Managing the corruption system

1 02 2023

As often happens when authoritarian governments are in place for a long time, corruption becomes embedded, systemic, and necessary for keeping the corrupt together and supportive.

Of late, reports of corruption have been legion. Yet the Bangkok Post has a jubilant headline, “Thailand improves in corruption survey.” Seriously? It turns out that Transparency International has ranked Thailand 101 out of 180 in its ranking. The Post says the country’s score went up one point and adds:

In 2014, the year Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha staged a military coup, the country was ranked 85th, an improvement from 102nd in 2013. Its ranking rose to 76th in 2015 but plunged to 101st place the following year. It recovered to 96th in 2017 but then began a downward move to 99th in 2018, 101st place in 2019, 104th in 2020 and 110th in 2021.

Let’s be realistic. This is a ranking that puts Thailand among a bunch of dubious places. We’d guess that if perceptions were surveyed today, they’d plummet, largely thanks to the mafia gang known as the Royal Thai Police and the mammoth horse trading by the coalition parties.

Rotten to the core

While on the corrupt cops, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has mumbled something about a few bad apples in the police. He has “insisted that any police officers involved in extorting money from a Taiwanese actress during her trip to Thailand early this month must face legal action.” He added: “Don’t let the issue ruin the reputation of the whole police organisation.”

We are not sure which reputation he refers to. As far as we can tell, the organization is rotten to the core.

Gen Prayuth reckons “we must get rid of rogue ones…”. Our guess is that if he was serious – he isn’t – just about every senior officer would be gotten rid of. The corruption system siphons money up to the top. There’s been little effort to follow up on data revealed when the regime established its post-coup assembly. Back then, the average declared assets for the top brass in the police was a whopping 258 million baht.

Even when senior police display their loot, nothing is done. Who remembers former police chief Somyos Pumpanmuang? He stacked loot in public! He’s still wealthy.

The Post has another headline: “Court lets ‘Pinky’ remove electronic tag.” It reports:

Actress Savika “Pinky” Chaiyadej on Tuesday won approval from the Criminal Court to remove an electronic monitoring (EM) device she was required to wear after her release from jail on Nov 30 last year.

She is on bail, accused of defrauding millions in the Forex-3D ponzi scheme.How did her lawyers convince the judge?

Her lawyer lodged a request for the court’s permission to remove the EM device, saying it was an impediment to her show business career.

Of course, there’s no such leniency for lese majeste and other political prisoners when they eventually get bail (some, of course, never do). Double standards? You bet!

Double standards and corruption are a feature of the monarchy-military regime. Part of the reason for this is mutual back-scratching. Much that the regime does makes the bureaucrats more or less untouchable. The judiciary is always there in support on the important issues.

We note that another junta and Prayuth supporter, former charter writer Udom Rathamarit, has been appointed to the Constitutional Court. That is an important part of the whole corrupt system.





Nothing much changes

25 01 2023

Under the monarchy-military regime nothing much changes, even as the arrangement of the regime’s deckchairs is changing. There are so many recent stories that fir the “here-we-go-again” scenario that has marked the years since 2006. Here’s a selection from the past few days, leaving out the myriad of what are now everyday corruption stories:

At the Bangkok Post: It is 13 Years since the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime permitted the Royal Thai Army, commanded by Gen Anupong Paojinda and Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, to murder red shirts. On Monday, former red shirt leaders “called on national police chief Pol Gen Damrongsak Kittiprapas to speed up investigations into the deaths of red-shirt protesters during their 2010 clashes with the military.”

“Speed up” is an interesting term given that since the 2014 military coup, there’s been no progress. We assume that Gen Prayuth’s administration has ordered that nothing be done.

At least 62 cases of remain unresolved. The regime has no interest in doing this as when cases were investigated, it was clear that the Army killed protesters.

From Thai Newsroom: Gen Prayuth has been urged to give up his free house currently provided by the Army:

Thai Liberal MP Napaporn Petjinda insisted that Prayut, who is seeking to retain power for two more years after the next general election, leave the army house in the premises of the First Infantry Regiment in Bangkok provided as free accommodation for him since the last several years.

Others who get taxpayer-funded housing on Army bases are Gen Anupong and Gen Prawit Wongsuwan. Why? Who knows.

The report adds: “Those who are contesting the general election including members of cabinet are legally prohibited from using government property or personnel during their electoral campaigns.” One of the tame “anti-corruption” agencies that never finds against the regime once declared this corrupt practice to be fine and dandy.

Good people can be as bad as they like.

