Updated: Intimidation intensifies

27 04 2016

The military dictatorship appears to have moved into a period of even deeper repression and intimidation. Part of this has to do with the fear of Thaksin Shinawatra. Some of it has to do with the junta cracking down on widespread opposition to it charter and its anti-democratic intent. And there may be other motivations that have to do with junta fears.

We can’t post on all of the reports of this new and deepening intimidation. Rather, we provide a listing of recent reports. It quite a list over just a week. The pattern is clear. As Human Rights Watch’s Sunai Phasuk stated that a “climate of fear” is “growing in the country ahead of the referendum.” He added that the “junta is mobilising state machinery and everything is being used to promote the draft constitution while people who oppose the draft are being targeted…”.

In fact, as we will show below, as bad as this is, in fact, the intimidation is broader than this.

The junta has threatened Bencharat Sae Chua, a lecturer of Mahidol University’s Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies. The lecturer is distributing information for a vote against the military’s draft charter has been threatened with Section 61 of the Referendum Act of 2016. This could mean up to 10 years in jail.

Puea Thai Party members have been targeted. It is reported that some 300 police and soldiers searched the homes of two politicians among others in Nakhon Sawan, accusing them of being “influential” figures. The military barred reporters from the houses they searched.

Earlier today it was reported that at least four people were abducted by the military in the early hours of the morning. Two men were abducted in Bangkok and two in Khon Kaen. The four are accused of being red shirts.

Within a couple of hours, the number abducted by the military rose to eight, with the military then saying they held 10 persons. Two of those abducted worked closely with red shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan. Of the 10, eight were taken in Bangkok and two in Khon Kaen. The two in Khon Kaen were accused by the military of “belonging to the New Democracy Group and the Resistant Citizen Group led by Anon Kampa.”  Activists called for protests.

At least some of those arrested seem to have been subject to complaints by the hopelessly biased puppet Election Commission. It  filed its first charges under the new referendum law that criminalizes political commentary. The charges were against a Facebook group for posting “foul and strong” comments criticizing the military’s draft constitution. The puppet EC claimed that the Facebook page had used “aggressive, harsh and rude language to urge readers to vote against the draft constitution to be put to a public vote Aug 7.”

Earlier, it was reported that Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan stated that both the People’s Democratic Reform Committee and the red shirts were under investigation for “announcing their stands on the draft constitution.” So far we can find no evidence of action against the PDRC.

A couple of days ago, the military “indicted six activists for demanding an investigation into the Rajabhakti Park corruption scandal.” Those indicted are reported to be “Sirawit Serithiwat, a student activist from New Democracy Movement, Anon Nampa, a human rights lawyer and core leader of Resistant Citizen, Kititach Suman, Wisarut Anupoonkarn, Koranok Kamda and Wijit Hanhaboon…”.

Last week, in Udon Thani, soldiers intimidated anti-mine activists ahead of a planned forum on the environmental effects of a potash mine in the province.

Around the same time, Watana Muangsook complained that “certain people pressured the Charoen Pokphand Company (CP), one of the biggest conglomerates in Asia run by the family of his former wife, to convince Weerada Muangsook, his daughter, to leave the country.”

In the south, the military has summoned the leader of a sea nomad community on Rawai Beach in Phuket, to a military camp. There he was intimidated by the military who accused of violating a junta order which gives almost absolute power to soldiers with the rank of sub-lieutenant upwards to maintain national security.

Update: Members of the Neo-Democracy Movement and the Resistant Citizen group organized a protest against the arrests at the Victory Monument.Police grabbed and detained 16 of the protesters at the Phaya Thai police station. They were detained for protesting by standing still in a group.





More anti-democrat support for the junta

25 04 2016

The anti-democrats associated with the Democrat Party seem to be throwing their support behind the military junta. The pathetic Abhisit Vejjajiva mumbled something about the draft charter having  undemocratic elements but, as usual, didn’t say if he supported the charter. No surprise there.

Also not surprising is the support of Suthep Thaugsuban. He speaks for many in the official Democrat Party and for the broader flock of anti-democrats.Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban answers questions during a news conference in Bangkok

The Bangkok Post reports that Suthep, now chairman of the Muan Maha Prachachon for Reform Foundation (the residue of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee), “has declared support for the draft constitution, saying it is suitable for the current situation in the country.”

