Prayuth’s hissy fit

26 07 2019

Khaosod reports that by his second day of dealing with parliament, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has had a hissy fit. He spat the dummy. He threw a wobbly. He flung a kibby. He soiled his nappy. Or, as the report has it, Gen Prayuth engaged in a “spectacular display of fury…”.

We at PPT predicted that The Dictator wouldn’t be able to stomach parliament for very long, but this head explosion came sooner than even we expected.

The report states that “Prayuth’s outburst came amid a particularly heated war of words between with Seri Ruam Thai Party chairman Sereepisut Temiyavet, who accused the government of “cheating” its way into power in the March election…”.

Poking Gen Prayuth, Seripisut stated: “If I were him, I wouldn’t be this shameless and still hold on to power…”.

Prayuth angrily responded that he would no longer consider Seripisut his respected senior. He then “slammed his documents on the desk before striding off, trailed by other government leaders like Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan.” Opposition MPs jeered the General.

Seripisut was then expelled from parliament. Prayuth remained angry and nasty. He won’t take this for very long.





Updated: Military party, Mafia party

22 07 2019

The military’s Palang Pracharath Party was formed by the junta to ensure that it could continue in power following the “election” it rigged, but only just “won” after having its puppet Election Commission tinker with the results after the “election.”

The junta has engaged in a long and childish charade, seeking to suggest that its party was somehow “independent” or distant from the junta. No one ever believed the junta on this. First, several of the junta’s cabinet ministers combined to found the party, filching and poaching “members” from other parties and by soaking up several well-known crooked politicians and dark influences. Second, several junta cabinet members then “founded” the party, resigning from the cabinet to do so. This was just weeks before the “election,” conducted under the junta’s crooked rules. Third, The Dictator Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha was the party’s candidate for prime minister and was then “elected,” thanks to the junta-appointed Senate that “voted” for Gen Prayuth as a bloc.

Now, the power behind the the junta’s throne, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan has thrown his lot in with the party:

After years of serving as the public face of the now-defunct junta, deputy prime minister Prawit Wongsuwan is reportedly ready to try his hand at party politics.

Gen. Prawit, who until recently headed the defense ministry, will “soon” join the pro-military Phalang Pracharath Party, a source said Monday. The retired general will also secure a seat in the party’s executive board according to the source, who is one of Gen. Prawit’s close aides.

Gen Prawit met with his sidekicks, buddies and underlings in the party in Nakorn Ratchasima province as they schemed further on what parliament might mean for the party and for the junta-like cabinet. Prawit was ebullient, praising the junta hangers-on:

I appreciate the executive committee’s recognition of the importance of fellow members of the Palang Pracharat Party, especially MPs… This seminar boosts love and unity among the members of our party and our family….

That family includes the criminal. And we don’t mean the military that has murdered dozens of citizens, but the dark influences like Thammanat Prompao.

 

From the Bangkok Post

Update: In another report, Gen Prawit is portrayed as behaving very much like a party boss in his meeting with Palang Pracharath MPs in Korat. He called for party unity and declared that the “new” government would see out its full term. More interestingly, he also acted like the Deputy Dictator when he added: “I’ll try to ensure that the government completes its term…”. It was Prawit who ensured the junta continued through intense repression of political opponents. That’s a pointer to a bleak future.





Updated: “New” government

11 07 2019

King Vajiralongkorn has endorsed The Dictator’s cabinet list.

One of the “stories” is how, as expected, many of the junta’s henchman have transitioned into the “new” government:

Prayut will also double as Defence Minister, a key position currently held by General Prawit Wongsuwan, his deputy in the outgoing government.

Prawit will retain his position as a deputy prime minister and is expected to also be in charge of security affairs.

The new Cabinet also has eight other ministers who have worked with Prayut and Prawit in the current post-coup government: Somkid Jatusripitak, Wissanu Krea-ngam, General Chaichan Changmongkol, Uttama Savanayana, Don Pramudwinai, Suvit Maesincee, Sontirat Sontijirawong and General Anupong Paojinda.

But the biggest story is undoubtedly going to be about an army man and mafia figure, reported by AFP, 9 Sep 1998, and now being circulated in Thailand:

BANGKOK, Sept 9 (AFP) – Eighteen middle-ranking Thai military officers are being investigated for links to an international heroin trafficking operation, the supreme commander of Thailand’s armed forces said Wednesday.

General Mongkol Ampornpisit said the officers had been re-admitted into the military in the past two years and the scandal, the latest in a series to rock the Thai military, had prompted him to order that all recently re-admitted officers have their backgrounds checked.

“I have submitted the names of all re-admitted officers for the last two years to have their criminal backgrounds checked with the police,” General Mongkol told reporters, without elaborating on the heroin trafficking allegations.

