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.





Another royalist

27 08 2022

Reuters reports on Acting Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, the Watchman.

Its main point is that Gen Prawit “represents little substantial change from suspended Prime Minister [Gen] Prayuth Chan-ocha…”.

Certainly, the military’s dominance of Thailand’s politics continues. In addition, the chair shuffling means a period of relative stability for the regime’s Palang Pracharat Party, “until the Constitutional Court decides whether Prayuth’s time as a military leader from 2014 to 2019 counts towards a constitutionally stipulated eight-year term limit…”.

Gen Prawit, who seems much older than his 77 years, “is a longtime ally of Prayuth and was part of the military junta that ruled Thailand for nearly five years following Prayuth’s 2014 coup ouster of an elected government…”.

Both generals are known for their “fierce loyalty to the monarchy .” It has been Gen Prawit who “has long been seen as a power-broker both within the Palang Pracharat party, which he co-founded, and among the wealthy elite that align themselves with Thailand’s royal family and the military.”

Titipol Phakdeewanich of Ubon Ratchathani University considers it likely that “Prawit will help stabilise the political situation and consolidate the ruling coalition and related business interests ahead of the election…”. Thitinan Pongsudhirak, at Chulalongkorn University, is not so sure: “Prawit will be embattled from day one…” and that he’s unpopular (not that that has been a political longevity problem for the Prayuth, who has long been unpopular).

The problem for the allied royalists is how to again manufacture another election victory.





Updated: Wissanu’s political onanism

23 08 2022

As we post this just before midnight GMT, its morning in Bangkok, on the 24th, the day that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha should constitutionally leave the prime ministership he took by force of arms in May 2014. We have no idea what he will do or what the royalist-military Constitutional Court may rule.

But we do know that the regime has been scheming. The legal plaything of the junta and its progeny, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, has said that if Gen Prayuth does step down as prime minister or is pushed out by the Court, he “may legally perform as defence minister, the post which he has concurrently assumed…”. The premiership would then fall to the corrupt, aged, and ill co-coup plotter Gen Prawit Wongsuwan.

Wissanu said:

Prayut may practically hold onto the defence portfolio and attend cabinet meetings at Government House while leaving the top post of government to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan to perform as a caretaker one if the Constitutional Court orders him to immediately stop performing as prime minister until a court ruling on his eight-year rule maximumly provided by law has been delivered, .

Given the fact that no law prohibits a prime minister from concurrently performing in other capacities, Prayut could continue to run the defence portfolio though he may be immediately stopped by court from running the country as premier….

However, Wissanu is not convinced the Constitutional Court will abandon its bosses and allies in the regime.

But this scheming does suggest some cracks in the regime and the ruling class about Prayuth’s position and that some judges and others may be thinking of the political consequences of yet another regime-friendly ruling. Regime schemers and ultra-royalists worry that Prayuth as a politically dead man walking may gift Puea Thai and the opposition an electoral landslide.

Update: Bangkok Post reports:

The Constitutional Court has voted 5-4 in ordering Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha suspended from duty.

The court’s order came after it ruled to accept the petition asking for a ruling on his eight-year tenure as prime minister.

We doubt the closeness of the vote is any cause for celebration given that the decision is only about suspending the general while the court takes its time considering a very straightforward case. Making the case anything other than straightforward is likely a measure of the Court seeking a way out constitutional requirements for Prayuth. Expect Wissanu’s above proposition to hold for the time that the Court is squirming.





Gotta love these young people

22 08 2022

On 21 August, at the Democracy Monument, around 38 activist groups from four regions called on illegitimate Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha to step down on Wednesday, “when he completes eight years in power…”, under the conditions clearly set out in his own constitution. Only royalists and other anti-democrats can’t count to eight.

The event at the Democracy Monument was moved there from Sanam Luang where they being blocked by police. Sanam Luang now saeems to belong to the king, so the police “protect” his patch of dirt.

Clipped from Thai Newsroom

The groups were “led by Panusaya Sitthichirawattanakul, or Rung, from Thammasat Coalition and Assembly together with other prominent activists including Ms. Thanaphon Wichan, from the Labour Network for People’s Rights, Mr. Thatchapong Kaedam, or Boy, and Mr. Thanaphat Kapheng from Thalu Fah group, Ms. Natanit Duangmusit, or Bai Por, and Ms. Netiporn Sanehsangkhom, or Nong Bong, from the New Workers Union and representatives from the Dome Revolution Party at Thammasat University.”

