Limiting campaigning

23 01 2019

Even before the junta’s election date was announced, the military dictatorship and the Election Commission joined in issuing threats to parties campaigning for votes.

Both the Bangkok Post and The Nation reported a rant by The Dictator and on the intervention by the EC.

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha continued the pantomime regarding his desperate desire to continue as Thailand’s dictator following the “election.”

he declared he would only “join a hard-working and selfless party…” and claimed to be awaiting an “invitation” to join such a party:

If I need to continue my work, I’ll need to be with some party…. However, that party has to be hardworking and dedicated and not trying to undo everything built and achieved [in the past four years].

He was clear that devil parties must be supported:

If I decide to stay on [in politics] to carry on the work, I will need to subscribe to a party which is dedicated, truly selfless and determined to change the country for the better, not one which seeks to undo everything this government has started. That would be a waste of time….

Responding to “criticism over some Cabinet members becoming members of the pro-junta Phalang Pracharat Party and refusing to give up their current posts,” The Dictator defended the devil party and his men with pathetic lies:

Prayut asked critics not to view as unfair the ministers’ meetings with voters during the mobile Cabinet sessions in different provinces in what is perceived as an attempt to steal a march over other politicians contesting in the upcoming election. The government only works for the public interest….

This defense of the junta’s cheating, The Dictator also warned other parties that the should not criticize his regime: “Please don’t say that the government didn’t do anything…”.

While his regime has been doling out billions in election-focussed “policy corruption” and policy plagiarism, The Dictator “warned politicians to consider whether the policies they were campaigning on were feasible, because of the strict rules and regulations on the budget and expenditure.”

The Dictator “revealed” that “he has received over 200 complaints about how some parties are preparing for the poll…”. He declared that parties would be investigated.

He further declared that any post-election government had to work for the junta’s legacy:

Future governments are free to improve on these policies and laws where needed but they should not abolish them…. The laws include those on budget expenditure and anti-corruption measures related to rice schemes.

While blaming “politicians” for the “problems” of the past, Gen Prayuth demanded that the junta’s policies and programs “should be carried on by the next administration.” His example the junta’s “flagship Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) scheme…. Gen Prayut said political parties should not try to woo voters who are against the regime by pledging to scrap the project.”

The Bangkok Post observes that the Election Commission “effectively joined in, issuing a statement claiming to outline what it believes parties are allowed and prohibited.” The statement, signed by EC secretary-general Jarungvith Phumma, set exceptionally high hurdles for parties in promoting election promises.

Palang Pracharath has already been disregarding such limits. But that’s not a shock as Jurungvith had earlier admitted that the EC was not investigating the main devil party. It seems a law unto itself. Well, unto the junta.





The Dictator on sale

25 12 2018

The Dictator is busy selling his policies. He’s especially keen to have people buy his “welfare policies” as “real” rather than simply vote buying or policy corruption.

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s concern is that, before an election he has manipulated and planned for years, his helicopter cash and short-termism are being criticized as inadequate and not amounting to serious welfare programs.

We have long said that the poor deserve all they can get in a vastly unequal and exploitative Thailand. However, Gen Prayuth’s efforts are little short of vote-buying.

Helpfully, the Bangkok Post has produced a summary of some parts of Prayuth-as-Santa new year gifts to voters, which we reproduce here.

Credit: Bangkok Post

His response to criticism is to beg for votes as he campaigns in many communities.

He “defended his regime’s end-of year social welfare scheme as a ‘well thought out’ policy that will help the people…”. He added: “Please do not try to discredit the scheme and twist the facts, the welfare cards were not issued to court the favour of any political party…“.

In fact, there’s some twisted truth to this! His handouts are meant to make him prime minister again after the election, which will come from him being nominated by a devil party. His handouts support him and he supports Palang Pracharath.

The Post explains: “The prime minister has been increasing the frequency of his visits to local communities after the newly-formed Palang Pracharath Party threw its support behind him as leader post-election.”

