Naughty Democrat Party and rubber rats

18 11 2017

The military regime has has warned the Democrat Party to behave itself.

The dictatorship considers that its (former?) political allies has been using “the plight of rubber planters, who are facing hard times given falling prices of the commodity, for political gain.”

Government spokesman Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd warned against “lambasting” the regime, and declared the “Democrat Party could have helped by giving useful advice on how to help rubber farmers.”

The farmers are from the Democrat Party’s stronghold in the south, and the Party has complained about the regime’s failure “to shore up rubber prices, and for violating freedom of expression by summoning leaders of a rubber farmer network for ‘attitude adjustment’ at military camps last weekend” when the farm leaders threatened a demonstration.

The junta’s spokesman lied when he “insisted the government [he means junta] has never barred people from expressing opinions or voicing proposals about the issue.” He said those detained faced “no threats or abuses…”. They were simply detained for “re-education.”

It prevented “a large group of rubber farmers from travelling from the southern provinces to Bangkok…”.

He was absolutely truthful when he stated: “No rallies or gatherings should be carried out…”.

The Democrat Party is usually supportive of the military regime, but fearing a military political party and needing to shore up its political base, “deputy spokeswoman Mallika Boonmeetrakul said that summoning leaders to military camps was not the right approach.”

She declared the junta ineffective “in dealing with crop prices. It should stop sweeping the rubbish under the carpet because it is not constructive to do so…”.

Former Democrat MP Watchara Petthong said the junta’s “penchant to summon critics for attitude adjustment in military camps was a threat to people’s rights and freedom of expression.” Of course, when it is red shirts or anti-coup activists he tends to ignore the repression. We call that double standards.





No internet freedom

16 11 2017

Thailand remained a black hole for internet freedom in 2016. Freedom House reports that the key developments have been:

  • In August, voters approved a referendum on a draft constitution that would weaken political parties, strengthen unelected bodies, and entrench the military’s presence in politics.
  • Authorities placed severe restrictions on free expression ahead of the vote, including through the 2016 Referendum Act, which criminalized the expression of opinions “inconsistent with the truth.” Over 100 people were arrested for offenses related to the referendum.
  • In September, the government issued an order that halted the practice of trying civilians accused of national security, lèse-majesté, and certain other crimes in military courts. However, the order is not retroactive and does not cover cases that had already entered the military court system.
  • Following the death of [the king]… in October, the military government intensified restrictions on speech deemed offensive to the monarchy as it worked to manage the period of transition.

Read the whole sorry tale of the military dictatorship’s repression.





Lese majeste threats after the funeral

31 10 2017

Lese majeste has been a critical law and existential threat underpinning Thailand’s military dictatorship’s repression. The funeral last week has provided another opportunity for ultra-royalism to reach yet another high point.

This is why it is not surprising to read in the Bangkok Post that the politicized, Cold War-style Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) has issued a “warning on fake and distorted news.” Maj Gen Pirawat Saengthong of ISOC has “revealed” that “photos being forwarded on social media of last week’s royal cremation ceremony are not all what they seem.” Shock! Horror!

The military spook “said some netizens have been sharing photos of a different ceremony.” Shock! Horror!

Facing such a dire situation, the ISOC mouth piece “suggested this could constitute lese majeste.” What is going on here? The Post states:

Maj Gen Pirawat was referring to photos of a royal event in December, 2015. His Majesty the King when he was Crown Prince took part in a ceremony to collect the remains after the funeral of the late supreme patriarch, Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara. The event included a procession, with army troops in parade dress. At a glance, certain photos of the 2015 procession resemble last week’s funeral for King Bhumibol.

The Post is not at all clear on what the general is babbling about. They wonder how this sharing can result in “insults to the monarchy and [puts] national security … at stake…”. It adds that: “His brief talk with the media did not include any indication of the key ingredient of fake news: the positive motive. Unless the persons sharing these photos know they are wrongly captioned, it seems a careless or honest error, without intention to deceive.” It then adds, like everyone else when it comes to the monarchy, trembling with fear: “Of course, any knowing attempt to demean the monarchy should be investigated.”

Noting that ISOC itself has been a purveyor of “fake news” in the past, the Post sees the whole episode as an attempt to censor and threaten the innocents. Of course, that’s the basic point of lese majeste. (The Post also mentions “false information that seemed deliberately spread has occurred for the past seven months after the killing of 17-year-old Chaiyaphum Pasae…”. It could havbe also mentioned dozens more flase stories from stolen 1932 commemoration plaques to various concocted “plots.”)

