Up yours

17 07 2016

A few days ago, PPT posted on a letter endorsed by the ambassadors of Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden and the US as well as the head of the European Union delegation. That letter urged the junta “to allow the Thai people to engage in open dialogue, forge common links, and find the consensus needed to build a strong and sustainable future for all.”

The junta has responded with lies and continuing repression.

The Bangkok Post reports that Deputy Prime Minister and deputy junta boss General Prawit Wongsuwan “brushed off” this call, essentially saying, “Up yours!

Prawit lied that the junta “never suppressed free speech.” He was supported in his lie by junta spokesman Colonel Piyapong Klinpan who said “the regime did not do anything that would violate freedom of expression, noting critics could still proceed with their activities if they were not deemed against the law.”

He knows, as does everyone else, that the junta deems all activities it doesn’t like against the “law.”

Piyapong also declared that the junta “was not concerned about the latest stance by foreign envoys.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee repeated the nonsensical Orwellian claims that “the draft charter and the referendum process were part of the “roadmap to democracy” and the government took legal measures necessary to ensure peace and order and a smooth transition.” He became bizarre, declaring that these “legal measures would never restrict freedom of expression as long as it was not disruptive to peace and order, adding the government was also open to opinions from all stakeholders in the reconciliation and reform process.”

The threats were also multiple. General Prawit “denied the military was behind the distribution of several thousand letters containing allegedly distorted information on the draft charter,” adding: “Some groups want to see the referendum collapse. I know who they are and actions will be taken.”

Other threats are more immediate. We have posted on two of the most recent threats to the media and actual threats to expression. The threats to red shirts are ongoing and unrelenting, with Prachatai reporting that 19 northeastern red shirts have been summoned for joining shortlived/abortive UDD plan for a referendum watch campaign. According to lawyers, a total of “[a]t least 96 red-shirt supporters in seven provinces across the country have so far been prosecuted under NCPO Order No 3/2015 for joining the red-shirt referendum watch campaign.”

But the junta never restricts freedom of expression. Malarky, nonsense and horse manure rolled up hill are all terms that come to mind.





Junta and the undermining of law II

29 06 2016

A few days ago, PPT posted an Asian Human Rights Commission Statement on the junta’s destruction of law and rule of law through its capricious use of laws, announcements, orders and decrees used as laws in the interests of the junta and always against those it thinks are its political opponents.

A dire example of the junta’s misuse of the very notion of “law” is seen in deputy junta boss General Prawit Wongsuwan’s recent statement that “freedom of expression” is unnecessary for Thailand in the junta’s so-called transitional period. (It isn’t at all clear what the “transition” actually is, although we have the impression that it is to deeper military control of politics.)Prawit and gold chain

Following this statement of the junta’s repressive raison d’état the detestable general went on to “explain” that the “arrest of the anti-junta activists was not a human rights violation.”

In fact, the activists were simply campaigning for a No vote in the August referendum on the military’s draft charter. Their arrest by the junta’s thugs in uniform is described by Prawit as a purely legal issue rather than political repression.

Prawit said “the arrest was not considered a human rights violation since the activists breached the law first, adding that if the junta had not arrested them, there was no point of having the law…”. He went on: “I didn’t arrest students, I arrested the lawbreakers. There’s the law and I do everything in accordance to the law…”.

Time and again, the regime that conducted an illegal coup, threw out the country’s basic law and absolved itself of any wrongdoing has used “law” as its excuse for political repression. Of course, this is “normal” for all military dictatorships and especially those that seek to embed their control and rule.

Reflecting on this dangerous state of affairs, a Bangkok Post article presents “an abridged version of a report, ‘The Disguised Militarisation in the Name of Law and the Judicial Process’, by the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.” The report presents “a grim picture of Thailand’s justice system since the military took power in May 2014.”