From The Nation: Some of the unelected dolts in the Senate reckon the regime, in all its splintering parties, might need some “legal” vote-buying by suggesting that every voter be given 500 baht for voting. Of course, Thailand regularly has very high voter turnout, but these brainless dyed hairs probably reckon that the “voluntary” voters are not the right ones, so an incentive is needed.

We don’t think this proposal will go anywhere, but it reflects the growing anxiety about the election and demonstrates (again) the vacant craniums the are strewn around the regime’s house of parliament.

From Thai PBS: The great fear that opposition parties might win an election is rattling the Thai PBS news desk. They reckon “[m]any were surprised to see master powerbroker Thammanat Prompow kneeling on stage to present a garland to Palang Pracharath leader General Prawit Wongsuwan, in a symbolic apology and show of remorse.” We assume that by “many,” they mean the Thai PBS news desk because everyone knew this was about to happen. But their real story is the fear that Thaksin Shinawatra is coming back.

Ho hum. Every campaign leading up to coup and election since 2006 has run this line. It remains to be seen if this call to yellow arms will again rally the faithful anti-Thaksin crowd.

From Prachatai: Reader might recall the case of Tun Min Latt and others arrested on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering, and the “lucky” escape of one of the junta’s approved senators Upakit Pachariyangkun. This report is about a court case, but the “fun” is in the details about what seems like Thailand’s largest criminal organization, the Royal Thai Police:

On the same day of the arraignment, the Inside Thailand news show reported that Pol Maj Kritsanat Thanasuphanat, the officer in the Metropolitan Police who took charge of the arrest of Tun Min Latt and the others, was ordered to be reassigned from Bangkok to an equivalent position in the northeastern province of Chaiyaphum. The news show interpreted this as a form of retribution for his bold performance.

“Bold performance” means doing what the police are usually empowered to do. Not running scams, cooperating with criminals, organising wealth extraction, running all kinds of crime activities, torturing and murdering people, arranging escapes for the rich and powerful, and all the other stuff that is reported on a daily basis as the Royal Thai Police’s “normal work.”





Back to the future

6 01 2023

Quite a while ago PPT posted here and there about the 2014 military junta’s plans for Thailand’s politics.

In summarizing some of these thoughts, back in 2014 we had a post that commented on an article at The Nation by Supalak Ganjanakhundee. His view and ours was that the “quasi-democratic regime under General Prem Tinsulanonda between 1980 and 1988” was the military’s and royalist elite’s preferred “model that would be suitable for Thailand forever.”

Of Premocracy, Supalak stated:

The Prem regime is the role model for many elite political architects. He is a former Army commander who was “invited” by political parties and elected politicians to take the premiership after elections during the 1980s. To that extent, political parties and politicians were only minor parts of the arrangement. They were furniture, rather than the structure of the country’s administration.

Thailand was then mostly run by military officers and bureaucrats. The prime minister had no accountability to the people. His power was supported by the military. Prem faced challenges from young officers and two coup attempts, rather than lawmakers in the House of Representatives. He never gave a damn about the politicians in Parliament. They would create no trouble for his government as long as they were allowed to join the Cabinet.

The 2014 coup, then, was to be yet another effort to embed the preferred political model.

But the junta’s plan owed much to the palace’s man in 1976, Thanin Kraivixien. He was catapulted into the prime ministership in 1976 following a massacre of students and a military coup. The king wanted the right-wing Thanin as premier. He presided over a period of fascist-like repression that was so extreme that even made some in the military leadership wonder if Thanin was damaging the military-monarchy brand.

After the 2014 coup, Thanin provided “advice” to the Prayuth Chan-ocha dictatorship. Indeed, the junta’s 20-year “roadmap” to “democracy” is modeled on Thanin’s 16-year plan for “democracy.” There are other similarities and comparisons that can be made. Among them, the junta’s draft constitution drew inspiration from the Thanin era, with Meechai Ruchupan having served Thanin as well. And, like Prayuth’s regime, Thanin’s dictatorship made excessive use of the lese majeste law to repress political opponents.

Rotten to the core

More significantly, as in the Prem period, we see a regime in decay. Some might say that this also reflects the 1990s, and that’s not wrong as Prem’s regime set the pattern. Parties forming and self-destructing as they bid for ministerial seats and the huge flow of illicit funds that underpinned a decrepit system of vote-buying and provincial gangsterism. Politicians selling themselves to the highest bidder. Politicians, military, and gangsters in cahoots, feeding at the trough of state funds. The state budget became a fund for military aggrandizement and private wealth accumulation by well-connected capitalists. Those capitalists and the military groveling before an ever more powerful monarchy.

All of this is the manner of the current corrupt regime. Did we mention Chinese gangsters? That, at least seems like an “innovation.”

