New king, old king, same story

29 07 2018

On Saturday evening, The Dictator and his junta buddies got their best uniforms on to hail the king on his birthday.

As far as anyone can tell, the junta, the military it represents and the monarchy continue their anti-democratic partnership that has crippled Thailand’s political development for about six decades.

More than this, though, the birthday presents an opportunity to celebrate the presumed defeat of the anti-monarchism of the period before the coup.

This is why the birthday celebrations seem so familiar. Nothing much seems to have changed since the old king: new king, old message. Perhaps the only change is that no one (yet) has to listen to the rambling of he who must be obeyed.

If readers think back to all the talk and words printed about a succession crisis and how much Vajiralongkorn was hated, feared and the wrong person for the position, the wonder is that it never really happened, and that (maybe) there was more hope that there was a crisis than there really was a crisis.

Now all the monarchy stuff and the propaganda just feels so familiar. Heck, even some Puea Thai Party supporters are praising the new king as a great king.

As in the past, the media are required to provide the outlet for palace propaganda, whether coming from the palace directly or just manufactured by royalists. Looking just at the English-language efforts of The Nation and the Bangkok Post, we see little different from years gone by, except for the fact that they have had to stretch a bit to fit the new king into the palace narrative.

in one item, The Nation wishes to advertise the king’s alleged sympathy for the downtrodden. Of course, this theme was long-term propaganda fodder for the past king, pointing to royal projects (publicly funded since the 1980s). In the new story, which will be recycled year after year, readers are told that a poor village in the northeast (no coincidence that its oppositional heartland) has “a new life thanks to a Royal initiative.” It is added that the villagers owe everything to “the efforts of one very special individual…”. No prizes for guessing that its King Vajiralongkorn.

Apparently the then crown prince visited in 2000, and immediately ordered things done that miraculously changed the villagers fortunes. All of the “innovations” mentioned in the article and attributed to the crown prince-now-king sound exactly like those attributed to his father.

The point is to tell one and all, but especially the monarchy’s political base in the urban middle class, that the “results of this royal project, one of the many models that exemplifies His Majesty King Rama X’s resolution to fulfil the wishes of His Majesty the late King Rama IX and work for the benefit of all Thais.” That the villagers troubles inconveniently arose from royal-sponsored dam projects is overlooked.

The rest of the article is the usual story of how grateful every villager is and how successful the royal projects have been. Royal magic works wonders: “Every time we think of the royal graciousness, we shed tears of joy. Wherever Their Majesties visit, prosperity comes to those areas.” How could it be otherwise?

The Bangkok Post takes a different tack, inventing the new king as a great sportsman. According to this tale, the new king has followed the old king “on several paths including sports.” Who knew?

The story claims the king “was once known as the ‘Football Prince’ but is now renowned for his involvement in cycling.” Of course, he’s been a great sportsman since birth: “The King’s love for sports is obviously in his blood through his late father, a great athlete and patron of sports…”.

“Great athlete” seems to mean that the former king won a medal skippering a dinghy. That victory saw Bhumibol proclaimed “king of sports.” Now it is Vajiralongkorn’s turn. (Just by “chance,” when Bhumibol won his medal, he shared first place with none other than his eldest daughter.)

Vajiralongkorn is said to have been talented at every sport he’s tried! But now he’s a “major supporter of Thai cycling” since he headed the Bike for Mom/Dad stuff. Most sporting associations seem to be headed by serving or past generals. So a quote from president of the Cycling Association of Thailand Gen Decha Hemkrasri is quoted: “”We have enjoyed success thanks to enormous support from [then] HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn…”.

And so the story goes on.

The Nation also gets into reporting congratulatory messages (perhaps message is a better way to put it) from other royals and global leaders. Apparently His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan of Brunei Darussalam has consented to send message of congratulations to King of Thailand His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, on the occasion of the King of Thailand’s 66th birth anniversary.” We’d have thought there’d be more than this – after all, Vajiralongkorn is head of state – but maybe the story was run on Brunei based on the length of the title.

