Updated: Cynical recycling

16 03 2019

We are sure readers recall when Thaksin Shinawatra was damned as a “populist.” And then there was Yingluck Shinawatra. When she campaigned in Thailand’s last completed election in 2011, she was also labeled a populist and was prosecuted for one of the policies she took to the electorate. Anti-populism has been a pillar of anti-Thaksinism.

When the military junta seized power, there is a plan to outlaw “populist” policies. That anti-populism soon became an embrace of the policies that the junta had previously damned. This turn to economic policies previously damned was an effort to claw back political ground from the Shinawatra clan, led by Thaksin turncoat Somkid Jatusripitak.

Not surprisingly, it was Somkid who was behind the manufacture of the Palang Pracharat Party as the junta’s devil party.

Now, desperate to gain the electoral traction it has been lacking, Palang Pracharath has released a range of so-called populist policies, apparently hurriedly concocted in recent days.

Increasing the minimum wage by a third, cutting income tax (including for the wealthiest), raising the graduate minimum wage 10% and waving their income tax for 5 years, loans and exemptions for businesses, and promised guaranteed minimum prices for six crops.

Remember Yingluck’s travails for her rice pledging policy?

Palang Pracharath deputy party leader Suvit Maesincee said “Pracha Rath state welfare cards would be given to more people, from 14.5 million low-income earners currently.” He added that “[d]ebt suspension will be allowed for village funds and more funds will be added.” And he promised a welfare state to “take care of children from womb to old age…”.

Can the junta/Palang Pracharath afford these promises when it is already running a substantial “fiscal deficit of 450 billion baht…”? The Bangkok Post notes that the regime has abandoned “plans to balance the budget within the next few years…”.

Sounding Thaksinesque, Palang Pracharath’s Uttama Savanayana declared: “Thais shall be rich in peace, happiness and hope…”.

Even more Thaksin-like were the measures proposed to  fund “Thais being rich.” The measures for making administration more efficient are exactly those used by Thaksin and Thai Rak Thai back in 2001-06.

Policy plagiarism has been a hallmark of the junta. It continues. The only “original” contribution by Palang Pracharath/junta is to promise “order.”

The Palang Pracharath/junta twin is banking on voters being “uneducate” and that by offering Thaksinesque policies that they can lure pro-Thaksin voters to support a failing junta party.

Update: Less than a day after his devil party released the policies discussed above, The Dictator has “issued a statement saying all governments must abide by financial discipline and good governance.” Maybe he should have thought about that several years ago before his own government began its vote-buying splurges. Or maybe before his party promised to extend the splurge further.





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.

 





The election and the VAT man

4 12 2018

Nipon Poapongsakorn is one of those neoliberal economists working with the Thailand Development Research Institute. He’s widely reported as being flabbergasted about “the government’s plan to offer a 5-per-cent VAT refund to shoppers during the Chinese New Year festival in February…”.

At the Bangkok Post, he’s reported as saying: “I am speechless about it…”. He reportedly “believes the move is aimed at winning popular support ahead of the general election.”

The Dictator “brushed aside allegations that the government was introducing populist measures to win public support ahead of next year’s general election.” He says he just wants to reduce “people’s financial burden during the New Year season.”

Now the price of that burden shifting/electioneering VAT refund is said to be up to Bt10 billion.

Meanwhile, the mobile phone SIM cards with free internet access for 11 million welfare card holders has been announced in such haste that no one knows how it will work:

Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), said his agency and the Finance Ministry are discussing how the measure would take shape in practice.

That’s what you get when the military junta is desperate to shore up the devil parties and their electoral “support.”





Rubbery funds

1 12 2018

Rice farmers and rubber planters are quite different. In the junta’s politics, rubber planters are seen as the most loyal of junta supporters. Throughout its tenure following the illegal 2014 coup, the junta has been concerned about the price of rubber and the political impact of falling prices. Part of the reason for this political position has to do with the support given by planters to the anti-democrats in 2013-14, Some of our earlier posts on support for rubber planters are here, here and here.

