“Gender equality will weaken Thailand”

2 02 2016

Many readers will have seen General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s latest gaffe at Coconuts Bangkok. Even so, it warrants wider attention.

The Dictator has “scoffed at gender equality and said the country would deteriorate if women and men were equal.”

He is quoted as stating: “Everyone says we must create equality — men and women deserve the same rights and can do the same good and bad things. Oh, if you all think so, the Thai society will deteriorate!”

He continues: “Women are the gender of motherhood, the gender of giving birth. When you come home… who’s got a wife here? Does your wife take care of you when you come home? When you’re at home she’s the authority, isn’t she?”, adding, “Since I’ve been married, I haven’t done anything at home.”

“I don’t have to worry about these things at home. I don’t have to pick the kids up, none of that…”.

The report states: “As embarrassing and hopeless as it is to have a leader who doesn’t believe an entire half of its population deserves the same rights as the other half, this is not the first time Prayuth has made a sexist remark in public.”

It refers to Prayuth’s comments about beautiful women, bikinis and murder. At the time, PPT observed:

Yet this usual incompetence and unprofessional behavior is topped by the crass misogyny of the country’s leader, boss, prime minister and dictator. His first comment was disturbing:

I have been following this matter very closely,” Gen. Prayuth told reporters as he arrived at Government House this morning. “We also have to look into the behavior of the other side [the tourists]. (…) This case should not have happened in Thailand at all. I think it will affect foreign opinion of our country.

His second comment was even worse:

There are always problems with tourist safety. They think our country is beautiful and is safe so they can do whatever they want, they can wear bikinis and walk everywhere,” Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who is also the army chief, told government officials. But “can they be safe in bikinis… unless they are not beautiful?” he said, addressing the issue of tourist safety in a speech broadcast live on television.

Thailand’s anti-democrats have a track record on misogyny, using it as a political weapon. It wasn’t that long ago that those calling for Prayuth to make a coup repeatedly attacked former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra as a “slut” or “whore” for daring to stand up for democratic governance. At around the same time, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva added to these shocking and disgusting personalized attacks by referring to Yingluck as “a stupid bitch.”

Among the wealthy elite on the political right, it seems that misogyny is normalized. As Prayuth implies, it is just the way things are done in their hierarchical world.

Is the junta fraying?

31 01 2016

Readers may be interested in another take on Thailand by the prolific commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak. This comment is in the East Asia Forum. It begins:

No country in Southeast Asia shoots itself in the foot more than Thailand. With so much going for it, the second-largest economy in the region still manages to underperform spectacularly. Its growth trajectory is in the 2–3 per cent range even though it has the potential to track twice that figure. Two decades after it was considered to be a consolidating democracy, Thailand is now led by outright military-authoritarian rule. In much of the region there will be considerable good news in 2016, but in Thailand good news seems hard to find.

He argues that the pro-coup coalition “has been characterised by instability and political stagnation.” The Democrat Party is not all that happy, he says, and recent events show dissension in the ranks. Thitinan adds that “the street-based Democrat faction known as the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) probably did not foresee a long-term military dictatorship. But the PDRC is holding its tongue for now.”

He sees that “[c]ivil society activists who supported the coup also seem to be having second thoughts.” His claim is that “[m]any members of Thai civil society were conservative when facing the Shinawatra clan in government but are becoming more progressive now that the military government seems to have entrenched itself in government for the long haul.” Perhaps, but this group is bedazzled by royalist-inspired nonsense about “good” people and always see themselves as “good” people working for the greater good. In fact, many are simply paternalistic middle class “leaders” in search of followers who can be “reformed.”

Thitinan reckons “[b]ureaucratic support for the coup is wavering too.” However, the “game-changer for Thai politics in 2016 and beyond may be the position of big business.” No democrats here, with “key business people hav[ing] been supportive of the coup and the government. But sustained economic doldrums and mounting international pressure may prompt them to change direction should the opportunity arise.” PPT reckons they’ll recycle old semi-democratic ideas about government and probably like the draft constitution. But economic torpor will indeed motivate them.

We think the way the military junta reacts to the referendum will be a test and may see some unraveling of support.

First takes on the junta’s draft constitution

30 01 2016

PPT hasn’t had a chance to look at the draft 270-article, 95-page constitution in any detail, but there are commentators who have (a PDF of the draft can be downloaded, in Thai). While most of the provisions have been flagged in recent weeks – at last the most controversial, we thought we’d combines some of that commentary here.

In the Bangkok Post, the anti-democrat agenda of the drafters and junta is made clear by the aged military flunkey Meechai Ruchupan: “”Given the limited time, we have drafted the best constitution within the 2014 interim charter’s framework. We want it to be the charter that can efficiently suppress corruption and does not whitewash wrongdoers…”. He referred to the draft as a “reform constitution.” In the Khaosod report linked below, Amorn Wanichwiwatana, spokesman of the junta-appointed Constitution Drafting Committee, said the redesigned election system, will “prevent parliamentary dictatorship…”. He added: “It won’t be majority rule…”.