The article refers to the junta “justify[ing] its grip on power by running the systematic militarisation of law and the judicial process against its critics, political dissidents and ordinary citizens…”. It points to the fact that the military dictatorship “has created its own versions of law and manipulated the entire justice process, depriving civilians of their rights to fair trial and violating their rights to freedoms of expression.”

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights “has called for the regime to revoke the use of military courts for civilian cases and end the use of Section 44 of the interim charter which legitimises any orders of the NCPO leader as ‘lawful, constitutional and final’.”

This militarization of law is described as being “disguised in the name of numerous orders and the interim constitution imposed by the junta have adjusted and distorted the principles of the legal state Thailand once belonged to.”

It points out that the military junta “has used the militarised law and orders to justify its actions and re-create a public image of Thailand as a legal state.”

Read the Post’s story and weep for Thailand.





Updated: Thailand rejected at the UN

29 06 2016

Kazakstan does not look very much like a democratic polity. Yet it is not a military dictatorship. As the Bangkok Post has it, Kazakstan “easily defeated Thailand’s bid for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, with just 55 countries backing Thailand against 138 for Kazakhstan.”

Junta supporters have pointed to the 55 and drawn some cockeyed notion about support for the regime, but that glass isn’t even half full.

Earlier, some of Thailand’s diplomats were quoted as declaring that “[m]ilitary-ruled Thailand stands a ‘good chance’ over oil-rich Kazakhstan…”. We couldn’t help wondering if these were the same shoppers diplomats who lied to the UN Human Rights Council. That these diplomats reckoned it was “a 50:50 draw, but we stand a good chance as we have secured support from Washington among others…” is another example of how the junta’s Thailand is Bizarro World, where its inhabitants are in some kind of delusional state or parallel political universe.

We also wondered if The Dictator’s self-described diatribe to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon might have sunk a very leaky Thai ship in the UN.

In the end, the “second-round voting wasn’t close.”

For more background on this event, see Kavi Chongkittavorn’s propaganda-like piece in support if the junta’s bid for the UNSC seat and the opposition of Human Rights Watch and FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights) opposition.

Update: Despite all of the junta hype before the devastating defeat, and in the face of statements that the “Thai bid delegation, comprising former Asean secretary-general [and Democrat Party stalwart] Surin Pitsuwan and other retired ambassadors, had been optimistic about winning the race,…” Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan has commented that: “We had anticipated that…. Never mind. Next time.” Prawit sounds as if he will still be around “next time” in 2017-18. Meanwhile, according to the same Bangkok Post report states that the “Pheu Thai Party claimed Wednesday the country spent more than 600 million baht in a campaign leading up to Thailand’s defeat in the race for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).”





Updated: Shutting down red shirts I

14 06 2016

As the referendum on the military’s draft charter approaches, the junta has detected an uptick in red shirt and Puea Thai Party activity, and has reacted predictably: repression.

YingluckThe uptick involves the official red shirts, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, joining the referendum and urging a big turnout while setting up a center to monitor referendum fraud, and Yingluck Shinawatra apparently on the stump and willing to be (mildly) critical of the military regime. (One fizz related to her travels was a Nok Air pilot texting his hatred for Yingluck as she was on the plane he was to fly, threatening/joking to bring the plane down. His texts break the law. Let’s see if the law is enforced.)

The Bangkok Post reports that “Yingluck has been annoying authorities for the past several weeks by touring provinces and drawing huge crowds of admirers in the North and Northeast, allegedly to celebrate reaching 5 million followers  on her Facebook account.”

The easily spooked junta, like Pavlov’s dogs, has reacted as expected and as programmed. Cranky deputy junta boss, the dumpy General Prawit Wongsuwan is reported at Prachatai as declaring that “the red shirt’s referendum watch campaign was not allowed since it was under the responsibility of existing government agencies.” He also demanded that the red shirts “stop inviting international organization[s] to participate in the August referendum watch.”

