The elite’s Songkhran gift that corrupts democracy

13 04 2011

The gift is 73 senators appointed under the junta-appointed Surayud Chulanont government’s 2007 constitution.

Surayud was prime minister after he was plucked from the Privy Council that advises the king in order to rollback the gains of the 1997 constitution and the legacy of elected governments under Thaksin Shinawatra. The 2007 constitution sought to embed a less representative form of government (a process that continues today under the royalist Abhisit Vejjajiva regime).

As The Nation explains, the “list of 73 newly chosen senators announced by the Election Commission yesterday did include many with strong links to the 2006 coup-makers’ Council for National Security and defectors from Thaksin Shinawatra’s group.” The junta’s representatives will hold the balance of power in parliament for a further six years. In other words, the 2006 coup group seeks to continue to control politics in the interests of the royalist elite until at least 2017, meaning more than a decade of military and fellow travelers will have effectively been, if not formally in charge, then a veto block, for a decade.

Former senior military junta leader General Somjed Boonthanom said he was “proud to be selected.” And why wouldn’t he be? The junta established a regime of repression and control that sought to protect the country and monarchy from the electoral masses, and he is now in such a position. He can seek to ensure that full representative democracy is never allowed under his watch.

Who selected these offspring of the junta and coup? Those charged with selecting were: Constitutional Court president Chut Chonlavorn, Election Commission chairman Apichart Sukhagganond, Chief Ombudsman Pramote Chotemongkol, National Anti-Corruption Commission chairman Panthep Klanarongran, Supreme Court Justice Montri Sriiamsa-ard and Supreme Administrative Court Justice Kasem Komsattham. None are particularly partial to democratic politics and all are proud servants of the crown and backers of royalist rule.

To further cement the network of opposition to representative politics, the committee also selected and re-selected senators who are close to the People’s Alliance for Democracy, businesspeople who were close to the junta and who backed the PAD, and a former member of the Assets Scrutiny Committee that was a yellow-hued, semi-legal body that investigated Thaksin and his family after his overthrow and was close to the junta. Other selected senators are known to be close to the current Abhisit government, including the younger brother of Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, others with links to Newin Chidchob’s Bhum Jai Thai Party and defectors from pro-Thaksin parties and the usual bunch of yellow-hued academics known for their ability to hawk themselves to those in power.

The Bangkok Post concludes, somewhat unremarkably, that “Many of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s staunchest opponents were among 73 new members of the Senate announced by the Election Commission…”. By the Post’s calculation, 23 of the re-appointed senators were from the staunchly anti-Thaksin group of 40.

The selection committee still manages to mumble something about having “their dignity and could not be influenced”. PPT isn’t sure about dignity, but it may well be true that they weren’t “influenced.” After all, they are paid-up members of the royalist elite, so they know what they had to do. Then again, we doubt the grey hairs were prepared to allow the selectors to operate without appropriate guidance.

Calls for an elected senate have come from the Puea Thai Party and even via a Bangkok Post editorial. Such calls will not be heeded as the royalist elite is desperate to maintain control and to protect their interests.

One thing that is clear is that any elected government that is not pro-royalist is going to have a very hard time and will be prevented from governing in its own right. That’s the point of all of this. and the many other changes being hastily implemented before an election is called.

Covering up

7 04 2011

We almost said it in our post yesterday: that the Army and Abhisit Vejjajiva government would quickly deny the claim that cluster munitions were ever used. And now they have.

Prawit (Bangkok Post photo)

Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon is quoted in the Bangkok Post as denying the use of any cluster munitions. He has “rejected claims the army used cluster bombs in breach of an international agreement during border clashes with Cambodia in early February.” He stated:  “No cluster bombs here. We have strictly complied with international laws banning their use…”.

