrases among the people [sic.].”

In other words, following the junta’s lead and its rules, a bunch of parties look like forming to support the junta and its dismal political objective of maintaining “Thai-style democracy” – i.e. no democracy at all – into the future.

These “parties” – really just junta factions and political opportunists – reckon that the junta’s dishing out of populist-electoral cash will have an “impact on voters as there are many who benefit from these projects.” The “parties” also want voters “to believe that the newly-registered parties have the backing of the government…”. Some do and others are hoping that they can suck up the loot that might result from a military-backed coalition government following an “election.”

The EC source particularly pointed to survey “parties” set up with the “clear intention of supporting the National and Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the junta]…”. These are the devil or Satan parties.

One is the Pracharath Party “which is speculated to include key figures from the government [junta + a few trusted anti-democrat civilians] and the NCPO [the junta – those civilians]. Speculation is rife that Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatursripitak, who is the head of the government’s economic team, will be the party leader.” Somkid is one of those +/- civilians.

Then there’s the “Muan Maha Pracha Chon Party pushed by Suthep Thaugsuban, former leader of the defunct People’s Democratic Reform Committee is also meant to back Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha [The Dictator] to return as an outsider prime minister after the general election…”. Recall Suthep’s faux denial but remember his long alliance with the junta and the military coupsters.

Former senator and extreme yellow shirt Paiboon Nititawan is establishing a devil party to be “registered as the People Reform Party and will also support Gen Prayut making a comeback as premier.”

Then there are a bunch of hope-to-be-Satan-parties. These are micro-parties that have a hope of “joining an NCPO-sponsored government after the election.” They are presumably setting up money-laundering arrangements as we write this. One is the “Pheu Chart Thai Party. The group is led by Amphaphan Thanetdejsunthorn, former wife of the late military strongman Gen Sunthorn Kongsompong, who led a coup that seized power from the Chatichai Choonhavan government in 1991.”

Then there’s the New Palang Dhamma Party (NPDP), inaugurated on Thursday. Apparently a self-proclaimed devil party, it seems likely to throw its support to Gen Prayuth “if he bids to become an unelected, outside premier.” The party vows to fight corruption. It isn’t clear how supporting Prayuth and fighting corruption fit together. But, hey, this is the junta’s Thailand.

The real link between the junta and the reconstituted party is anti-Thaksinism:

[Rawee] … played an active role in bringing down two Shinawatra governments. Most recently in 2013 with the People’s Committee for Absolute Democracy With the King as Head of State, or PCAD, aka the People’s Democratic Reform Council. Before that, Rawee was once a member of the former People’s Alliance for Democracy, the Yellowshirt party which played an instrumental role in opposing both Thaksin Shinawatra and Yingluck Shinawatra.

In summary, the formation of a myriad of minor parties supportive of The Dictator is in line with the junta’s script for post-“election” politics.

Yellow shirted “academic” Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, rector of Walailak University, observed “there is nothing new to expect and the next election will not bring any change.” Sombat’s own role in creating this neanderthal political system is not mentioned.





10 years later

22 02 2018

A decade after the event, 79 mainly southern members of the People’s Alliance for Democracy have been sentenced to jail terms of a few months each, with some suspended. They were charged with “a variety of charges including property damage, breaking and entering and intimidating others” for their “seizing control of a state broadcaster as part of an anti-government campaign…” as PAD sought to bring down the Samak Sundaravej-led elected government.

The gain made in appeasing anti-coal protesters may be undone by this court decision. Yet there seems some kind of political calculation going on in the junta about who its allies are.

As seen in the photo from social media, one of the leaders of the group flashed an anti-military sign as he was taken to prison.

This act reflects the fact that the junta is finds it opposition has expanded to encompass activists on several sides: red, yellow and pro-election groups.





Further updated: Sparks beginning to fly

28 01 2018

Quite some time ago we said that, as in the past, the spark that lights a fire under Thailand’s military dictatorship might come from something quite unexpected.