They displayed banners with messages calling on Prayuth to go: “Let it end at eight years” and “Prayuth get out.” Rung read out their joint statement for the coalition of political groups:

She cited the 2017 constitution which in Section 158 paragraph 4 says that the Prime Minister may not hold the office for more than eight years regardless of whether consecutively or not but this does not include continuing to perform duties after stepping down.

Section 170, paragraph two of the 2017 Constitution also states that the premiership ends as stated in Section 158 paragraph 4.

The groups “also sent a message to the president of the Constitutional Court to issue a ruling on the prime minister’s tenure according to the 2017 constitution by Wednesday August 24. If not then the court should issue an order for Prayut to stop performing duties until the ruling is issued.”





Waiting on Prayuth

19 08 2022

[Apologies to readers. This post should have been sent to publication a couple of days ago. Better late than never….]

Thai PBS reports that “August 24 has portents of becoming judgement day as leaders of many youth movements are planning major protests if Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha holds on to power he seized eight years ago.”

There’s plenty of stories and reports on the royalist-militarist efforts to (again) manipulate law and constitution to have Gen Prayuth stay in power. That said, there are significant elements in the this coalition that is unhappy to continue with the unpopular and thick general.

The linked report refers to a “seminar at Thammasat University’s Pridi Banomyong International College on August 15,” where “student activists said that many groups are holding their breath to see how the establishment elite would decide Prayut’s political future.” They are, one said, “… keeping their hopes alive for change.”

The panel wanted Gen Prayuth gone and an election. As Parit Chiwarak put it: “An election is the best solution to ease peacefully mounting social tensions…. But the powers that be seem to be employing all kinds of legal tactics to delay the election and thus creating more frustrations and grievances among people who want to see some changes in the politics.”

Parit, like other youthful protesters who came together in 2020,demanding the general go. He stayed. They were jailed in large numbers.

From Destination Justice

They also “shocked the nation when they first called for radical changes in the hierarchical Thai society and reforms to the monarchy.”

Meanwhile, the government has done all in its power to undermine the youthful movements. The number of political prisoners in Thailand has risen sharply to more than 2,000 over the past few years.

The regime has tried to digitally erase those demands. Parit said: “Access to a video clip on YouTube of the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, uploaded since 2020 when they jump-started their call for reform of the monarchy, has been blocked in Thailand as the government wants to delete public memory…”. He now faces more than 40 charges.

Patsaravalee Tanakitvibulpon said she “had been prosecuted on some 10 charges and has been under surveillance of the authorities all the time.” But she remains resolute: “We want to set a new standard for our society, to have democracy in essence and to see that power really belongs to the people…”.

Kanokrat Lertchoosakul, a Chulalongkorn University academic is cited. She “explained that the current youthful movement articulated the vision of the 1932 Revolution, calling themselves People’s Party, since they see the revolution 90 years ago as an ‘unfinished political mission’.” Getting rid of Prayuth is one small step in achieving the political mission.





Prayuth’s future

10 08 2022

Coup leader Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has been on the campaign trail. For the military man, this has involved his royal-like “protection” and “progress.”

Recently, the general was in Kanchanaburi. Look at the photos at The Nation, and it looks like a royal visit-meets-politician. Other social media outlets report that schools were closed and streets cleared to allow the royal general’s progress.

But the people seem far from impressed, with a poll showing that about two-thirds of those surveyed wanting Gen Prayuth to leave office this month, when his own engineered constitution requires that he step down after eight years as premier. It is now up to the royalist backers of the military-backed regime that is the Constitutional Court to concoct a ruling that keeps the general in power.

His supporters claim that Gen Prayuth’s 8 years as prime minister must be counted from 9 June 2019, when his premiership received royal endorsement under the 2017 constitution. This means he’d be able to serve until 2027. This is the ruling that they insist the Constitutional Court should issue.

Yet Prayuth is not only unloved by those Thais surveyed. Even within the ruling Palang Pracharath Party his support is lukewarm. For example, the best his elder “brother” Gen Prawit Wongsuwan can only say he wants Prayuth for another two years. Of course, Gen Prawit sees a chance for himself, no matter that he is decrepit.