We believe that the photos ISOC is seeking to repress are those of the king’s girlfriends and “wife” who participated in the events of the funeral.





On using funerals

26 10 2017

PPT has previously posted on the military dictatorship’s use of the dead king’s funeral for its political promotion, including neglecting huge flooding, except for diverting waters away from Bangkok, fearful that floods at the time of the funeral will be seen as inauspicious and will be a black mark on the regime. Flooding farmers for months seems a “sacrifice” the dictatorship demands.

Belatedly, the (new) king is also making PR of the event. He’s declaring himself a monarch concerned for his people. Army chief General Chalermchai Sitthisart is just one more official over the last few days who has spoken of the king’s “concern.” This time he’s “worried” about “mourners having to endure strong sunlight during the day that could be compounded by heat rising from the concrete pavements.” Magically, mats appeared!

The General says the king has “instructed officials to treat them nicely, not to scold them and not to be too strict…”. (So has The Dictator.)

But fears for the future continue to fester. Some royalists, like Sanitsuda Ekachai at the Bangkok Post writes of “fear and trepidation about the future.” She asserts that a “question is hanging heavy in many people’s minds: What will happen now the country’s last unifying force has gone?”

One might question why Thais should be anxious now. A king dying in a constitutional monarchy should be pretty much meaningless in terms of the nation’s future. But Thailand’s last king and his supporters, especially those in the business class and the military, were anything but constitutional and they propagandized so assiduously that a “fear” has been created. Making out that the dead king was “god-like” and a symbol of unity was so powerful because the state, at least since 1958 and even more heavily since the late 1970s, hammered it in cinemas, on state radio and television, in school and university texts.

The lese majeste law and “social sanction” allowed little thinking outside the approved narrative except in periods of democratization in the 1970s and 2000s, both periods shut down by military coup and repression, always supported by the palace. So when Sanitsuda says that “[g]rief has the power to plunge us into a dark pit of hopelessness,” it is all palace and elite-inflicted.

Yet Sanitsuda seems to mean another fear. The fear of King Vajiralongkorn and his reign. She simply doesn’t mention him and leans on the elite hope that Princess Sirindhorn will “rescue” Thais and the elite from a king they fear as dangerous, grasping and erratic. They hope her propaganda can fill the void created by the death of the king.

Sanitsuda and the elite buy the palace propaganda that Sirindhorn is the one most like her father, lodged in a dysfunctional family that for many years has looked like something between The Addams Family and The Munsters but without much family togetherness or the good humor of those television families.

Now that the eldest brother is on the throne, the elite is hoping that they might follow Sirindhorn as propaganda piece while hoping the brother will not be too much trouble.

Some of the problems Sanitsuda identifies for Thailand seem surgically removed from the legacy of the dead king. While it is said that one should not speak ill of the dead, it is an act of ideological gymnastics to allocate good points to him without looking at his and the palace’s role in these issues and problems.

For all of the guff about the dead king’s work for the people, “wealth disparity in Thailand is among the worst in the world. The third-worst, to be specific.” But don’t blame him for that. In fact, though, as wealth disparities have increased, the monarchy became the wealthiest on Earth. The Sino-Thai capitalists attached to the palace and pouring money into it also became hugely wealthy.

But don’t blame the dead king or the system in which the monarchy was the keystone. Just go on repeating the propaganda that is a fairy tale that permits the elite to ignore the things that benefit them (and the palace): corruption, political repression, exploitation, impunity, state murder and more. The elite’s fingers are crossed that the new king can continue this system without draining off more than an acceptable share. The other side of that coin is the eulogizing of his sister as the dead king’s replacement in the propaganda game. After all, if the propaganda cannot be continued, the whole system of exploitation, repression and vast wealth will be threatened.





Craving Trumps embrace

2 10 2017

Few sensible world leaders crave U.S. President Donald Trump’s imprimatur. Thailand’s General Prayuth Chan-ocha does. The Dictator heads the world’s only military dictatorship and the royalist elite he “represents” has been flummoxed by previous U.S. criticism of military rule.

Trump, far less attuned and attached to the trimmings of democratic rule, has no apparent moral issue in dealing with dictators (unless he takes a dislike to them). We imagine that this lack of a moral compass is a product of his own mini-dictatorship over various property development firms and other business dealings.

