An interfering monarchy II

13 07 2018

Just over a week ago PPT commented on the cave rescue and the king’s self-selected role.

We noted that the king had ordered – a “royal order” – that “cave search-and-rescue training will be introduced to the curriculum of all branches of the armed forces…”. That was announced by The Dictator. The report cited went on to say that the king was “[w]eighing in on how the nation’s armed forces should be trained…”, and ordered that “the skills and knowledge used to rescue 12 boys and their football coach be incorporated into their training…”.

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha immediately did as decreed, declaring: “[We] can adapt the rescue plan into diving and swimming lessons for the special operation forces in the future.”

We asked what business does the king have in “decreeing” how the military should be training? We also asked how many similar emergencies are there likely to be in the next few decades?

But in royalist Thailand, he who must be obeyed gets what he wants. Naval Special Warfare Command chief Rear Admiral Apakorn Yukongkaew has stated that “[s]kills unfamiliar to Thai Navy Seals but key to the successful rescue” of the kids and their coach in the cave “will be added to the training regimen of the Navy’s elite unit to better prepare them for unexpected situations.” He says that the operation prompted thinking “about arming themselves with the skills needed to navigate flooded, dark and murky passageways.”

We doubt that. This is coming from up high. When Rear Admiral Apakorn was asked “to name a priority for his Seal unit after returning from the cave rescue mission” he states that “Seals need cave-diving training…”.

To be honest, this is a bizarre response that only makes “sense” in the context of the royal command. And that makes very little sense.

Perhaps there’s also some nationalism at work when it is reported that the Navy team “handled the risks and pressure at Tham Luang well, but they still needed to be guided by world-renowned cave divers who also joined the rescue operations.” Nationalism is dangerous in such circumstances and the administration’s quick action in calling in experienced cave divers from all over the world was exactly the right thing to do.

We think the BBC gets it right too when it asks and answers:

Could the Thais have done this on their own?

No, and few countries could. Cave diving is a very specialised skill, and expert cave rescuers are even rarer.

Thailand was fortunate that an experienced caver Vern Unsworth has explored the Tham Luang cave complex extensively, and lives nearby.

He was on the scene the day after the boys disappeared, and suggested that the Thai government needed to invite expert divers from other countries to help.

The Thai navy divers who went down initially struggled, because both their experience and equipment were for sea diving, which is very different. They were driven out of the caves by rapidly rising flood water, and finding the boys seemed a hopeless cause.

Once foreign divers arrived, from many different countries, the Thai authorities allowed them to devise first the search, and then the enormously complex rescue. It was a huge logistical operation involving hundreds of people, building guide rope and pulley systems, putting in power and communication cables.

It is to Thailand’s credit that it was organised so well, and there was no attempt to diminish the foreign contribution.

So when a king who wasn’t at the scene and has no experience in caves or rescue operations provides daft advice, he should be ignored, not blindly followed. Monarchs need to be kept in their legal and constitutional place.





Needing to love the military dictatorship

13 07 2018

Some pundits have wondered if the cave rescue has made the military dictatorship more popular internationally and more “electable” domestically. We don’t know the answer to those questions, but we do know that authoritarian regimes have long felt comfortable dealing with Thailand’s military junta and that the West, moving rapidly to the right, has sought to re-engage with the regime.

An op-ed – The Rest of the World Has Warmed to Thailand’s Military Rulers – by Joshua Kurlantzick, a senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, addresses the “warming” to the regime that has been seen in recent times.

Despite the junta embedding itself for the long term, delaying “elections” and engaging in widespread repression, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha “has been welcomed in many leading Western democracies.” Worse, he observes that “[f]rom Europe to Australia to the United States, countries have largely dropped their efforts at pressuring the Thai government [to civilianize], even while Thailand’s political crisis stretches on indefinitely.”

After the 2014 military coup, “[m]any democratic states took a relatively harsh line toward Bangkok,” that’s changed. The countries in Europe, the U.S. and Australia are now moderately supportive of Thailand’s military regime.

The Dictator and the U.S.’s Trump

President Donald Trump hosted The Dictator at the White House in October 2017. No surprise there, but the “Obama administration had already begun normalizing those military-to-military ties.”

Kurlantzick observes that “European states and other major democracies have acted similarly.” The EU re-established “all political links with Thailand” in late 2017. In March, Australia’s conservative Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull welcomed Prayuth “reversing the Australian travel ban on top junta leaders.”

The Dictator and Australia’s Turnbull

The author doesn’t note it, but Turnbull has moved rapidly to the right, adopting policies that the military regime in Thailand would appreciate.