He said he hoped the move to vet officers would help contain one of the biggest scandals to hit the Thai military establishment in many years.

The revelation of the heroin investigation follows another scandal involving an army captain at the centre of a murder probe, who had previously served a jail term in Australia for drug trafficking.

Mongkol conceded the military had been lax when re-admitting Captain Patchara Prompao into the armed forces after he was fired twice and convicted of narcotics trafficking.

Patchara is now in detention awaiting trial in a civilian court after he surrendered to police on Monday to face charges that he raped and then beat a male academic to death.

In June, amid a drive was to make the armed forces more accountable, the government demanded the military disclose the contents of secret bank accounts they had been allowed to keep.

Earlier this year the armed forces were accused by opposition politicians of involvement in vast illegal logging operations in northern Thailand.

It is also Thammanat who was reported in 2016 as being among more than 6,000 “influential criminal figures” being targeted by the junta in a nationwide crackdown. Back then it was Gen Prawit who stated that “[s]tate officials, police and military officers found to be involved with ‘dark influences’ must also be dealt with…”. Gen Prawit was reportedly in charge of “suppressing influential criminal figures.”

At the time it was considered that the regime’s political opponents were being targeted, a claim Prawit denied. When asked about specific individuals on the list – “former army specialist Gen Trairong Intaratat, better known as Seh Ice, and Capt Thammanat Prompao, a former close aide to Gen Trairong…” – Gen Prawit said “police will explain the offences they have allegedly committed.” He added that the two “might have done nothing wrong, but their aides might have…”. The report continued:

Gen Trairong, said to have close ties to ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was among four people mentioned in a leaked document from the 1st Division, King’s Guard.

The three others named in the document are Karun Hosakul, a former Pheu Thai Party MP for Bangkok’s Don Muang district; Capt Thammanat Prompao, said to be involved in several enterprises including lottery ticket distribution; and Chaisit Ngamsap, alleged to be connected to illegal activities in the Mor Chit area of Bangkok.

Gen Trairong and Capt Thammarat have denied the allegations.

In the same report, Gen Prayudh is reported as saying:

… those who break the law must be punished…. In the future, these people may support politicians. They must not be allowed to break the law and use weapons against people. Today, we must help to clear up the mess to make our country safe….

It seems that the once pro-Thaksin Thammanat has metamorphosed into a pro-junta man and the politicians he’s supporting are Prayuth’s and he’s now so trusted that he’s a deputy minister!





Updated: Open-mouthed disbelief I

11 07 2019

Several stories caught PPT’s collective eye over the past couple of days.

The first is about Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, the Watchman,” who has been clearing his office at the Ministry of Defence to make way for Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha.  But little else seems to have changed for for Gen Prawit.

A story at Khaosod of another bit of “casual corruption” associated would be funny if it wasn’t so reflective of a regime that has descended into old ways of military-bosses-cum-politicians.

Serial complainer Srisuwan Janya, who operates off social media posts in making his hundreds of petitions, has “filed a complaint to probe the police’s purchase of a 1.14 billion baht jet for ferrying deputy junta chairman [Gen] Prawit Wongsuwan and his entourage…”.

Srisuwan’s complaint plagiarizes social media “outrage at photos of the junta’s second-in-command exiting a private [police] jet with a flight attendant in tow…”.

The little bit of tycoon lifestyle for Gen. Prawit tripping about in a Dassault Falcon 2000S is said to have been purchased “by the police … [for] about 350 million baht more than the global market price.”

The price for a new one is about $30 million. That is a lot of taxpayer loot for a force that usually buys vehicles like the Toyota Camry and, for its pampered bosses, a BMW 5 or a Mercedes 600. Its aviation division has a Fokker 50 turboprop airliner in addition to the Falcon and more than 70 helicopters.

Srisuwan asks – we presume rhetorically – “Why does Thailand like to buy things at a higher price than other people? Or was there some special [deal] that they haven’t revealed to the people?”

Clipped from Khaosod

The jet is said to have cost 1.14 billion baht, which seems about 159 million baht over the list price. Expect the police to say that the extra cash went to fit-out, training and/or spare parts rather than into any boss’s pocket.

So far, the efforts of the police spokesman are laughable, claiming the “plane was a sound investment,” and saying it carried not just Gen Prawit and “the police commissioner and other high-ranking officials.” What a life! They don’t have to deal with the hoi polloi in regular planes or put up with noisy turboprops. The spokesman adds that the new plane can fly when helicopters can’t (but so can the Fokker).

Not only that, but the Falcon can be used for other “important assignments … like government inspections, drug raids, and to follow up crucial investigations.” A $30 million business jet for “investigations”? Right, but probably not investigations of police corruption.