For The Dictator of Thailand, meeting Trump will, as a Reuters headlines it, “seal Thai-US normalisation.” It has been a “normalization” that has been unfolding since Trump’s election.

As the report puts it, citing human rights groups, “Monday’s White House meeting will underscore Mr Trump’s willingness to embrace authoritarian leaders and regimes at the expense of human rights concerns…”. (We should not ignore the Obama administration’s capacity for dealing with dictators too, like Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.)

In other words, for The Dictator and his military dictatorship, they will be anointed as “legitimate” by the United States administration.  The meeting “gives the outspoken former army chief [General Prayuth] a chance to burnish his leadership credentials amid signs he may be seeking to stay in power after an election tentatively scheduled for next year.”

With the Shinawatras exiled or facing more charges, with the red shirts corralled and with democracy activists hobbled by surveillance, charges and jailings, General Prayuth seems to be cementing his control and can decide how long he wants to be premier.

Trumps embrace matters for the military rulers.





The Dictator and his law

12 09 2017

The Dictator and his military junta are particularly keen on the law. They have used it extensively in their self-initiated battles against Shinawatras, red shirts, the Peau Thai Party, students, local communities, republicans, and anyone else conceived of as an enemy or potential threat.

This is why The Nation reports that General Prayuth Chan-ocha has “stressed that justice is a crucial part of human rights protection, saying that everyone must go through the process equally and face the consequences if they are found guilty of wrongdoing, regardless of their social status.”

On the face of it, none of this would seem to apply to General Prayuth and his military dictatorship or their allies. After all, the junta seized state power in an illegal coup, it has abused human rights and it has lasciviously bathed itself and its allies in rule by decree, martial law, impunity and double standards.

A Bangkok Post picture

But, then, one must remember that all the junta members and supporters think the law is a tool for repression and order that falls to those who control the state.

But even then, when The Dictator states that his “government [he means the junta] pays attention to human rights protection and instructs investigations into allegations concerning the issue,” he’s lying. In fact, his regime has repeatedly affirmed that it has little understanding of human rights.

Clearly, however, when General Prayuth, who also commanded troops that gunned down dozens of civilians in 2010, spoke of law and justice, he was thinking of those now declared “fugitives” – Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra.

He did, however, get closer to truth when he acknowledged that human rights “allegations need to be delicately handled when it comes to the performance of state officials.” What he means is that impunity is the rule and that state officials only get into trouble when their actions don’t help their bosses or when they forget to pass on required loot.

On double standards, the general mischievously declared:

It’s not that the poor commit wrongdoings and they will definitely go to jail, while the rich will not. The fact is that the rich have often fled the scene, and that’s why we see that they don’t go to jail. It’s not a problem with the justice system…. The law is not there to bully anyone. If one commits wrongdoings, he or she must go through it and fight for justice….

Prayuth’s regime has shown that this is untrue. Yes, some of the rich do flee, but sometimes that suits the regime and sometimes it suits the rich. But it is the double standards that are most evident. Slow investigations, withheld evidence, cover-ups, and so on. And, significantly, the regime uses (and abuses) the law to bully and silence opponents. It also uses it to benefit itself and its allies.

Thailand’s justice system was wobbly before the coup. Since the coup it has become an injustice system.





The Economist on the military dictatorship

25 08 2017

Bits from The Economist’s latest edition:

Having been one of South-East Asia’s freest countries two decades ago, Thailand is now among the region’s most repressive….

Since its introduction, Section 44 has been invoked more than 150 times. A constitution adopted a little over a year ago allows the junta to keep using the legislation until a new government is formed after a general election due to take place next year. Other statutes ban gatherings of more than five people, prevent critics of the regime from travelling and allow civilians to be tried in military courts for sedition. Computer-crime regulations curb online activity. And more than 100 people have been arrested under lèse-majesté laws since the junta took power. More than half of them are now either awaiting trial in prison, or serving jail terms for peccadilloes such as “liking” things on Facebook deemed by the junta to be offensive to the royal family. (At the time of the coup in May 2014, just six were behind bars for lèse-majesté.)

The persecuted include activists, journalists, academics and even formerly powerful politicians….

The suppression of civic life bodes ill for Thailand’s democratic prospects. Even if the thrice-delayed general election is held, politicians will be fearful of expressing themselves openly and challenging the junta’s policies.

That seems to be one of the points of the extensive political repression.