Updated: Domination plans

6 01 2018

Seldom has PPT been able to fully agree with analysis in the mainstream media. Generally we rummage about in it and post bits and pieces drawn from it to highlight things about the monarchy, lese majeste and political repression. Nor have we always been fans of the Bangkok Post’s military affairs reporter Wassana Nanuam.

However, a recent piece by Wassana in the Bangkok Post is one we can recommend. “Regime lays plans for post-poll control” says much that PPT has been posting about for several years, and we are pleased that others are recognizing the junta’s plans and writing about them in Thailand. Wassana writes about how the junta “has been busy ensuring its success at the ballot box” and establishing its post-“election” regime. And she’s still unsure when the junta will be prepared and ready to “win” its “election.”

Being prepared translates as being sure no pro-Thaksin Shinawatra party has any chance of looking electorally powerful. The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha seems to believe that he is the only one who can prevent such a “catastrophe” for the military, the royalist elite and the anti-democrats. He may also need a military party. As Wassana comments: “Gen Prayut, Gen Prawit [Wongsuwan, the watchman] and Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda are united in wanting to prevent Pheu Thai from winning sufficient seats to form a government.”

As we have been pointing out, the polls are likely to be a stitch-up when they are permitted. Wassana explains some of the mechanisms:

As interior minister, Gen Anupong has assumed authority over the past few years for transferring provincial governors and chiefs of district offices, while Gen Prawit, who is believed to have good relations with several political parties, will likely be the one who convinces politicians to defect to the military party.

The armed forces and other security agencies will also be deployed to achieve this goal.

The burden of helping a military party become a key party in the formation of the next government will, however, fall on the armed forces. They are no longer politically neutral these days [they never have been], … with their leaders serving as members of the NCPO [junta].

Army chief Chalermchai Sitthisad serves as the secretary-general of the NCPO and head of the NCPO’s peace and order command that controls the entire military and police.

Assistant army commander Apirat Kongsompong, a close aide of Gen Prayut who serves also as a deputy chief of the NCPO’s command, meanwhile, is expected to emerge as the new army chief in the military reshuffle expected between September and October.

Gen Apirat will take up a key role in controlling the armed forces including during the election.

General Anupong has also been ensuring that local electoral authorities and “independent” agencies are in the junta’s pockets. And, PPT does not rule out military ballot box stuffing and corrupt counting to get the required electoral outcome.

Worryingly, Wassana reveals how the military and its ISOC will be used in provincial areas:

The armed forces will play a bigger role in attempts to bar Pheu Thai from winning the race. Military officials will act more or less as canvassers for the military party and assess the popularity and the overall situation of parties in each constituency.

With his special powers provided under the charter’s Section 44, Gen Prayut may deal by this means with canvassers from other parties in the name of suppressing mafia-style thugs and illegal weapons — ever-present threats during elections.

Of course, plans can be upset. We’d love to see a broad-based opposition to the military’s operations and planning. However, this particular regime has been far more repressive and nasty than any of its recent predecessors have been (in, say, 1991-2 and 2006-7). It has also shown itself to be prepared to murder and maim to maintain its preferred regime (as in 2009 and 2010). And, it has worked assiduously to dismantle opposition organizing. All of this suggests that a broad-based opposition to continuing military fascism is unlikely without some kind of special spark.

Update: On this topic we also recommend “Brave the third wave.”





“Election,” king and politics in 2018

3 01 2018

For the start of 2018, three academic commentators and a journalist have had a go at crystal-balling Thailand’s political future.

Academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun continues his recent lauding the dead king. We at PPT find this quite odd, but it seems Pavin feels that a good king-bad king scenario makes the bad king look badder still. We think he’s wrong to gild the previous reign.

He is right when he says: “Some analysts predicted that Vajiralongkorn would be a weak king dominated by a strong army due to his lack of moral authority and divinity. But the new King has proved these pundits wrong.” This assessment also seems correct:

King Vajiralongkorn has embarked on consolidating his power with the backing of the military. It appears that Thailand’s two most prominent institutions — the monarchy and the military — have attempted to establish a constructive working relationship in order to entrench their respective political standings (at least during this critical royal transition period).

