Babble on bling

13 12 2017

The Dictator has vigorously defended his Deputy Dictator, seeming to blame the media for General Prawit Wongsuwan’s bling problem and accusing it of seeking to split the two dictatorial generals.

General Prawit, who has so far failed to “submit a letter clarifying the acquisition of the watch and ring to the NACC…”, was defended by General Prayuth Chan-ocha who told “the media to refrain from attacking Gen Prawit, saying the matter must be dealt in compliance with the judicial process.”

In other words, give the military junta space while it buries the allegations and are forgotten.

Meanwhile, the reasons for the allegations of corruption are dismissed as a political attack on The Dictator:

Many people target him, and want him to be divided from me. You [the media] all know this very well…. If nobody is beside me, I will tell you, I will be fiercer. I will fully exercise my power….

That sounds like a threat.





Updated: Pots and kettles II

12 12 2017

In another pots and kettles post, we have to comment on The Dictator’s claims reported in the Bangkok Post recently. The self-appointed prime minister “urged all sectors of Thai society not to tolerate corruption…”.

He added that “Thai people must reject and no longer tolerate any kind of corruption.”

General Prayuth Chan-ocha then said: “I can assure you that I never befriended corrupt people or received any benefit from them…”.

The Bangkok Post also reports that Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan will tell the National Anti-Corruption Commission that his luxury watch was “lent” to him by a very rich businessman who is a friend and that his huge diamond ring was inherited from his mother.

The Dictator seems to have associated with Gen Prawit and may even have befriended him.

He certainly also associated with General Anupong Paojinda, who has seen a corruption case associated with him disappear into bureaucratic nothingness.

The Dictator is also friendly with his brother, who has miraculously survived all kinds of corruption and nepotism scandals.

Do we need to mention Rajabhakti Park and commissions on military purchases and the cover-ups of military murders of civilians?

Then there’s all those generals and admirals in the puppet agencies who report huge wealth that is far in excess of what might be expected when their official salaries are considered.

Update: The Nation reports that the NACC has told “the public” to butt out and not speculate on Prawit’s jewels. Prawit has said he will not tell the public his reasons for having so much expensive bling.





Cowardly and prickly

8 12 2017

Peau Thai Party deputy spokeswoman Sunisa Lertpakawat has made some basic and obvious criticisms of the military regime.

According to the Bangkok Post, she has “posted several messages on her Facebook page, criticising the junta on several issues.” After more than three years of absolute control, the junta finds any kind of criticism challenging. In fact, the generals find it demeaning, believing that because they are top dogs, no one can be permitted to criticize them. The critics are but dust under their military boots.

Sunisa made comments about the string of deaths of soldiers and cadets usually beaten and kicked by officers. In another post she lambasted the junta for taking charitable donations for hospitals rather than funding them from the state’s budget. Sunisa also criticized The Dictator for his denigration of rubber farmers in the south.

These are all stories that have had considerable media attention, but the generals, behaving like princelings, can’t abide anything they see as criticism from the Pueau Thai Party.

The prickly junta has now filed a case against her.

Burin Thongprapai, an army staff judge advocate, on Wednesday lodged a complaint against Lt Sunisa at the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD), accusing her of importing false information into a computer system in violation of the Computer Crime Act and the Criminal Code.

Col Burin acted on behalf of the NCPO, which issued an order on the same day to press charges against her.

Sunisa responded appropriately to the junta’s childish bullying:

“If Gen Prayut orders his subordinate to file charges against me because I made too harsh criticisms against them, it means Gen Prayut is not suitable to be the prime minister — he is too cowardly to listen to other people’s opinions.”

These generals consider themselves above the rest of the population. They are despots demanding order and submission.





