From military junta to military-backed government

20 07 2019

Recently, King Vajiralongkorn returned to Thailand to swear-in the “new” cabinet. Beside his new wife, the king resembled his father in mumbling “that it was normal that, in the process of doing a job, there will be problems, and that it was normal that they must be solved at the core so the administration of the country can proceed smoothly.” Exactly like his father, the king urged the ministers “to perform their duties for the happiness of the people and the security of the country, as they had pledged to do during the swearing-in ceremony.”

Interestingly, Thai PBS chose to interpret this oft-repeated soliloquy as the king having “offered moral support to Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha and his cabinet ministers…”.

With a fractious and grasping coalition Gen Prayuth is going to have to have plenty in his sack of slush funds for keeping his men and women together in government.

What kind of government is this “new” administration? Opponents like Pithaya Pookaman say it is just no longer a junta but a military-backed regime. Others see it as a facade and “a purportedly civilian government…”. One of the most obvious signs of the junta wolf having donned sheep’s clothing is the fact that junta figures continue to dominate cabinet and all the key ministries. The other ministries are the trough that the coalition parties will slosh around in.

Even so, Prayuth has plenty of challenges, including having mafia-like figures in his cabinet.

Likely to be one of the easiest to see off is likely to be the Constitutional Court’s consideration of “the Opposition’s petition, claiming that General Prayut is unqualified to be prime minister in accordance with Section 170 (paragraph 3) and Section 82 of the Constitution.” Based on its previous politicized decisions, we don’t expect the Court to move against Gen Prayuth.

The other case the Constitutional Court has taken on can potentially strengthen Gen Prayuth and his government. It decided “to accept for consideration a petition accusing the Future Forward party, its leader, secretary-general and the executive committee of engaging in activities deemed a threat to the country’s constitutional monarchy.”

Interestingly, the Court was split 5-4 on accepting the case. But, if proven for the Court, Future Forward could be dissolved. Worse charges of lese majeste and sedition could easily follow, seeing politicians being locked up.

Clipped from Khaosod

Getting rid of yet another political party defined as opponents of the ruling class and the military-monarchy twinning may result in instability, but it seems pretty clear that Gen Prayuth can rely on the support of those with war weapons. Indeed, in recent days, the military and police have announced full support for the “new” government. Expect political repression to continue.

If all else fails – the deals, the loot and the repression – expect a military coup. If Gen Prayuth retains support among the ruling class and in the palace, a coup would support him. If he loses their confidence that he can protect and promote the interests of ruling class and palace, then a coup against him might see Gen Apirat Kongsompong put in the premier’s chair.





Updated: Junta’s government goes, repression retained

16 07 2019

According to the Bangkok Post, the “outgoing junta government held its last meeting on Monday…”. We are not sure whether that means the junta has held its last meeting but guess this means the depleted cabinet met one last time. Anti-democrats will be in tears.

But this means little in terms of political repression. That continues, mostly run by the military and the Internal Security Operations Command.

As reported by Khaosod, junta legal fixer for the junta and who will be the fixer for the junta’s “new” government, Wissanu Krea-ngam “told reporters the power to detain people without warrants will rest with the counter-insurgency agency operating under the Prime Minister’s Office [ISOC]…”.

While he says that this power “won’t be invoked,” when political push comes to shove, watch this change. Wissanu added that “those who pose threats to national security or the monarchy will merely be questioned and warned.” In other words, they will “have [their attitude] adjusted.” He said they would not be detained.

Wissanu defended retaining these repressive powers: “It’s okay to retain such power, however, because it’s a power to oversee peace and order.”

Look forward to more of the same from the “new” government.

Update: The Bangkok Post quotes ISOC spokesman Maj Gen Thanathip Sawangsaeng who seems to contradict Wissanu. He stated: “I insist that the Internal Security Act does not authorise any detention or order for anyone to undergo an attitude change…”. The detention bit seems to match Wissanu’s claim, but not the attitude change bit. What’s going on there?





