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].”





“New,” “good” and “bad” politicians

24 01 2018

General Prayuth Chan-ocha, The Dictator since May 2014, recently announced that he is a “politician.” This announcement that he had joined the ranks of those he despises was his formal announcement of what has been known for a very long time: he wants to continue as premier for years and years.

Politicians are not renowned for their judgement of political mood. Many make awful decisions in the face of public opinion that demands something else. They usually pay a price for this poor judgement.

The Dictator-cum-politician will likely pay a steep political price for his failure to deal with General Prawit Wongsuwan’s poor judgement in the ongoing luxury timepiece scandal. Prawit, who is Prayuth’s mentor, former boss and elder military brother, is politically a dead man walking.

But Prayuth closes his eyes and ears and exhibits military “Thai-ness” remaining “loyal” and doing his “duty” to his boss/brother. But, by toughing out the political storm, the regime’s political capital is being rapidly depleted, and especially among its faithful anti-democratic supporters. The latter seem to consider the junta as crossing the line between “good” and “bad” in their middle class definitions of “Thai-ness.”

The military junta adds to that perception by allowing the judiciary to activate a case against Suthep Thaugsuban’s anti-democrats. While this may be as much about political bargaining for an “election” arrangement, many yellow shirts consider Prayuth’s electoral wheeling and dealing as having too much to do with previous Thaksin Shinawatra supporters and the legal case confirms the junta’s moves to the “bad” – downright evil – side of political “Thai-ness.”

“Thai-ness” and “good” and “bad” are slippery concepts but they are also political notions that can be redefined. The military junta is precipitously falling from an anti-democrat “good” to “bad.”

As Prayuth, Prawit and the third of the three stooges, General Anupong Paojinda, cross that line, days their political days are numbered.





Updated: Watching Prawit watching The Dictator

12 01 2018

Khaosod has a short story that says much. We quote a bit of it:

A week after declaring himself a politician, junta leader and expected political candidate Prayuth Chan-ocha got his first high-profile endorsement today from none other than his embattled deputy.

“I likely agree,” Deputy Prime Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan said Thursday when asked if he thought Prayuth – who’s also currently prime minister – should return to lead the government after the general elections promised for November.

No surprise. For the junta it is just as night follows day….

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that the Deputy Dictator has gone further in his comments, dragging the barely concealed cat out of the bag and throwing it at the media. According to the report:

Prawit … has thrown his support behind a plan to set up a political party to back Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to return as a non-elected prime minister after the general election expected late this year.

This follows the announcement by military acolyte Paiboon Nititawan who finally confirmed “his intention to form his own party on March 1 and openly pledged his support for Gen Prayut to resume his premiership after the election.” He’s also linking the new party to the People’s Democratic Reform Committee calling it, for the moment, the People’s Reform Party.

This is just another event in the junta’s shenanigans as they work for the preferred “election” outcome.





The PDRC and Suthep

16 12 2017

Two recent news reports mention Suthep Thaugsuban and his People’s Democratic Reform Committee.

The report that got most attention was about Suthep and his anti-democrat colleague Paiboon Nititawan seeking changes to the organic law governing political parties, arguing for “fairness” for all parties. As all commentators have noted, this is an attempt to delay the “elections.”

Suthep and friends

Suthep has repeatedly called for the military dictatorship to remain in power, so this call is aimed at that end. The puppet National Legislative Assembly says it will hear from Suthep and Paiboon.

The second report, in the context of judicial double standards, is a tiny piece of what appears to be brighter news. At the end of a report on Jatuporn Promphan, it is briefly noted that the Phatthalung Provincial Court sentenced a former senator and PDRC key figure Thawi Phumsingharach and 10 supporters “for disrupting an advance vote and election officials in the province back in 2013.”

Thawil was slapped with a five-year prison term, and the others received from one to five years “for their role in obstructing the Muang district poll on Dec 28-31 and preventing the provincial election commission from performing its duty.”

We assume they are appealing.





Further updated: Pots and kettles I

11 12 2017

There’s an English saying about the “pot calling the kettle black.” It means something like people should not criticize someone else for a fault that they have themselves. In Thailand, when discussing current politics, it is sometimes difficult to determine which is a pot and which is a kettle, and the blackness seems equally deep and sooty.