It might have added that Palang Pracharath is the junta’s party.





Doubling down on double standards VIII

14 12 2018

Like us, many readers will recall the hullabaloo and legal efforts that were associated with the undermining of Yingluck Shinawatra regime, much of it arguing that her government was illegitimate due to “populism.” For that matter, some may recall similar analysis, including by yellow-shirted academics, who howled about “policy corruption” as a form of vote-buying when Thaksin Shinawatra was elected.

We hear far less of that hullabaloo and howling associated with similar programs associated with the military junta and raining money into the electorate. Given that the junta is in total control and has banned (most) political parties from campaigning, its efforts are quite obviously meant to garner votes.

Clearly, double standards are at work.

The most recent splurge of taxpayer funds meant to shift political support to the devil parties has been so obvious that even the normally anti-democrat Democrat Party has been complaining. They see themselves as losing out to junta-backed parties when the junta, with its guns and access to state funds is so obviously vote buying.

The main devil party, Palang Pracharath, formed by the military junta, is the main beneficiary of the junta’s vote buying, even as it waddles through the unnecessarily prolonged and untheatrical charade of naming General Prayuth Chan-ocha as its prime ministerial nominee. Everyone in Thailand already knows this. (Go on General, surprise us. Do something else, like holidaying in Germany for a couple of years.)

The main defenders of the the junta’s all-too-obvious cheating have been … yep, the Palang Pracharath Party.

According to Khaosod, the Palang Pracharat’s deputy leader Suvit Maesincee, who is simultaneously and unethically also a cabinet minister, declared that “the poor are starving to death and should benefit from continued support for programs introduced by his government, such as its controversial welfare card program.”

He does not explain how his military junta has managed an economy that leaves people starving to death, all the 11 million and more who were recently handed 500 baht each as some kind of warped one-off “welfare” payment.

(A reader suggests that the electoral strategies being used by the junta have some resonances with Najib Razak’s money politics.)

But he did add:

“We want to create a pracharat society,” … using the slogan his party is named after, which the government uses to promote its policies as a form of public-state cooperation.

The minister-devil-party-deputy leader also mumbled that salaried workers in the private sector will soon get state-funded pensions. Now that should be big!

But then, some of the junta’s electoral splurges have failed to impact the poor. A report at the Bangkok Post states that a “meagre 360,000 of the 11.4 million recipients of the government’s welfare and subsidy scheme for the poor are entitled to value-added tax (VAT) payback in the first month after the tax incentive scheme…”, for an average of just over 12 baht each. That’s mainly because only Thong Fah Pracharat – yes, like the Party’s name – shops with card readers are involved. That’s less than 15% of these junta-sponsored shops.

Double standards are the junta’s standards.

 





Shoveling money into the electorate

28 08 2018

The military dictatorship’s electoral campaigning has hit high gear in a frenzied shoveling out of money “seemingly aimed at winning the hearts of voters at the grassroots.” That’s according to an account at The Nation.

As it looks increasingly like the junta and The Dictator have the confidence to hold their rigged election, they are pouring money into “projects” meant to turn voters to the junta’s party/ies.

Senior junta figures are associating themselves with those projects. Of course, these are state-funded projects or, more correctly, taxpayer-funded.

There’s nothing wrong with a government promising and then delivering on projects that benefit the poor. However, it has to be recalled that various pro-Thaksin Shinawatra governments were lambasted for such schemes – albeit that they were put to the test of elections.

Worse, many of these schemes were criticized as policy corruption by opponents and ended up in cases before courts that even brought down governments. Those critics have thrown their support behind two coups and the junta’s government.

As we understand them, these critics blasted Thaksin-allied governments for policy corruption because they saw those governments enriching ministers and Thaksin himself. They now say the junta is not enriching itself, so this may be vote-buying but is not policy corruption….