In other words, Suthep and his followers are fully supportive of the military-dictated constitution, prepared by a puppet drafting body which, if passed in an illegitimate referendum, promises to remove virtually all the hallmarks of a democratic constitution. No surprise there.

Suthep was speaking at a press conference. Yes, we know, such public campaigning is meant to be banned under the junta, but it deals only in double standards.

According to the report, Suthep “was full of praise for the draft charter…”. For Suthep, the draft charter, provides “a way out without requiring another coup if a similar crisis as in the past occurred.” In other words, the charter will embed military supervision and control for years to come, backed up by interventionist and elite institutions such as the judiciary.

In essence, Suthep feels that the Thailand is better under an authoritarian regime. He praised the appointment of senators and the likelihood of an unelected premier.

The junta will be pleased.





Anti-democrats for the military’s charter

14 04 2016

It should be no surprise that the anti-democrats who agitated and begged for a military coup in early 2014 support the military junta’s draft constitution.

The People’s Democratic Reform Committee cheered the military’s coup and have, by and large, continued to cheer all of its repression and political fixing by the royalist dictatorship. Having prepared the political ground for yet another military coup, it is to be expected that the PDRC, now disguised as the Muan Maha Prachachon for Reforms Foundation, will act as cheer leaders for the illegitimate regime and its illegitimate charter. Suthep blowing

Interestingly, despite the junta’s ban on commentary on the charter, the anti-democrats say they will explain its support for the charter “after this week’s Songkran festival.” Southern godfather and senior anti-democrat Suthep Thaugsuban is going to “explain the group’s stance…”.

Akanat Promphan, secretary-general of the so-called Foundation and a scion of various leaders of the Democrat Party and stepson of Suthep, stated that “the group’s key figures considered the draft constitution good enough to suppress corruption.”

Akanat went on to criticize political parties. First, he reckoned “people” would support the draft and that they should not listen to political parties. Presumably listening to a “Foundation,” the military and other assorted anti-democrats is just fine. He attacked “political parties,” exhorting them to “comment reasonably on the new constitution.” He means they must not criticize the junta’s regressive charter.

The Pheu Thai Party’s remarks on the draft did not relate to its content, but to political interests, he maintained.

Akanat also indicated that it supports military domination into the future, saying that his “group still supported the junta’s national reform efforts before the next general election.” We assume they support further delays to any election, with the military junta continuing on.





Updated: Panama papers II

6 04 2016

We continue to look for data on Thailand in the Panama Papers. So far we aren’t having too much luck. We were, however, reminded of an earlier report of some 600 Thais stashing loot overseas.

That 2013 report, also from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, included Pojaman Shinawatra, Nalinee Taveesin, Bhanapot Damapong, members of the Chirathivat family, Yuenyong Opakul, and note this very carefully, the Vongkusolkit family and Admiral Bannawit Kengrian.

The latter was described as “the former deputy permanent secretary of defense, who is listed as one of many shareholders in the British Virgin Islands company Vnet Capital International Co., Ltd in 1998” with 2006 coup connections and who is described in a Wikileaks cable as an acolyte of Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda.

On the new release of leaks from Mossack Fonseca, the main new report we have seen was in the Bangkok Post. It states that the “Office of the Auditor-General has weighed in on the so-called Panama Papers, asking the Revenue Department to look into tax payment records of Thai nationals named in a list of people allegedly using a Panama-based law firm for offshore holdings.”moneybags 1

Yet, as might be expected in a country that is protective of its wealthy elites and ruled by a military junta, a cover-up seems likely, unless the junta can come across the names of those it sees as political opponents. At the moment, “Justice Minister Gen Paiboon Koomchaya and the business community are urging the public not to rush to conclusions and let regulators verify the information first.”

“Verify” sounds like “cover-up” or “manipulate.”

Like the rich everywhere, the first bleat refers to law rather than ethics: “… using offshore company structures is a normal and legal business practice.” Not paying tax is legal they say. In Thailand, tax, like so many other things, is malleable and politicized.

Recall that Thaksin Shinawatra’s sale of the Shin Corp involved tax havens. While he didn’t have to pay tax on the transfers in Thailand, there was an outcry over this, and the opposition to him was strengthened. Now, it seems, things are to be reversed. So much for Buddhist ethics and the “good” of “The Good People.”

The report says there are “almost 400 Thais among 780 individuals who used Thailand as a residence and 50 companies were named on the lists.” While it is stated that “[p]rominent names include well-known business people, politicians, a former military officer and celebrities…”, only a few names are named.