In short, nothing has changed and the same palace propaganda – with the help of junta repression – is ensuring that the new king get the reverence his father had and that the international media repeatedly says he lacked. That will change too, unless the erratic Vajiralongkorn has yet another public meltdown.





AI on academic harassment

9 07 2018

Readers might have imagined that the profoundly ludicrous charges against academics and students from Chiang Mai University may have slipped away into nothingness. However, the military junta seems intent on harassing these persons with a view to silencing other academics and deadening academic discussion within Thailand. So the ridiculousness continues.

The last we remember of this case was that in August 2017, when the Army brought charges against Prof Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, director of the Regional Centre for Social Science and Sustainable Development at Chiang Mai University, Pakawadee Veerapatpong, Chaipong Samnieng, Nontawat Machai and Thiramon Bua-ngam. They met Chang Phuak police and were fingerprinted.

These persons attended and organized the International Conference on Thai Studies at Chiang Mai University in July 2017. They all denied charges brought against them, which seemed to be something to do with breaching the junta’s ban on political assembly. Human Rights Watch referred to the charges as bogus.

Of course, the 13th International Conference on Thai Studies was not a political meeting but an academic meeting. It was the military junta that politicized it by provocatively sending uniformed and plainclothes police and military officers to snoop and spy on the event, apparently looking for any topic or even a few words that might offend military and monarchy.

It was this snooping, spying and efforts to censor that saw those charged and others protest the heavy-handed surveillance of the 13th International Thai Studies Conference.

According to Amnesty International, two academics, two students and a writer were charged last week. The charge is “holding an unlawful political gathering…”.

AI states:

These absurd charges would be laughable were it not for the potentially grave consequences for those involved, and what they say about the parlous state of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in Thailand…. All these students and academics did was make a peaceful, satirical comment about the heavy military presence at a university conference. For this, they could face up to six months in jail under a repressive decree introduced by the military government. Pushing this case through the judicial system highlights the crippling measures authorities are instituting to silence academics and gag any form of dissent.

Further, AI calls on the military junta to “drop these ridiculous charges and repeal the military decree that outlaws peaceful public assemblies of five or more persons. They must also put an end to the prosecutions, harassment and surveillance of academics, activists and intellectuals that has blighted the country since the coup.”

As far as we can tell, in strict terms of the junta’s decree banning public assembly, these five cannot even be considered to have come together as five and to have engaged in a political assembly. But legal facts have never prevented the junta from using “law” for harassment and repression.

At the  at Chiang Mai University in July 2017, members of the group held up a banner stating in Thai that “An academic seminar is not a military base,” alluding to the  by security forces in uniform and plainclothes.





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.





“Elections” matter for the junta and its supporters

30 06 2018

Readers will be interested in a new op-ed by Pavin Chachavalpongpun. As the article is long and also likely to be able to be read in Thailand, we just highlight a couple of points.

Drawing on an observation by Italian Communist and Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci, Pavin observes that “[t]hese are the days when an old system refuses to die and a new system isn’t ready to be born.”

Reflecting on the current grim political situation, Pavin looks back to the rise of the People Alliance for Democracy (PAD) some 13 years ago. He argues that the “crux” of the political problem of the time was “apprehension among the royal political network concerning the rise of Thaksin [Shinawatra], who threatened to replace the old political order with his own.”

As the Shinawatras and their parties continued to triumph in elections after the 2006 coup, Pavin observes that this “coincided with the flagging power of the Thai monarchy.”

This characterization is a little off. The monarchy’s power wasn’t flagging but was being challenged by the rise of anti-monarchy sentiment associated with a political movement. That’s why the “royal political network sought to eliminate its enemies once more in a coup.”

Whether this had much to do with “manag[ing] the royal succession” remains debatable. But it is clear that crushing anti-monarchy sentiment and agitation was critical for both the military and palace as it was red shirts who constituted the existential challenge to monarchy and military. Pavin provides a neat potted history of the construction and maintenance of the military-monarchy nexus and its struggles with the rise of electoral politics.