The junta’s targets for the spending are explicitly those considered likely to have voted for the Puea Thai Party: “farmers, low-income people and rural residents.” The aim being to turn their attention to junta-supporting parties.

The efforts include “a three-year moratorium on farmers’ debts, continuing through July 2021.” Recall that back when Thaksin first came to power with Thai Rak Thai? That costs Bt2.7 billion in “debt-interest compensation to the BAAC due to the suspension of debt repayments.”

Another important effort has involved the military’s Mafia-cum-Robin Hood seizing of assets from those it identifies as “loan sharks,” returning assets like cars and land titles to those who took loans. While we don’t condone illegal lending, the actions of the military in “applying pressure” seem as illegal as the loans. The targets are red shirt areas in Khon Kaen and Udonthani .

The junta has also ordered the BAAC to consider restructuring “debt that farmers have owed to the BAAC since 2000. This project involves combined debt topping Bt6 billion and interest of Bt4 billion.”

The junta “has made it a policy to hand out money to needy people every month. In the second phase of this undertaking this year, monthly handouts increased from Bt300 to Bt500 for individuals earning less than Bt30,000 a year and from Bt200 to Bt300 for people on annual incomes of less than Bt100,000.”

In addition, the junta is “injecting Bt200,000 each into more than 82,000 communities throughout the country.” Remember the Thaksin government’s scheme?

Then there’s “a Bt40-billion project to offer cheap loans to homebuyers on low incomes.” Recall the Ua Arthon projects under Thaksin?

The National Legislative Assembly is supporting the junta’s vote-buying efforts. The Bangkok Post reports that the “40-billion-baht budget for the Pracharat scheme has been spared from being trimmed…”. Originally scheduled for cuts, those cuts have been “redistributed … to other agencies instead.”

It’s all hands on deck to shovel the money out before any election. The pay-off is is expected in votes for the junta.





“Election,” political “ban” and “policy corruption”

21 08 2018

So many inverted commas!! But that’s what the world of the junta’s politics demands. Nothing is exactly what it seems.

In yet another careful rollback of expectations and the original statement, the Bangkok Post reports junta legal minion Wissanu Krea-ngam as saying the junta’s “election” will probably be “scheduled sometime between Feb 24 and May 5…”. Wissanu hinted that 24 February was a possible date, but that depends on a lot of others doing the necessary vetting, signing and so on. Unlikely, we think.

And, he says, the ban on political activities (for all but the junta’s buddies and the junta itself) will be “partially lifted, most probably beginning from next month…”.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu made these claims after “meeting the Election Commission” where “he and the five newly appointed election commissioners discussed almost a dozen poll-related issues.”

Is it just us thinking that this a clear statement of the lack of the EC’s independence? Add to this the evidence that Wissanu, representing the junta, and the commissioners agreed that the ban on political activities “would be eased selectively.” That would seem to suit only the junta and its faux parties. In other jurisdictions that might rightly be seen as collusion on election rigging.

Even Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva knows that “the constitution explicitly states that the EC is the final authority in fixing an election date. However, since the regime has Section 44 at its disposal, the EC’s power could be irrelevant.” There you are.

Meanwhile, down south, the junta has been dragging around buckets of loot for “policy corruption”/vote-buying and so on. Another report in the Bangkok Post tells readers that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha “has promised to inject more cash into development schemes…”.

The Dic confirmed that loads of money would be pumped into the south for roads, rail, tourism development and just about anything else business people could think of.





The Dictator’s (s)election campaigning continues

20 08 2018

As discussions, denials and promises about the military junta’s “election” have warmed up, so The Dictator extends his (s)”election” campaigning.

The latest provincial campaign trip has it that the junta “is expected to try to appease the southern region by approving a 200 billion baht budget during mobile cabinet meetings in Ranong and Chumphon province[s]…”.

The provinces targeted for the loot/policy corruption* are “Phangnga, Phuket, Krabi, Trang and Satun, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phatthalung, Surat Thani, Songkhla, Ranong and Chumphon…”.