As the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) observes, “there are legitimate uses for offshore companies and trusts and it does not intend to suggest or imply that those named in the leak have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly.”

General Paiboon said “… the leak is not verified information. But once it’s verified, no one can dodge an investigation. So let Amlo [Anti-Money Laundering Office] work on this first…”.

Our question is: Where are Thailand’s journalists who should be working on this? In most other countries, journalists are pouring out stories.

Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiropas says “he has seen the list and had proceeded to ask the tax authority to review tax records to detect any possible wrongdoing.” He names no names.

Pisit also suggested that the “Centre for National Anti-Corruption (CNAC) can facilitate the probe by acting as a coordinator as it is the hub of 11 anti-corruption agencies.” Some of this group and Pisit were recently part of another cover-up, finding no corruption in the military’s Rajabhakti Park, while making “commissions” acceptable.

Now to some of the names and what they say.

Isara

Isara

One name in the Panama Papers is Isara Vongkusolkit, who is chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce. His response was to say that “he did not know and had noting to do with Mossack Fonseca. He was wondering how his name was mentioned on the lists.” Wondering? Really? He doesn’t remember the 2013 report?

He did admit that offshore banking and companies were necessary to avoid taxation in Thailand. He then went on to blame government for tax avoidance because it has had “high” tax rates!

The Vongkusolkit family maintains a tight set of relationships. One Chanin Vongkusolkit is a member of the Council of the Private Sector Collective Action against Corruption (CAC), which is:

an initiative by the Thai private sector to take parts in tackling corruption problem via collective action. The CAC aims to bring effective anti-corruption policy and mechanism into implementation by companies in order to create an ecosystem of clean business community.

Forbes says this of Isara and family:

To offset volatility in sugar prices, Isara Vongkusolkit’s privately held Mitr Phol Sugar, Thailand’s largest sugar producer, is expanding its energy business, which generates 400 megawatts of electricity, half for its own consumption. The company, which recently faced allegations of human rights abuses and illegal land- grabbing in Cambodia, said it was in discussions with the Cambodian government about its concessions. Brother Chanin stepped down as CEO of family’s Banpu, the country’s biggest coal miner, after running it for more than 3 decades.

Chanin remains on the Banpu Board of Directors. Others from the family on the Board are Buntoeng and Verajet Vongkusolkit. Australia’s controversial Centennial Coal Centennial is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Banpu.

Banpong

Banpong

The point seems to be that Isara and his family are fabulously wealthy Sino-Thai tycoons and like their ilk everywhere, seek to “minimize” tax while claiming to engage in ethical business behavior, if that is not an oxymoron.

Another listed is “Banyong Pongpanich, chairman of Phatra Capital and a member of the State Enterprises Policy Commission, posted a message on his Facebook page saying he was taken aback that his name was on the list.” Like Isara, he claims to not know Mossack Fonseca: “I have just learned of the company today and I never contacted or did any business with Mossack Fonseca…”.

Schultz

Schultz

We are reminded of Sgt. Schultz, again and again. How many times can “I know nothing” be used?

Patra Capital is a “certified” company at the Private Sector Collective Action against Corruption and Phatra Capital promulgates a Code of Ethics for Directors, Officers and Employees. In part, it states:

By adhering to exemplary standards and conducting our business with excellence and integrity, we enhance our reputation and cultivate the growth of our business. All of us must take personal responsibility for conducting ourselves in a way that reflects positively on the Capital Market Business Group and with the letter and spirit of the Guidelines for Business Conduct.

Like many of Thailand’s tycoons, Banpong has royal links, his with the Mae Fah Luang Foundation. He is also a member of the junta-created Superboard, which is said to be “overseeing all state enterprises has the stated aim of getting them all moving in the same direction towards strength and efficiency.” A Superboard of bankers, coal miners and more means endless conflicts of interest.

Both the Vongkusolkit and Pongpanich families are represented on the Board of Trustees of the royalist Thailand Development Research Institute, which has often commented on corruption and ethics in Thailand’s politics.

Bannawit

Bannawit

The last Sgt. Schultz excuse came from Admiral Bannawit Kengrien. The “former deputy defence permanent secretary, whose name is also on the lists, said this came as a surprise to him…. According to the retired officer he never conducted any business transactions overseas or given permission to anyone to use his name to set up offshore accounts.”