With more on the current situation, Pithaya Pookaman at Asia Sentinel has an article on Prayuth’s desire to stay:

Prayuth has sent out feelers to the public and also possibly to the palace about his undisguised desire to maintain his stranglehold on power, imploring for an extension to fix all the nation’s problems, as if he was unable to do so during his previous eight years in office. He has often said that the nation cannot do without him, the kind of narcissism that is repugnant to most Thais….

During his eight years in power, the military has moved repeatedly to use the courts to snuff out popular youth movements, and to hold in check the appeal of Thaksin’s Pheu Thai opposition. Despite falling popularity, Prayuth is not expected to relinquish his power any time soon or in the foreseeable future. As he wrote his own constitution, he can also make amendments to it to allow him to extend his tenure or refer the matter to the subservient constitutional court to rule in his favor. If another general election is to be held, he can always rely on the support of his hand-picked 250 senators and manipulate the MPs by giving cash handouts and other incentives to vote him back to power.

He comments further on the king: “the king often plays an important, if not a decisive, role in determining the choice of the prime minister and other high-ranking officials.” Further on Prayuth and the palace:

Prayuth has served the palace well by providing lavish funds and amenities for the king and members of the royal family while safeguarding the monarchy by ruthless application of the country’s anti lese majeste law, considered the world’s most severe. But Prayuth’s eight years as head of government may be viewed by the palace as too long. Notwithstanding the favors he has showered on the king, his statecraft and performance have been an utter failure. Members of his family and his cronies have enriched themselves and occupied important positions in the country.

Based on its history of politicized decisions, we’d expect the Constitutional Court to (again) support Gen Prayuth. But what does the king want?





Dangerous, barking mad royalist

17 07 2022

Thaiger reports that Tossaporn Srirak a former Puea Thai Party MP faces a sedition charge following a complaint made to police by ultra-royalist Sonthiya Sawasdee, a saying he is “former adviser to the House committee on law, justice, and human rights.” By our reckoning the quite looney Sonthiya knows nothing of justice or human rights, but is an active lawfarist.

He believes that wondering aloud if the troubles on the streets of Sri Lanka, due to food and fuel shortages, forcing the nation’s president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to flee for his life and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s troubles was facing Thailand under the General amounts to sedition, “whipping up hate against the PM Prayut Chan-o-cha…”.

The mad monarchist “urged police to launch an investigation into Tossaporn because he believes his Facebook post ‘Do you want it like the UK or Sri Lanka?’ could be interpreted as a call for unlawful insurrection against PM Prayut and his government.”

Of course, Sonthiya has a long record of taking up royalist and rightist causes. Back in 2015, Sonthiya, then reported to be “a representative of a political group called the Federation to Monitor the Thai State,” filed a complaint with the Crime Suppression Division against then US Ambassador Glyn Davies for a talk at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand where he expressed concern about “the lengthy and unprecedented prison sentences handed down by Thai military courts against civilians for violating the lese majeste law…”. He added that “[n]o one should be jailed for peacefully expressing their opinion…”. Sonthiya screamed lese majeste.

In 2018, it was a madder Sonthiya who demanded the Election Commission to investigate the newly-formed Future Forward Party and whether it might amend the lese majeste law.He said Article 112 was off limits.

He was especially “busy” in 2021, trying to see off the calls for reform, including to the feudal monarchy. In April, Sonthiya urged police to investigate Jatuporn Promphan for lese majeste following a speech to a protest for the Sammakhi Prachachon Pheu Prathet Thai (People’s Unity for Thailand). The protest was about ousting the General, but Sonthiya thought anti-monarchism was at work, presumably because Gen Prayuth is a royalist and his regime a lackey for the palace.

Then in May, by then Palang Pracharath Party member, Sonthiya demanded that the Criminal Court review its decision to free lese majeste detainee Parit Chiwarak on bail after the protest leader was accused of violating his bail conditions in a social media post.

By July, Sonthiya was working a tag-team with red shirt traitor and now regime flunky Seksakol [Suporn] Atthawong to bring charges against opposition politician Sudarat Keyuraphan for “wrongly accusing the government of poorly managing the Covid-19 crisis.” This was deemed not a fact but defamatory.