More threats against Faiyen

13 07 2019

More death threats, claiming to be from elements of the Thai military, have been received by members of the anti-monarchy, pro-democracy band Faiyen, who live in exile. Read about it here. Whether true or not, you get the picture of the constant harassment endured by those who have fled royalist Thailand.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website





Updated: Silencing critics

8 07 2019

The recent attacks on anti-junta and pro-democracy activists and the murder and enforced disappearance of anti-monarchy activists are meant to silence these critics by threatening (or murdering) them and sending a threatening message to anyone else who might be critical of monarchy or regime.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

And, it seems that it works. Anti-monarchists are now fearful and cowed. And those anti-junta and pro-democracy activists who have been repeatedly attacked and assaulted are forced to agree to periods of “quietness.”

Sirawith. Clipped from VOA News

The Nation reports that after his most recent assault by “anonymous” thugs – known to the authorities – left him hospitalized with severe injuries, Sirawith Seritiwat has sought police protection.

However, in a damning indictment of the state’s involvement with the cowardly attacks, he has been “told he would get none unless he gave up his activism.” For us, that’s as good as an admission that the thugs work for the police and regime!

That report states that “Sirawith has yet to decide whether he will agree to the deal.”

He’s not the only activist to be offered such a “deal” by the complicit state authorities. Khaosod reports that Akechai Hongkangwarn and Anurak Jeantawanich received similar “offers.”

Such “offers” of “deals” to silence critics go right to the top of the military regime, with deputy junta chairman Gen Prawit Wongsuwan seeming to endorse such mafia-like protection rackets.

Akechai. Clipped from TLHR

Of course, none of those in the gangs who attacked the three has been identified by the police or regime. Why would they be identified when they are doing the junta’s work?

It seems that Akechai has agreed to such a “deal,” saying he had no choice. He had been attacked seven times in a year. His “60-day agreement, which he signed a month ago, dictates that he can neither post political messages on social media nor join political rallies.” He hasn’t been attacked since, but he has also engaged in activities that are meant to be forbidden.

Anurak. Clipped from TAHR

Anurak states that “he declined the same offer…”, but “negotiated with local police to receive some protection.” At the same time, he said “he is toning down his public campaigns in order to be on the safe side.”

He rightly “questioned whether the military government is dangling personal safety as a reward for not resisting.” He added: “What the dictator wants is for us to stop political activism…”.

It seems all too clear that the junta continues to repress its political opponents and that the use of violence is a part of that “strategy.” That’s not surprising given that it is a regime of political thugs.

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that Sirawith has refused the mafia-like offer from the police of protection if he stopped his political activities and, it is revealed, the activist was also required to report to police his plans and whereabouts at all times…”. Sirawith explained that “he will not allow police to ensure his safety because he believes the government was behind the attacks.” Indeed, the offer by police is the equivalent of a confession of its involvement.





Updated: On the most recent cowardly attack

4 07 2019

Prachatai has produced an eye witness account of the cowardly attack on activist Sirawith Seritiwat.

Meanwhile, pro-democracy activists have taken part in a ‘’Mourning the Thai justice system for not protecting people with different views” rally, pointing out the obvious: that the authorities are doing nothing much at all about the attacks. This is probably because the authorities are complicit. They petitioned the police, demanding “that those responsible for the assaults be brought quickly to justice.”

Bravely, they also asked for justice on the cases of the murdered and the disappeared.

Clipped from VOA News

Their call for justice was joined by Amnesty International which:

submitted open letters to Thailand’s defence minister and its police commissioner asking them to bring to justice attackers against three vocal pro-democracy activists who have faced physical abuse on multiple occasions since the military seized power in a coup in 2014.

AI states that these attacks against activists:

appear to fit a pattern of systemic violence timed to coincide with their efforts to draw attention to perceived election irregularities and problems relating to the formation of a new government.

The junta’s own National Human Rights Commission, which has been notably silent, has “spoken,” but only via the one serious commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit’s Facebook page:

Intimidating activists by physical abuse appears to be becoming increasingly aggressive and involving a rising number of victims…. These incidents usually occur during the day in public places but authorities have never been able to apprehend the perpetrators, which leads to continued intimidation against political opponents without consideration for the law.