The military king

That relationship has seen the “military … work[ing] towards achieving two goals: eliminating its political enemies and legitimising itself as a political actor.”

He concludes that “the future of Thailand is undefined. 2018 will test the longevity of the interdependent relations between Vajiralongkorn and the military. If such longevity is guaranteed, Thai democracy will be shouldered with another setback.”

Michael Montesano, also an academic, seems sure of a couple of things for 2018: a coronation and the junta’s “election.” But he backtracks on the latter, suggesting it may again be pushed back. He also gets into a bit of good king-bad king stuff, and like Pavin sees Vajiralongkorn as activist/interventionist:

Since the demise of his father, King Vajiralongkorn has been far from passive. But he has devoted his attention above all to matters relating to the management and reordering of royal affairs and to the relationship of the monarchy to the government…. He has not yet begun publicly to define an overarching mission for his reign.

His musings on the future of the monarchy are not particularly convincing to us. But his discussion of the military junta’s role is. He refers to “an ideological orientation” that has the military and junta seeking “to integrate Thai citizens into national affairs without reference to political parties and elections.” On the junta’s “elections,” Montesano sees them as a test of the military regime’s “effort to introduce a political order of lasting quiescence in Thailand.”

Academic Duncan McCargo, acknowledging that The Dictator is “always seems to be trying to wriggle out of it [the junta’s election],” is also unsure about the political future, suggesting five post-election “scenarios.” For all the rumors about new parties – the junta’s and splits from the Democrat Party – and the junta’s more than three years of attacks and repression, McCargo reckons the Puea Thai Party vote could hold up. Even so, “[t]he dice could be loaded the against a pro-Thaksin victory in 2018.” Strikingly, McCargo says almost nothing about the monarchy.

Journalist Shawn Crispin thinks that military regimes that try to stay on tend to be unstable and face civilian uprisings. While he tends to ignore military and military-backed regimes that have had considerable longevity in Thailand, he is the only commentator in this group who considers a civilian uprising against the military a possibility.

He is right that “Thailand’s enterprising but repressed media” seems prepared to “to press the current generation of military coup-makers to hold elections as promised in late 2018 and for coup leader cum premier General Prayuth Chan-ocha to refrain from clinging to power after the polls.”

Crispin notes that “while the media has exposed [the junta’s] massive irregularities” – corruption – the relatively united regime has been able to cover-up using repressive measures:

… the junta’s ironfisted grip on power, underwritten by a hard ban on political association that deems any meeting of more than five people illegal. Invasive state surveillance has also ferreted out and suppressed potential anti-junta agitators before they can mobilize and take to the streets.

He also sees “Thaksin is circling again” as an “election” is anticipated:

Prayuth and Prawit [Wongsuwan] clearly sense an electoral scenario where Thaksin’s coup-ousted Peua Thai is resoundingly restored at the ballot box and their plans to sustain a political role for the military are challenged as illegitimate.

While he says precious little about the monarchy, Crispin does foresee scenarios that involve the king in further delays to an election if the regime feels threatened.

2018 will be interesting.





Observation a crime under the junta

29 12 2017

Back on 31 July 2016, two members of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) observed a “Talk for Freedom” seminar on the military junta’s then draft constitution that was meant to be approved in a referendum. In order to ensure a positive vote, the junta had banned any discussion of its constitution that it deemed negative.

The activists who organized the seminar were charged with breaching the junta’s ban on public gatherings of five or more people.

Remarkably – well, not really, for no act of political repression is remarkable in Thailand – the police and military also arrested the two TLHR observers.

Even more remarkably – well, not really, for no act of political repression is remarkable in Thailand – a Military Court in Khon Kaen province has begun hearing the case against the two for doing no more than observing the seminar.

While the two have pleaded not guilty and will fight the case, Prachatai points out that “the TLHR staff were not the organisers of the event, but rather human rights defenders who came to observe,” and adds that this “is the first case under the NCPO [junta] regime where the authorities have pressed charges against human rights defenders for merely monitoring an anti-junta activity.”