The two-day cabinet meeting/vote buying/policy corruption* exercise began today and continues tomorrow.

According to the linked report, “this southern mobile cabinet had not originally been on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s agenda.” He is said have previously been “confident he would gain huge support from people in this region if [sic.] he decides to return to the premiership after a general election next year…”.

However, this has all changed. The Dictator is worried that “low rubber prices have undermined the military government’s popularity in the southern region which has typically been supportive of the military government.”

He also knows that blowing (taxpayer) loot in the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra regions and leaving the south lootless is not likely to go unchallenged. Taking the south for granted is likely to lead to a backlash.

It is also reported that the junta is likely to be MP poaching in the south, targeting the Democrat Party. That requires promises of more loot.

*Policy corruption is a term invented by yellow shirts to attack Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra for making electoral promises and then implementing them. As in so many other economic and political arenas, the junta plagiarizes the Shinawatras.





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.





When the military is on top XXII

2 07 2018

When the military is on top it sets the rules for politics and seeks to ensure it wins its “election” whenever it decides to hold them.

Of course, that decision on elections means having all of its political repression and political pieces in place. Those processes have taken more than four years (and counting). The main tasks of the military dictatorship have been to concoct a legal and constitutional structure that disadvantages notions of popular sovereignty and keeps the military on top. A related and critical task has been to crush and atomize the red shirts and its leaders and to undermine the Puea Thai Party and most of its leadership.

A recent report in the Bangkok Post, while highly influenced by the junta’s perspective, suggests that the dictatorship feels it is finally successful, or nearly so.

The Pheu Thai Party has been thrown into disarray as it wrestles with a political group seeking to poach the party’s members to join a pro-regime party and support the return of Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to power.

A gathering of dozens of political bigwigs last Wednesday at the Pinehurst Golf & Country Club hosted by the so-called Sam Mitr group, or Three Allies, has confirmed the speculation. This grouping is run by former transport minister Suriya Jungrungreangkij, former industry minister Somsak Thepsuthin and and the other one believed to be Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak.

The Pinehurst event, which was brought forward from June 30, was attended by about 50 former MPs many of whom were formally with the Thai Rak Thai Party and the People’s Power Party. Those parties were dissolved by the Constitutional Court for electoral fraud. Others were from the Pheu Thai and Bhumjaithai parties.

However, political insiders claim the group led by Mr Suriya has a major announcement to make later this week. The announcement is believed to involve the inclusion of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), aka the red shirts, a staunch opponent of the regime, into the bloc.

Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan has been coordinating these campaigns. That’s why little things like a luxury watch scandal is ignored by the puppet National Anti-Corruption Commission.

The dictatorship’s Palang Pracharath Party, ignored by the puppet Electoral Commission, has been hoovering up former Thaksin Shinawatra associated politicians and its associated groups have been holding “campaign rallies” with The Dictator in attendance and him splashing about state funds as MP buying and “policy corruption” takes hold of the junta and its party.

The latest political meeting – also ignored by the puppet EC – brought dozens of former MPs together at the Pinehurst Golf Club.

More interesting is that the defector’s group leaders Suriya Juangroongruangkit, Somsak Thepsuthin, Chalong Krudkhunthod, Anucha Nakasai and Pirom Polwiset have worked with military commanders locally in co-opting former red shirts.

According to Post source, “mid-level leaders of the UDD in several provinces [have been asked] to join the pro-regime party.” Revealing is the view that the “switching of allegiances is not a surprise because local red-shirt leaders have been ‘inactive’ since the 2014 coup and those who remain critical of the regime are hard-core UDD leaders such as Natthawut Saikuar and Worachai Hema.” Of course, Jatuporn Promphan remains jailed as the junta fears his appeal to red shirts and voters.

In this view, “the UDD is collapsing and those in power have been working to dismantle the Pheu Thai Party’s power base.” See above.

