From military junta to military-backed government

20 07 2019

Recently, King Vajiralongkorn returned to Thailand to swear-in the “new” cabinet. Beside his new wife, the king resembled his father in mumbling “that it was normal that, in the process of doing a job, there will be problems, and that it was normal that they must be solved at the core so the administration of the country can proceed smoothly.” Exactly like his father, the king urged the ministers “to perform their duties for the happiness of the people and the security of the country, as they had pledged to do during the swearing-in ceremony.”

Interestingly, Thai PBS chose to interpret this oft-repeated soliloquy as the king having “offered moral support to Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha and his cabinet ministers…”.

With a fractious and grasping coalition Gen Prayuth is going to have to have plenty in his sack of slush funds for keeping his men and women together in government.

What kind of government is this “new” administration? Opponents like Pithaya Pookaman say it is just no longer a junta but a military-backed regime. Others see it as a facade and “a purportedly civilian government…”. One of the most obvious signs of the junta wolf having donned sheep’s clothing is the fact that junta figures continue to dominate cabinet and all the key ministries. The other ministries are the trough that the coalition parties will slosh around in.

Even so, Prayuth has plenty of challenges, including having mafia-like figures in his cabinet.

Likely to be one of the easiest to see off is likely to be the Constitutional Court’s consideration of “the Opposition’s petition, claiming that General Prayut is unqualified to be prime minister in accordance with Section 170 (paragraph 3) and Section 82 of the Constitution.” Based on its previous politicized decisions, we don’t expect the Court to move against Gen Prayuth.

The other case the Constitutional Court has taken on can potentially strengthen Gen Prayuth and his government. It decided “to accept for consideration a petition accusing the Future Forward party, its leader, secretary-general and the executive committee of engaging in activities deemed a threat to the country’s constitutional monarchy.”

Interestingly, the Court was split 5-4 on accepting the case. But, if proven for the Court, Future Forward could be dissolved. Worse charges of lese majeste and sedition could easily follow, seeing politicians being locked up.

Clipped from Khaosod

Getting rid of yet another political party defined as opponents of the ruling class and the military-monarchy twinning may result in instability, but it seems pretty clear that Gen Prayuth can rely on the support of those with war weapons. Indeed, in recent days, the military and police have announced full support for the “new” government. Expect political repression to continue.

If all else fails – the deals, the loot and the repression – expect a military coup. If Gen Prayuth retains support among the ruling class and in the palace, a coup would support him. If he loses their confidence that he can protect and promote the interests of ruling class and palace, then a coup against him might see Gen Apirat Kongsompong put in the premier’s chair.





Updated: “New” government

11 07 2019

King Vajiralongkorn has endorsed The Dictator’s cabinet list.

One of the “stories” is how, as expected, many of the junta’s henchman have transitioned into the “new” government:

Prayut will also double as Defence Minister, a key position currently held by General Prawit Wongsuwan, his deputy in the outgoing government.

Prawit will retain his position as a deputy prime minister and is expected to also be in charge of security affairs.

The new Cabinet also has eight other ministers who have worked with Prayut and Prawit in the current post-coup government: Somkid Jatusripitak, Wissanu Krea-ngam, General Chaichan Changmongkol, Uttama Savanayana, Don Pramudwinai, Suvit Maesincee, Sontirat Sontijirawong and General Anupong Paojinda.

But the biggest story is undoubtedly going to be about an army man and mafia figure, reported by AFP, 9 Sep 1998, and now being circulated in Thailand:

BANGKOK, Sept 9 (AFP) – Eighteen middle-ranking Thai military officers are being investigated for links to an international heroin trafficking operation, the supreme commander of Thailand’s armed forces said Wednesday.

General Mongkol Ampornpisit said the officers had been re-admitted into the military in the past two years and the scandal, the latest in a series to rock the Thai military, had prompted him to order that all recently re-admitted officers have their backgrounds checked.

“I have submitted the names of all re-admitted officers for the last two years to have their criminal backgrounds checked with the police,” General Mongkol told reporters, without elaborating on the heroin trafficking allegations.

He said he hoped the move to vet officers would help contain one of the biggest scandals to hit the Thai military establishment in many years.

The revelation of the heroin investigation follows another scandal involving an army captain at the centre of a murder probe, who had previously served a jail term in Australia for drug trafficking.