Junta doubles down in repression of (former) allies

1 12 2017

For the first time in quite a while, PPT can agree with commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak. And, it seems, he is agreeing with us. In an op-ed at the Bangkok Post, he states:

After the most recent cabinet reshuffle produced the fifth line-up of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government, it is clear the military intends to stay in power for the long term in one form or another. The reshuffle provided a more civilian look but let there be no doubt that Thailand still has a military government, led by generals who seized power more than three and a half years ago [PPT: the civilians are mostly window dressing for a military junta]. As the top brass perpetuates its rule and puts off the election as long as they can, political tensions will mount as civilian-led forces agitate for a share of power and a return to popular rule.

… It is likely Thailand will soon be mired in yet another round of political conflict between civilian and military leaders.

While Thitinan still holds that the “people” gave the junta leeway because they were all frightened about the future after the previous king finally died, a reason now gone in a puff of smoke, he does also suggest that the usual failings of autocrats and dictators have come to the fore.

Thitinan considers that “[i]t would be unsurprising if the Prayut government now goes into a campaign mode of sorts, visiting provincial areas and handing out more subsidies and largesse with an eye to returning to post-election power.” He seems to have taken his eye off the ball, as this has been happening for a very long time.

But he’s right to observe: “It is also likely to put aside a firm election date until it feels more secure and popular. Its aim to stay in power will pose a dilemma for Thailand.” He’s also likely to be right that the “more the Prayut government tries to hang on to power, the less popular it will become.”

Unfortunately, that suggests a military regime that will become increasingly repressive as it claims a right to rule. Here, comparisons with the vile regime of 1991-92, led by General Suchinda Kraprayoon are probably appropriate. That junta decided it deserved to rule and was prepared to murder civilians to keep its place in power.

For us, what is most telling is the manner in which the junta has cracked down on the anti-coal dissidents in the south. Using methods previously reserved for its political opponents, the junta has gone after people who have been politically supportive of the 2014 coup and the military regime.

While these protesters are locals, they have many supporters and some leaders who are among the often yellow-hued NGOs in Bangkok. This group falls within a broader Bangkok middle class and its political opinion leaders in the former People’s Alliance for Democracy have been increasingly critical of the junta.

Those political cracks are likely to be broken apart following the junta’s doubling-down response to the protesters. Prachatai reports that “police are preparing to issue arrest warrants for 20 more protestors against the coal-fired power plant in Songkhla.”

That’s another 20 people in addition to the 15 leaders of the network from Songkhla and Pattani provinces who had already been arrested, jailed, and then “released on 29 November after six lecturers from Prince of Songkla University and Thaksin University used their academic positions to guarantee bail for them.”

Their arrest saw “114 academics from Southern Thailand … issue … a joint statement condemning the authorities for using force against the protesters and arresting the 15 activists.”

It seems the junta is demonstrating that it will not tolerate any dissent, and this includes middle-class dissent by (former?) political allies.

Of course, the brutality and callousness of the regime is also being demonstrated to these former supporters, and not just in the arrests in the south. While the many cases of the abuse of poor recruits drafted into the military has tended to be tolerated by regime supporters, when the victim is from a family that is in a different class, suddenly the brutality of the regime is recognized, even if the underlying reasons for it are not.

We seem to be entering a dangerous period.

 





Going to the goats

29 11 2017

Prime Minister and junta boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha went south in what some say was a campaign trip and a publicity exercise.

It did not go well.

The Dictator’s mobile cabinet meeting took him to Pattani and Songkhla where many promises were made and billions of baht in infrastructure and other projects highlighted.

Listening but not hearing

With his jet black Chinese Politburo hair and Prem Tinsulanonda-style, “royally-bestowed,” but invented “traditional” suea phraratchathan looked suitably 1980s as he campaigned for his “election,” whenever he decides to bestow one on the Thai people.

The Dictator promised to do something about falling rubber prices. Interestingly, because of their political profile in supporting anti-democrats and The Dictator’s military coup, the rubber growers seem to have Prayuth on a string. Thailand’s rubber price follows market prices which were high earlier in the year. The Dictator wants to shore up his political support among growers.

After those efforts, things went south.

General Prayuth seemed to throw doubt on local elections, telling “local administrative organisations not to merely focus on elections…”.