Bannawit has appeared previously at PPT as one of “Dad’s Army,” which was an elite forerunner to the more popular People’s Democratic Reform Committee in trying to bring down the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra. He was a member of several other yellow-shirted and royalist groups that sought to create conflict with the Yingluck government. Earlier, he was previously a member of the assembly appointed by the junta in 2006 and then caused controversy when deputy defense minister. He was not averse to very odd and racist claims when opposing red shirts.

Bannawit also seems to have conveniently forgotten the 2013 leaks from the British Virgin Islands. Or perhaps the rich and powerful expect the junta to enforce collective amnesia on the country.

Update: Khaosod has cast doubt on the Bangkok Post story, above, saying that the newspaper (and many others) confused the 2013 leak with the Panama Papers. INterestingly, whether its 2013 or now, nothing in our post would seem in need of change.





Judicial “reconciliation” is junta “law”

28 03 2016

Here are the facts, from Prachatai, which includes a photo:

On 28 December 2013, the defendants, together with other PDRC protesters, barricaded a Nakhon Si Thammarat candidate registration office. The protest prevented the local Election Commission from registering candidates. As a result, the general election could not be held in all nine Nakhon Si Thammarat constituencies on 2 February 2014.

Nakhon Si Thammarat was one of eight southern provinces which their candidate registrations for the 2014 election were disrupted by the anti-election protesters.

Nakhon Si Thammarat prosecutors indicted them for preventing the election.

Remember all that horse manure spread by the military junta about “reconciliation”? Here’s how the judiciary interprets it:

The court ruled that when the defendants were charged the political environment in Thailand was very divisive and all the prosecution witnesses were political opponents of the defendants. Therefore the evidence was weak….

Ignore the facts, the video evidence, the prosecutors and the case that comes from the police investigations and, most of all, ignore law when it is not politically acceptable. There are no double standards anymore, not under the military dictatorship. There are just the junta’s views, needs, desires and wants.





With a major update: Paranoia and politics

27 03 2016

The courts have been busy dismissing charges against southern anti-democrats for preventing an election by blockading candidate registration centers and voting centers.

These anti-democrats worked under the orders of southern boss Suthep Thaugsuban, one of those responsible for ordering the murder of protesting citizens in April and May 2010.

Preventing an election is a base act of anti-democrats and in this instance, had another aim – getting the military brass to intervene and throw out the government.

Using threats and violence to prevent persons exercising their democratic rights under the then constitution is both an illegal act (except to Thai courts) and an attack on the base of a society seeking to establish the sovereignty of citizens (except in Thailand, where it is an act of loyalty).

In the military dictatorship’s world, these anti-democrats are heroes. The threats to “national security” are another group; those who speak about politics in ways the paranoiac self-appointed premier finds uncomfortable.

So it is that “a former politician from the Pheu Thai party that he will be taken in for an attitude adjustment [political re-education] session over remarks against the junta leader.

On 25 March 2016, Worachai Hema, a former Member of Parliament for Samut Prakan Province revealed that “military officers had informed him that they will take him for a so-called attitude adjustment session.”

Apparently this re-education session was prompted by Worachai stating that The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, “should resign if the current draft constitution does not pass the upcoming public referendum.”

Based on an earlier comment by The Dictator that “he had done his best and if the constitution was rejected in a public vote, all sides, including the people, had to take responsibility.” Worachai said, quite reasonably:

“People did not get to choose the writers. Gen Prayut appointed them and they did their duty by his order and within the framework of the interim charter, which was written by the NCPO, led by Gen Prayut.

“Therefore, Gen Prayut has to take the most responsibility, not the people, who are the owners of the power.

“How could the people take responsibility when they don’t get a chance to determine their own future? Other people are doing it for them.

“When people think [the charter is] undemocratic — and the referendum will also be held when Section 44 is in place to suppress dissent — they won’t endorse the draft. And Gen Prayut is the one to take responsibility. He must resign if it doesn’t pass.

“Extending power is a tricky business as the May 1992 uprising taught us. If it happens again, it will be a crisis over a crisis….

“When no party wins a majority vote, small parties will join hands and bring in an outsider to be PM. Those opposing the NCPO might not win or might win by a small margin. But if they manage to come in, they will be toppled by many traps, deepening the conflict.”