Prawit is kind of supported by the Thai ambassador to the UN in Geneva Sihasak Phuangketkeow who issued a denial. He said:

the Thai army used cluster munitions during the Thai-Cambodian border skirmishes. Mr Sihasak spoke to the Bangkok Post in a phone interview from Geneva yesterday saying he said the Thai army used Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICM) which it did not classify as a cluster munition. For other groups, however, DPICM are indeed regarded as cluster munitions.

It seems this is the official line: we used DPICM and while others say they are cluster munitions (see PPT’s post), the Thais say they aren’t, so that’s it. In other words, cluster munitions were used but they are not cluster munitions by “Thai-style” definition. A bit like the claims made about the Army not killing anybody in its actions against red shirts.

If the various claims are to be believed, this is worse than disgusting.

Military and government

23 03 2011

Bangkok Pundit has an excellent post on the refusal by Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha to deal with any third party on the Cambodia-Thailand border. This seems like yet another case where the military can go its own way and put the Abhisit Vejjajiva government in its place as junior partner in the “coalition.” Of course, the army refused other orders under previous governments as well, demonstrating its power.

Meanwhile, in the south, as violence spikes again, the Army boss has been engaged inn policy-making. The Bangkok Post reports that Prayuth has “apologised to a group of about 600 people from the three troubled southern border provinces for two major incidents which caused a large number of deaths in 2004.”

His comments were to people at an Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) training program in Bangkok, and he referred to “the deaths of 32 Thai Muslims killed during the Krue Se Mosque siege in Pattani on April 28, 2004, and for the deaths of 78 young Muslim people at Tak Bai  Narathiwat on Oct 25, 2004.”

Prayuth said the “incidents should not have happened.  I apologise to all southerners, especially relatives of the dead,  even though at the time I was not yet in this position.” He admitted some “carelessness on the part of the authorities,” and promised “not to let anything like that happen again…”.

He added: “No matter what, the three provinces cannot be separated or given self-rule because that would be against the constitution…”. Of course, as the army boss well knows, the army has regularly changed the constitution.

Prayuth has been widely reported in recent days on several issues, and his claim to be staying out of politics doesn’t hold for a second. What isn’t clear is who he is campaigning for. Perhaps the military itself?

Updated: Abhisit talks war

31 01 2011

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva talks peaceful means of dealing with border disputes but also speaks of war: “My intention of using peaceful approaches to settle the border dispute does not mean that the government is afraid of a war with Cambodia.” It is not surprising that the People’s Alliance for Democracy can drive such a hawkish agenda when they continue to have considerable support amongst the extremist and rightist elements of the regime. Abhisit must respond in ways that are seen as “tough.”

Meanwhile, “Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said fresh deployment of Cambodian troops and armour along border areas adjoining Si Sa Ket province are not cause for worry.”

Pushing hard, PAD spokesman Panthep Puapongpan “said yellow-shirt activists went to the Criminal Court on Monday morning and filed a suit against four cabinet ministers, accusing them of causing Thailand a loss of sovereignty. Mr Panthep said the lawsuit filed by Samdin Lertbutr and Tainae Mungmajon, representatives of the PAD, accused the prime minister, his deputy Suthep [Thaugsuban], Gen Prawit and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya of violating Articles 119 and 120 of the Criminal Code, for which the maximum penalty is capital punishment.”

Update: As Abhisit admitted “that Thai and Camboldian military forces were confronting each other along the border,” a court has quickly rejected the PAD suit.

Further updated: Jingosim and the military

26 01 2011

Yesterday PPT posted about the political conservatism of the elite and their fear of political mobilization, except when they control it. It seems to PPT that there is currently a struggle for control of mobilization continuing with the People’s Alliance for Democracy.

The Bangkok Post suggests that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is increasingly accepting of the ultra-nationalism of PAD but linking that with the bastion of conservatism and jingoism that resides within the military.

So it is that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has “given the army the green light to conduct a military exercise near Preah Vihear temple to display its strength as Cambodia continues to lay claim to the disputed area.” Even the normally Abhisit-fawning Bangkok Post considers this a “provocative move.” This exercise was proposed by the army.

Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha is staking out “nationalist” ground that will allow a degree of control of the agenda that is allowing PAD to mobilize. This may be faux jingoism given that the Thai army has a history of not doing all that well when facing anything other than domestic opposition. Real armies seem something else again.

However, Prayuth has declared a kind of border dispute and is increasing  the temperature and tension: “There are three steps to solving border issues. They include negotiations, intensified measures and the use of force. We will not move directly from Step 1 to Step 3,” Prayuth said.

Prayuth added: “We must show our strength,” when discussing the matter with Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon. This includes deploying more infantry in the border area, reinforcing rangers already there. Apparently, the army has been incensed by a Cambodian sign placed at Wat Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara, next to the Preah Vihear temple, that read: “Here! is the place where Thai troops invaded Cambodian territory on July 15, 2008.” It is reported that this sign “angered Thai troops, their commanders and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva…”.

As a further pressure on Cambodia, Abhisit “also gave the nod to the army to prevent Thai gamblers from crossing the border to visit Cambodian casinos in Poi Pet, opposite Aranyaprathet district of Sa Kaeo province.” Abhisit is also reported to “have agreed to allow the army to buy weapons it needed to handle the border situation.”

PAD has “urged the government to use the country’s stronger military capacity to gain leverage over the Cambodian government in its negotiations with Phnom Penh on disputed border areas.” PAD leader Chamlong Srimuang “said the Thai military did not have to wage a war with Cambodia to regain Thai sovereignty over disputed areas along the border. But it could use the country’s military might to gain a stronger bargaining position.” Chamlong added: “Our fighter jets can reach Cambodian skies in five minutes.”

For more of the jingoism of the PAD, see the ASTV/Manager website. Note especially the ultra-nationalist and threatening speech by General Pathompong Kesornsuk (in Thai). The message seems to be: give PAD what it wants or you are out and chase out the Cambodians.

PAD are pushing Abhisit and his response appears to be to try to show his “strength” and resolve through his friends in the military. It remains to be seen if raising the stakes is a strategy that leads to border clashes or worse.

Update 1: Bangkok Pundit questions the story in the Bangkok Post and raises questions regarding the general approach taken by the Post’s military affairs reporter. We believe that the Post report is generally accurate of discussions that have taken place, based on reliable reader comments we received. We believe that the thrust of our interpretation is also reasonable. Part of the competition with PAD (and with Cambodia) is about jingoism and muscle-flexing.

Update 2: The Economist has story on the PAD demonstration.

Security, yellow shirts, south

22 01 2011

The Bangkok Post reports that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva “has called a meeting of chiefs of security agencies … to discuss the escalating southern unrest problem following the recent militants attack on a military camp in Narathiwat’s Rangae district where four soldiers were killed and several others injured.”

It needs to be noted that it was only a matter of a couple of weeks ago that Abhisit and his security chiefs were touting their success in the south and how well things were going.

As an aside the ever acting-allowing-him-to-keep-sponsored-housing government spokesman Panitan Wattanayakorn managed toassure hyper-nationalists that the “cases of [yellow-shirt] Veera Somkwamkid, a coordinator of the network, and his secretary Ratree Pipatanapaibul, facing charges with espionage will also be discussed.”

It makes little sense to consider the long-festering and bitter civil war in the south and a bunch of so-called patriots trying to provoke Cambodians and stoke nationalist royalism. But, then again, perhaps Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon and army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha can see connections between royalism, nationalism and the need to maintain a huge military presence in the south.

Prachatai has an excellent report from Krungthep Thurakij newspaper that outlines the cost of the southern conflict for the state and taxpayers. It says that the total expenditure in the south since 2004 has been a whopping 145 billion baht:

The government budget for each year is as follows: 13,450 million baht (2004), 13,674 (2005), 14,207 (2006), 17,526 (2007), 22,988 (2008), 27,547 (2009), 16,507 (2010) and 19,102 (2011).

