Irrational hubris

28 07 2021

Recalling that it was about 40 or so days ago that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha stated that Thailand would re-open in 120 days, he’s now come up with another “bold” claim.

Sheriff Prayuth

With a record high of 16,533 new virus infections and 133 new fatalities attributed to the virus,Gen Prayuth has let it be known that “the intense Covid-19 situation will affect the country for the next two to three weeks or four weeks at most…”. Apparently, he’s ordered that “in 14 days, the lockdown and the curfew will be reviewed and a decision will be made based on the severity of the situation” as to what happens next.

He seems to be sticking with the idea of a re-opening in 120 days from mid-June.

This could reflect irrational hubris or a detachment from reality.





Masters of repression IV

24 07 2021

The masters of repression have been hard at work.

Several outlets, including The Nation, reported that a “total of 154 pro-democracy demonstrators from eight protest groups were prosecuted between July 2 and 18…”. That seems to be something of a boast by the Metropolitan Police Bureau or perhaps it is just reassuring higher levels and yellow-shirted zealots that repression is strong.

Emphasizing the use of virus rules, “all were charged with violating the emergency decree and disease control acts,” in addition to a range of other laws, including sedition and lese majeste.

At the same time, responding to the zealots, the police are planning to “ask the Criminal Court to revoke temporary release granted to pro-democracy leaders who [they claim] broke bail conditions by joining protests.” One senior cop also made the extraordinary threat that “protest leaders who hold rallies will be charged with causing the virus to spread.”

So callous have the police become that they ignore bodies of the dead in the street while seeking to arrest the “two Covid-19 patients who protested in front of Government House on Wednesday evening…”. The police say that: “After they recover, both will be charged for joining several previous protests…”.

What do you say about such grotesque behavior? It is simply cruel. And it is this gross cruelty that they celebrate.

Meanwhile, lawfare is waged against regime critics, involving preposterous “charges.” By now, most readers will already know of the defamation action by Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha against rapper Danupa “Milli” Kanaterrakul, just 18 years-old, “for criticising him on social media.”

She had tweeted that the government’s handling of the virus situation was hopeless. According to The Nation“ she tweeted: “The situation is bad. The government does nothing at all.” One can see such comments in every news outlet. Tens of thousands have tweeted similar things and millions agree with them.

Unaccountably, she “confessed to the charge and paid a 2,000-baht fine.”

Even Tongthong Chandransu, a former dean of the Faculty of Law at Chulalongkorn University, observed: “A government is not a juristic person. It therefore cannot be the damaged party in a criminal case.”

But legal action is not something that bothers the regime. Digital Economy Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn has “warned people, especially celebrities, against posting ‘false information’ on social media.” Fake news is one thing, but it is clear that the regime is targeting criticism, when Chaiwut stated:

Actors are influencers or public figures whom people love. Please don’t exploit this advantage for their political agenda by attacking the government. It is tantamount to distorting information and spreading fake news…. Please don’t look from only one side. You have to think of what the government has done as well — procuring good vaccines that meet standards just like what our neighbours do….

Gen Prayuth’s special lawfare “committee tasked with monitoring and taking legal action against people who propagate on social media false information about him and his cabinet” – well, any criticism – “has filed hundreds of complaints.”

Following up on celebrities, Thai PBS reported that “[a]s many as 25 Thai celebrities have been or are being investigated over their criticism of the government and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, especially concerning the currently inadequate national vaccine rollout and other pandemic measures…”.

Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Pol Maj-Gen Piya Tavichai the list of celebrities was “submitted by the prime minister’s lawyer to police…”. He said that those “who called out specific members of the government may be subject to defamation charges, while others may be subject to charges under computer crime regulations for entering false information into a computer system.”

The regime is fighting a losing battle on this as the criticism expands by the day as the number of deaths and infections grow. But it insists on fighting battles with political opponents it fears may ignite protest.