The CDC and junta are pandering to the anti-democrats and the fearful middle class. The anti-democrats will probably be happy (but see below), although the Democrat Party may be less so. However that party is able to lie in any bed.

One of the provisional clauses gives the military an extra three months in power, which The Dictator will have asked for. However, if the referendum dumps the charter, then military rule will be around for as long as the junta wants. In another interesting transition arrangement, if the charter gets up in the referendum, Article 44 remains in place through to a new government being formed. In essence, the draconian Article 44, which empowers the military junta to do anything it wants, stays in place. This allows considerable interference in referendum, election and the formation of any new government.

Pravit Rojanaphruk has an article at Khaosod that has a listing on some of the main (and, by now, well known) aspects of the military junta’s charter, in his sub-headings: Unelected Prime Minister and New Electoral System; Rise of Constitutional Court and Unelected Agencies Over Elected Government; Unelected Senate, Lack of Public Participation and a Less-Than-Democratic Charter. He also has some commentary.

Nipit Intarasombat of the Democrat Party doesn’t quite say it, but the charter tries to take Thailand back to a period of small parties, coalition building and busting, unelected premiers and vote-buying. The old political schemer and chief Privy Council meddler General Prem Tinsulanonda must be as pleased as Punch to have his political system essentially resurrected in this draft charter.

Nipit declares that the outside prime minister a threat: “This is unprecedented, and nowhere in this world can we find [such rules]. It allows for an outsider to become prime minister without being elected,” adding that the voting system “was designed in such as way as to ensure that no single party will ever gain outright majority in election…”.

The Puea Thai Party’s Chaturon Chaisaeng, saw the remarkable political power allocated to the Constitutional Court in legal terms:

“Having the power to define what constitutes a crisis and to use that power [over an elected government] is a serious dismantling of the check-and-balance system of the three branches under a democracy,” Chaturon said. “In getting it to try to solve [political] crises, the court will be increasingly dragged into politics. This is outside the democratic system, and will itself more easily induce crises.”

In fact, the new powers for the Court and for other independent bodies are to create a substitute for the monarchy’s political role, no longer considered reliable. Royalists and the elite figure they can maintain conservative control of the Constitutional Court.

Interestingly, a senior adviser for the People’s Democratic Reform Committee and regularly on their stage in 2014, Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, also a former member of the now defunct National Reform Council, told the Bangkok Post that “the structure of parliament set out under the draft charter is flawed and outdated and goes against the principles of democracy.”

We are sure there’s plenty more commentary to come.

Updated: Going backwards serves the powerful

27 01 2016

A series of reports at Prachatai and at the Bangkok Post are a useful reminder of what Thailand is like when the military is in charge.

Corruption, the use of special powers, thuggery, working with business people to exploit the poor in coercive ways. And, impunity. The military and the bureaucrats can do whatever they want, and get away with murder, abduction, enforced disappearance and other gang-like bad behavior because, like a male street dog licking its undercarriage, they can.

We apologize for this rather rude analogy but the actions of the military and the junta are uncivil, uncouth and brutish.

The first story at Prachatai relates to three suspects – red shirts, of course – arrested, tortured, kept in jail longer than the law allowed and accused of accused of “carrying out an attack with explosives on the PDRC protest in Trat on 22 February 2014, which resulted in the deaths of three people, two of them children, and 39 injured.” They were acquitted by the Provincial Court in Trat. The evidence was non-existent and the military thugs who arrested them didn’t even bother to appear in court.

The second Prachatai story is one that seems a remarkably 20th century account of primitive accumulation. Investors, in cooperation with the authorities sent hired thugs to attack a rural community the tycoons want moved (in many previous cases the thugs have usually military men out of uniform).  In this case, “a group of men with military and police officers came to the beach and surrounded the area, which the investors have been attempting to use for developing lucrative projects for years.” The local community was attacked and beaten when they objected to the tycoons taking their community and land.

The first Bangkok Post story is about the use of Article 44 to progress business interests at the expense of local communities, mainly in border areas, including coal-fired power stations. The idea is to prevent local communities complaining.

The last story is an op-ed by Sanitsuda Ekachai, with a title that sums up everything in the four stories: “Poor suffer as regime goes back to old ways.” Land “reform,” small-scale fishers, farming communities being pushed about by miners, and more, all supported by the political and economic bosses and their hired thugs. As one activist described it: “Our country is going backward in time, not years, but decades…”.

Update: On the second Prachatai story above, of course, there is no evidence that the company that had men beat the “sea gypsies” with sticks were linked to the local military mafia. A story in the Bangkok Post refers to a leaked document on social media showing the Baron World Trade Co asked brass at the Royal Thai Army Military Circle 41 base in Nakhon Si Thammarat to deploy troops to protect company staff during construction work.” Racism, accumulation and corrupt links between military and business are linked in this case.

Update: Privilege and support

25 01 2016

The military dictatorship has made a big deal of its preference that political activists not meet so that their politics is deactivated. It has generally had the same line for political parties.