While on the police, we notice that they have, as claimed several times, been hard at work on the cases involving the assault of political activists. Indeed, they have brought charges! Khaosod reports that police have

arrested … eight Facebookers accused of spreading [allegedly] false reports on social media that the police were behind the attack on June 28 that left pro-democracy campaigner Sirawith [Seritiwat] in critical condition. All of the suspects were charged with cybercrimes….

The report adds that police claim that the eight “confessed to claiming on Facebook that deputy police commissioner Chaiwat Ketworachai sent four men under his command to attack Sirawith.”

No one expects the police to arrest the thugs responsible for the cowardly attacks but the Facebookers, slapped with computer crimes charges that can mean up to seven years in prison.

As PPT predicted, “investigations” into the attack on Sirawith is being “hampered” because “some cameras were out of service and failed to capture the assailants’ flight from the scene…”. That’s the usual excuse when a cover-up is underway.

A third story that causes open-mouthed disbelief is also at Khaosod. Just confirmed as Deputy Minister for Agriculture is “dark influence” Thammanat Prompao, a member of the junta’s Palang Pracharath Party.

Deputy Prime Minister under the junta and now under the “new” junta-engineered government, Wissanu Krea-Ngam has said that Thammanat’s “eligibility for a seat in the cabinet is not in question because he is not being prosecuted by the Thai judiciary.” The story continues, with Wissanu claiming:

In the past, there was an MP who had been prosecuted in Hong Kong for drug trafficking, but his status was not affected in Thailand…. Although his reputation among many things might have been impacted, his deeds and ethical standards have to be considered separately.

On Thammanat, it is known that he’s allegedly been involved in all kinds of activities that many consider “shady.” As the report states:

Thammanat was once stripped of his military rank for alleged involvement in a murder case in 1998, but was reinstated after the court acquitted him.

The latest allegations against Thammanat came after an opposition politician claimed he was previously convicted of a crime in a foreign country. No public records of such conviction could be found as of publication time.

Now that a government has been formed – it still has to present its policy to parliament – look to all kinds of internal jostling for a place at the trough.

Update: In another report staggering under a mound of buffalo manure, police claim that they have not – yes, they haven’t – demanded an exchange of police protection for Sirawith being politically silent. Not only that, but the police claim they would never, ever, never ask a political activist not to engage in political activity. Well, it wasn’t the police saying it, but Deputy Defence Minister Gen Chaichan Changmongkol. But we guess that the Army speaks for the police these days. But, really, this is just the usual lies from senior figures. This kind of buffalo manure will only cease to flow when such idiocies and the dolts who make such claims are called out, again and again. The truth is out there, but these fools work with manure rather than truth.





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.





New government promised

4 07 2019

Now more than 100 days since the junta’s rigging of its election and result, things haven’t gone smoothly for the military junta. Because the “election” result wasn’t exactly as the junta had hoped, and because the multi-party coalition is so large and because the junta’s Palang Pracharath Party is such a motley concoction of old-style politicians, “negotiations” over who scores what benefit and position have been endless and publicly messy.

The most recent glitch involved what the Bangkok Post calls the “Sam Mitr faction of the Palang Pracharath Party…”. In fact, it was this small group of mostly former pro-Thaksin Shinawatra politicians who formed the party, funded it and went around hoovering up the old-style politicians as candidates for the junta’s party.

Suddenly, however, the three friend group has appeared contrite. Moneybags and former Thaksin minister Suriya Juangroongruangkit said his “group will not cause problems for the prime minister, so he will have time to work for the country. After communicating with seniors yesterday, whatever positions the group now receives will be the decision of the prime minister…”.

Did those “seniors” threaten or did they make concessions? Was it Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s coup threat? Being the junta, the tea leaves may remain unreadable, although the cabinet list will be revealing of the dozens of deals done.

Gen Prayuth, scaffolded by constitutional rigging into a further term as prime minister, now reckons he will have a cabinet sworn in by the end of the month. That depends on the king being in Thailand. He says he’s made all the decisions, but in a bit of royalist nonsense that evolved in recent years, the cabinet will not be announced until approved by the monarch.

Within hours, Gen Prayuth was then saying he could “confirm the new government will be formed and will swear the oath of office [before King Rama X] by the middle of July for sure…”. That cabinet is rumored to be junta-heavy and includes self-confessed mafia figures:

They included his three deputies — Somkid Jatusripitak, Wissanu Krea-ngam and the embattled Gen Prawit Wongsuwon — who are penciled in to retain their current posts.

Gen Anupong Paochinda — Gen Prayut’s other brother-in-arms — also looks set to retain his position at the Interior Ministry.