The police and military lit into 500 protesters opposing a coal-fired power plant project in Songkhla’s Thepha district. With images of the authorities pushing people to the ground, “16 people, including four leaders, of the  were arrested Monday after their rally resulted in three injuries during a clash with police.”

Can that one vote?

Many of the protesters also fall into the groups that (previously) supported the junta and the coup. They are now finding out what it means to be considered oppositional. Predictably, The Dictator defended the authorities and their violence.

The Dictator was also short-tempered with potential voters and was accused of being deaf to locals. Worse, The Dictator and his “government” were “perceived as ‘unfriendly’ to residents.”

In another incident, The Dictator launched a pail of “vitriol at a fisherman during his visit in Pattana’s Nong Chik district on Monday when Paranyu Charoen, a 34-year-old fisherman, asked the prime minister to change fishing regulations to increase the number of days that fisherman can put to sea.”

Prayuth’s PR people soon apologized “for his foul temper.”

The Democrat Party sought to make political mileage, saying Prayuth did not understand “the problems of fishermen…”.

Chulalongkorn University political scientist and devout yellow shirt Chaiyan Chaiyaporn warned the junta “to abstain from being a political player.”

It is a bit late for that. What he means is that the junta should not get involved in political campaigning so that it may continue to dominate politics following any “election.”





Censoring opposition

28 11 2017

The military dictatorship allows little criticism of its operations. The Dictator is short-tempered when it comes to critics and has locked up several people who have made rather tame criticism.

We sometimes think he’d prefer that critics undergo harsh “military discipline.”

When it comes to the media, General Prayuth Chan-ocha can go off like a large firework. It wasn’t that long ago that he demanded that the Computer Crimes Act be even more rigorously enforced and especially against online media.

At about that time, the military regime again went after satellite station TV 24, which it considers oppositional. The puppet National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission said the station’s “Sharp News” and “Green Light Thinking” programs “had violated agreements made with the regime despite prior warnings.”

The NBTC put the station off the air for 30 days. The NBTC provided no information on how the programs offended the junta. However, it has previously ordered Spring News, Peace TV and Voice TV off the air for programs deemed “critical of the ruling junta.” Each outlet is considered by the junta to be pro-Thaksin Shinawatra, like TV 24.

Political repression is deepening.





Updated: Shuffling the same military deck

26 11 2017

Readers may recall the columns of speculation about The Dictator’s cabinet reshuffle. There were all kinds of motives attributed to The Dictator. Pundits claimed he was trying to increase the dictatorship’s popularity, he was trying to boost the economic ministries, and/or he was civilianizing his military dictatorship in preparation for “elections.”

As far as we can tell, this was all wasted energy. What The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, did was maintain the dominance of the military. As we have said many times before, this is looking like a regime that is settling in for the long term.

The interesting thing in all of this for us was the position of the monarchy. In the past, cabinet reshuffles were announced by prime ministers and the composition of proposed cabinets was widely reported, with the king merely signing off. Of course, there may have been discussions with the king beforehand, but it was the executive’s political ground.

In our memory – correct us if we are wrong – it was only recently that the names involved in the reshuffle were withheld until after the king had signed off. As far as we can tell, there was plenty of discussion and even official announcements of the reshuffle list before the king signed off even under General Surayud Chulanont (see Bangkok Post, 3 October 2007). Again, and given Surayud’s previous Privy Council position, discussions may well have taken place with the palace and General Prem Tinsulanonda. Even so, the executive maintained its position.

Even under Abhisit Vejjajiva, put in place by the military in 2008, saw huge public debate over his cabinet but seemed to retain executive dominance (see Bangkok Post, 21 December 2008).

We have a feeling-cum-memory of the capitulation of the executive to the palace came under the military dictatorship. This means that it was all secret until approved by the king, giving even more political and constitutional power to the palace. Are we wrong?

Update: On the cabinet reshuffle, Bangkok Post editor Umesh Pandey has a view that it “can be seen as a very positive step for the gradual transition of Thailand towards a more democratic society…”. Seriously? He gives plenty of reasons for not believing him.