The deputy junta head ranted that the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship that “organizations including the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) and the National Anti-Corruption Commission, [are] in charge of the issue.” He means the anti-election Election Commission. He was visibly angry, virtually shouting when he threatened:

Those who are uninvolved should not mess up things and should not drag foreign organization into the country. It is a domestic issue. The country is moving forward so we should not impede each other…. Stop it, I beg you. No more. If you’re stubborn, you might face a legal prosecution.

Following up on these threats, Prachatai reports that the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission A TV station has voted “to revoke the broadcast licence of Peace TV, a TV station run by [red shirt leader] Jatuporn Prompan…”. It is reported that “the revocation is due to three TV programs which carried contents that breach the NCPO Announcement No. 97/2014 and 103/2014, which prohibits dissemination of content that instigates violence and misleads the public. However, the actual content leading to the revocation remains unreported.”

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that military thugs have moved to take down UDD banner “promoting their new anti-referendum fraud centre…” in Lampang. The banner read: “Referendum must not be derailed. No fraud. UDD’s centre for fighting fraud in the Aug 7 referendum.” We guess that the army thugs are acting illegally. The military junta will say everything it does is “legal,” but the fact is that many of its actions are only “legal” because, as a court explained, the junta grabbed state power.





Junta’s political strategy I

1 06 2016

Any use of the word “strategy” when referring to Thailand’s military dictatorship is likely to be overcooked. Yet the media has been writing of the junta’s strategy coming to the referendum.

One way of looking at the recent and much-hyped lifting of a travel ban on some politicians is that the military junta is declaring a political victory. And, that that “victory” allows the military a timely opportunity to “loosen up” prior to the constitutional referendum, where it craves increased support. Not only does it want the constitution to pass that vote, but some see the referendum as a measure of support for the junta and the royalist authoritarianism of the junta, to be embedded in the political system going forward.

The Nation recently reported that the junta “was scrutinising its [coup] orders issued earlier to ban politicians and political activists from leaving the country such as order 1/2557, 2/2557, 3/2557 and order 80/2557.” These orders essentially prevented some Puea Thai Party politicians and some red shirt activists from leaving “the country without [the junta’s] permission.”

None of the banned persons listed had ever been charged with any crime. It was just the junta’s way of repressing and watching them.

The junta announced that it “lifted the travel ban to reflect the improved political situation and to ease political tensions ahead of the referendum.” That led to suggestions that the junta was declaring political victory and that this was part of a “strategy” seeking to embed its polity going forward.

But, then, the junta did warn: “We did not ease all the rules as we need to maintain tight grips on some issues.” The statement also added the royalist claim of “we are all Thais”, declaring: “We relaxed the rules because we believe we are Thais alike…”.

Khaosod reported that some of the previously banned politicians in Puea Thai welcomed the move. The coup-loving, election-losing Democrat Party’s Wirat Kalyasiri said the move was “a good sign” and claimed it “will lead to reconciliation.” He may have jumped the gun. More thoughtful on the Democrat Party side was Nipit Intarasombat who said: “I don’t feel happy or excited that this order will be repealed, because it shouldn’t have been there in the first place…. Personally, I even think that the repeal comes too late.”

The Nation son reported that “activists” and “scholars” were less happy. Lifting the ban did not “respond to the needed assurance that people’s rights and liberty are protected, and also fails to fulfil the junta’s desire to ‘look good’ in the eyes of other countries.” They thought the junta was responding to “the international community’s recent criticism of the human rights situation in Thailand.”

Chaturon Chaisang pointed out that “although the junta had abrogated the travel ban, many measures still applied to the select group of activists and politicians. The ban on financial transactions that is applied against some of them is still in place, he said, adding that the threat of temporary detentions also remained.” And, he quite rightly pointed out that the list was never enforced by the junta against politicians it liked: “Many activists, although on the list, could go abroad as long as they do not slam the junta…”.

We were’t so sure. The travel bans have not really been front page for those criticizing the junta. Arbitrary detention, lese majeste, military courts and arbitrary powers are more significant. Except that the junta then followed up with another “concession.”