Meanwhile, Capt Thammanat Prompao, who is close to Gen Prawit and was once seen as an influential figure, is to become the next labour minister.

It is said that it has again been Gen Prawit pulling the strings and “played a major role in arranging the cabinet line-up…”.





Humpty’s men

3 07 2019

Marwaan Macan-Markar, at the Nikkei Asia Review, contributes a long and useful review of the remolding of the relationship between monarchy and military.

He claims that diplomats in Bangkok know which military leaders are closest to King Vajiralongkorn by a pin with an “image of Prince Dipangkorn, the king’s 14-year-old son” which are “pinned on the left breasts of a select few military leaders…”. (Dipangkorn is widely considered to be heir apparent, lives in Germany and seldom appears the full quid.)

Gen Apirat

One diplomat described those wearing the pin as “a small network,” with Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong an important bearer of the pin. Gen Apirat is known to present himself as “fiercely loyal to the king.”

Macan-Markar says that this “network” indicate “a major change in the relationship between two of Thailand’s most powerful institutions — the monarchy and the military” under King  Vajiralongkorn.

While his analysis, based on interviews with diplomats, pundits and academics, is interesting, it is one that is based on a kind of “Kremlinology” of military watching which can be somewhat misleading if the forest is obscured by the trees. Hence the interminable speculation over Queen’s Guard versus King’s Guard.

In our view, it is misguided to see the king’s faith in the “senior generals of the King’s Guard, a Bangkok-based faction” as representing a spurning of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and his junta. As far as anyone can tell from available evidence, the junta has done everything that the king has wanted and it is Gen Prayuth, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Gen Anupong Paojinda who have put in place military succession plans that lead from Gen Apirat to Gen Narongphan Jitkaewthae, currently commander of the First Army region and Gen Songwit Noongpakdee, the leader of the Bangkok-based 1st Infantry Division.

That “defense analysts say the monarch’s choice of trusted lieutenants stems from his own military record” is no surprise, now. What they miss, however, is that the king’s succession was a long one, with his father incapacitated, and the then crown prince and his advisers long having had influence over the military brass.

Interestingly, and barely mentioned, is the ways in which the king revamped the Privy Council, the Crown Property Bureau and the palace administration over that period of long succession. In these moves, he made these institutions his own, bringing in junta loyalists and advancing those closest to him, including Air Chief Marshal Sathitpong Sukwimol, long the king’s private secretary and now, arguably, his most powerful adviser, heading the CPB, Siam Commercial Bank and Siam Cement Group, among other important bodies.

ACM Sathitpong Sukwimol (clipped from The Nation)

All of these rearrangements, promotions and not a few demotions and ousters do mean that a military man on the throne has ensured that he has the military under control. Just in case of problems, there’s some “insurance,” with ACM Sathitpong’s younger brother Pol Maj Gen Torsak at the head of a large force of “protectors.”

Naturally, Prawit remained a Prayuth confidant during the five years of the junta, serving as the deputy prime minister and defense minister. Gen. Anupong Paochinda, another former army chief from the Queen’s Guard, was also a key figure in Prayuth’s coup and junta.

That the king promotes the “King’s Guard, the faction he was part of, in the driving center of army power,” hardly seems a revelation. Yet there’s no evidence that the Queen’s Guard is in any way untrustworthy or disloyal. (It was King Bhumibol who placed his son in the King’s Guard.)

With little evidence, Macan-Markar discerns that the generals of Queen’s Guard is somehow more “politically ambitious” than those of the King’s Guard. There’s no evidence for this. In addition, there’s an amnesia for previous claims made. In the view of many pundits, it was the Queen’s Guard who conducted the 2014 coup in order to ensure the current king’s succession. What happened to that position? And, it was the Queen’s Guard coup masters who purged the military of those perceived as disloyal.

Former foreign minister Kasit Piromya is quoted as saying: “The king clearly wants a vertical hierarchy without any distractions and divisions that can cause splits in the army…”. That seems to have been the junta’s aim as well. To see this as a move against the Queen’s Guard ignores the fact that the junta’s role has been to “cleanse” the military, to immeasurably strengthen it and to embed it at all levels of society. That’s the important message, not the Kremlinology of watching factions.

It seems that “experts” on the military blame “factional rivalries” for “repeated coups.” We think the experts need to re-read the history of successful coups.

Former ambassador and new author James Wise is right to observe that “the monarchy and the military exercise authority in their own right, often without reference to the more familiar legislative, executive and judiciary…”. The big picture matters.

When Kasit predicts: “No more coups,” we think he’s in la-la land. It will depend, as in the past, on on perceptions of “threat” to the monarchy and the broader ruling class.