Recognizing that the attack on Sirawith has caused widespread public concern, The Dictator has finally spoken, merely claiming that he has “ordered” all agencies to speed up investigations. Usually such urgings amount to zilch. When he states that he is not Sirawith’s “enemy,” his words fly in the face of years of military and police action against the activist, following him, threatening him, arresting him and kidnapping him. Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha is lying.

Clipped from Straits Times

Update: We highly recommend the New York Times story “Who’s Attacking Thailand’s Democracy Activists? The Authorities Aren’t Saying.”





Political violence and official impunity

2 07 2019

Gen Prawit Wongsuwan is administratively in charge – still – of all security units. He has finally spoken of the attack(s) on activist Sirawith Seritiwat. He wasn’t very convincing when he “denied being behind a recent attack that left a pro-democracy activist in a critical condition.”

He went on in junta-speak: ““I don’t condone violence. Whoever causes unrest in the country must be punished…. The case is still unclear. It is under investigation.”

Gen Prawit managed to maneuver into to ultra-rightist narrative when he added that he did not know if the attack was politically motivated or a “personal issue.” This plays into the “fake news” (that Prawit claims to want to end) from ultra-yellows and the junta’s own, including the reprehensible Pareena Kraikupt of the Palang Pracharath Party and police “leaks” to a rightist newspaper that claim “Sirawith might have been attacked by loan sharks due to a family debt…”, which Sirawith’s mother has vehemently denied.

Meanwhile, national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda “aired his suspicions that both attacks on Sirawith were orchestrated by the same group.” Brilliant! No wonder he is police chief! But then he managed to support the rightists thugs and their aim, warning “that it wasn’t safe to get political in public, saying that activists should avoid campaigning publicly…”. That’s what the thugs (and the junta) want. He also mentioned that police “couldn’t guarantee their [activists’] safety.”

Some of the reporting/op-eds on the cowardly attack is worth considering.

Veera Prateepchaikul at the Bangkok Post observes the brazen attack, claims of state connivance and the attackers’ apparent nonchalance, “convinced they would never get caught.” He is right to say that the “unprovoked violence deserves condemnation in the strongest terms.”

He’s also correct to observe that “there has not been a word from any other incumbent ministers except …[Gen] Prawit Wongsuwon…”. He notes their silence on previous attacks on Sirawith and other anti-coup activists. And, he’s has little doubt that the “attack on Mr Sirawith was politically motivated.”

But, then, as ever, Veera wants to compare this violence with that under Thaksin Shinawatra. While political violence occurs under all regimes, the culprits and motivators of political assassination, beatings and enforced disappearance are almost always believed to be police and military. In recent cases, He also mentions the murder of former ministers in the 1940s, by police. It isn’t clear why Veera does not look at the rise of royalist-rightist violence sponsored by the military in the early 1970s.

(He might also get his facts right. He states that “whistle-blower Ekkayuth Anchanbutr went missing without trace in 2013 during the government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.” In fact, according to Wikipedia and The Nation reported Ekkayuth’s “body was found in the southern province of Phatthalung…”.)

Then there’s Paritta Wangkiat who is a columnist for the Bangkok Post. She observes the rightist cheering of the political thugs. That’s the “He deserves it”response, “with apparent satisfaction…”. Some on social media “referred to the activist as a ‘saboteur’ against the nation who deserves to suffer from even more attacks.”

She’s right to observe that these “recent attacks reflect the current state of polarisation in Thai politics with a dangerous rise in incidences of violence.” Her comment that the rightist “acceptance and encouragement of the use of violence against someone with a different political ideology speak volumes about our sick and rotten society” is worth considering.

But she looks to the past decade when, again, her view should be more historical. This kind of violence, conducted with impunity, is a defining characteristic of Thailand’s military and its efforts over several decades to “protect” monarchy and promote anti-democracy.

