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.





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.