One aim is to siphon off some 80% of Puea Thai’s former MPs. The source at the Post states: “It’s every man for himself. The UDD is no longer here. The group failed to launch a political party so they came around to hook up with the Phalang Pracharat Party.” Why? Money and power and the promise of more: “One of the former Pheu Thai politicians who joined the Sam Mitr [Suriya, Somsak, et al.] group said he decided to defect because the group has a clear strategy and resources at its disposal.”

As we have long pointed out: “The regime and its allies are expected to go all-out to reduce competition including recruiting veteran politicians and using state mechanisms in their favour…”. The source added:

A lot of work has been going behind the scenes and several politicians have defected to the party. But Mr Suriya and Mr Somsak are the ones who show to the public that the UDD is disintegrating.

That the military leaders considered the red shirts an existential threat is clear. That’s one of the reasons why there was a coup in 2014.





“Election” news

13 06 2018

There’s much in the news about the military junta’s “election” campaigning. Just in the Bangkok Post we found four stories of the junta on the campaign trail.

The first Bangkok Post story reports that instead of dealing with political parties as it said it would, The Dictator’s legal whipping boy Wissanu Krea-ngam – he always the one sent to deal with legal news and bad news – “will meet the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) and the Election Commission (EC) Thursday evening to discuss preparations for the general election.”

Screw the parties that are meant to participate in the general election unless, of course, the junta like you and feeds you information.

Wissanu and that other anti-democrat since the 1970s, Meechai Ruchupan, chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, seem to be the junta’s finger pointers.

Even so, Meechai “said that an agenda for the talks has not yet been set.” That seems to mean that he and Wissanu have yet been given their orders.

Meechai did say that the Election Commission “will specify the date from when, legally, an election can be held,” but that’s untrue because the process of approving legislation has maximum dates but also elastic periods in it as well.

Meechai dismissed the idea that parties should be able to communicate with the public – voters – saying they should be “sending the information electronically.” The idea of prospective politicians – other than the junta – talking to voters is off limits.

Getting in on the “election” act, National Legislative Assembly president Pornpetch Wichitcholchai said: “Everything will happen next year as set out in the roadmap…”. He was “referring to the premier’s earlier statement regarding a poll next February.”

Even Wissanu doesn’t buy that claim.

The second Bangkok Post story is a bit of a re-run with the Puea Thai Party accusing “people in power” – the junta and its military minions – of “increasing their efforts to lure its politicians into their fold, asking whether this behind-doors approach is the best four years of political reform has to offer.”

The junta’s people have invited “some former Pheu Thai MPs … to meet authoritative figures to talk about switching parties in the lead-up to a general election next year.” As lures and bait, they were offered “positions, budgets and financial help during the election…”.

While some complain that this is “Thai politics is still trapped in the old cycle,” it is exactly what the junta intended by its “reform” efforts.

The junta’s vacuuming up of politicians makes James Dyson look like an amateur.

A third Bangkok Post story is about the junta’s “populist” policies. The junta is reacting to potential negative electoral impacts from rising fuel prices by subsidizing them.For gas, they’ve been doing it for some time already.

When previous “bad” elected governments did this there was considerable criticism, not least from the those campaigning against “populism” at the Thailand Development Research Institute. We await their market-friendly criticism of the junta. We won’t hold out breath.

The Energy Policy Administration Committee “will only be able to subsidise the cap until mid-July, assuming additional resources are not channelled into the fund.” That’s another junta decision to be made. It comes on top of diesel subsidies.

Almost 8 million households and vendors will benefit.That’s a lot of voters being influenced by what was called “policy corruption” when elected governments were involved.

But its not just using state funds but making huge promises almost everywhere The Dictator campaigns.

The last Bangkok Post story involves the money trail through the near north. There, the junta’s “cabinet accepted in principle Tuesday a proposal to construct a double-track railway linking Tak and Nakhon Phanom as part of the transport routes under the East-West Economic Corridor.”