So when we read the Bangkok Post: and discover one confirmed and frequent liar being called out by another of similar ilk we do get to wondering.

Government spokesman Lt. Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd and (anti)Democrat Party rich leader and Korn Chatikavanij have been going at each other.

According to this report, by Veera Prateepchaikul, a former editor of the Bangkok Post sides with Korn:

Lt Gen Sansern, who is also acting director-general of the Public Relations Department, accused former finance minister Korn Chatikavanij, without naming him, of being an opportunist craving media space with an intention to lead the public into believing the government has not been doing anything.

The publicity which appeared to upset the spokesman was just Mr Korn’s recommendations to the government on how it could help rice farmers shore up rice prices during the months of November and December when the main crops were to be harvested.

We can understand criticism of Korn on rice policy; after all, he’s never been assigned any work in a rural area, although he now claims “four years” of work on a rich kid botique rice marketing scheme (read about it here, which begins with an incorrect assertion about what Thais think of rice. We think he means his rich brethren).

What was more interesting, though, was Korn’s licking of the pot:

Korn said the government should be more open-minded and receptive to divergent opinions as several policies could help farmers.

He lectured the spokesman and urged him to distinguish friend from foe and not to sow the seed of conflict.

He also reminded the lieutenant-general that there are people outside the government who are loyal and have good intentions toward the country.

Korn is reminding the dictatorship to be nice to its political allies, which includes the coup-loving and coup-provoking Democrat Party.

Apparently Korn has “discovered” and recommended a variant on the long-standing rice pledging scheme that pays a guaranteed minimum price for rice (a plan implemented by others in the past).

Even if Korn is recycling policy, he’s also telling the junta to be gentle with friends.

Seemingly to emphasize this, former Democrat Party leader and former prime minister Chuan Leekpai has demanded that party members not be “persistent” in “asking the regime to lift its ban on political activities…”.

Chuan and “other party executives agreed party members should not keep demanding political restrictions be lifted.” He stressed that if there are delays, the junta should be blamed. But he is also wary of poking his bear-like friends in the junta.

Chuan, who supported to military coups and judicial activism to bring down elected governments then banged on about “democracy.” The “real obstacle” to “democracy” is “people who do not uphold democracy…”.

As far as we can tell, the Democrat Party is chock full of people who do not uphold democracy, including Chuan himself. The Democrat Party has a long history of supporting royalist anti-democracy. Indeed, that was the reason the party was formed.

Update 1: Interestingly, Chuan seems keen to advise the junta on its political base (shared with the Democrat Party). Worried about that base, Chuan “appealed to premier [General] Prayut Chan-o-cha to address falling household income in the South.” Chuan showed that under the junta, average incomes had fallen substantially in several southern provinces.

His advice has been taken up, at least according to the report: “Based on Mr Chuan’s petition, the government had announced a policy of boosting people’s income in a bid to pull the country out of the so-called middle-income trap.”

Chuan worries that the junta makes the Democrat Party look bad as they are seen as political allies.

Update 2: In another political reminder to the junta, anti-democrat leader and “former” Democrat Party deputy leader Suthep Thaugsuban has re-emerged to announced “that he would release a video clip showing the group’s fight during 2013-2014 ‘to commemorate the fight that we fought together’.”

While he did not explain who the “we” were, his latest move suggested to some commentators that he wanted to address the junta. His group supported the junta and allegedly invited them to take office during the months-long protests.

Observers “believe Suthep wanted to remind the junta of their fight and the purpose of their fight” and to oppose the junta’s plan to establish its own political party, which is said to “contradict the PDRC’s initial purpose.” He’s also worried that the junta is “losing” the south.





Military hierarchy and the need for violence

24 11 2017

As readers will know, reports of the unusual deaths of recruits to the Thai military are common. Pictures of naked recruits being forced to engage in degrading activities and other pictures of recruits who have been beaten and bashed are all over social media.

We hadn’t posted on the most recent case, despite its grotesque details, as it was one case among many. However, this case has taken an unusual political turn as the dead recruit and his family had promoted their support of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, the group that supported and encouraged the 2014 military coup. The dead recruit did not come from the draft, but was at the “prestigious” Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School.

Prachatai reported that Cadet Phakhaphong Tanyakan may have been beaten to death. At least his parents thought this and secreted away his body for an independent autopsy after the military stated he died of sudden cardiac arrest.