With an “election” to be stolen-won, the Bangkok Post reports that yet another “financial package aimed at assisting rubber farmers and stemming the tumbling price of rubber” is being doled out.

Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Grisada Boonrach sounded not unlike previous elected governments as he earlier was offering 3000 baht a rai in support. aid the first measure will help rubber farmers troubled by the depressed prices of rubber. That now seems to be “a grant of 1,800 baht per rai, not exceeding 15 rai each … adding that the measure is intended to help farmers offset the cost of living.” (We have to say that we are unsure if these two figures are about different schemes or need to be added together or one replaces the other.)

The 1800 baht is divided between land owners and tappers, with a budget of “17.5-billion-baht budget to support the scheme.” It supports “999,065 rubber farm owners and 304,266 tappers…”.

A second measure to boost the price of rubber is to use it in “the construction of roads using asphalt mixed with rubber latex.” That scheme costs “92.3 billion baht would be budgeted by local administrative organisations to fund this scheme.” Of that, 16.3 billion is for latex.

The ministry is also advancing credit of 5 billion baht that “will be extended to support rubber processing for export…” and is looking at supporting farmers out of rubber planting.

There’s a lot of billions there. How much does a vote cost?





All about the EC

23 11 2018

The Election Commission is on all front pages today in a series of stories responding to criticism and perceptions that the EC is doing the junta’s work.

For a body that has dubious constitutional credibility and that is a puppet for the military dictatorship this criticism amounts to a proxy attack on the junta itself.

Perhaps the biggest story and weakest response is on the potential for the junta to engage in boundary rigging. Of course, the EC denies that the junta’s extraordinary intervention to delay the EC’s publication of boundaries amounts to anything underhanded.

The problem for the EC and its credibility is that its chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong is unconvincing. He says “he did not think the regime invoked Section 44” to benefit its devil parties.

So why? According to reports, Ittiporn says “the order only provides an opportunity for the EC to address complaints from political parties and voters who say the redrawing of constituencies has failed to take public input into account.”

It is not at all clear that this is a fact. First, it must be asked that if there were complaints from parties, which parties had the privilege of knowing what the boundaries were? Was it the devil parties? Second, as we understand the intervention, it is to allow the EC to avoid public scrutiny. Why was that?

The EC chairman keeps banging on about law. He knows as well as everyone else that Article 44 is a law unto itself (well, unto The Dictator) and is only “law” because the junta dictates it.

When he says the law prevents the junta from intervening, he’s treating the public as idiots.

As head of the Puea Thai Party’s legal team Chusak Sirinil explained when he “expressed discomfort over the junta order that legalises any decisions on constituency mapping by the EC no matter whether they were in line with the existing laws,” he stated:

Pheu Thai would like answers from the EC – will you really go against the law and disregard electoral laws? The junta order obviously suggests and opens way for the EC to do anything.

He continued, saying:

…there was no other way to look at it, but as an intervention by the junta to tamper with electoral boundaries. Mapping constituencies is one of the fundamental issues in an election, Chusak said. If it is not done freely and fairly, it is impossible to believe that the whole voting process will be free and fair….

Well, it can’t be free and fair, but the point he makes is worth considering. The Democrat Party agreed that rigging was in the EC’s wind.

Even the Bangkok Post points out that Ittiporn is lying by omission, having “previously admitted the EC had tentatively finished redrawing the constituency boundaries on Nov 5 although it has not yet announced them.”

Then there’s the still unconfirmed election date. Ittiporn says that there’s no reason for a delay from the proposed 24 February. He then adds that the junta can intervene on date at any time it wants.

Meanwhile, the junta’s National Legislative Assembly has finally been made the EC whole and legal by appointing, in secret session, two commissioners. Earlier in the year there was debate about whether the currently operating EC was legal and constitutional.

A final report on the EC has it deciding to “investigate” its bosses in the junta over their recent cash splash of 63 billion baht – the linked report now has it at nearly 87 billion baht – into short-term cash handouts targeting low-income earners and retired officials.