Lockdown, failures, and fools

9 07 2021

With virus infections surging, the regime looks hopeless. Some say it might have corrupted its vaccine procurement program.*

The anticipated lockdown has arrived, but remains limited in scope, suggesting that the regime is non-comprehending that the lockdown announcement will see even more infected people decamping to their villages. In this sense, and whatever one thinks about lockdowns, the delays in securing a lockdown means that it likely becomes a superspreader event. But this isn’t the first time, with the failure to limit movement at Thai new year likely also spreading the virus.

The greatest impact will, as ever, be on the poor. They are the least able to get through a lockdown. The economy is already staggering, and it is likely that this new restriction will crush the lives of many of those who have struggled to make ends meet over the last year or so.

But, never fear, the dolts running the country (into the ground) are doing their bit:

I am listening but can’t hear

Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha has announced that he will give up his salary for three months, to help those suffering from COVID-19, while some other ministers then announced that they will do the same….

Currently, the prime minister earns 125,590 baht per month, which includes 75,590 baht salary, plus a 50,000 baht position based allowance. This means that the prime minister will be giving up a total of 376,770 baht.

After the prime minister’s announcement, Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, Social Development and Human Security Minister Chuti Krairerk, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa, Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob and Digital Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn also announced that they will give up their salaries.

This is buffalo manure. Gen Prayuth and his ilk have done so much damage that giving up spare change means nothing. But perhaps some PR guru told them that a symbolic gesture is necessary. But it’s an empty gesture, with the damage already done. The damage on the vaccines was predicted (and rejected) last year.

*On this, we wondered if the data presented in an article about the new, large Sinovac purchase is correct or if someone is on the take. That article states that “cabinet on Tuesday approved a proposal to procure 10.9 million additional Sinovac vaccine doses at 6.1 billion baht.” With our poor math, we calculated a cost of 560 baht a dose. That seems roughly double the going rate. Sinovac is already very expensive when its relatively low efficacy is considered.





Gen Prayuth derided

8 07 2021

As the virus situation deteriorates further, there are increased calls for Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha to go, including this at Thai Enquirer. Frankly, Gen Prayuth should have been jailed in 2014 when he led an illegal coup. Trouble was, he was supported by both monarchy and military, a seemingly difficult combination to defeat.

He’s still got diehard yellow shirt support, but is lampooned on social media and the pressure mounts.

Most recently, Rap Against the Dictatorship have made another powerful music video, deriding the regime and its costly alliance with the monarchy.





Updated: Virus cock-ups

6 07 2021

As the complaints about the regime’s cocked-up vaccine rollout mount, we can only say that regular readers will probably have noted these failures months ago. The criticisms go back to last year when questions were raised as to why the regime “decided” to back the king’s inexperienced and relatively tiny company Siam Bioscience as a manufacturing hub for AstraZeneca in the region.

Many felt this was yet another deal for the monarchy, to make it look good, and now it has backfired. Siam Bioscience and the monarchy have not gained the propaganda value expected, and the regime is looking cracked, hopeless, and arrogant.

Begging for vaccines to replace the undelivered Siam Bioscience lots and rushing via the tycoons to Sinovac is also looking like a poor bet now that questions are everywhere about Sinovac’s efficacy. It is obvious that public confidence in regime and its once quite good handling of the virus are plummeting.

Clipped from The Rand Blog

In recent days, the big issue has not just been the 5,000-6,500 infections per day, but as The Nation reports, “[s]ome senior doctors are worried that the arrival of the mRNA Pfizer vaccine will make recipients of the Sinovac vaccine believe they have been given an inferior product…”.

The views were included in leaked “minutes of a meeting about Pfizer vaccines that will be donated to Thailand by the US…”. One comment was: “If we give Pfizer vaccines to medics, it will imply that the quality of the Sinovac vaccine given to them earlier is low, and it will be difficult for us to find a reasonable excuse.”

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul confirmed that the minutes of a 30 June were real but claimed the comments were “only an opinion and that no final decision has been made about the use of Pfizer vaccines.”