And, in November Sonthiya was (barking) mad that Miss Universe Thailand Anchilee Scott-Kemmis for standing on what looks like a Thai flag in a picture released online in a promotional campaign before Anchilee competed in the 70th Miss Universe pageant in Israel. Sonthiya wnated her investigated for breaching the 1979 Flag Act and a PM’s Office announcement banning the use of national flags for commercial purposes.

The problem with mad monarchists is that they are often taken seriously by royalist regimes, police, judges, and prosecutors.





Regime work: rigging elections, more security, spying on kids, and economic sabotage

8 07 2022

It has been quite a week. Below we link to some of the regime’s most recent machinations.

Perhaps the biggest story was the remarkable about face by government parties on party lists for the next election (if we get that far).

As Thai Newsroom reports, “lawmakers faithful to Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha today (July 6) dumped the mixed-member-majority system and instead endorsed the mixed-member-proportional system for use in the next general election, fueling the criticism that the executive branch has unduly interfered in the business of the legislative branch.” As the Bangkok Post explained it via a headline, “Parliament chooses MP calculation method favouring small parties.” This is little more than vote-rigging in the manner of the period before the 2019 election. More than that, even the deputy secretary-general of the Election Commission “said the calculation formula of dividing 500 would be problematic because it would result in the number of list MPs exceeding the official number of list MPs set by the constitution.” Constitutionalism seldom bothers the regime. Why is this being done, especially as the government parties had to backflip on their earlier position? The Bangkok Post is succinct: “The move came after the use of 500 received the green light from Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut…, in what is seen as a bid to prevent Pheu Thai from winning a landslide in the next poll, sources said.”

On “national security,” it is reported in The Nation that “Cabinet on Tuesday approved a draft royal decree to exempt enforcement of the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) on agencies related to national security, public safety, tax collection, international cooperation and legal procedures.” That means that “national security” agencies can continue to abuse the population. Added to this, the Royal Thai Air Force is expanding its capacity for cyber snooping. While this is said to be a move that “aims to enhance the RTAF’s non-combat operations, which include disaster mitigation, as well as search and rescue efforts,” in Thailand it can be expected that the cyber unit will target regime opponents and those it considers anti-monarchist.

While on “national security,” Thai Enquirer reports on police (and, PPT would add, military) surveillance of students. It refers to a recent event:

1. No Coup 2. Liberty 3. Democracy

On Monday, a uniformed officer was spotted inside Ramkhamhaeng University telling university students to change the questions on their survey.

The question that disturbed the officer was, ‘should Prayut continue to run the country?’

The answers were overwhelmingly, NO.

The police saw it as their duty to prevent this.

It got worse when some royalist regime supporting university “administrator” wander out “to ask the university students to conduct another activity that is more ‘creative’ than this.” And, worse still, “on Tuesday when two uniformed officers were spotted inside Triam Udom Suksa School.” In this instance, the police were there to support the royalist regime supporting administration in its increased repression of teenagers: “The officers were there to monitor a protest against uniform and hairstyle regulations.

It seems that all students are now threats to “national security.”

Did anyone mention independent central banks? Not in Thailand. Thai Enquirer reports that Finance Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith “on Wednesday told the Bank of Thailand (BoT) to prepare to address the weakening of the Thai baht, which has fallen against the US dollar to its lowest level since December 2015.” Dutifully, the Bank of Thailand immediately announced it “will hold a media briefing on the policy interest rate and the baht on Friday at 10.30am, as the local currency trades at its weakest level in more than six years against the United States dollar.” If the regime is controlling the Bank of Thailand, the country’s in trouble.

Holidaying elsewhere

An example of the regime’s economic “capacity” was provided with the quite bizarre Tourism and Sports Ministry thought bubble to introduce dual tariffs for hotels. In a situation where the regime is now desperate to get tourists back to Thailand, the ministry “plans to ask hotel operators to implement a dual-tariff structure under which foreign visitors may be charged rates similar to pre-pandemic days while locals may continue to enjoy discounted rates…”. A government spokesperson reckoned this would “maintain our standards of rates and services for foreign tourists, which affects the perception of country’s tourism brand…”.

We’d guess that if this addled idea goes ahead it would likely prove a disincentive for some tourists. We’d also guess that hotels are better at price-setting than the regime.








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