These budgets are, however, for government programmes, and do not include the salaries of government officials, compensation for those affected by the unrest, the current government’s Thai Khem Kaeng programme, and arms procurement by the army through special procedures.

Over the 7 years, there have been 11,523 violent incidents, including 6,171 shootings, 1,964 bombings and 1,470 arson attacks. 4,370 people have been killed (3,825 civilians, 291 soldiers and 254 policemen) and 7,136  injured.

And the dopey yellow shirts deserve attention too??

Updated: Yellow anger

17 01 2011

The Phuket Gazette has a report about a group of 30 yellow-shirt demonstrators from the People’s Alliance for Democracy “saving the nation” in Phuket, “mocking the Thai government’s handling of the recent arrest and trial of seven Thais by the Cambodian authorities.” The group claimed that the 7 arrested Thais in Cambodia were, despite all the evidence, arrested in Thailand.

According to the report, their rally included a performance that “showed Thai Defense Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan giving away Thai land to Hun Sen. The group also attacked the Thai government, “singling out Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, [and] Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya…”.

It performed a ceremony cursing the Cambodian PM for alleged crimes against Thai people and the country.” That apparently involved a “bizarre ritual involved writing Hun Sen’s name on a chicken egg and throwing it into a paper box.” The group shouted “Hun Sen must go to hell! Thailand must win!” In addition, the yellow ones “distributed leaflets claiming Thailand was about to lose territory to Cambodia. They read a statement criticizing Hun Sen’s behavior and the Thai government’s handling of the issue.”

The group “accused the Cambodians of breaking international law, violating Thai sovereignty and showing heavy contempt for Thai nationhood.” Worse, the Thai government was weak and unwilling to confront Cambodia and called for the government to “defend the Kingdom’s honor.”

Meanwhile, back in Bangkok, MCOT News reports that the yellow shirts in the Thai Patriots Network (TPN) group are collecting signatures from the public and plan on “submitting them to the king to gain his royal consent in removing the present Cabinet following the arrest of seven Thais in Cambodia…”. That sounds a little like the PAD calls to the king to throw Thaksin out back in 2006 when PAD called for the king to make use of Article 7 of the 1997 Constitution.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep immediately said this was “improper.” Suthep said that the action was “improper as it would perturb the monarch while people would have a say on whom they would choose in governing the country in a general election which Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has said would be held within this year.”

PPT thinks the yellow shirts are pretty mindless on all of this stuff. However, to be fair, it needs to be recalled that the earlier incarnation of PAD took “royal powers” pretty seriously and it seems the king did too. Recall this:

The king of Thailand has met a large number of privy councillors for consultations on the political situation which has been deteriorating since early last month, local press reported Friday.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej met 17 privy councillors at Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin Thursday, the biggest gathering of privy councillors in many years, Bangkok Post quoted sources close to the privy council as saying.

The meeting lasted about three hours, during which the King expressed concerns for the current political situation, said the report without giving further details.

The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) on Thursday formally called for a royally-bestowed prime minister to replace caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra as the 48-hour deadline it imposed on Thaksin expired last night.

The alliance suggest invoking Article 7 of the charter to defuse the ongoing crisis, which stated whenever no provision under the constitution is applicable to any case, it shall be decided in accordance with the constitutional practice in the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State.

There were many in the Democrat Party who supported the use of Article 7 back then, including Abhisit. And, it was Abhisit who rejected an election (in April 2006) as a way of sorting out political disputes. So if the yellow chickens come home to roost, then the so-called Democrats should be blaming themselves.

Update: The Bangkok Post has a report that mentions Abhisit acknowledging land claims by Thai farmers in the area where the 7 Thais were arrested near Sa Kaeo. It also states that “Chaiwat Sinsuwong, a core member of the network, announced on Saturday the group planned to lodge the complaint at the Grand Palace tomorrow morning. He also said they will hold a rally in front of Government House on the same day.”