Thai Enquirer also discusses the leaked document. It considers the “leaked document … revealed that government officials and academics wanted to downplay the ineffectiveness of the Sinovac vaccine…”. It was an admission that “Sinovac was not effective.”

The government has reportedly fully vaccinated “679,276 medical workers, around 95 per cent of the country’s medical workers, have received both shots of mostly Sinovac vaccine.”

Thai Enquirer wonders why the “government still insists on ordering more Sinovac doses, with millions on order for 2022.”

It seems to us that the regime’s vaccine royalist cock-up is becoming increasingly dangerous.

Update: A reader points out that we missed a rather major cock-up. That’s the reporting of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha going to Phuket and now having to self-isolate. It will be recalled that The Dictator showed the country that he can arrogantly ignore expectations regarding being virus-safe when he was in Phuket. Remember that Anutin defended his boss’s behavior. Now, however, Gen Prayuth “will self-isolate at home for a week after he came into close contact with a person who later tested positive for Covid-19 during an event held to mark the Phuket Sandbox scheme to bring in vaccinated foreign tourists.” It was Veerasak Pisanuwong, the chairman of Surin Chamber of Commerce, who was later confirmed as positive for the virus.

We are also reminded that The Dictator is at “home” in his Army-supplied and paid home on an Army base, which we continue to think is a violation of the constitution. That he was in Phuket to promote virus-free travel and one of his companions is virus positive can only count as a major cock-up.





Updated: Arrogance rewarded

2 07 2021

Anyone following social media will have noticed the flood of complaints and invective associated with the photo below, clipped from The Nation. It shows Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and “his entourage dining at a beachside restaurant in Phuket on Thursday.”

Corrupt and arrogant

While the regime brings charges against protesters, almost all masked up, for flouting the emergency decree that is lodged in virus control, he and his “entourage” can flout the decree with impunity.

The photo shows these arrogant men “eating and sitting close together, while some members of the party are without a mask.”

Meanwhile, today authorities reported 61 virus-induced deaths – a record – and 6,087 new infections – the second highest recorded for the country.

Of course, Phuket is not currently a red zone, but these are people who are meant to set an example. In any case, many are from Bangkok, which is a red zone.

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul stumbled along, defending the miscreants boss, blabbering about “everybody in the photo was actually sitting a fair distance from one another and that they have all been vaccinated against Covid-19.” So we guess that the message is that anyone who is vaccinated can skip off to Phuket, avoid quarantine, and do as they wish.

The general/prime minister is arrogant. He obviously knows he is untouchable. After all, the Constitutional Court has again let Gen Prayuth off a case on a technicality. The Constitutional Court seems to belong to Prayuth. His control of parliament and “independent” institutions fertilizes his arrogance.

Update: For the seriousness of the situation in Bangkok, see a couple of stories in the Bangkok Post. One begins:

While the government is upbeat about its Phuket reopening scheme, health personnel in Greater Bangkok are struggling to deal with a surge of new Covid-19 infections and deaths.

Another story slams the regime and Siam Bioscience:

The Rural Doctors Society yesterday called on the government to enforce the law to require Siam Bioscience, a local authorised pharmaceutical manufacturer, to deliver vaccine supplies as planned.

On its Facebook page, the network claimed Siam Bioscience was likely to deliver only 4 million doses of vaccine this month, instead of 10 million doses as planned by the government.

That’s the king’s company, and we guess the situation is dire if normally royalist doctors make such calls. Just in passing, we note that the monarch is scarcely seen.

That rises to 10 million doses per month from July until November, with the last 5 million jabs arriving in December.

The society said “the government was deemed reluctant to negotiate with the company or enforce any legal tools to secure the delivery of 10 million doses per month.”

That’s because it is the king’s company.

So, in the end, we have a failed vaccination strategy, a king’s company seemingly unable to communicate or deliver, a regime unable to pressure it, and a prime minister off with the fairies in Phuket.