The junta’s “election” stitch up I

27 12 2017

The junta and The Dictator are working hard on what they assume will their “election” victory, whenever they decide to allow one. The campaign has been underway for a considerable time.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s provincial campaigning has continued. After a bit of a cock-up in the south, the junta managed to orchestrate things better in the northeast.

His most recent provincial trip was to Phitsanulok where his campaigning again involved animals. As reported, Prayuth conversed with an award-winning fighting cock. His message? “Don’t be scared of the NCPO…. The NCPO won’t be hard on you.”

Clipped from The Nation

Meanwhile, the junta is handing out goodies that are incentives for voters. The utilities bills that were a part of earlier elected regime’s and their election campaigns, and trashed as “populist,” are there for the poor.

For the middle class and the rich there are new tax deductions of up to 15,000 baht per taxpayer for taking a holiday. The Bangkok Post reports that:

Tax breaks for tourism spending in secondary provinces from Jan 1 to Dec 31, 2018 will go before the cabinet today. The move is intended to distribute income to these provinces and make the recovery more broad-based.

How “populist” is that! A really cheap holiday thanks to the junta. (Remember to vote for their party!)

While the Democrat Party is disturbed by The Dictator’s use of Article 44, fearing that it will be decimated, that is indeed the junta’s aim. The party that has not been especially critical of Article 44 in the past:

will file a petition with the Constitution Court to determine if the latest National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) order to extend deadlines required for political parties to follow under the Political Party Act is unconstitutional under the charter approved in last year’s referendum.

At the same time, the junta is busy stitching up the “independent” agencies that oversee politics and elections and enforce the rules. This bunch of junta puppets will now include “allowing unqualified anti-graft commissioners to continue working as members of the National Anti-Corruption Commission…”. The courts and independent agencies are likely to dance to the junta’s tune, now and into the future.

While all of this is going on, the political repression of red shirts continues unabated, seeking to silence and disintegrate this pro-Puea Thai Party coalition.

And when the junta decides to have its “election,” its puppet Constitution Drafting Committee has decided to make it illegal to criticize another candidate when campaigning for election. Goodness, the junta doesn’t want any of its candidates being criticized!

It’s a giant stitch up.





Heroes and villains II

24 12 2017

A recent Bangkok Post editorial chastised The Dictator for being unable to accept criticism.

Everyone knows that General Prayuth Chan-ocha gets testy when he feels criticized. As an army boss he’s long been immune to criticism as no one in that hierarchy would dare criticize a boss.

It falls to the Post to advise The Dictator “that the job of premier demands someone with a thick skin.” Quite remarkably, however, the Post thinks Prayuth may have gotten used to criticism and that, therefore, the junta’s “zeal for attacking a former Pheu Thai Party spokeswoman for her criticisms of the premier is all the more mysterious.”

Of course, it isn’t mysterious at all. The junta and The Dictator repeatedly go after critics they consider opponents of army, monarchy and regime. Political repression is an hourly and daily affair for the junta.

The Post actually know this for it says that The Dictator’s:

subordinates in the NCPO’s legal department are resorting to the extreme measure of charging Lt Sunisa Lertpakawat with sedition for Facebook posts taking Gen Prayut to task for fairly mundane transgressions … suggests the NCPO harbours a grievance against certain groups rather than assessing criticism on its merits.

Add in computer crimes and Sunisa is getting the standard repression doled out to political opponents, many of them associated with Puea Thai, Yingluck and Thaksin Shinawatra and red shirts.

The Post chastises the junta for attacking Sunisa with big charges when “Sunisa was exercising mere freedom of expression, a basic right guaranteed by the constitution.”

It might have praised her more for having the gumption to stand up to the villains when almost no one else dares.

But resorting to legal constitutionalism illustrates one of the core problems of current political commentary. The junta is a law unto itself but the commentariat seem to accept its laws, constitution, decrees, and “election” as legitimate when they are clearly not. The difference between heroes and villains is as clear as day.

