The Dictator on the campaign trail

23 08 2017

When the military junta ordered the media to do more to promote the junta-cabinet, it was seen as an effort to manipulate the media. We said it was a neutering of the media.

What we neglected was that The Dictator was moving back into campaign mode and seeking to promote his premiership both now and into the future. We also neglected the regime’s desire to outshine Yingluck Shinawatra; it’s no accident that The Dictator and friends were in the northeast in the same week that Yingluck gets a “verdict.”

As a report in The Nation points out, General Prayuth Chan-ocha is not only copying ideas – mobile cabinet meetings – from two former prime ministers who were hugely popular, Chatichai Choonhavan and Thaksin Shinawatra, but he is promoting an anti-politics populism.

He’s also taken on a style of political campaigning that draws on Thaksin’s At Samart trip in 2006, featuring villagers, local transport, laughing old ladies close to him, along with various farm animals. The pictures here tell some of the story.

Certainly, The Dictator, Thailand’s anti-politics politician and the only politician permitted to campaign, is campaigning like there’s no tomorrow.

He declared:

“I’m not like those corrupt politicians. I’m not a politician. I’m only here to help end a political stalemate.” This is what Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha always says, trying to differentiate himself from the political class.

As The Nation notes: “However, like ‘those politicians’ that Prayut looks down on, the premier always manages to turn the spotlight on himself wherever he goes.”

But he also threatened – he is a dictator – saying that his term as premier would, eventually end, maybe: “If I can go, I will. Just don’t shoo me away. The more you do, the more I’ll stay on…”.

Like Thaksin in 2006, Prayuth was the “common man” and a man of the people as he “filled … his roller-coaster talks full of jokes, sarcasm, flattery and no-nonsense utterances.”

And, out-populist-ing Thaksin and Yingluck, “[self-appointed and unelected] Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha [The Dictator] and his govern­ment [military junta] have approved a hefty 68-billion-baht infrastructure package to rev up the Northeast’s economy…”.

It is a kind of you-love-Yingluck-but-we-can-be-generous-too move. It says, Yingluck may be gone, but the military dictatorship loves the northeasterners despite all the repression. It says, be good children and we, the military paternalists, will give you projects.

When The Dictator wanted to promote his team for an “election,” he decided to rewrite history; others might say he lied. “Who wants an election, put your hands up,” he demanded.

Silence.

The Dictator told them how they should vote: “we have got only bad people [from elections] so far because good people didn’t go to vote…. [D]on’t go back to the wrong guys again.”

Clearly he thinks northeasterners are dopes. They have always voted in large numbers, usually with far higher turnouts than in Bangkok. In other words, he’s a liar, trying (again) to tell people who to vote for. (He did this in 2011, too, and the electorate spurned him.)

The Nation also reports that The Dictator had more “advice.”

With a huge mobilization of troops and other junta thugs, Prayuth warned against “unrest.”It seems only the regime that is unsettled.

Officials have been “deployed to suppress red-shirt activists in the provinces from travelling to the Supreme Court…”.

Fear of “unrest” means quite unprecedented restrictions on freedoms of speech and movement. “Target” villages have been flooded with soldiers to prevent people from traveling to Bangkok.

Meanwhile, some red shirts worry that a “third party” might instigate violence so that red shirts are blamed, further enhancing The Dictator’s campaign for his premiership.





When the military is on top X

22 08 2017

We haven’t highlighted the normalization of military rule in Thailand for a while. Our last post on this was in early July and in addition to all the repression going on, which is now standard practice, we notice three stories worthy of attention as showing what to expect when military regimes are in place.

First, it is reported that yet another army recruit has dies in suspicious circumstances. The military, which usually “investigates” itself and compliant cops walk along with them, says, “no foul play.” His family says something different:

The soldier’s family found him unconscious in his bedroom and bleeding from the nose and mouth, according to his mother, Malaiporn. He was rushed to Surat Thani Hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

Ms Malaiporn said her son had returned home with two other conscripts on Saturday night, and had complained he was feeling tired. She said the two other conscripts had told her daughter that Pvt Noppadol had been physically disciplined in the camp.