Pavlov’s police dogs

28 06 2021

Pavlov trained – conditioned – animals. Pavlov’s dogs refers to the experiments he did in conditioning dogs to salivate through a learning process that results from this pairing, through which the neutral stimulus comes to elicit a salivation response that usually provoked by the potent stimulus of food. 

In Thailand’s politics, Pavlovian conditioning is common. As lawfare has become the regime’s basic response to critics, the police have become the regime’s equivalent of Pavlov’s dogs.

Pavlov's dog

From SimplyPsychology

So it is that when opponents rally, the police salivate, investigate, and seek charges.

On the weekend, two, small demonstrations were held, with Jatuporn Promphan, “leader of the United People for Thailand pro-democracy group … vow[ing] to topple Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s regime within three months.”

Salivating on cue, Metropolitan Police Bureau Deputy Commissioner Pol Maj Gen Piya Tawichai said the leaders of the rallies would all face investigation and charges.

He said those “targeted include Nitithon Lamlua, leader of the Prachachon Khon Thai group, and Jatuporn Prompan, of the Samakkhi Prachachon group.”

The policeman stated that these people would be charged with: calling for The Dictator to step down “organising a gathering which risked spreading diseases in violation of the executive decree; violating the Communicable Disease Act; violating the Public Cleanliness Act by leaving materials on the roads; obstructing traffic and violating the Land Traffic Act; and using loudspeakers without permission in violation of the Advertising Control Act.”

We assume the cops will be adequately rewarded to imprint the response.





Constitutional conservatives

20 06 2021

Since World War 2, Thailand’s royalist, conservatives and rightists have long tried to use constitutions to prevent change and to maintain their political dominance. That’s why recent and current battles over the constitution are important.

Since the military re-established itself as chief constitution drafter with the 2006 coup, the two resulting constitutions have been written to ensure that military-backed regimes of royalists control things. The 2007 constitution wasn’t enough for that, so the 2014 coup and the resulting 2017 constitution were an effort to enforce the ruling elite’s preferred arrangements. This includes the 20 year “reform” period that seeks to fully embed military-backed authoritarianism.

The last time the opposition tried to amend the constitution was swiftly swatted away – as were efforts to amend the 2007 constitution. To do this, the Constitutional Court was required to rule that amendment should be made all but impossible. Where amendment was possible, it could essentially be by the regime, making things more comfortable for itself and its progeny.

The current attempts to amend the constitution are moving in the direction of giving the regime and its parties even more electoral advantage while rejecting the opposition’s efforts to  make the military junta’s constitution look a little fairer.

Emblematic of the resistance to change is the role of the junta’s appointed senate that made Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha premier. For some background on this, see Bunkueanun Paothong’s op-ed at Khaosod.

For more detail on the current efforts to amend the constitution, look at Prachatai’s Explainer. There’s also an effort at explaining at Thai PBS.

On the rejection of opposition suggestions, see here and here.

For the regime’s continued constitutional rigging , see here.





Updated: Mafia control of ruling party

19 06 2021

As expected, convicted heroin trafficker and Deputy Agricultural Minister Thammanat Prompao has been “elected,” unopposed to be secretary general of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP).

The rise of the criminal to one of the top positions in the party confirms the descent of the country into the hands of a mafia of murderers, drug traffickers, and royalist thugs.

The rise of the criminals pushes aside all pretenses of “normality” in a party concocted to keep the military junta of 2014 and associated royalists in power.

Convicted drug trafficker Thammanat is elevated to this position because he is the son of party don and corrupt Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan.

Corruption lives

Gen Prawit is party boss and Thammanat is his consigliere. Gen Prawit has virtually adopted Thammanat as a son, placing him in line to run the mafia party’s next election campaign. He chose Thammanat because it is not votes that will win the election, but the pilfering of candidates from opposition parties and converting them into seats for the mafia party.

That job requires an enforcer, a moneybags, and a persuader all rolled into one. Or, as the Bangkok Post puts it, “Thamanat … [is] a skilled political fixer…”. It observes:

The Phayao MP’s rise to the new position underlines the increasingly dominant role of the Prawit camp in the party and the diminishing power of the Sam Mitr group. The change was widely anticipated after Thamanat had been assigned to take charge of by-elections contested by party candidates.

