On the road to nowhere (new)

24 05 2019

Is wasn’t hard to predict the final “election” result. PPT predicted a junta “win” a long time ago. The “win” was never in doubt as the whole process was rigged.

HRW’s Sunai Phasuk put it this way:

The March 24 general election was structurally rigged, enabling the military to extend its hold on power. While maintaining a host of repressive laws, the junta dissolved a main opposition party, took control of the national election commission, levied bogus criminal charges against opposition politicians and dissidents, and packed the Senate with generals and cronies who will have the power to determine the next prime minister, regardless of the election results.

What wasn’t clear is that the bumbling generals would be snookered by the electorate. Thai voters, despite all the rigging and repression still voted for anti-junta parties, with the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra Puea Thai Party winning a plurality.

Despite this, the junta’s puppet party, Palang Pracharath, will head up a coalition of some 20 parties. While a great deal of bargaining has gone on, pro-military parties like Bhum Jai Thai and the anti-democrat Democrat Party were always likely to saddle-up with the junta – after all, they have supported it for years and worked for its coup back in 2014.

In a throwback to December 2008, when the military midwifed a government led by the Democrat Party’s Abhisit Vejjajiva, it is reported that there was:

a meeting between Gen Prayut[h Chan-ocha], his deputy Prawit Wongsuwon, Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul and Democrat secretary-general Chalermchai Sri-on at a military camp in Bangkok…. They discussed coming together to set up a government with the PPRP as the main party, the sources said, adding that given the atmosphere of the meeting, the “deal” to form the next government is almost sealed.

The wheeling and dealing is over who gets what. Bhum Jai Thai wants a bunch of potentially lucrative cabinet slots that all seem focused on benefits for the Buriram clan. The Democrat Party wants anything at all that will allow it to look stronger than its horrid election result suggest.

Following the junta’s clear message, via the Election Commission and Constitutional Court, that it intends to grind the Future Forward Party into political dust, the deals were more easily struck, with most of the remora micro-parties and even the middle-sized parties rushing into the octopus-grasp of the junta.

How strong that grasp will be is yet to be tested. A 20-party coalition is a recipe for instability or for massive corruption in keeping it together. There’s also the “Prem model” who tried to ignore party and parliamentary bickering and ruled as a cabinet-led government. Like Gen Prem, Gen Prayuth has a tame Senate. In fact, the Senate looks rather like the puppet National Legislative Assembly of the past few years.

A weak coalition government with an autocratic premier suggests that The Dictator will require strong support from extra-parliamentary sources – the king and the military. Neither is likely to be maintained without cost and deals.

Back in the 1980s, the main threats and support for Gen Prem were extra-parliamentary, and despite the image of a period of stability, saw several coup attempts.





Blood on their hands: remembering 2010

19 05 2019

19 May 2010 is remembered as marking the end of the Battle for Bangkok.

April and May 2010 are remembered for the utter brutality of a military that still views electoral democracy and people’s sovereignty as a threat to the order it prefers and defends.

It must be recalled that the leadership of the military dictatorship – Generals Prayuth Chan-ocha, Prawit Wongsuwan, Anupong Paojinda, and Apirat Kongsompong – together with then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban have never been held accountable for the protesters shot down, injured and killed in those bloody events. Several of these men, blood on their hands, will be at the center of yet another military-backed regime for the next few years.

These pictures are from both sides of the battle as the military gradually surrounded and then cleared the Rajaprasong area. Blood flowed and no one has been held responsible.





Another Federation link

16 05 2019

The three missing activists, probably deported from Vietnam to Thailand on 8 May 2019, have been associated with the Organization for a Thai Federation.

Readers may recall that back in about September 2018, several persons were arrested in Thailand for distributing black t-shits, claimed to be connected with the Organization, then said to be operating from Laos. At the time, Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan claimed that these republicans had a network in Thailand. It seems that the regime has made a determined effort to track down the group in Laos and to destroy it.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights recently reported that a 58 year-old woman, identified only as Praphan, “was arrested by the Malaysian Police and deported back to Thailand on 10th May 2019 while waiting for refugee status from UNHCR in Malaysia.” The police in Thailand have charged her with sedition, being a member of a secret society, and other charges related to her having allegedly having worn a back t-shirt bearing a federation symbol.

Interestingly, this refoulement occurred at around the same time that the three men were said to have been deported to Thailand. Fortunately, Praphan has not been disappeared. Indeed, she seems to be jailed with another woman accused of the same crime.

Praphan fled Thailand in January 2019 and sought asylum via the UNHCR in Malaysia. While awaiting a third country to take her as a refugee, she was arrested by the Malaysian police on 24 April and detained.

Praphan was arrested for her black shirt on September 3, 2018. Soldiers and police “seized 3 phones, UDD cards, Thaksin Shinawatra pictures and 3 other UDD books.” She was initially held at a military base and then handed over to police and charged. In December 2018 “she was re-detained at the 11th Army Regiment, together with 8 other people, with the wife and son of Mr. Chucheep Chiwasut or Uncle Sanam Luang is also included. Then the military released her on December 14, 2018…”.