This is not the first instance. We reproduce a Bangkok Post graphic here. When the military is on top, justice goes missing.

Second, and related, military officers become more or less untouchable when the military is on top:

National police chief Chakthip Chaijinda has been asked to speed up an investigation into the disappearance of a senior education official in Si Sa Ket after two new findings: suspicious activity on the woman’s Facebook account and a report that a female corpse has been found near the Thai-Lao border.

The mother of the missing official, Juthaporn Oun-on, 37, lodged a petition Monday with Pol Gen Chakthip at the Royal Thai Police Office asking for better progress in the case, which has already been going on for over a month.

Because a prime suspect is an army officer, “we’re afraid we’ll not receive fair treatment,” Ms Juthaporn’s mother Laem said, referring to the potential for a cover-up.

Third, when the military is on top, dictators become king-like/god-like in being “skilled” in almost everything. In Korat, The Dictator is claimed to have made decisions about railway design:

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has decided the Chira-Khon Kaen double track railway will be partially elevated when it passes through downtown Nakhon Ratchasima, ending local people’s worries the city would be divided by a giant wall according to the original plan….

The original design of the section, which would cut through roads in Muang district in 15 places, was due to be fenced by 2-metre walls….

“The premier’s order will result in changing the design, with a new round of construction bidding due to open,” he said.

”The budget will be increased by 2.2-2.6 billion baht,” he added, adding this will be on the agenda of the mobile cabinet meeting in Nakhon Ratchasima today.

The change might cause delays to the project of about 12 months, he said.

General Prayuth as populist rail designer? That’s what you get when the military is on top.





Nepotism, face and boredom

21 08 2017

The Bangkok Post reports that the nephew of General Prayuth Chan-ocha and son of General Preecha Chan-ocha “has resigned from military service following criticism of nepotism over his appointment to an officer position…”.

Readers might recall that (the briefly, but forever holding the title) Sub Lt Patipat Chan-ocha was appointed to the “3rd Army’s Civil Affairs Division in Phitsanulok in April last year.”

The now former officer took “advantage of the high-profile position of his father, who was then permanent secretary for defence, to land the job.” He got some criticism until the powerful brothers denied any problems or issues.

There was also support for this nepotism, with some suggesting that the ‘position was natural given his upbringing in a military family.” These dopes seemed to suggest that being a military thug or a general’s son was somehow in his genes.

Patipat complained that he “had to remove many hostile comments posted on his Facebook page, block people who were not his friends and eventually had to deactivate his Facebook account.”

The person who revealed this also “added that Sub Lt Patipat was not personally interested in pursuing a military career but that his parents wanted to see him follow in his father’s footsteps.” Apparently he didn’t like the work and wasn’t very good at it.

That hasn’t stopped others. Indeed, many senior military officers aren’t very good at their jobs either, but they take the loot, make the connections, polish posteriors and do very nicely.

So there was nepotism – his parent’s pushed him – then the two generals had to save face, and now Patipat has become bored and discontented. That’s kind of definitional of Thailand’s military.





Junta repression deepens II

16 08 2017

Human Rights Watch has issued a statement on the charging of five academics and attendees at the International Conference on Thai Studies.

We can only wonder if the foreign academics who attended will mobilize to protest this new low by the junta.

The keynote speakers should be the first and loudest voices: Katherine Bowie, Duncan McCargo, Thonchai Winichakul and Michael Herzfeld. After all, they made very particular and careful decisions to attend amid some calls for a boycott because the junta has been repressive of academics in Thailand (not their yellow-shirted friends and allies, of course).