Today, while it may appear that “the royal political network had won this political tussle,”Pavin isn’t so sure. He links this to the new reign and potential instability, where the “prospect of Thailand being ruled by a new unpopular king was daunting. While Bhumibol was able to safeguard the political benefits of the elitist class, his son, now King Vajiralongkorn, seemed unlikely to be able to guarantee the same” for that class.

We think that explaining the long political crisis by focusing on the succession has now been shown to have been overdone. In fact, there was no succession crisis. Rather, there was a crisis that emerged from the challenge to the military-monarchy nexus that came from the grassroots. It was that crisis that in part prompted the 2014 military coup.

Pavin is right that the new political system is not yet in place. That is why the junta wants 20-year “plans” and to control the election after putting new political rules in place. If the current junta succeeds and puts Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha in place following the election heading a coalition of unimportant military boot-licking pseudo-parties, then it will have given birth to the “new” system.

All the stuff about the “new monarch is lacking in moral authority” and so on is quickly being replaced by a “new” conservative royalism that is backward looking, nationalist and military sponsored, not unlike the monarchism invented under Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat.

Pavin concludes by asking”: “So, where does Thailand go from here? Will the upcoming elections mean anything for the country?” Remarkably, he can only say: “Elections, if they are to happen, may not deliver a genuine democratic regime.”

May not? Seriously, this is a desperate grasping at straws. They not only cannot deliver a “genuine democratic regime” but are meant to deliver – and designed to deliver – military political dominance for years to come save the prospect of “political violence” that Pavin briefly considers.

Finally, Pavin returns to “palace politics” which he says is “complicated and unpredictable.” It has always been so because the palace remains the most opaque and secretive of institutions. Pavin is certainly right to observe: “Since the Thai monarchy cannot be separated from politics, developments within the walls of the palace matter greatly to Thais.” That is probably how the junta and palace prefers it. The alternative of the people mattering has been pretty much erased by the junta’s selective and targeted political repression.





HRW on The Dictator’s European holiday

18 06 2018

Reproduced in full from Human Rights Watch:

UK Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron should press Thailand’s junta leader to respect human rights and ensure a rapid transition to democratic civilian rule, Human Rights Watch said today. Prime Minister Gen. Prayut[h] Chan-ocha is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister May on June 20, 2018, in London and President Macron on June 25 in Paris.

“Prime Minister May and President Macron should strongly express their deep concerns about the deteriorating state of human rights under military rule in Thailand,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “They should make clear to General Prayut that there will be no return to business as usual until Thailand holds free and fair elections, establishes a democratic civilian government, and improves respect for human rights.”

The UK and France are among major allies of Thailand that have repeatedly stated that bilateral relations will only be normalized when democracy is fully restored through free and fair elections.

Thailand has made no progress toward becoming the rights-respecting, democratic government that General Prayut promised as the country enters its fourth year after the May 2014 coup. As chairman of Thailand’s ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), General Prayut wields power unhindered by administrative, legislative, or judicial oversight or accountability, including for human rights violations. NCPO Orders 3/2015 and 13/2016 provide military authorities with powers to secretly detain people for up to seven days without charge and to interrogate suspects without giving them access to legal counsel, or providing safeguards against mistreatment.

General Prayut’s much touted “road map” on human rights and the return to democratic civilian rule has become meaningless. The junta’s promised election date continues to slide, making the timing wholly uncertain, and it has provided few reasons to believe that an election, if held, will be free and fair. Unless the junta lifts its severe restrictions on fundamental freedoms, Thailand’s political parties, media, and voters will not be able to participate in a genuinely democratic process.

The junta has routinely enforced censorship and blocked public discussions about the state of human rights and democracy in Thailand. Hundreds of activists and dissidents have been prosecuted on criminal charges such as sedition, computer-related crimes, and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) for the peaceful expression of their views. Public gatherings of more than five people and pro-democracy activities are prohibited.