That proposal goes back to the 1980s!

Junta spokesman Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd “said the proposed 902km railway development” would begin in Mae Sot and go to Nakhon Sawan on the Lao border. Presumably, scenic carriages will be used as the train runs through the mountains around Mae Sot.

No funds have been promised. Maybe in the 2019 budget, when The Dictator is still premier, “election” or not. Feasibility? Economic, environmental and social impacts? No news. It’s just an “election” pitch.

There’s also a “26.8-billion-baht road expansion proposal covering 486km for the same cluster” of towns on the route.

Another pitch was a “a proposal to build an airport in Nakhon Sawan” that would be “considered”even with so-called high-speed railway scheduled to zoom through that city. Even the junta knows this but promised some kind of airport to voters.

We are sure the “election” news will continue to mount as the junta seeks to rig the “election.”





The junta’s “election” stitch up II

27 12 2017

The “election” stitch-up continues and has gathered pace as The Dictator and his junta have handed out tons of what it calls “gifts” to the people-cum-voters.

The Bangkok Post reports that the policy corruption populism “gifts” include:

The Commerce Ministry joining with malls and manufacturers in cutting product prices by as much as 80% to 4 January, including consumer products, consumables, electrical appliances and gift hampers. The cost seems to be about 10 billion baht.

The Energy Ministry and PTT Plc will hand out half a kilogramme of rice to motorists who fill up at 1,500 PTT gas stations nationwide from 1 January for as long as stocks last. nationwide from Jan 1 until supply lasts. PTT is expected to buy rice locally.

The Agriculture Ministry is selling cheap pork, chicken, eggs and vegetables as well as plants and seeds.

The state’s GH Bank will “give a 1,000-baht cash rebate to good customers who owe not more than 1 million baht and repay their debts on time over the past 48 months.” An estimated 165,000 customers will benefit costing up to 165 million baht.

The state’s Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives will “give a cashback equivalent to 30% of the interest paid in 2018 to some 2.3 million small debtors with outstanding debts of less than 300,000 baht each.” In addition, “[r]egistered low-income earners may also borrow up to 2 million baht from state banks at low interest rates to buy houses.” The low-rate loans are set to cost 30 billion baht. Government officials can also get cheap loans.

Another Bangkok Post story of the big giveaways links them to an “election.” Campaigning in Phitsanulok and Sukhothai, General Prayuth Chan-ocha said he’d consider local development programs and would  prioritize infrastructure projects in the north “covering not only air but also land infrastructure, water management, tourism promotion and value addition to farm products.”

In all the junta’s “cabinet meeting approved 85 projects or activities as ‘New Year presents’ for the people, including tax breaks for tourism spending in 55 provinces nationwide next year, low-interest loans for low-income people in the South and technology training programmes for the elderly and the disabled.”

An op-ed refers to a list of gifts ranging from “a 5% income tax cut for small- and medium-sized enterprises and handouts to 850,000 rubber farmers of 1,000 baht per rai in 2014, to freezing the cooking gas price, cutting rental fees for farmers who lease state land, and providing tax breaks for shoppers and holiday makers in 2015, and the re-emergence of the tax deduction scheme and one-time cash handouts worth 12.8 billion baht to low-income people…”.

It continues:

welfare cards for the poor which cost at least 40 billion baht a year, the government has introduced tax deductions on expenditure for local tourism in second-tier tourist destination provinces, expanded the Pracharath broadband internet network to cover 24,700 villages nationwide, and launched multi-billion-baht development projects.

While it might be good for the poor to get support from the state, we can only ponder the hypocrisy of a regime and its curiously silent anti-democrat supporters who went berserk just a few short years ago, railing against vote-buying through populism and policy corruption.

But hypocrisy has been a defining characteristic of the junta and its anti-democrat fans. It’s all about extending military oppression and repression via a rigged “election” or other means.








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