The party is now officially the party of Thailand’s mafia, which stretches across military and police and into the palace, all profiting from rents, protection and monopoly.

The extent of Prawit and Thammanat’s control of the party/mob is shown in the fact that the latter “was unopposed in the voting for secretary-general as his was the only one name proposed. He received 556 votes, with 14 voided ballots and 23 abstentions.”

Thammanat has emerged as a key political operative whose skills are valued by Gen Prawit. He is said to control a faction of a dozen or more northern MPs, and he has also made some forays into the South, to the dismay of the Democrat Party,,,”.

Thammanat explained the power structure: “We have Gen Prawit Wongsuwon as the centre of power. We have to consult him on everything that will move us forward…”. The aim will be to snaffle sufficient MPs from other parties that Palang Pracharath will get a majority in the next parliament.

Thai PBS says that the “ruling party’s latest internal reshuffle indicates it desperately wants to win the next election, amid speculation that the national poll will be called early.” To do this it needs “Thammanat, who is ‘decisive, fearless and reliable’, to inject confidence and trust [and fear] into its own MPs, politicians from other parties and voters.” He’s and “influential” figure, a dark influence: “an influential charismatic person in charge of election campaigns in constituencies…”.

As reported by the Bangkok Post, the third leader of the mafia is Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, and the mafia party unsurprisingly announced it will support him for another term. If this comes to pass, Gen Prayuth will be prime minister for at least 14 years. 

The choice of Thammanat reflects the arrogance of the former military bosses Prawit and Prayuth and the desperation of the royalist bloc to maintain control. As it did in the 1980s, this requires an alliance of palace, military, and dark influences. However, the alliance developed by Palang Pracharath, bringing two of the three into the party as leaders, arguably strengthens the party. At the same time, it makes Thailand a mafia state, in the hands of thugs and criminals.

Update: To see how some others feel about the gangster and the gangster party, try Cod Satrusayang’s op-ed on the arrogance of the mafia regime as it rigs the system for yet another rigged election.





ARTICLE 19 on deepening censorship

18 06 2021

We reproduce a recent ARTICLE 19 statement:

Thailand: Proposed initiatives to combat ‘fake news’ undermine freedom of expression

Proposed government initiatives to address ‘fake news’ would further curtail digital rights and freedom of expression in Thailand, said ARTICLE 19. In recent weeks, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES) has disclosed plans, including new regulations under the Computer Crimes Act, that would tighten governmental control over social media platforms and impose additional barriers to online expression. The Ministry should abandon these efforts in favour of an approach that respects the human rights of social media users and others expressing controversial or critical opinions.

“Official actions to combat ‘fake news’ are often less about preventing online harms than expanding State control over the internet,” said Matthew Bugher, ARTICLE 19’s Head of Asia Programme. “While we have not yet seen the proposed new regulations, recent actions and statements by government officials are cause for alarm.”

On 20 May 2021, MDES announced plans to update ministerial regulations under the Computer Crimes Act to address the dissemination of false information. The Ministry expects to complete a draft of the new regulations later this month.

The announcement by MDES comes amid a number of government actions ostensibly aimed at combatting ‘fake news’. On 14 May 2021, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan instructed the Anti-Fake News Centre to intensify its efforts to combat ‘fake news’. On 18 May Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha signed an executive order establishing the Committee on Suppression and Correction of Dissemination of False Information on Social Media. On 27 May, Chaiwut Thanakmanusorn, the Minister of Digital Economy and Society, established three new sub-committees: one for the supervision of social media, one for enhancing law enforcement measures to prevent and solve problems on social media, and one for drafting ministerial regulations under the Computer Crimes Act. And on 8 June, the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence assigned the Council of State to review Thai and foreign laws, with a focus on regulating social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Officials were specifically instructed to review Indian legislation, a concerning development in light of recent measures taken there that violate free expression and privacy rights.