In June, “Prayuth took his first trip to Europe since the easing of EU sanctions on Thailand. He met British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron, along with a wide range of business leaders.” May heads a government that is engaged in a Brexit debate that sees the right gaining ground, recent events notwithstanding. Linked to post-Brexit needs, “Prayuth and May agreed to relaunch talks on a free trade agreement.”

The Dictator and Britain’s May

Kurlantzick observes that “[f]or all the junta’s attempts to boost its image abroad, the political environment in Thailand is still as repressive as it has been since 2014.” It is the other countries that are rushing to the right and thus having no qualms about embracing repressive military regimes.

Another factor involved has been the panic over China: “the junta has pointed to its growing ties with China, which did not condemn the coup, as a reminder to other leading powers that Thailand has alternatives for investment, aid and diplomatic and military ties.”

The Dictator with China’s Xi

This causes some Western countries to ditch human rights concerns in the interests of checking China. It’s all a bit Cold War like.

China’s influence is not new and has been on the rise in Thailand, as it has elsewhere, but the junta still craves “balancing” as much as it does “bending,” and it is the junta that has made overtures to the West.

And, as ever, business is interested in profits rather than human rights, making Thailand attractive as it is at the heart of a broader ASEAN region.

For all these reasons the West feels the need to cosy up with the nastiest of regimes.





Liars and scoundrels II

11 07 2018

As well as lying to the public, military dictators can lie to themselves.

The Dictator and self-appointed Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has made a series of statements to actors and singers who called on him at Government House that are lies to himself, to the visitors and to the public.

First, he “denied he was trying to retain power…”. That lie can’t hold up. Even The Dictator could “not reject speculation over his perceived political ambition to return as government head after the next general election…”. Everyone in the country knows that any claim he is trying to retain power is a lie. He’s been campaigning. His adjutants say they intend for Prayuth to stay on, the military knows its job is to ensure The Dictator stays on, and political parties have been formed to ensure Gen Prayuth continues in the top job (-1) following the junta’s election, whenever it decides to hold them. His minions have been hoovering up candidates for the junta’s party. The Election Commission looks the other way so that the junta’s supporters can bend and break electoral rules.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

Second, when he says “I have never benefited from being prime minister. I am not a business owner, so I have no need to seek benefits. I am satisfied with what I already have…”, he’s obfuscating. Even he went on to claim that “he was being investigated in 400 cases.” That number seems one just plucked out of the air, but we know that no case against those in power is properly investigated. No one has ever investigated why so many military and police officers are so absurdly rich. The whiff of military corruption is involved in every deal that it does.

Third, The Dictator “boasted about the performance of his government…”. He rhetorically asked: “Of all the post-coup administrations in the past, did they work like mine? My government keeps developing. Foreign countries praise us. No other developing countries have been able to achieve what we have done. This is what I want, for you to share this pride with me…”. He claimed “that his had been the most hard-working post-coup government in Thai history, and one that had achieved a lot for the country.”

Lying to oneself in front of others is pathological.





Updated: An interfering monarchy I

5 07 2018

One of the characteristics of the last reign was for the palace propaganda machine to claim a royal interest in events that elicited public sympathy. The idea was to present the king as a monarch who cared for his subjects. As his reign developed and as his public persona was accepted more widely a a good, generous, caring patriarch, that king came to have an opinion on almost everything, from agriculture to art, music to flood control, to governance and much more.

For the new king, creating the image is not so easy because of Vajiralongkorn’s erratic past, aloofness and self-centeredness. Even so, the palace propaganda machine and the military junta has been image-making in ways that seem little changed from the past reign.

With the most recent events associated with the young group of footballers trapped in the Chiang Rai cave, there has been much community and social effort rescue the boys. There’s also been a high-profile royal effort at support.

But, as Thai PBS reports, some of Vajiralongkorn’s “charity” amounts to royal interference, suggesting that the king is not about to allow the affairs of state to proceed as they should in a constitutional monarchy, where a monarch reigns under the government of the day and sovereignty resides with the people.

Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan says “the King wants the 12 young footballers and their coach, stranded in Tham Luang cave since June 23, to be brought out as soon possible…”.

Well, we suppose that most people would agree with that sentiment, but is this “advice” likely to lead to poor decision-making?

More in line with the “caring king” propaganda of the past, Prawit said the king “also wants all parties taking part in the search and rescue operation, including foreigners, to be taken care of.” Yes, but does that need stating and does it need to be the king making the statement?

More indicative of the king’s approach is seen in a Khaosod report: “Upon a royal order, cave search-and-rescue training will be introduced to the curriculum of all branches of the armed forces, the leader of the ruling junta announced Wednesday.”