More than 100 pro-democracy activists have recently faced illegal assembly charges, some of whom have also been accused of sedition, for peacefully demanding that the junta should hold its promised election without further delay and that it should immediately lift all restrictions on fundamental freedoms. Over the past four years, the military has summoned thousands of people to have their political attitudes “adjusted” and pressured to stop criticizing the junta.

Trying civilians in military courts, which lack independence and do not comply with fair trial standards, remains a major problem. In response to criticism, General Prayut in September 2016 revoked NCPO orders that empowered military courts to try civilians. But the order is not retroactive so it does not affect the more than 1,800 military court cases already brought against civilians, many of them pro-democracy activists, politicians, lawyers, and human rights defenders.

The junta has disregarded Thailand’s obligation to ensure that all human rights defenders and organizations can carry out their work in a safe and enabling environment. Government agencies have frequently retaliated against individuals who report allegations of abuses by filing criminal charges, including for criminal defamation.

Prime Minister May and President Macron should recognize that the UK and France stand to benefit far more from a partnership with a country that respects human rights and rule of law. They should urge the Thai government to urgently:

– End the use of abusive and unaccountable powers under sections 44 and 48 of the 2014 interim constitution;

– End restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly;

– Lift the ban on political activities;

– Release all dissidents and critics detained for peaceful criticism of the junta;

– Drop sedition charges and other criminal lawsuits related to peaceful opposition to military rule;

– Transfer all civilian cases from military courts to civilian courts that meet fair trial standards; and

– Ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders to work, including by dropping criminal lawsuits against them.

“Business deals should not come at the expense of serious discussions on human rights and the junta’s tightening grip on power,” Adams said. “The UK and French governments need to press the junta to end repression so that Thailand can move toward democratic civilian rule.”





Stop criticizing The Dictator

12 06 2018

Readers will have noticed that PPT is having trouble keeping up with The Dictator’s antics and his junta’s political campaigning for an “election” that may be held at some time in the future and/or for puffing the junta’s collective chest.

The junta gets away with a lot given its political repression and its control of the media through bans, hectoring and the media’s own political timidness and/or support for the military dictatorship.

Even so, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s recent gripe that he deserves more respect because he’s (self-appointed) prime minister (after illegally seizing the state), has us wondering what might have been the media’s response if, say, Thaksin or Yingluck Shinawatra had made the same demand.

Khaosod reports that The Dictator last week made a “plea for the position of prime minister to be spared from insult…”. Prayuth moaned to his puppet National Legislative Assembly that “his ‘honorable’ position should be above reproach…”.

Befitting a dictatorial leader, Prayuth warned his critics: “I want to maintain the position as honorable. Those attacking me should be careful…”.

The Dictator loves power, covets it and cannot stand even the mildest of criticism.





Catholic Church wants an election

11 06 2018

In a report that caught PPT by surprise, the Catholic Church in Thailand has called for an election (see here for an addition to the story).

It is reported that “… people no longer believe in announcements [by the junta], given the continuous postponements of the military junta in power [on elections.”

It goes on to admit that the “Catholic Church, at first, had somehow appreciated social pacification [by the junta].” No longer” “But now it supports democratic elections. They are necessary for our future…. Young people are a driving force today in demanding democracy and freedom. They are brave and have publicly protested. We need a new hope…”. That’s according to Fr. Peter Watchasin, National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Thailand.

Explaining the current situation, Fr. Peter said: “Everything in the country is controlled today. We speak of silent dictatorship.” He added: “[T]oday especially young people and students are dissatisfied with the censorship of freedoms and oppression they feel. People today, rather than taking to the streets, write on social media and this is also a cultural change.”

He pointed to the main problem of military dictatorship: “The central problem is that of freedoms: even if one writes for mass media you can be put in jail.”

He noted other critical issues as: “… the country’s economic situation is in decline, partly because of government policies. Another major problem is corruption. A third element of concern is the concentration of wealth in the hands of two or three family clans…”.

Fr Peter declared: “The country is now ready to return to democracy. This desire has matured. But will the military leave power? This is the question.”

Sadly, the answer seems clear: the military has no intention of giving up its stranglehold on the state and power.