Allowing Gen Prayuth/Prawit to continue in their alliances with gangsters – some of them MPs and many of them police and military brass – guarantees (perhaps) a shaky palace and keeps funds flowing, but it screws the other 65 million Thais.

 





Protest III

21 11 2022

The anti-APEC/pro-democracy/anti-Prayuth protests and the violent police response is getting lots of social media attention. Here are some of the more startling videos and photos. Several are from Andrew MacGregor Marshall who’s efforts are appreciated:

Among the items most discussed are the photos of a man apparently shot in the eye by police:

Another set of photos and clips include a monk fighting with police and the rough treatment he received:

Meanwhile, at an event with the Chinese leader at APEC, Gen Prayuth seemed lost, bowing to another of his senior leaders and then not knowing where he was or where he was going:





Repression of monarchy reformists

20 11 2022

DW recently had a story that sought to assess where the democracy/monarchy reform movement is more than two years after the movement spectacularly burst on the scene.

In essence, the story is that the monarchy reform movement has been so repressed that it is difficult for activists to engage in political advocacy.

Clipped from Prachatai

The youth-led protest movement, “calling for constitutional reforms to rein in far-reaching powers of the country’s monarchy” and for the resignation of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, “inspired hundreds of thousands of people across Thailand…”.

But, over two years later, the military-backed, pro-monarchy regime has managed to silence many and drain the movement of energy.

The repression that has dogged activists has resulted in lese majeste charges in the hundreds, long jail terms for some, and the development of a surveillance state that weighs China-like on anyone deemed a “threat.” The regime increasingly relies on cyber snoops and ultra-royalists, many of them with links to the military and ISOC, to bring complaints that result in charges, arrest, and detention.

Arnon. Clipped from Prachatai

For example, human rights lawyer and activist Arnon Nampa, faces at least 14 lese majeste charges, and was detained for more than 200 days without bail. Other activists are kept busy fighting a myriad of charges.

Democracy activist Patsaravalee Tanakitvibulpon explains: “Many of our friends are still detained…. Some have been held for more than 200 days.” As DW has it, “there are [now] at least 11 political detainees, including three on lese majeste cases.”

Patsaravalee reckons “the government had made people ‘numb and accustomed’ to protesters being detained.”

Even when bailed, there are sometimes ludicrous conditions that amount to house arrest, “along with a hefty bond and vague conditions that limit their freedom of expression and movement.” For example, Arnon “is prohibited by court order from encouraging others to protest and is not allowed to share posts on social media about demonstrations.”

Activist Chonthicha Jaengrew said “these conditions forced people into self-censorship, as ‘even voicing opinions in good faith could put us at risk of our bail being revoked’.”

Chonthicha said such “bail conditions had blunted the protest movement.” As she explained: “We don’t know when these conditions will be used as a tool to revoke our bail, which forces us to be more careful [in our speeches and actions]…”.

Several activists have fled Thailand.

But it is not all a gloomy story. Clearly, the discussion of the monarchy is now more widespread, and activists know that there has been a groundswell of broad support. Arnon thinls “more politicians in the future would be emboldened to question the Thai monarchy.” As he observes: “Discussing the monarchy has caught on…. We might not see a radical change like a revolution … but one thing is for sure: Thai society will not backtrack.”





Updated: More Constitutional Court buffalo manure

1 10 2022

No one really expected that the regime’s Constitutional Court would do anything other than allow the coup leader and dictator to stay in power even longer. Neither the court nor the prime minister have a shred of credibility (except with royalist-military dolts). Rather than go on about the predictable buckling of the junta’s own basic law, here are some links to stories on how the court has again crippled the junta’s own constitution:

Thai PBS

From Ji Ungpakorn’s blog

Constitutional Court rules that PM Prayut’s 8-year term in office has not expired

Prayut vows to push ahead with mega-projects

And the fight continues …

Prayut given political lifeline — but what’s next?

The Nation

Constitutional Court rules Prayut can stay on as PM

Thai private sector unfazed by Prayut’s return to PM’s seat

Thai Enquirer

Constitutional Court votes 6:3 to allow Prayut to remain as Premier, says term began on April 6, 2017

Bangkok Post

Prayut remains PM, court rules tenure ends in 2025

Prayut’s staying put

Business chiefs welcome ‘stability’ ruling will bring

PM still at crossroads

Activists call for major anti-Prayut rally on Saturday

Pheu Thai disagrees with Prayut ruling

Prachatai

Court allows Prayut to stay on as PM, new protest called

Thai Newsroom

Court rules Prayut’s eight-year term has not ended

Prayut returns to power with Constitutional Court support

Doubts cast over righteousness of Constitutional Court’s ruling on Prayut

Lawyer: 3 retired generals win but the country loses

Crisis of confidence in Constitutional Court looms: Academic

Update: The Nation lists the five decisions/piles of buffalo dung where the Constitutional Court has supported him.