She fled before her second court appearance on the sedition and other charges.

Her refoulement, the charges laid and the disappearance of the three are yet further demonstrations that, under the junta, the rule of law has ceased to exist in Thailand.





Crony senate

14 05 2019

As simply everyone expected, a Senate has been unveiled by the military junta that is packed full of junta supporters, backers and lackeys:

Khaosod reports: “Military top brass and the junta’s inner circle dominate the full list of 250 appointed senators unveiled to the public on Monday, ending months of secrecy.”

The Nation states: “Many of the newly appointed senators are from the ruling junta and people close to its key figures.”

The Bangkok Post: “The Royal Gazette on Tuesday published an announcement on the royally-approved list of 250 senators, including 66 army generals…. The Senate list includes the names of 105 people with ranks in the military or police….

None of this is a surprise. Perhaps some hoped that the members of the junta might demonstrate at least a pinch of political decorum, but that is misplaced as the military junta has repeatedly demonstrated that is has no shame at all.

Some other quotes from the reporting linked above are worth preserving here, demonstrating that the junta is a chip off the 1991 coup group and operates as a representative of yellow-shirt interests. (Those who imagined that the red-yellow divide was gone should look more carefully at the manner of the junta’s operations.):

The list – mostly handpicked by junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha – includes generals, loyal government technocrats, 15 ex-ministers who served under Prayuth until their resignation last week, and even a younger brother of the junta leader.

Hardline critics of ex-leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who remains a popular figure among opposition voters, also made it to the final cut. They include poet and activist Nawarat Pongpaiboon, former anti-corruption chief Klanarong Chanthik, and royalist law scholar Kamnoon Sitthisamarn….

The announcement dated on Saturday included Gen Preecha Chan-o-cha, younger brother of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Adm Sitthawat Wongsuwon, younger brother of Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, Klanarong Chantik, former secretary-general of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), former deputy prime minister Chatchai Sarikulya, former national reform member Khamnoon Sitthisaman, former foreign trade director-general Duangporn Rodphaya, and former national security council secretary-general Thawil Pliensri.

Among other senators were Pornpetch Wichitcholchai, former president of the National Legislative Assembly, former NACC chairman Panthep Klanarongran, forensic expert Khunying Porntip Rojanasunan, former deputy agriculture minister Luck Wajananawat, and former tourism and sports minister Weerasak Kowsurat.

More than a third of  the newly appointed senators have military or police backgrounds….

But one surprise is this for the conflict of interest and nepotism it involves:

Some of the new Senate’s members sat in the committee tasked with nominating senatorial candidates to be selected by the National Council for Peace and Order.

More than 100 of them are retired or active high-ranking officers from the armed forces and the police, including 70 from the Army, 12 from the Navy, eight from the Air Force and 12 from the Royal Thai Police.

Many new senators are family members of people in power.

These include General Preecha Chan-o-cha, who is the younger brother of Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha; Air Vice Marshal Chalermchai Krea-ngam, who is the younger brother of Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam; Admiral Sitsawat Wongsuwan, who is the younger brother of Deputy Premier and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan; and Som Jatusripitak, who is the elder brother of Deputy PM Somkid Jatusripitak.

Nothing more or less can be expected from the military junta. Be prepared for this kind of cronyism to breed deeper corruption. After all, that’s the pattern of past military-dominated regimes.





Where are they? I

14 05 2019

Regime and monarchy critics Chucheep Chivasut (known as Uncle Sanam Luang), Siam Theerawut, and Kritsana Tupthai have been forcibly disappeared.

Prachatai reports that “both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have expressed their concerns over the activists’ safety and called on the Thai government to disclose information about their whereabouts.”

In Bangkok, parents of Siam Theerawut “visited government offices and diplomatic missions in Bangkok on Monday to seek information about his fate.”

Like the other two, Siam seems to have been detained in Vietnam and deported to Thailand. However, “neither Thai nor Vietnamese authorities acknowledge holding them.”

Police have reportedly stated that they have no knowledge of the men and their whereabouts. Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan has denied the three are in state custody.

A Bangkok Post editorial, written in careful language, observes that “Thailand’s already battered human rights record has fallen another notch following reports of the mysterious disappearance of three activists accused of lese majeste while in exile in Vietnam.”

The editorial admits that these cases follow the gruesome murders of two other exiles in Laos and the disappearance and presumed murder of Surachai Danwattananusorn, all critics of the regime and the monarchy.

These cases have also been scrupulously avoided by the military regime. Why is this? Why will no one take up the cases? Why will they not say anything? The answer is most likely lurking in the nature of the monarchy and the new reign. If not murdered already, these victims might be held at Dhaveevatthana prison. In the kingdom of fear, would anyone dare ask and/or say?





Abject nepotism

12 05 2019

The military junta has demonstrated that it is determined to monopolize political power; it is the way of military dictatorships.