The independent autopsy revealed that several of the cadet’s internal organs were missing, including his brain. The media reported the parent’s shock but then seemed to confirm that returning a body sans organs is “normal” and “not illegal.”

His parents were criticized for wanting another autopsy and not accepting the military’s explanation of his death.

While the junta has now had the “chief of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School has been transferred to an inactive post,” the initial response of the senior-most military thugs was to support “military discipline.” But even in replacing the former commander, the junta showed its intention to cover up by appointing a loyalist: “Col Benjapol Dechartwong Na Ayutthaya, deputy commander of the 21st Infantry Regiment, Queen’s Guard.”

Another Prachatai story had Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan “explaining” the death. He stated that “the freshman cadet … was … just too weak to withstand tough training.” Blaming the victim is the redoubt of fools and fascists.

He also supported the cadet school.

General Prawit also justified the “extreme discipline” at the school. He declared: “all soldiers have had to undergo such disciplinary measures, including himself.” He added: “I was once repaired more than I could take and I fainted too. I didn’t die.” That’s all okay then. Torturing your recruits is fine and dandy and if they die, it is their own weakness.

Prawit also indicated that “extreme discipline” would continue: “You don’t have to enrol. You don’t have to be a soldier. We want those who are willing.” Willing to be bashed, humiliated, and tortured. Those who survive can make coups and get unusually wealthy because they “learn” the hierarchy, accept it and move up, getting more loot and power at each level.

His view was supported by The Dictator, as reported in another Bangkok Post story. With the virtually moribund National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) actually making a statement that “harsh disciplining of cadets could constitute an act of torture…” under a law that is not in effect, Gen Prayuth said military bosses “would meet for talks the family of Pakapong … Tanyakan whose cadaver was later found to be missing organs including his brain.”

Prayuth mumbled that “military discipline for cadet training” was okay. He added: “Don’t worry. Nobody wants any losses or injuries…”. He used the same “logic” as Prawit: “he was disciplined when he studied at the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School.” He brainlessly added: “What’s wrong with it? I went through it all.”

That explains a considerable amount about Prayuth, Prawit and their dictatorship. Trained to accept torture as “discipline,” they are mentally crippled by their “education” to the extent that they think all Thais need “order” and “extreme discipline.”

On learning that the family were PDRC, Prayuth “apologised to the family and pledged to continue with the investigations to get to the bottom of the mystery.”

It isn’t a “mystery,” it is military discipline, establishing hierarchy and marking territory. The military does this with violence. This is also how they run the country: threats of violence and the use of violence. The deaths of citizens who get in the way is just collateral damage for the greater good and social order.





Anti-democrats get off lightly (again and again)

1 11 2017

Red shirt activists have spent months and years in prison for their alleged “crimes.” Seldom do yellow shirts of the PAD, People’s Democratic Reform Committee and similar anti-democrat activists get similar treatment from the establishment’s courts. After all, these groups were on the “winning” side and many were closely allied and aligned with the royalist military.

Confirming this, the Bangkok Post reports that the Criminal Court convicted medical doctor Rawee Maschamadol, one of four leaders of the so-called People’s Army and Energy Reform Network (PAERN).

But the court only sentenced him to eight months in jail and fined him 6,000 baht for “colluding in illegal assembly and causing public chaos.” More than this, it suspended the sentence for two years. No jail time for anti-democrats.

The charges related to the occupation of a PTT Plc building during the mass anti-democrat street rallies in 2014, led by the (anti)Democrat Party’s Suthep Thaugsuban and related fascists of the yellow-shirted royalist movement.

(Recall that, in February, the “Civil Court ordered the four co-leaders of the PAERN to pay almost 10 million baht to PTT Plc for damages caused by its occupation of the company’s property during the protests in 2014.  The four are Dr Rawee, Thotsaphon Kaewthima, Itthabun Onwongsa and Somkiat Pongpaiboon.”)

There were reportedly 105 co-defendants in the current case, and just two others were given jail terms of a paltry “two months and 20 days, without suspension, for offences committed during the occupation.” Another “defendant was acquitted. The remainder, including the three other co-leaders, were given two-month jail terms, suspended for two years, and fined 2,000 baht each.”

We assume their wrists are smarting from the taps the court has “inflicted” in making politicized rulings.