Here’s a real chance for EC chairman Ittiporn to prove his “independence” and go beyond legalistic and/or vague non-answers. Will he have sufficient spine for the task? Will he really be permitted to investigate the junta?

Perhaps there’s evidence for him in the news reports that a junta devil party executive of the Palang Pracharath Party, Anucha Nakhasai “leapt to the defence of the government’s cash handout schemes.” He reckoned the cash handouts were the best thing since boiled rice, and “challenged parties which were critical of the packages to announce that they will scrap these measures if they take power after the poll.” Indicating that the handouts were a vote-buying scheme, he added, “And let’s wait and see if the 14.5 million people who stand to benefit from the measures will vote for you on Feb 24…”.





Junta shenanigans II

21 11 2018

The Dictator is pulling the nation’s collective leg. Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha claims to be still looking for the right party to come along and make the right offer for him to continue as prime minister without being troubled by an election, even a rigged one.

Of course, the Palang Pracharath Party was set up by the junta for The Dictator.

Gen Prayuth mumbled that “he has not been approached by any party to stand as their candidate, so it would be pointless to speak about it in the media.”

He’s a clown and a dope who seems to think everyone in the country is as thick as he is. No one believes this drivel.

Meanwhile, Gen Prayuth poured more money into election campaigning. The junta announced another “63 billion baht into cash handout packages aimed at assisting low-income earners, the elderly and retired officers…”.

The Dictator immediately denied that his regime was engaging in “a populist move aimed at shoring up support ahead of the election.”

No one believes such claims.

While the poor deserve assistance, this is mostly helicopter cash that has no monetary policy embedded; it is simply meant to push the poor away from pro-Thaksin Shinawatra parties and vote for pro-junta devil parties.

The helicopter cash is “a 500-baht cash handout that will be given as a New Year’s gift to almost 15 million people worth a total of 7.25 billion baht.” When’s the “election” being rigged?

Yes, the cash will boost the economy, but given that growth has stalled, the junta knows it needs an economic boost if it wants too “win” the “election” without having to steal it outright.

If anyone doubted that this is a bid to buy votes, consider that the “Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong said the measure is being presented as a New Year’s gift.”

Yep, a gift.

Other “gifts” meant to buy votes included measures doling out cash that will only be in place for from one to nine months. There’s no policy involved. There’s no notion of a welfare or safety net. This is naked vote buying.

The junta has doled out hundreds of billions of baht seeking to bolster its support. This is just more taxpayer funding for the junta’s “election” campaign.





More “populist” spending

13 10 2018

The junta has spent a king’s ransom on its “populist” programs as The Dictator campaigns for his supporters to “win” the rigged election. PPT has posted again and again on the schemes it has implemented in an effort to defeat the Puea Thai Party and to hoover up its former MPs and its supporters. One of the principal authors of these schemes is a former Thaksin Shinawatra minister, Somkid Jatusripitak.

The latest scheme is one targeted at a particular group: motorcycle taxis.

As is well known, motorcycle taxis were strong Thaksin supporters and were also important for the red shirt movement, so dragging them to the junta’s side is a critical mission for the vote strategists around The Dictator.

We also know, thanks to Claudio Sopranzetti and his book Owners of the Map, that military intelligence moved quickly following the 2014 coup to co-opt leaders of motorcycle taxi riders.

All of this means that there’s no surprise in the latest shoveling out of taxpayer funds for electoral gain is directed to each and every rider:

Motorcycle taxis nationwide will receive a discount on gasohol 95 of three baht per litre by December in a bid to manage the effects of higher global oil prices, says Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak.

The discount price will be administered through the state-owned oil and gas conglomerate, PTT Plc, whose petrol stations will take part in the programme.

Funding sources could include PTT, the State Oil Fund and the welfare smartcard scheme.

Registered motorcycle taxis nationwide number 200,000, with half of those in Bangkok.

One surprise in this is that PTT is supposed to be a public company. While the state continues to hold 51% of the company, investors probably didn’t put their money into PTT thinking that it would simply respond to the diktats of the military dictatorship.