The reports states that “[w]eighing in on how the nation’s armed forces should be trained, King Vajiralongkorn has decreed that the skills and knowledge used to rescue 12 boys and their football coach be incorporated into their training…”.

The junta seemed to have accepted this “decree.” Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha declared: “[We] can adapt the rescue plan into diving and swimming lessons for the special operation forces in the future.”

What business does the king have in “decreeing” how the military should be training? How many similar emergencies are there likely to be in the next decades?

Monarchs need to be kept in their legal and constitutional place even when dealing with toady military dictators.

Update: In another report it is stated: “Instructions were given by the King that everyone [rescuers] must bring out the children as quickly as possible…”. Instructions issued by a layman with little education in anything much at all and not on the scene makes little sense except in a royalist Thailand.





Can the Election Commission enforce the law?

3 07 2018

Just yesterday we noted that the dictatorship’s Palang Pracharath Party’s flagrant flouting of the junta’s own electoral law is simply ignored by the puppet Electoral Commission.

The Bangkok Post reports that a “former Pheu Thai MP has asked the Election Commission to scrap the application of Palang Pracharat Party on the ground its founders might have been offering cash and non-cash benefits to poach politicians of other parties and using state resources to finance the group’s policies.”

Suchart Lai-namngern, an ex-Lop Buri MP, “also asked the EC to launch an investigation into two deputy prime ministers – Prawit Wongsuwon and Somkid Jatusripitak, as well as Industry minister Uttama Savanayana, Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong and the group known as the Three Allies, who might have collaborated in activities in breach of the constitution and the Political Parties Act.”

Also cited was “Section 169 (4) of the [junta’s] charter which prohibits cabinet ministers from using state resources in any activity that may affect a poll…”. That refers to Gen Prawit and Somkid.

It was added: “There have been reports Mr Somkid used Government House to draft Palang Pracharat party’s policies. He also met some former politicians at InterContinental Bangkok Hotel on May 11 to lure them to join the party by offering benefits in exchange.”

The best that the puppet EC could do was send out a statement by its deputy secretary general Sawang Boonmee “saying the EC was closely monitoring activities of politicians and gathering evidence.”

As the Post report says, the statement “did not refer to any specific activities…”, quite unlike its response to claims that Thaksin Shinawatra was violating the same laws. Then, EC secretary-general Jarungvith Phumma seemed to have the investigation into Puea Thai finished as soon as it had begun. He was quoted as saying he “expects it will take two weeks to establish whether a video call made by ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra to Pheu Thai Party members likely broke the law on political parties…”.

In any case, the Post considered that statement to really be about “a [virtual] meeting between some former Pheu Thai MPs and former party leader Thaksin Shinawatra, not to the Palang Pracharat group’s activities.”

Another Bangkok Post report makes it clear that Palang Pracharat “is a vehicle for securing Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s return as prime minister after the next election…” whenever the junta decides to hold it.

In response to these calls, Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit resorted to further lies. He “denied the regime was biased in favour of Sam Mitr [the three traitors] by not acting against the group for organising a political gathering last week in Pathum Thani to announce it was joining the Palang Pracharat Party.”

He did not seem to comment on how his fellow ministers were breaking the junta’s own laws.





All about The Dictator

29 06 2018

Last week the Deputy Dictator met with some political parties about the junta’s “election.”We understand that it is the first official meeting between the military junta and political parties since the day that it illegally seized power, ironically at the very same place it met the political parties back in 2014.

At the end of that meeting, a smiling Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, who seems to enjoy legal impunity for all of his deeds, declared that the next meeting would be chaired by The Dictator himself. Apparently Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha will find time for a sham meeting on the path to a rigged election.

Now, however, the Bangkok Post reports that the “next meeting between party politicians and the regime to discuss poll preparations will probably take place in September…”. “Preparations” seems to mean getting arrangements in place for the junta to have its party or parties to “win” the rigged election.

Gen Prayuth has said that not having another meeting for 2-3 months because the junta needs “time to study issues raised by the parties at the first meeting.” In fact, the junta needs more time and more work to ensure its preferred election outcome.

It seems Gen Prayuth also felt the need to again lie to the Thai people when he “gave his assurance the next election will be free, fair and proceed smoothly…”. A free and fair election is impossible under the rules concocted by the military dictatorship.

At the same time, Gen Prayuth warned of future delays to the highly elastic election “roadmap.” He said the junta is “monitoring the security situation and making the political climate conducive for organising the election,” adding: “We’re moving the country forward together. The situation must be stable…”.