PPT is full of posts about its political repression, martial law, use of military courts, nepotism and corruption. The junta has filled the bureaucracy, “independent” organizations, courts and appointed bodies with junta puppets and flunkies.

This is why a story in the Bangkok Post, where Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan has defended The Dictator’s nepotism, is now “normalized” for Thailand.

Gen Prawit, himself having been accused and never properly investigated for corruption, “defended the appointment of ex-permanent secretary for defence [Gen.] Preecha Chan-o-cha, the younger brother of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, as a senator, saying the retired officer has experience as a lawmaker.”

He means the experience of seldom attending the puppet National Legislative Assembly. His brother appointed him to that and several other posts as well. See what we mean by “normalized.” Of course, there are a long string of complaints about Gen Preecha, big brother and nepotism, none of them adequately “investigated” by the puppet anti-corruption authorities, all of them staffed and headed by junta lackeys.

The list of 250 senators handpicked by The Dictator and the junta has been sent off to the king in Germany, a bunch of junta members, government ministers, NLA members and other junta associates have resigned from posts in order to constitute the unelected swill of the Senate.

Nepots: clipped from the Bangkok Post

Gen Preecha was reported to be “among 60 members of the … NLA … who resigned from their posts this week ahead of taking up roles as senators. At least 15 cabinet ministers also stepped down for the same reason.”

This cartoon, from The Nation is about the state of politics in the country and seems accurate enough:

It is from 1992 and pretty much still relevant today. With the military and its men still controlling politics, bootlicking is rewarded and nepotism and corruption will deepen.





What next?

5 05 2019

AP reports that its pundits reckon that after more than two years on the throne, “[w]hat Vajiralongkorn … will do with the power and influence the venerated status confers is still not clear.”

We don’t agree. It seems pretty clear that this king is a politically interventionist rightist, legalistic when it suits him, craving a return to pre-1932 absolutism, greedy and unpredictable. Perhaps it is the last characteristic that befuddles the pundits.

They do note his “assertiveness” but we are confused when they say he has a “seemingly hands off approach in other matters…”. The report says this has something to do with his long stints in Germany, but perhaps they have forgotten his demanded change to the constitution that gives him hands-on influence wherever he is.

The argument that he “suddenly announced his fourth marriage, to a former flight attendant who is a commander of his security detail, and appointed her Queen…” suggests a “fresh commitment to his royal duties” is nonsense. He’s been at his “royal duties” – as he sees them – since well before his father’s death. He’s been regularly intervening in the work of the junta. Even a humble office worker the report quotes knows this.

In any case, marrying just before coronation is exactly what his father did.

“Vajiralongkorn is likely to remain burdened by old gossip about his personal life that has dogged him” for decades. But the propaganda is gradually erasing this. And, the king doesn’t care any more. He’s powerful and can do whatever he wants.

The report quotes the usually critical academic Paul Chambers results in the odd claim that the hands-on Vajiralongkorn’s style is “more hands off” is a bizarre claim with the report going on to contradict this silliness saying “he has brought more of Thailand’s administration directly under the palace.” How’s that for hands off!!

It quotes old royalist and conservative Sulak Sivaraksa who is closer to the mark: “The new king is a very decisive man, and he’s a very daring man, unlike his father…”. Sulak loathed Vajiralongkorn’s father for he ‘suffered fools (gladly)’ around him…”.

His “decisive” new king is intolerant, erratic, headstrong and dangerous. Think of all the people he’s had jailed on bogus charges in recent years. He’s often done this, as academic Michael Montesano notes,”bespeak an interest in gaining or exerting greater control over certain institutions,” and he uses his power to grasp what he wants. Think of all the buildings and land he’s been accumulating.

As the report notes, the “powers he acquired centralize royal authority in his hands and make explicit his right to intervene in government affairs, especially in times of political crisis.”

He’s also been publicly interventionist in politics, even directing how people should vote in the recent election.

Vajiralongkorn also seems to have the support of the royal family – despite previous claims of splits and the problem he had with his big and equally balmy sister recently.

At the coronation, Princess Sirindhorn “represented the Royal Family … in offering their best wishes to … the King” and declared “every member of the Royal Family was determined to uphold the truth and promised loyalty to the King.” That’s to be expected as they all benefit from the monarchy and its wealth.

In other words, Chambers’ hands-off king is a facile myth.

Vajiralongkorn has also brought the palace’s billions under his personal control, rolling back these arrangements many decades.

The article reckons that “Vajiralongkorn’s greatest challenge is likely to be sorting out the palace’s relationship with the military.” He’s already moving on that, and the shape of the appointed senate is likely to be a pointer. He’s already secured an Army commander who will polish his posterior. Once he sees off Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, his relationship to the military will be highly personalized and interventionist. He believes he’s a soldier and that other soldiers must obey him.

Even Chambers and Montesano agree that the balance of power has and is shifting to the king and his palace.

Another academic once referred to a kingdom of fear and favor. That holds more now than when the claim was made. Watch as he grasps more for himself, in terms of political power, wealth and status.