The junta has announced that “no longer will use military camps as venues for ‘attitude adjustment’ re-education sessions, instead sending dissidents to ‘friendlier’ government buildings for the talks.” In other words, it is going to harass opponents, and seek to “persuade them not to speak out against policies and actions of the military regime,” but not in military camps but somewhere else.

Where? “[P]ovincial halls and police stations will be used to house the political opponents…”. We guess the difference is that the abductions and detentions will be “civilianized.” As Deputy Prime Minister and General Prawit Wongsuwan said “of the forced incarcerations,” “the sessions would continue and those summoned would still have to report to military officials.” So “civilianization” is about location, not who is doing the abductions, detentions, interrogations and intimidation.

Adding to the seeming non-significance, the Bangkok Post reports that The Dictator has “rejected calls for the regime to relax the ban on political activities, saying politicians have failed to improve their behaviour.” Paternalism runs deep in the hierarchical military. He added that “content posted on social media and media interviews indicated certain politicians have not stopped making mischief.”

As ever, General Prayuth Chan-ocha angrily rejected such calls declaring “he was not considering easing other restrictions, as it could lead to public disorder and threaten the regime’s political roadmap.”

Failed Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva wants the junta “to allow political parties to engage in activities that would help them prepare for reforms.” As usual, he resorted to weasel words, assuring the junta that politicians like him would be “good.” Politicians “who want to cause trouble, he said, would “resort to secretive means to achieve their ends…”.

In the end, neither of the steps is hugely significant. The major elements of repression and arbitrariness remain in place. Whatever the junta was “thinking,” and we are sure something must have been ticking in someone’s head, it was clear that the move was not a “softening” as some editorials claimed.

Our guess, and that is all it is, is that they are looking beyond the referendum and how they can fix an election in 2017 (should it go ahead). Our guess on top of our guess is that, like juntas before them, they are looking at which politicians to bring into a military party. That requires some accommodations to be made.





Students vs. hirelings and anti-democrats

31 05 2016

The Nation recently had an “analysis” article on the student movements against the military junta. It refers to “student groups such as Dao Din, the New Democracy Movement (NDM) and the Liberal League of Thammasat for Democracy (LLTD)…”.

It says that “[a]t first, people barely noticed them.” But then, “[s]lowly people learned more about them, and realised that their rebellion was not merely against the coup, but embraced a wider range of policies and social issues that were of concern to everyone.” The report notes how these groups have been politically innovative. They have had to be as their main opponent is the military dictatorship which has massive coercive power.

The report quotes activist Rangsiman Rome who is a key member of the NDM and who observes that the “movement has been ignited by the coup…”. He says that “the students could not tolerate abuses of power – such as tearing apart the 2007 Constitution and allowing members of the junta to go unpunished.” At the same time, they “fight for what ‘should be’ rather than accept what ‘will be’…”.

The article acknowledges that these students have been “at great risk,” but have not hesitated to rally and challenge the junta.

It is sometimes forgotten that these students were active before the 2014 coup. As Rangsiman states, “In 2013 we protested against the amnesty bill proposed by the previous [Yingluck Shinawatra] government…”. Khon Kaen University’s Dao Din student activist Panupong Sritananuwat says his “group has worked with villagers for more than 12 years. Their activities involve environmental issues and educating people on their rights to protect the community.”

The student activists argue that “across the country [students] are increasingly aware of their roles as citizens…”, with Natthisa Patthamaphonphong of the Chulalongkorn Community for People (CCP), saying that “the students wanted to demonstrate they cared about the country.”

The students also “challenged emerging allegations that their activit[ies] are insincere after people questioned whether they were sponsored by particular political factions.”

The article then gets bizarre by going to the source of such claims, reporting academic prostitute (again, apologies to sex workers) and a yellow-shirted “former activist” who has been made an “academic” in a yellow-shirted “university,” even when he lacks the usual credentials associated with academics.