Another coup rat hole?

27 09 2022

Thai Enquirer has been following a story that developed after Digital Economy and Society Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn warned of/about another military coup.

Chaiwut was moved to declare that “if a lot of people come out to protest on September 30th to seek the removal of the suspended Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, there might be no election at all.” He said this not once but twice. Clearly he meant that there could be yet another military coup.

As Erich Parpart put it:

The fact that these statements are coming out is a clear indication of how the 2014 coup leaders manipulated the system to remain in power and are now threatening to silence opposition in order to continue to remain in power.

In this society that is being run by a pro-military government, Chaiwaut’s comments were a reassurance to their supporters that the hideous cycle of coups will continue if the people in power do not like the way how things are going against them.

Since then, “Thailand’s rumor mills were running overtime…”.

One academic-like commentator Thanaporn Sriyakul, president of the Political Science Association at Kasetsart University, said:

If there is an election, Pheu Thai will win and one of the ways to stop that from happening is to stop the election from happening….

They [the regime and its supporters] know that if they fight on this battlefield they will lose and they also do not know what is going to happen to them after the battle so what they can do now is to delay the election to buy more time for negotiations….

Thanaporn reckoned Chaiwut was not just blowing hot air: “I do not believe that Chaiwut was just joking around…”. Maybe not a coup, he said, but maybe other “legal” measures to delay an election. Whatever means, “there will be no election at the moment…”.

At the same time, Chaiwut’s comments showed he believes and perhaps knows that “Prayut will survive the Constitutional Court’s verdict on his 8-year premiership term limit that would be handed down on September 30.”

In a complicated situation, Chaiwat has probably expressed the “thinking” among the regime and its supporters.





Authoritarianism for royalists, monarchy, tycoons, and military

7 09 2022

PPT has been reading some of the commentaries regarding Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s suspension as premier. We thought we better post something on these as Prayuth’s case could be (almost) decided by the politicized Constitutional Court as early as tomorrow.

Prawit and Prayuth: Generals both

At East Asia Forum, academic Paul Chambers summarizes and lists the pedigree and connections that have led to his former boss, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, to become (interim) premier.

A few days before that, Shawn Crispin at Asia Times wrote another piece based on his usual anonymous sources, that assesses the balance of forces. He thinks the Constitutional Court’s decision to suspend Gen Prayuth was a pyrrhic victory and writes of:

… a behind-the-scenes, pre-election move away from Prayut by the conservative establishment, comprised of the royal palace, traditional elites and top “five family” big businesses, he has cosseted both as a coup-maker and elected leader.

One source familiar with the situation says a group of traditional and influential Thai “yellow” elites including an ex-premier and foreign minister, after rounds of dinner talks, recently delivered a message to Prayut asking him to put the nation before himself and refrain from contesting the next general election to make way for a more electable, civilian candidate to champion the conservative cause.

It is clear that the conservative elite are worried about upcoming elections. Pushing Prayuth aside is thought to give the Palang Pracharath Party an electoral boost. Crispin reckons that the Privy Council beckons if Gen Prayuth does as asked. That’s a kind of consolation prize for Gen Prayuth having done his repressive duty for palace and ruling class.

But, as Crispin makes clear, the ruling class and the political elite is riven with conflicts. Indeed, one commentary considers the contest between Gen Prawit and Gen Prayuth.

It may be that Prayuth comes back. Recent leaks suggest that one faction still wants him in place, “protecting” the monarchy as the keystone to the whole corrupt system.  If Gen Prayuth returns to the premiership, where does that leave the ruling party and its mentors in the ruling class?

On the broader picture, an article by Michael Montesano at Fulcrum looks beyond personalities to the system that the 2014 military coup constructed:

The function of Thailand’s post-2014 authoritarian system is to channel and coordinate the overlapping interests of a range of conservative stakeholders: royalists and the monarchy, the military, much of the technocratic elite, a handful of immensely powerful domestic conglomerates, and the urban upper-middle class. This channelling or coordinating function is the system’s crucial defining feature. No individual or cabal of individuals gives orders or controls the system. Rather, collectively or individually, stakeholders or their representatives act to defend a shared illiberal and depoliticising vision with little need for explicit or direct instructions.