Mongkol conceded the military had been lax when re-admitting Captain Patchara Prompao into the armed forces after he was fired twice and convicted of narcotics trafficking.

Patchara is now in detention awaiting trial in a civilian court after he surrendered to police on Monday to face charges that he raped and then beat a male academic to death.

In June, amid a drive was to make the armed forces more accountable, the government demanded the military disclose the contents of secret bank accounts they had been allowed to keep.

Earlier this year the armed forces were accused by opposition politicians of involvement in vast illegal logging operations in northern Thailand.

It is also Thammanat who was reported in 2016 as being among more than 6,000 “influential criminal figures” being targeted by the junta in a nationwide crackdown. Back then it was Gen Prawit who stated that “[s]tate officials, police and military officers found to be involved with ‘dark influences’ must also be dealt with…”. Gen Prawit was reportedly in charge of “suppressing influential criminal figures.”

At the time it was considered that the regime’s political opponents were being targeted, a claim Prawit denied. When asked about specific individuals on the list – “former army specialist Gen Trairong Intaratat, better known as Seh Ice, and Capt Thammanat Prompao, a former close aide to Gen Trairong…” – Gen Prawit said “police will explain the offences they have allegedly committed.” He added that the two “might have done nothing wrong, but their aides might have…”. The report continued:

Gen Trairong, said to have close ties to ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was among four people mentioned in a leaked document from the 1st Division, King’s Guard.

The three others named in the document are Karun Hosakul, a former Pheu Thai Party MP for Bangkok’s Don Muang district; Capt Thammanat Prompao, said to be involved in several enterprises including lottery ticket distribution; and Chaisit Ngamsap, alleged to be connected to illegal activities in the Mor Chit area of Bangkok.

Gen Trairong and Capt Thammarat have denied the allegations.

In the same report, Gen Prayudh is reported as saying:

… those who break the law must be punished…. In the future, these people may support politicians. They must not be allowed to break the law and use weapons against people. Today, we must help to clear up the mess to make our country safe….

It seems that the once pro-Thaksin Thammanat has metamorphosed into a pro-junta man and the politicians he’s supporting are Prayuth’s and he’s now so trusted that he’s a deputy minister!





Updated: Open-mouthed disbelief I

11 07 2019

Several stories caught PPT’s collective eye over the past couple of days.

The first is about Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, the Watchman,” who has been clearing his office at the Ministry of Defence to make way for Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha.  But little else seems to have changed for for Gen Prawit.

A story at Khaosod of another bit of “casual corruption” associated would be funny if it wasn’t so reflective of a regime that has descended into old ways of military-bosses-cum-politicians.

Serial complainer Srisuwan Janya, who operates off social media posts in making his hundreds of petitions, has “filed a complaint to probe the police’s purchase of a 1.14 billion baht jet for ferrying deputy junta chairman [Gen] Prawit Wongsuwan and his entourage…”.

Srisuwan’s complaint plagiarizes social media “outrage at photos of the junta’s second-in-command exiting a private [police] jet with a flight attendant in tow…”.

The little bit of tycoon lifestyle for Gen. Prawit tripping about in a Dassault Falcon 2000S is said to have been purchased “by the police … [for] about 350 million baht more than the global market price.”

The price for a new one is about $30 million. That is a lot of taxpayer loot for a force that usually buys vehicles like the Toyota Camry and, for its pampered bosses, a BMW 5 or a Mercedes 600. Its aviation division has a Fokker 50 turboprop airliner in addition to the Falcon and more than 70 helicopters.

Srisuwan asks – we presume rhetorically – “Why does Thailand like to buy things at a higher price than other people? Or was there some special [deal] that they haven’t revealed to the people?”

Clipped from Khaosod

The jet is said to have cost 1.14 billion baht, which seems about 159 million baht over the list price. Expect the police to say that the extra cash went to fit-out, training and/or spare parts rather than into any boss’s pocket.

So far, the efforts of the police spokesman are laughable, claiming the “plane was a sound investment,” and saying it carried not just Gen Prawit and “the police commissioner and other high-ranking officials.” What a life! They don’t have to deal with the hoi polloi in regular planes or put up with noisy turboprops. The spokesman adds that the new plane can fly when helicopters can’t (but so can the Fokker).