However, as readers will know, the junta makes strategic exceptions and supports its supporters. For example, fascist monk Buddha Issara has been permitted and even encouraged to rally with his supporters several times. Anti-democrat meetings involving Suthep Thaugsuban have been permitted. The military junta has even organized its own “protesters.”

Confirming these double standards, The Nation reports that the so-called Democrat Party, the preferred party of military and royalists, has been permitted to meet in Suthep’s southern political stronghold of Suratthani on Sunday.Democrat_Party

Party “heavyweights” reportedly met to deal with “internal conflicts posing [a] threat to its popularity in the capital after the party severed ties with its deputy leader, Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra.”

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and Sukhumbhand, who have been at loggerheads, met with other party bosses “at the invitation of the party’s former secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban, who now chairs the Great Mass of People’s Foundation for Thailand’s Reforms [the anti-democrats].” Despite his earlier denials, Suthep craves political power.

As Suthep is back in the driver’s seat, he also invited other People’s Democratic Reform Committee and “former” Democrat Party members including Sathit Wongnongtoey and Thaworn Senniam.

The future of the Democrat Party looks like shifting into Suthep’s hands. The military junta seems willing to extend political privileges to the Democrat Party as we guess the military junta will want a strong and united Democrat Party heading into any election after 2016. We doubt the military junta wants to build its own party, so the Democrat Party is their best bet.

Update: In a Bangkok Post report, General Prawit Wongsuwan tells human rights groups to screw themselves. He declares that the “ban on political assembly and activities” is not up for debate and is an “internal affair.” Prawit “said authorities had not violated the activists’ [Sirawith Seritiwat and Neo-Democracy students] human rights.” Sirawith was arrested on a train trip with activists to bring attention to military corruption. But anti-democrats are free to assemble and engage in political activities because they are privileged as supporters of the military and its junta.


Resistance matters

18 01 2016

Resistance to the military dictatorship has been constant. Yet the regime has also been quite successful in repressing opponents.

Maintaining pressure on the regime is critical for Thailand’s future. Time and again in the past, students and academics have been important in opposing authoritarianism. Things are challenging this time, with these groups having been split by the red-yellow divide.

Yet it is heartening to see the neo-democracy students being so brave in facing down the military dictatorship. According to a story at Khaosod, academics are following suit.

The report states that “[p]ro-democracy academics want to shift to a proactive stance in an attempt to restore some political rights amid concerns the junta may attempt to remain in power much longer.”

They are right to be concerned for Thailand’s political future.

The report is about a group of “[s]ome 30 academics and NGO activists organized as ‘Thai Academics for Civil Rights’ [which] will meet Thursday through Saturday to review their role and come up with strategies and measures to push back against repression by the military junta against students and scholars.”

Anusorn Unno, the dean of Thammasat University’s Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology, asked: “What can we do to steal the agenda from the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)?” He said:

his group is counting on the growing disillusionment of groups which used to support the coup-makers, including medical doctors, NGO workers, rubber farmers and some members of the movement created to oust the former civilian government, the People’s Committee for Absolute Democracy with the King as Head of State, or PCAD.

These people increasingly recognize that paving way for the military to seize power didn’t enable [the country] to progress…. It wasn’t that clear in the first year since the coup, but the dust has now settled.

In fact, it was clear from day 1, but we agree that a wider group is beginning to see the failures and strategies of the dictatorship for embedding royalist authoritarianism.

Anusorn observes that: “The support base of the regime is eroding and simmering conflicts which have been suppressed await to be reignited…”. He mentioned Corruption Park.

The Assembly of the Poor is involved, with Barame Chairat, a coordinator, observing: “I agree that we need to launch an offensive because we have been on the receiving end so far… If we don’t do this, more will suffer.”

The PDRC’s resurrection

16 01 2016

Readers may have noticed that, in recent days, the People’s Democratic Reform Committee leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, and some of its members have been back in the news.

The PDRC has a testy relationship with the leadership of the military junta it supported in coming to power. On the one hand, the junta appreciates that the PDRC was an important tool in bringing about a military dictatorship, laying the political ground for the 2014 military coup. On the other, the military is suspicious of “charismatic” leaders who can mobilize political “mobs.” The junta is careful to maintain political supremacy for itself and is wary of anyone attempting to claim political space for itself.

Following from the high-profile media appearances by Suthep in recent days, here and here, it remains unclear how the relationship between junta and PDRC is evolving. However, the recent appointment of an assistant government spokesman who hails from the PDRC might be a pointer.

While Colonel Atisith Chainuvati may play down his ties to the PDRC, it is clear that he participated in its rallies and celebrated the coup with its high-profile and hi-so leadership. as they partied in military attire. Atisith is a perfect anti-democrat. He is a soldier from an elite family and educated overseas.

Atisith says all this is “in the past,” but it is clear that his appointment represents a statement by the military regime about where its “Phase 2” is headed. The not-so-secret linkages between anti-democrats and the military junta look likely to have a higher and more public profile, emphasizing authoritarianism as Thailand’s present and future.


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