While neither MDES nor other government bodies have provided much information about the proposed regulations under the Computer Crimes Act, statements by Chaiwut have offered clues about what to expect. He announced the new regulations using language concerning the collection of network traffic data. Late last month, Chaiwut stated that the Ministry may require social media accounts to be registered with true names and ID information. He further mulled the possibility of requiring social media companies to establish offices in Thailand.

Moreover, recent actions by Thai authorities give an indication of what to expect from the increased focus on ‘fake news’. On 2 June 2021, a court ordered Facebook and internet service providers to block or remove eight Facebook accounts for allegedly spreading ‘fake news’. These include the accounts of political commentator in exile Pavin Chachavalpongpun and the Royalist Markeplace group he founded—both likewise targeted last year under the Computer Crimes Act and the subject of a legal complaint against Facebook—as well as the account of journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall. These accounts are notable for featuring critical commentary on government officials and the Thai monarchy.

The proposed new regulations would add to a number of existing mechanisms to monitor and punish vaguely defined ‘fake news’. In 2019, Thailand established the ‘Anti-Fake News Centre’ and in 2020 the Technology Crime Suppression Police Bureau was set up to monitor cybercrime, including ‘fake news’. Thailand employs a number of hybrid measures to combat ‘fake news’ that rely on artificial intelligence and human analysts to monitor social media activity on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other platforms. Thailand’s application of these methods to target social media users has come under criticism by human rights experts, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Rather than addressing these criticisms, the proposed changes raise fresh concerns.

In light of other measures to collect and track personal data, MDES’s suggestion of the need to collect additional network traffic data raises concerns over the risk of interference with the right to privacy. Thailand already requires SIM cards to be registered with national IDs or passports. Beginning last year, Thailand also rolled out a facial recognition system tied to SIM card registration in the southern border provinces, which disproportionately targets ethnic Malay Muslims who are already subjected to other biometric data collection. While it is unclear how Thailand will force telecommunications and internet service providers to collect and hand over user data under the new regulations, adding data retention and handover requirements enhances government capacity for surveillance and risks stifling expression.

MDES’s suggestion that it would like to see social media companies establish offices in Thailand is worrying. ARTICLE 19 has previously raised concerns over domestic incorporation requirements, which put local staff members at risk and give governments greater leverage over social media platforms.

It is unclear exactly how real-name registration requirements for online activity could be implemented in practice, but MDES has reportedly acknowledged it would seek cooperation from social media platforms and related online services. However, this also raises questions about the risk of penalties should such platforms refuse to comply with government demands that do not comply with international standards.

In a 2017 Joint Declaration, four special mandate holders on the freedom of expression noted, ‘general prohibitions on the dissemination of information based on vague and ambiguous ideas, including ‘false news’ or ‘non-objective information’, are incompatible with international standards for restrictions on freedom of expression’ and found that they ‘should be abolished’.

In a 2013 report to the Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on the freedom of expression held that ‘real name registration requirements allow authorities to more easily identify online commentators or tie mobile use to specific individuals, eradicating anonymous expression’. And in 2015, the Special Rapporteur added that ‘privacy interferences that limit the exercise of the freedom of opinion and expression…must not in any event interfere with the right to hold opinions, and those that limit the freedom of expression must be provide by law and necessary and proportionate’. The categorical denial of anonymity online risks infringing on the ability of social media users to hold and form opinions and engage in free expression.

In light of these concerns, MDES should abandon plans to introduce additional restrictions on internet freedom under the Computer Crimes Act and should instead amend the law so that it complies with international human rights standards.

“Misinformation is a real problem and Thai officials are right to be concerned,” said Bugher. “However, policy measures that rely heavily on censorship, surveillance, and criminal sanction shut down public discourse, contributing to the mistrust and secrecy that feed misinformation. The Thai government should instead focus on transparency, the dissemination of accurate information, and creating an enabling environment for the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and access to information.”