Yes, that’s it. Such an observation is considered far more dangerous than electoral vandalism.

Soldiers took him from his house on Saturday morning for his re-education and attitude adjustment.

The military dictatorship has stated its correctness on everything. Junta sock puppet and spokesman Colonel Winthai Suwaree stated that “Worachai was taken for talks at Military Circle 11 because his recent expression of opinion had not been constructive.”

We therefore understand that preventing an election and gunning down protesters is “constructive” in the eyes of the military gangsters.

My brain hurts

Apparently, Prayuth felt he had been “derided” and that Worachai had “looked down” on him. When Prayuth interprets such basic statements as threatening he displays a paranoia that is then displayed in a personalized construction of politics that is deeply disturbing and very dangerous.

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that the “Pheu Thai Party has issued a statement calling for an immediate release of … Worachai … and for the government to clarify its action.”

The party declared that “such action by the military under the supervision of the government was unlawful and a serious violation of the human rights principle[s]…”.

The party was clear: “If Mr Worachai had made any legal offence, he should have been treated according to legal procedures.  In this case, he had not bee properly charged…”.

Arresting people, spiriting them off to re-education in military bases, closing websites, television broadcasters and radio stations is “a gross violation of human rights and liberties of the people…”.

According to the party, “Worachai had expressed his opinions to the public with honesty without causing unrest in the country…. His … call … for the prime minister to show responsibility if the draft charter does not pass the public referendum is legitimate and in line with ethical standards recognised internationally…”.





Anti-democrats and the junta

22 03 2016

The anti-democrats in Thailand have a long history. They have usually been huddled around the monarchy and the military. There was a time, following the 1992 massacre of civilians, when democrats came into their own, and even some anti-democrats posed as democrats. An excellent example was the grinning mercenary and self-styled religious zealot Chamlong Srimuang.

The remnants of the People’s Alliance for Democracy and various other royalist and military-connected right-wing groups came together to support the People’s Democratic Reform Committee and cheered when the military ran its 22 May 2014 coup.

Since the coup, several of their leaders have been well-paid members of various of the junta’s puppet assemblies and so on.

With the military coming under attack from the middle class, mainly for its determination to stay in power, the anti-democrats have decided to support the junta on its claims that the military staying in power or having a veto over government are necessary for “reform.” That call for “reform” was the the catchphrase of the PDRC.

The Bangkok Post reports that a “pro-regime group has called on the administration to exert its executive powers to ensure reforms are in place before the next election.” Again, that is pure PDRC.

Green group secretary-general Jaturon Boonbenjarat is reported to have declared that “the government” and the junta “should emphasise reform issues over the draft charter, as time was running out.” The Green group was formed out of PAD.

These anti-democrats call for increased use of Article 44 for “reforms before elections without having to wait for completion of the draft charter … adding reforms could encompass police, judicial procedures, administration, to social inequality.”

“Reform” is code for rooting out the “Thaksin regime.” They want more purges of those they consider opponents.

They re not opposed “to the regime’s proposal of a five-year transitional post-election period, which includes an appointed Senate…”. But they are calling on the junta to listen to them: “Civic networks should speak out on what they want reforms to accomplish, and the regime should speed up efforts to put them in place…”.

One of the militant leaders of the PDRC and long-time Thaksin Shinawatra opponent Paiboon Nititawan, a former unelected senator, selected by the military dictatorship as a charter writer appointed by the junta’s puppet National Reform Council, said “he supported the regime’s proposal for an appointed Senate, which he said could help counter-balance the House of Representatives and the cabinet.”

Another junta puppet, Seri Suwannapanon, “chairman of the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA)’s committee in charge of political reforms, threw his support behind the selected senators, saying his panel had proposed the issue before the NCPO [junta] did.” Naturally enough, his “committee also backs the idea of allowing outsiders to become the prime minister and said the practice could help break the political impasse.” Nor did he “oppose the idea that civil servants be allowed to sit in the Upper House, but only if they can ensure the country’s stability and peace.”

The picture is of anti-democrats throwing their political weight behind the military, again.

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post reports that “Pornpetch Wichitcholchai, chairman of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), said on Monday the proposals were not made by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) alone, in an apparent bid to ease pressure on the junta.” He says it’s a decision of the junta and all its puppet organizations: “the NCPO, NLA, cabinet and National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA).”

He’s clear that these junta puppet organizations do not want a “majority-controlled government” actually governing.








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