He wasn’t explicit but he is saying that any “instability” would mean further delay. As we know, the military is the most likely source in creating political instability, usually using ISOC.

The military dictatorship appears ever more confident that it can get its preferred electoral outcome. So confident, in fact. that the Deputy Dictator has detailed that result.

Gen Prawit declared: “I have confidence Gen Prayut will be able to carry on [after the election]. I always support him…”. Even if Prayuth himself won’t confirm this, it has been the junta’s main objective in having The Dictator hit the campaign trail and in pumping funds into various constituencies.

Prawit let this cat out of the leaky bag as he “welcomed” defectors from the Puea Thai Party, from the so-called Three Allies. It remains unclear what promises were made to the defectors, but we can guess that it has cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of baht.

The defector’s group has “pledge[d] to join the Phalang Pracharat Party…”. That’s the junta’s party. Gen Prawit “said it was a good sign that the group was joining Phalang Pracharat and backing Gen Prayut.”

That’s a second euphoric statement of Prayuth’s future as outside PM following the rigged election.

Those named as defectors are “former transport minister, Suriya Jungrungreangkij, former industry minister, Somsak Thepsuthin, as well as former deputy education minister, Chalong Krudkhunthod, ex-MP for Chai Nat, Anucha Nakasai, and former Nakhon Ratchasima MP, Pirom Polwiset.” Others include “Suporn Atthawong, a former key figure of the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, and former Pheu Thai member Somchai Phetprasert.”

That Suporn is included among junta supporters is a clear indication of how the military dictatorship is prepared to go in bribing and gobbling up political partners. Back in 2011, then Army chief Gen Prayuth accused Suporn of lese majeste and laid a complaint with police.  Suporn had filed counter-charges against Prayuth. Now they are political allies. Opportunism and rigging the election? You bet. Opportunism and double standards are the rule.

It is revealing that the traitor’s group can hold a “group gathering at the Pinehurst Golf & Country Club on Wednesday,” reportedly “attended by about 50 former MPs.” It is also reported that the group included former members of the Thai Rak Thai and People’s Power parties, some from the Puea Thai Party and the doubly traitorous Bhum Jai Thai parties.

At hat political meeting, “Suriya told group members that he was throwing his support behind Gen Prayut to return as prime minister.” He also revealed that he had “contacted key government figures including Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong and Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana to say he was willing to help Gen Prayut, although he disliked the military coup.” The latter is errant nonsense. No one with an ounce of self-worth would proclaim himself a coup opponent and then join the coup makers.

Under the rules the Election Commission is applying to Puea Thai and Thaksin Shinawatra, Suriya named all of these ministers as “outsiders” influencing the Palang Pracharath. That Palang Pracharath is also the tool of Prayuth, Prawit and Somkid is also widely known. We don’t expect the puppet EC to enforce any law other than selectively and in the interests of Prayuth, Prawit and Somkid.

It is a rigged election with the election “umpire” being the junta’s puppet.





Postponements

26 06 2018

In recent delays to the junta’s “election” timetable, it has usually been the civilian puppet minister Wissanu Krea-ngam who has been sent out before the media to make the first murmurs about the delays.

Part of the reason for this is that it relieves The Dictator and the Deputy Dictator from looking like they have repeatedly lied on the issue, which they have.

He’s done it again. In line with PPT’s guess Wissanu now says that the junta’s “election” could “be postponed until May 2019…”. The report states that “Wissanu said 11 months are likely needed before general elections and the primary vote process – a new electoral feature introduced by the junta – can take place.”

In stating the now obvious, Wissanu added to the mountain of lies about elections that have come from the military dictatorship. Wissanu also stated that the election “date would be picked by the EC [Election Commission], not the cabinet or the NCPO [junta].” This must be a fabrication as The Dictator has repeatedly said that the date of the election is up to him.

We also have to point out that we are linking with reports in the Bangkok Post. However, we must note that this newspaper is inserting pro-junta statements in its reports. In this report, for example, it states: “The discussion touched on a possible election date with Feb 24 next year proposed by the politicians, in accordance with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s election roadmap.” Of course, this is false. It was the junta that proposed 24 February as just the latest of its delayed “election” dates. And, it is false to claim that the dates mentioned follow any junta roadmap. That claim has been made for several years and the roadmap has been repeatedly revised.

It might be just us, looking for a conspiracy, but does it seem too coincidental that the “Criminal Court … scheduled May 14 next year for the first hearing of a case against 29 leaders of the [People’s Democratic Reform Committee] rally opposing the Yingluck Shinawatra government in 2013 and 2014″?