The first is the decidedly slimy Panitan Wattanayagorn, described as “a long-time security lecturer at Chulalongkorn University,” which is probably a reasonable description although he spends most of his time doing tricks as “national security adviser to Deputy Prime Minister [General] Prawit Wongsuwan…” and before that being the ventriloquist’s dummy for the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime.

Panitan has probably never been an activist on anything. The best the article can do is say that he “has been close to a number of student activists…”. Perhaps he was the bagman for the military in this? We suppose that advocating the shooting down of civilian protesters counts as activism. As someone who has long been on the payroll of political masters, it is probably logical for him to declare that “it was inevitable for such questions to arise” about being “sponsored” by a political faction. Indeed, that is Panitan’s own position; he’s always sponsored by the military and right-wing royalists.

Panitan declares that “the public needed to keep an eye on youth-led movements to determine in the long run whether they are independent or not…”. He isn’t, and the public should watch him, for he’s dangerous through his connections with military thugs.

The other quotable “academic” is former People’s Alliance for Democracy co-leader Suriyasai Katasila, now transformed into a “deputy dean of Rangsit University’s College of Social Innovation…”. He isn’t a historian, erroneously comparing the students of 1973 and today’s students, saying “Today’s political condition is so complicated that students cannot straightforwardly do whatever they want, like students did in the past, in 1973…”. Clearly, he has no understanding of the conditions in 1973 that led to a corrupt military regime murdering students in the street.

We could go on, but what’s the point. These “commentators” have political axes to grind while being paternalist and denigrating the current student movements. Panitan blathered: “They should consider if their movements are appropriate and favourable for the society or not, otherwise the public will wonder about [the purpose of] the movements…”. We imagine there are no mirrors in the cheap Chula apartment he occupies.

The students in these groups have more mettle, more integrity and more principles than a herd of Panitans and Suriyasais.





Footballing oligarchs II

24 05 2016

Less than a week ago, PPT posted on the penchant of oligarchs for football and snapping up teams that promote their interests and, if things work out, make them even more money.

As everyone in the world knows, Leicester City recently collected some silverware as outsiders made good. As we noted in that earlier post, the club has been owned by football-loving, polo-playing oligarch, monopolist and royalist Vichai Raksriaksorn (who has a royally-bestowed moniker, Srivaddhanaprabha). Vichai made oodles of money through his monopoly on duty free at Thailand’s airports, through his company King Power.King Power

Thailand’s airports have long been the property of the military. They are now part of a listed company, Airports of Thailand. Now the Ministry of Finance controls 70% of AOT’s stock but four of the 14-member Board of Directors continue to carry military ranks. As far as we can tell, only one of the directors of AOT is not a serving or retired official or worked for AOT. The senior executive of AOT continues to have quite a few military ranks listed.

In other words, gaining a monopoly on duty free requires high-level political support and close relations with the senior brass. Exactly how Vichai managed this in the beginning has never been made clear. He went from unknown to billionaire in a relatively short time. King Power began in 1989, with a license granted for Thailand’s first downtown duty free shop at Mahatun Plaza. How it was that King Power got the Chatichai Choonhavan government to award the license isn’t easily seen, but as Chatichai opened to the former enemies across the border, King Power got a license in Phnom Penh soon after. By 1993, King Power had Don Muang airport under its wing. All of this during a period of civilian versus military political tussling.

In a story linked to below, The Nation states:

In addition to the ruling junta, the wealthy businessman has managed to build good ties with both politicians and military figures in powerful posts. And thanks to these cosy relationships, his company has managed to win coveted deals from influential people at key times, including a concession to operate duty-free shops at major airports that has grown into a Bt68-billion-a-year business.

Now that he and his kids – the Sino-Thai tycoon model of family business – are on top of the world, what does this mean for Vichai and Thailand’s politics. Some measure of this comes from recent press reports on Leicester City in Thailand.

An AFP report states that the “Premier League champions Leicester City received a royal seal of approval … at Bangkok’s Grand Palace, with the Thai-owned team presenting its trophy to a portrait of the king before a bus parade through the capital.”