Not only that, but the Falcon can be used for other “important assignments … like government inspections, drug raids, and to follow up crucial investigations.” A $30 million business jet for “investigations”? Right, but probably not investigations of police corruption.

While on the police, we notice that they have, as claimed several times, been hard at work on the cases involving the assault of political activists. Indeed, they have brought charges! Khaosod reports that police have

arrested … eight Facebookers accused of spreading [allegedly] false reports on social media that the police were behind the attack on June 28 that left pro-democracy campaigner Sirawith [Seritiwat] in critical condition. All of the suspects were charged with cybercrimes….

The report adds that police claim that the eight “confessed to claiming on Facebook that deputy police commissioner Chaiwat Ketworachai sent four men under his command to attack Sirawith.”

No one expects the police to arrest the thugs responsible for the cowardly attacks but the Facebookers, slapped with computer crimes charges that can mean up to seven years in prison.

As PPT predicted, “investigations” into the attack on Sirawith is being “hampered” because “some cameras were out of service and failed to capture the assailants’ flight from the scene…”. That’s the usual excuse when a cover-up is underway.

A third story that causes open-mouthed disbelief is also at Khaosod. Just confirmed as Deputy Minister for Agriculture is “dark influence” Thammanat Prompao, a member of the junta’s Palang Pracharath Party.

Deputy Prime Minister under the junta and now under the “new” junta-engineered government, Wissanu Krea-Ngam has said that Thammanat’s “eligibility for a seat in the cabinet is not in question because he is not being prosecuted by the Thai judiciary.” The story continues, with Wissanu claiming:

In the past, there was an MP who had been prosecuted in Hong Kong for drug trafficking, but his status was not affected in Thailand…. Although his reputation among many things might have been impacted, his deeds and ethical standards have to be considered separately.

On Thammanat, it is known that he’s allegedly been involved in all kinds of activities that many consider “shady.” As the report states:

Thammanat was once stripped of his military rank for alleged involvement in a murder case in 1998, but was reinstated after the court acquitted him.

The latest allegations against Thammanat came after an opposition politician claimed he was previously convicted of a crime in a foreign country. No public records of such conviction could be found as of publication time.

Now that a government has been formed – it still has to present its policy to parliament – look to all kinds of internal jostling for a place at the trough.

Update: In another report staggering under a mound of buffalo manure, police claim that they have not – yes, they haven’t – demanded an exchange of police protection for Sirawith being politically silent. Not only that, but the police claim they would never, ever, never ask a political activist not to engage in political activity. Well, it wasn’t the police saying it, but Deputy Defence Minister Gen Chaichan Changmongkol. But we guess that the Army speaks for the police these days. But, really, this is just the usual lies from senior figures. This kind of buffalo manure will only cease to flow when such idiocies and the dolts who make such claims are called out, again and again. The truth is out there, but these fools work with manure rather than truth.





No change, more repression

10 07 2019

Despite claims that the military government is ending, it remains in place, essential a government of the junta, headed by the junta’s prime minister who will also be the post-junta/junta-backed prime minister.

The (almost) end of the rule by junta government has some useful attributes. For example, as reported by the Bangkok Post, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha issued a decree stating:

The NCPO [junta] issued announcements and orders to facilitate administration and national reform and to promote unity and reconciliation among people. Now that the implementation of some of them have been completed, they no longer serve a purpose….

All offences under the NCPO orders, whether committed before or after this order takes effect, will be in the jurisdiction of the courts of justice [not military courts]. The cases being tried by the military court will also be transferred to the courts of justice….

And, despite having used Article 44 just yesterday, Gen Prayuth says he won’t use it again.

Even so, “[s]ome special laws enacted by the junta’s absolute power will stay in place even after the new government takes over…”. As has been noted previously, however, many of the activities of the junta have been sucked up into the military and in particular, the Internal Security Operations Command.

As the Bangkok Post notes in an editorial about recent attacks on activists and repression and threats to opponents, this is the style of “rule of a repressive military regime, not a civilian one.”

It notes that “state surveillance on activists remains ongoing and the same kind of heavy-handed suppression of political dissent can be expected under the new civilian government,” confirming that the junta “has already ensured that such a campaign will be led by the military … [and] Isoc…”.





Military termites

8 07 2019

While it is right and appropriate that anti-junta activists should target the junta’s constitution for “reform” – it would be even better to trash it – two things need to be considered.