We think we might have seen that spark and it may be two events that have begun to tip the political balance. One is Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan’s luxury timepieces. It isn’t so much that he’s seemingly corrupt. After all the timid middle classes and the wealthy capitalist class “understand” corruption and it is a price they are ever willing to pay so long as they can continue to prosper. And, if the corrupt are “good” people, then it’s okay. What has led to a beginning of an unraveling of this political relationship is Prawit’s arrogance about his massive watch collection and the demonstration (so far) of cover-up and impunity. This taints the junta as self-serving, grasping and certainly not “good” people.

The second spark is the continual delay in the holding of an election that is neither free nor fair. The middle and capitalist classes were fully prepared to accept the junta’s manipulated constitution, its forcing of the constitutional referendum, the tinkering with the details, a senate that maintains military political dominance and human rights restrictions. However, as well as the political repression of the lower classes, they wanted something of a say in politics via that unfair election. By delaying numerous times, the junta is displaying arrogance and a craving for power “unsuited” to the middle and capitalist classes.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

The peeling away of support even sees diehard yellow shirts, the boosters for the coups of 2006 and 2014, criticizing the military junta it bet on for turning back the lower class political tide. It also sees cracks appearing in the junta’s domination and control both in events and institutions. We have posted on the “We Walk” march and its court victory. Some of the NGOs involved in that event were those that were present at the birth of the People’s Alliance for Democracy in 2006. For some of those yellow shirts, there is disappointment in the regime for not doing sufficient political cleansing. More disappointment comes from the decisions by the junta to allow legal pursuit of PAD and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee. Such legal cases are not just a disappointment but construed as a betrayal.

In this context, the re-emergence of political protest is telling. First We Walk and now the student activists. It isn’t that these students haven’t pushed the junta before. In fact, they have been regular opponents, but they have faced numerous legal cases, arrests, abductions and so on. The Bangkok Post reports their most recent event this way:

The Democracy Restoration Group, led by Sirawich “Ja New” Seritiwat and Rangsiman Rome, posted on Facebook on Friday asking people who share the same views to join them at 5.30pm at the BTS skywalk near the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre.

Pathumwan police said they did not try to stop the campaign so long as it did not block traffic.

Around 100 people came to the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre at 5.15pm while police stood by and took photos of the participants. Many of them showed the sign “Election 2018” or show its photo on their mobile phones.

Core leaders of the group took turns giving speeches.

Interestingly, the demonstrators emphasized not just elections but watches.

Update 1: A reader emailed us saying that we missed one of the most important bits of the linked Bangkok Post story. That reader is right that we should have specifically noted that the rally brought together stalwarts of both red and yellow shirts, with ultra-nationalist yellow shirt Veera Somkwamkid and red shirt iconoclast Sombat Boonngamanong. That is an unexpected alliance. Yet it is just this kind of unusual alliance that has underpinned anti-military movements in the past.

Update 2: An updated Bangkok Post report has more from Veera. He declared: “There are no colours right now…. It’s all about joining hands and removing corruption from the country.” He added: “The problem is we cannot rely on the government because they are in fact the ones who are not transparent.” The principal organizers, the New Democracy Movement declared “it will continue to pressure the government and Gen Prayut to dismiss Gen Prawit and to keep his promise to holding the election this year. They will gather again in the same spot on Feb 10.” Meanwhile, in Songkhla, “members of 19 civic organisations walked from Hat Yai municipality to Sena Narong army camp in Hat Yai to voice their grievances over several state projects in the South and to support the [People Go Network/We Walk group].”





Updated: Bankrupt PAD

7 01 2018

As widely reported, including in the Bangkok Post, 13 core members/leaders of the People’s Alliance for Democracy face a combined bill of 522 million baht incurred as a court’s decision on compensation to the Airports of Thailand Plc, for losses incurred “by the 10-day closure of Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports 10 years ago.”