Leicester 2

To most people in the world, this sentence will seem very odd. How does one present a trophy to a portrait and how does a portrait provide “a royal seal of approval”? Why would they present a trophy to a king of another land be he real or a portrait?

In royalist Thailand, however, most things associated with the monarchy are very odd. It has become normalized for sports champions to “present” their medals or trophies to the king as a sign of loyalty. Not doing so becomes disloyalty. At the same time, the businessmen and businesswomen who manage and profit from big sports (and gambling on sport) in Thailand get the reflected royal aura. That’s good for business.

So when Leicester City “present” the silverware to the king’s portrait, “[l]ocal television showed billionaire club-owner Vichai …, alongside his son Aiyawatt and manager Claudio Ranieri, presenting the trophy to a portrait of the king as they and the team then took a deep bow.” In fact, they got on their knees, another “tradition” reintroduced in this reign.

Leicester 1

The team later went on an open-top bus parade through Bangkok. More on that below.

And, oh yes, Vichai’s King Power brand was everywhere. The parade “wound its way from a King Power-owned shopping and hotel complex through Bangkok’s downtown commercial district.” Continuing the royalist theme, “[d]uring their title celebrations at the King Power stadium, a portrait of Bhumibol was held aloft as players…”.

For the company King Power, the seal of approval is also coveted. According to Chulchit Bunyaketu, listed at the company website as a “Counselor,”The fact that the company was awarded the Royal Decree and is under the patronage of His Majesty the King clearly reflects on the integrity, capability, and honesty of our company and staff members.”

The Mail Online has more on the parade, noting Vichai’s commercialization and use of pliable monks: “Vichai is a regular devotee of Phra Prommangkalachan … and took the monk to Britain to bless the stadium and the team.” So the players trooped of to the royal Emerald Buddha temple.

It is The Sun that made most of the “thousands of Thais [who] were paid to pose as Leicester City fans for the club’s Premier League victory parade in Thailand…”.

Many of those dressed in club colors were there having “responded to a social media advert offering to pay people for a ‘Leicester parade job’. They were to get 500 baht…. They were asked to meet at the Bangkok HQ of the King Power company … [and] were also given free club T-shirts and urged to clap and chant during the celebration.” King Power employees were also mobilized.

All of this is obviously good for business, but thetre is also political speculation. The Nation explains some of this. It says that Leicester City’s “well-connected billionaire owner, Vichai … has … been linked to an alliance with political friends and the ruling generals that could result in a new political party…”.

It says that “his massive wealth and strong connections” mean that “Vichai is seen by some as having the potential to be the ‘last piece in the jigsaw’ needed for the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the junta] to retain power via a new political party.”

Prawit, Suthep and King Power

Prawit, Suthep and King Power

Vichai is said to have good relations with “many key figures’ in the military junta, naming “Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, one of the most influential figures in the ruling junta.”

The story goes on, saying Vichai is close to “Bhum Jai Thai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul and Newin Chidchob, the former Cabinet minister and political broker who owns Thailand’s leading football club Buriram United.”

Anutin is rumored to have close links with the palace, and it was his father Chavarat who worked with Newin and the generals in 2008 to make Abhisit Vejjajiva prime minister and Bhum Jai Thai the military’s party as it went to the 2011 election. The military and the party failed spectacularly as Yingluck Shinawatra and the Puea Thai Party won in a landslide.Newin and King Power

This time around it is stated that an “alliance between Vichai, Newin and Anutin, plus support from Prawit -in the background, would be a coalition between a financial group and a power clique set for the new political landscape…”.

Newin and Vichai have a mutual interest in football and politics and blue pervades Buriram as much as it does Leicester, not to mention a group of blue-shirted thugs organized by Newin and Suthep Thaugsuban in 2009 to oppose red shirts.

Vast stocks of cash, royalism, political savvy and skills in the “dark arts” of vote-buying and great influence are just what a military party will need (if an election is ever permitted).








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