First, constitutional “reform” has been a flashpoint for royalists and other anti-democrats who oppose people’s representation and sovereignty. Those wanting to erase the junta’s rigging of the rules of the political landscape need to be aware that they will face considerable and (likely) vicious opposition from royalists and anti-democrats.

In addition, as reformers note:

changing the charter would be an uphill task as it was written in such a way that amending it is almost impossible by following the normal process…. The only way to successfully amend the charter is to raise awareness and gain people support to change it….

Second, constitutional reform is likely to be insufficient for eliminating the military termites. Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s junta has done far more than any recent military regime to embed the military at all levels of administration. These military administrators and its parallel administration have undermined and now dominate civil administration.

A story at the Bangkok Post emphasizes this:

Since the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) seized power in 2014, several military top-brass officers have been appointed to head several key ministries. And changes have also been observed in many agencies whose work deals with national security, particularly organisations under the Justice Ministry.

The story focuses on changes at the Justice Ministry that amount to a politicization of the Ministry that can be used to undermine political opponents. If the opposition in parliament gets too uppity, think of the damage that this Ministry could inflict on them, neutering them.





Updated: Waiting for royal imprimatur

6 07 2019

The Bangkok Post reports:

Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha said he has submitted the new cabinet line-up for royal approval and is expected to be sworn in soon. “You will see that the royal endorsement will come soon…”.

As has become usual for ultra-royalist, neo-feudal Thailand, the “new” government has been cobbled together but won’t be announced until after the king approves. We don’t follow the king’s travels, but he’s probably in Germany or Switzerland, so the approval will probably be done by email. We suppose he’ll have to be in Thailand to swear in the ministers once he decides he approves.

Meanwhile, readers may recall that the junta’s Election Commission was petitioned some time ago on Gen Prayuth’s eligibility for his post under the junta’s own constitution, section 98 (15):

A person falling under any of the following prohibitions shall have no right to be a candidate in an election of members of the House of Representatives:…

(15) being an official or an employee of a government agency, State agency, or State enterprise or other State official;

The puppet EC chose not to forward it to the Constitutional Court.

Now, House Speaker Chuan Leekpai has received a petition from 101 House members calling for the disqualification of Gen Prayuth as a cabinet minister. He has sent that petition to the Constitutional Court.

Given that the puppet EC didn’t dare deal with this challenge, it is a useful challenge.

Update: We updated the section number and statement for the constitution.





Palang Pracharath absolved by EC

4 07 2019

We missed this story in the Thai media, perhaps because we were looking at the stories on the cowardly attack on Sirawith Seritiwat. We looked back through the Bangkok Post – who can find anything there after the website revamp? – but nothing and we couldn’t find it in the usual English-language sources or in Thai social media. But maybe that’s just us and our hopelessness with technology.

Anyway, after months of “investigation,” the dolts at the Election Commission have cleared Palang Pracharath of any wrongdoing over its huge banquet fundraiser. We always knew that this would be the result, but we are surprised at the quietness about it. Here’s the full story we saw at Xinhua:

Thailand’s Election Commission has acquitted the Palang Pracharath Party, core of a new coalition government, of charges which could have otherwise warranted the dissolution of the party.

Election Commission Secretary General Charungwit Phumma, who concurrently acts as political party registrar, was quoted on Tuesday as saying the polling agency has ruled the Palang Pracharath Party not guilty of the charges that it threw a costly fund-raising party during the run up to the March election which had been alleged by a political opponent to have violated the law.

The Election Commission ruled that the Palang Pracharath Party’s fund-raising event was not considered a sales activity with commercial profits to be raised and shared.

Meanwhile, the Election Commission judged that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha could legally run for post-election prime minister though he was running the country as head of government during his candidacy under the tickets of the Palang Pracharath Party, regarding the constitution’s Article 88 and Article 89 and the organic law pertaining to the election of MPs.

According to the secretary general, the polling agency also ruled that Prayut did not practically own any media business though he had opened a Facebook page and an Instagram page during the run up to the election, regarding the constitution’s Article 170.

If found guilty of those charges, the party could have been otherwise dissolved at the order of the Constitutional Court.

Clearing the junta and Palang Pracharath is about what everyone thought would happen when there’s a puppet EC in place and where some of its members have already been rewarded with Senate slots.