As the military has demonstrated many times, constitutions count for nothing. Citing the junta’s constitution as “law” while the regime does anything it wants is silly and politically dumb.





Heroes and villains I

23 12 2017

Thailand’s politics under the despotic military regime has been one-sided but marked by impunity and double standards. The regime has been repressive, grasping and opaque. The military junta has used feudal laws and absolutist decrees to grind down its opponents while building its own political base.

Thailand’s villains are relatively easy to identify. Most of them wear uniforms (and expensive watches). They sit in puppet assemblies and courts or at the top of ministries. They collect allowances and advantages that build wealth and status. The faces may change over the years, although there’s remarkable longevity, but their politics remains the same: royalist anti-democracy.

Heroes are those who challenge the anti-democratic status quo. They pay dearly for it. Somyos Prueksakasemsuk has been jailed for almost seven years. Hundreds have been jailed or “re-educated,” others have died in prison and thousands have been intimidated and silenced. Some have fled into exile and hundreds find themselves ostracized from a conservative, royalist and hierarchical society.

There is little good news for the heroes. This makes a recent report in the Bangkok Post a bittersweet article.

Already serving a jail term on an unfair and concocted lese majeste conviction by a junta court, student activist Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa “posed for a photo in a graduation gown of the KKU’s Law Faculty with his parents.” He was prevented from attending his graduation ceremony because he was locked in a junta jail.

With seven other heroes, Jatuphat appeared in a court at the villainous 23rd Military Circle to deny charges “of holding a public assembly to protest against the military regime at Khon Kaen University (KKU) in 2015.”

While Chartthai Noiunsaen, Phanuphong Srithananuwat, Chatmongkol Jenchiewchan, Narongrit Uppachan, Natthaporn Arthan, Duangthip Kararit and Neeranut Niemsap were released on bail, Jatuphat went back to prison.

Another hero, Rangsiman Rome, failed to appear. We understand that he refuses to recognize the court. If that is so, it’s a brave act. Anything that challenges the villainous regime is brave.





Lese majeste and the repression of political opposition

22 12 2017

Thailand’s lese majeste law has long been used as a means to repress political opponents of royalist, usually military-dominated regimes. More recently it has been used by the palace to “clean” its own house, but that is another story.

As a case study in expanding political repression, Cambodia provides a lens on lese majeste that is sometimes neglected for Thailand.

Cambodia’s current regime is certainly descending into deeper political repression as Hun Sen, born of U.S. bombing, the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese invasion, grasps power ever more to himself and a coterie of supporters and the tycoons he has created. His disdain for dissidents is deep and his authoritarian proclivities well known.

It is reported that, despite there being no obvious threat to Cambodia’s weak monarchy, Hun Sen’s regime “is considering the implementation of strict lese majeste laws such as exist in neighbouring Thailand, which would criminalise perceived criticism of the Southeast Asian nation’s monarchy.

This law is being conjured “amid a crackdown by Hun Sen’s government against political opposition, the media and the NGO sector. Last month, the government successfully dissolved the major opposition force, the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP).” It has also “shuttered the US-funded NGO the National Democratic Institute and forced closure of the Cambodia Daily newspaper. The Bangkok Post reported on Monday that the Cambodian Information Ministry had shut down a further 330 print media outlets.”

In fact, the law would not be to “protect” the monarchy, but would be to trample Hun Sen’s political opponents. Indeed, the “country’s ex-Deputy Prime Minister Lu Lay Sreng already faces a lawsuit, filed by Hun Sen in October, for insulting King Norodom Sihamoni…”. The former DPM referred to the king as a “castrated chicken,” blasting him “for not getting involved in Cambodia’s political situation during a secretly recorded phone conversation.”

Clearly, Hun Sen seeks to ensure that his political opponents can’t use the monarchy against him. He’d rather use the monarchy for his own political purposes.

The parallels with Thailand can be drawn noting the way in which an alliance of palace and authoritarian regimes was created and maintained.