This adds to other subsidies and schemes that are meant to bolster support for the junta and, in this case, is a lubricant for undoing links between Puea Thai and particular groups of political groups.





BMA campaigns for the junta

8 10 2018

We had this post ready to go when we saw an article in the Bangkok Post that related, so we have added and revised the post to consider this new information.

In the newest story, the military dictatorship’s “taxpayer-funded Thai Niyom Yangyuen (Sustainable Thainess) programme” is defended by dopey government spokesman Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd as not being “well-known to many people mainly because it is not a populist scheme…”.

This program was only launched earlier this year by a fellow in a childish hat.

Photo credit: Thai PBS

The Dictator is said to be unhappy that what the Post calls a “Govt vote-catcher,” is that various ministries are failing “to push the scheme adequately.” As it is supposed to be a publicly-paid “vote-catcher,” he’s livid.

Despite the additional budget allocation by the junta, there’s surveying showing that “government officials have failed to raise adequate public awareness of the programme…”. The budget was a snip under 100 billion baht! That’s a lot of vote buying.

The Pracharat campaign, also weighed down with truckloads of taxpayer money, is getting a boost by having a junta-aligned political party of the same name campaigning.

On cue, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, essentially an arm of the junta, is in campaign mode for The Dictator, promoting Thai Niyom Yangyuen.

Trying to be more populist, the BMA is offering “a wide range of free health services to residents of Prawet district” last Saturday as a way of raising the scheme’s visibility, and just after The Dictator had campaigned in the city.

Bangkok’s Governor Pol Gen Asawin Kwanmuang, appointed by The Dictator, “chaired the launch of a mobile health unit in the populous Prawet district, offering free health checkups, dental services, eye exams, hearing tests for the elderly, cancer screening, influenza vaccines, and help for people with mental disorders.” And, no surprise, it joined with “co-organizers – the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense – [to] len[d] a helping hand to people with informal debts, enrolling them in the government’s debt clinic campaign and giving them financial advice.”

Every vote for the populist junta is one less for the populist opposition, perhaps.





Remember the “ban” on populism?

15 08 2018

Long-term readers may recall our posts from the year following the 2014 military coup, where the junta and its puppet agencies all but declared “evil populism” illegal.

As the junta struggled with the sluggish economy, the serial failure economic minister Pridiyathorn Devakula tried a little economic stimulus, but declared it “not populism.” He made the important royalist distinction: “This is not populism, because I am not doing it for votes…”. I only want to stimulate the economy…. If we don’t stimulate it this way, what are we supposed to do?” Pridiyathorn essentially “explained” that he couldn’t be a populist because he was appointed by a military dictatorship. For him, a populist can only be elected evil politician.

When Pridiyathorn was dumped and replaced by former Thaksin Shinawatra minister Somkid Jatusripitak, royalists fretted that populism was being reborn under the junta.

As the military dictatorship worked to excise support for Thaksin and became determined to stay on for years and years, populist economic policies multiplied.

In all of this, though, in a report in the Bangkok Post it is was revealed that the junta decided to ban populism whenever there is an elected regime put in place: “The cabinet … approved a draft monetary and fiscal bill which includes controls on spending for populist policies. The move is aimed at preventing future fiscal problems and enhancing transparency in the state fiscal budget.”

As the junta has worked increasingly assiduously to uproot Thaksinism and embed The Dictator and military-backed regimes into the future, so-called populist policies have become the norm.

The Bangkok Post reports that “populist spending is nearing the cap of 30% of the annual budget…”.

What is called “pork-barrel spending” has reached “29.6% of the 2018 annual budget after the cabinet approved debt repayment extension and lower lending rates for small-scale farmers and a price stability scheme for the 2018-19 rice harvest…”.

That’s about 870 billion baht “to finance populist policies through specialised financial institutions or quasi-fiscal activities.”

If we understand the report, that 870  billion is from 900 billion baht budgeted for fiscal 2019…”.

As the Post points out, that one year’s spending is almost double the alleged “losses” by the Yingluck Shinawatra government on rice pledging.





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.