While Veera neglects it, Paritta does mention the impunity with which the military under Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and Gen Anupong Paojinda shooting down dozens of protesters and injuring hundreds more or the cheering associated with that, including from the Bangkok Post.

Sadly, she gets amnesic when she refers to “unidentified killers.” Letting the murderous military off the hook for their dirty deeds contributes to its impunity.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

On another point, however, she offers insight by observing the class nature of political violence. She notes that:

Thais are expected to know “their place”, be submissive and accept oppression…. This attitude of submissiveness and obedience has been embedded in society making it a perfect match for an authoritarian regime.

Such attitudes are the bread-and-butter/rice-and-fish sauce of the military and royalist rightists.

Where she gets it wrong is to argue that there is apathy towards political violence. There’s no apathy, on any side. Rather, the problems is that the military and other authorities operate this barbaric way with legal impunity.





Updated: Reporting on cowardly attack

30 06 2019

While yellow shirts on social media continue to cheer the vicious and cowardly attack on Sirawith Seritiwat, the reporting of the attack, the patterns it reveals and the future it portends, reporting has been extensive. We felt readers may finding a linked list of some use:

Reuters, 28 June: “Thai anti-junta activist attacked, latest in ‘pattern’ of violence.”

La voi dumond, 28 June: “Thaïlande: un militant pro-démocratie passé à tabac en pleine rue.”

Bangkok Post, 29 June: “Prawit orders police to speed up ‘Ja New’ case.” While some politicians on the right made statements against violence, the reprehensible Pareena Kraikupt of the junta’s Palang Pracharath Party voiced a concoction that also circulates on yellow-shirt social media, claimed that the assault was probably by supporters of the Future Forward Party in order to gain support. If neither the junta nor her party doesn’t condemn her bizarre statement, then we may assume she’s speaking their collective mind. Pareena mimicks the fascists of 1976.

Political cartoon by @stephffart in support of activist Sirawith Serithiwat

Bangkok Post, 29 June: “Future Forward MP has ‘Ja New’ attack clip.” The clip is widely available on social media and its publication preempts any attempt to claim that CCTV was inoperable and prevents the media “disappearing.”

Daily Wiews, 29 June: “Thai anti-militare attivista attaccato e lasciato inconscio.”

News.com.au, 29 June: “Shocking pictures show brutal bashing of political activist in Thailand.”

Thai PBS, 29 June: “Thammasat U professor suspects Ja New’s assailants used blackjack batons.”

The Nation, 29 June: “Former senator calls for public donations for Sirawith.” Interestingly and symbolically, Jon Ungpakorn called for 247.5 baht donation, channeling the 1932 Revolution.

Thai PBS, 29 June: “Fund-raising campaign to help cover Ja New’s medical bills.”

Korn

The Nation, 29 June: “Korn condemns assault on anti-junta activist.” Democrat Party deputy leader and plutocrat Korn Chatikavanij managed to (sort of) condemn the attack on Sirawith, only by referring to alleged attacks on his “subordinates” at some unstated time. Korn was complicit in the Abhisit government and cabinet that presided over a period where dozens were killed by the murderous military and hundreds were injured. Korn blamed others.

The Nation, 29 June: “Pheu Thai MP raises Bt103,000 to support assaulted anti-junta activist

The Nation, 29 June: “‘Ja New’ needs eye socket operation, say human rights lawyers.” This report has stills from CCTV showing attackers and lists the damage done to the young activist in the brutal attack.

The Nation, 29 June: “Concert held to support Ja New after anti-junta activist assaulted again.” In fact, Sirawith “helped organise the concert, named ‘Democracy 24 June: What’s day?’, to mark the 87th anniversary of the Siamese Revolution of 1932 that overthrew absolute monarchy…”, suggesting that thugs involved in the attack may be ultra-royalist hirelings or acting for the military, which has a record of creating and managing such rightist thugs.

Bangkok Post, 30 June: “Activist assaults go unpunished.”

Update: Khaosod reports on CCTV footage being available, while the police are already saying such footage is “unclear.” No one can expect justice from this junta (except the rich and powerful friends of the junta).