He adds:

Understanding these realities makes clear that Prayut’s premiership of eight long years — so far — has not been possible because of his leadership skills, the loyalty that he might command, or his indispensability. Rather, the remarkable longevity of his stultifying service as prime minister is due to the fact that someone needs to hold that office and he has proved adequate. His premiership satisfied the collective interests that Thailand’s post-2014 authoritarian system serves. For all of his manifest inadequacies, keeping him in place has, at least up to now, been deemed less costly than replacing him.

Has that cost risen so much that Gen Prayuth can be “sacrificed” for the royalist authoritarian system he constructed?





Updated: Corrupt and powerful I

30 08 2022

Several stories that have been developing demonstrate that the regime is rotten to the core.

The Bangkok Post reports that Mana Nimitmongkol, secretary-general of the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT), has raised questions regarding “the circumstances surrounding the case of an alleged maid-abusing police corporal.”

This is, of course, no ordinary corporal, but a well-connected one:

Mana pointed to the fact that not only had Pol Cpl Kornsasi Buayaem herself joined the police on the strength of a connection within force but she had then used her own influence to secure a military role for her former employee.

It had also been found that Pol Cpl Kornsasi had enjoyed the benefits afforded those who work full time at the agency without there being any record of her actually performing any duties.

He also asked how she could be recruited to “serve” in the southern region, where extra benefits are paid but had never been there.

Mana concluded: “The more I delve the more I have found distortion that desperately needs the reform of the police, the military, state administration, laws and the justice system itself…”. PPT has been writing of this for a decade.

Of course, the unspoken bit is that she’s connected to the family of regime bosses.

Mana “criticised groups of influential people who have become notorious for abusing their positions of authority to ensure that their members, including politicians, senators, police, soldiers and lobbyists, are taken care of.” It is the way the regime has operated from the very beginning.

Another Bangkok Post story is equally emblematic. After several years of claims, charges and slow legal processes, Deputy secretary-general of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) Prayat Puangjumpa “has been sacked as over an asset concealment case against him.”

NACC chairman Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit, a junta friend and appointee, sacked Prayat on 26 August:

The sacking came about three years after Mr Prayat was found by the anti-graft agency to have amassed vast wealth amounting to 658 million baht and failing to declare some of the assets.

According to the NACC probe, he omitted assets worth 227 million baht from his mandatory declaration to the NACC. The undeclared assets were found to be held by Mr Prayat’s wife, Thanipa.

These assets were divided six items, four of which were overseas.

The two in Thailand were a Kasikornbank bank account with 10,000 baht in it as well as 20,000 shares in the Palm Biz Corporation worth two million baht.

The four overseas assets were three bank accounts kept at Bangkok Bank’s London branch with a total of £237,959.46 (about 10 million baht) in them and a townhouse on Kensington High Street in London worth an estimated £4.5 million (168 million baht).

Back in August 2019, following a 9-month investigation, it was first reported that Prayat was crooked. At the time, Prayat said it was all a “misunderstanding and that his wife was holding the apartment for other people.” He didn’t say who.

At the time, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha had “vowed to stamp out corruption…”.

That report reminded its readers that Gen “Prawit Wongsuwan, dubbed the ‘Rolex General’, came under fire for a luxury watch collection worth an estimated $1.2 million…. The NACC dismissed the case last December, citing ‘no grounds’ for corruption as the watches were lent to Prawit by a wealthy businessman.” Yes, really

Another report from 2019 pointed to Prayat’s efforts to use regular excuses used by Thailand’s corrupt:

Prayat, reportedly, cited misunderstanding, stressing that he never intended to conceal his assets and that last year he re-submitted the asset declaration.

The apartment and the bank accounts in London belong to his wife….

Not held for others? These kind of people lie and expect that they can get away with it. It is the way the “system” works (for the rich).

The miracle is that the NACC “recommended Prayat should be indicted for assets concealment.”

Update: One of the social media rumors is that Pol Cpl Kornsasi is the mistress of one of the big P’s. It is probably more accurate to suggest that she’s the mistress of on of the Big P’s brothers, which would explain how a mere corporal in the police could get away with all manner of things.





Prayuth’s proposed plea

29 08 2022

The Nation reports that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s plea to the Constitutional Court on his tenure as prime minister is to argue that he became premier in 2019.

According to the source, the defence team will send a written statement to the court arguing that a prime minister must be appointed by the House of Representatives as stipulated in sections 158 and 159. Section 158 requires that the PM be appointed by MPs while Section 159 requires MPs to select the prime minister from a list of candidates submitted by political parties when they register for a general election.

In other words, the plan is to provide Gen Prayuth with an opportunity to remain premier until 2026.

Despite the illogical claims involved, and the fact that Prayuth was prime minister from the 2014 military coup, there’s a real chance the Constitutional Court will buy this argument.








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