Apparently, “a legal execution notice sent by prosecutors, who were authorised by the operator of the two gateways, to seek the payments.” This follows a 2011 ruling by the Civil Court upheld by the Appeals Court and the Supreme Court between 2011 and 2017.

This might be good news for those who were outraged by PAD’s illegal actions that led to the judicial coup of December 2008.

But is it? It seems that the PAD leaders will simply declare themselves bankrupt.

The 13 are Chamlong Srimuang, Sondhi Limthongkul, Pipop Thongchai, Suriyasai Katasila, Somsak Kosaisuk, Chaiwat Sinsuwong, Somkiat Pongpaibul, Amorn Amonrattananond, Saranyu Wongkrajang, Samran Rodpetch, Sirichai Mai-ngam, Maleerat Kaewka and Therdpoum Chaidee.

While Sondhi is in jail for another unrelated offense, we guess that the rest have had plenty of time to organize their personal finances.

Criminal lawsuits are continuing.

Update: Confirming our comments above, the PAD group has thumbed its nose at the courts (again). Chamlong “said he cannot find the money to pay, and he had no assets which can be seized.” In any case, he rejects the notion of compensation to Airports of Thailand: “I insist I did nothing wrong. Why was I ordered to pay such a huge sum of money — as if we burned buildings. But we never burned a single building…”. He added that “he does not regret the consequences he now has to face as he did it in the best interests of the country.” His yellow compatriot, Sirichai Mai-ngam simply said: “We have no money. We won’t run away. We won’t pay…”.





Push and shove on “elections”and a disingenuous junta

3 01 2018

Some commentators argue that the junta needs an election in order to embed all the conservative changes it has made. That would be so if its preferred people can actually “win.” Certainly the bigger political parties are dead keen for an “election,” even if conducted under the junta’s rules. More direct military rule in an extremely narrow political space does them no good at all.

The mainstream media is mostly pushing for an election. Even some activists reckon any election is better than a extension of the junta’s political nastiness.

All of these “pro-election” groups know that “the regime is paving the way for a military-backed political party which will draw members of existing parties to back it and support Gen Prayut[h Chan-ocha] and the regime to stay in power after an election expected in late 2018.”

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has questioned the (ever changing) election roadmap, doubting that an “election” can be held by November.

The Puea Thai Party’s Chaturon Chaisang reckons the “political landscape this year will be dominated by efforts to prepare for the NCPO [junta] to return to power after the poll” via a “nominee” party. He’s dubious the “election” will be held in November.

Former People’s Alliance for Democracy leader Suriyasai Katasila reckons its back to political polarization. He reckons an election will not take place until 2019.

As a kind of response, the Bangkok Post reports that “[e]lections for local administrative organisations (LAOs) are likely to be organised from May to July…”. The junta has used the local election card previously. This time there might be more to it. No parties involved and all the electoral bodies in the provinces firmly in the junta’s hands. The Post says General Anupong Paojinda “has been confirmed the LAOs elections would take place before the national poll…”. Maybe.

What is certain is that the military is determined to harass “politicians” (who aren’t members of the junta).

In a contrived event, all four regional army commanders “warned politicians against canvassing for support during the festive period while revealing soldiers have been deployed to shadow certain targets.”

One of the commanders, Lt Gen Wijak Siribansop, added that he’s most “concerned about academics, whom he said cannot be barred from voicing their views.” The military have been “talking” with academics in the north. The demand: “Do not try to touch on politics…”.

Lt. Gen. Kukiat Srinaka “revealed officials have been sent to secretly shadow targets in the 1st Army Region’s jurisdiction.” Lt Gen Tharakorn Thamwinthorn, “in charge of the Northeast, said his officers work with other agencies to monitor prime targets…”. He added that he disdained “politicians” and was keen to “apprehend them…”.

After all of this threatening and discussion of illegal acts by the deeply politicized military, Lt Gen Piyawat Nakwanich “insisted the army will act as a neutral player in the political sphere.” Jeez, what would it be like if they did insist they were taking sides? Probably not that different.

It’s a stitch-up.