Here’s the HRW statement:

Thai authorities should immediately drop charges against a prominent academic and four conference participants for violating the military junta’s ban on public assembly at a conference at Chiang Mai University in July 2017, Human Rights Watch said today. The International Conference on Thai Studies included discussions and other activities that the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta deemed critical of military rule.

Professor Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, who faces up to one year in prison if convicted, is scheduled to report to police in Chiang Mai province on August 23. Four conference attendees – Pakawadee Veerapatpong, Chaipong Samnieng, Nontawat Machai, and Thiramon Bua-ngam – have been charged for the same offense for holding posters saying “An academic forum is not a military barrack” to protest the military’s surveillance of participants during the July 15-18 conference. None are currently in custody.

“Government censorship and military surveillance have no place at an academic conference,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “By prosecuting a conference organizer and participants, the Thai junta is showing the world its utter contempt for academic freedom and other liberties.”

Since taking power after the May 2014 coup, Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha has asserted that the airing of differences in political opinions could undermine social stability. Thai authorities have frequently forced the cancellation of community meetings, academic panels, issue seminars, and public forums on political matters, and especially issues related to dissent towards NCPO policies or the state of human rights in Thailand.Frequently, these repressive interventions are based on the NCPO’s ban on public gatherings of more than five people, and orders outlawing public criticisms of any aspect of military rule. The junta views people who repeatedly express dissenting views and opinions, or show support for the deposed civilian government, as posing a threat to national security, and frequently arrests and prosecutes them under various laws.

Over the past three years, thousands of activists, politicians, journalists, and human rights defenders have been arrested and taken to military camps across Thailand for hostile interrogation aimed at stamping out dissident views and compelling a change in their political attitudes. Many of these cases took place in Chiang Mai province in northern Thailand, the hometown of former prime ministers Thaksin Shinawatra and Yingluck Shinawatra.

Most of those released from these interrogations, which the NCPO calls “attitude adjustment” programs, are forced to sign a written agreement that state they will cease making political comments, stop their involvement in political activities, or not undertake any actions to oppose military rule. Failure to comply with these written agreements can result in being detained again, or charged with the crime of disobeying the NCPO’s orders, which carries a sentence of up to two years in prison.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a party, protects the rights of individuals to freedom of opinion, expression, association, and assembly. The UN committee that oversees compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Thailand has also ratified, has advised governments that academic freedom, as an element of the right to education, includes: “the liberty of individuals to express freely opinions about the institution or system in which they work, to fulfill their functions without discrimination or fear of repression by the State or any other actor, to participate in professional or representative academic bodies, and to enjoy all the internationally recognized human rights applicable to other individuals in the same jurisdiction.”

“Academics worldwide should call for the trumped-up charges against Professor Chayan and the four conference attendees to be dropped immediately,” Adams said. “Thailand faces a dim future if speech is censored, academic criticism is punished, and political discussions are banned even inside a university.”





Updated: Junta repression mounts I

16 08 2017

A report at The Nation suggests that the yellow-shirted paranoia over Yingluck Shinawatra’s court appearance is reaching fever pitch among the members of the military junta. That Yingluck fever leads to deepening political repression.

The nine judges hearing the case at the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders are under guard, as are their residences. Rumor has it that some decamped to hotels but now worry that Yingluck supporters may stay in the same hotels. Horror!

Army boss General Chalermchai Sitthisart “called a meeting of security forces to assess expectations about the situation on the day of the verdict.” His task is to ensure that as few Yingluck supporters as possible are able to get to the court. His men reckon “1,000 to 2,000 people will show up to support Yingluck at the court.”

The military dictatorship has been “closely monitoring movements by Yingluck’s supporters ahead of the verdict” and this surveillance is being ramped up.

The surveillance is concentrated on the northeast and Pathum Thani, Nonthaburi, Samut Prakan and Ayutthaya, “where there are strong bases of Pheu Thai Party and red-shirt supporters…”. It is stated that “security officers had been instructed to closely monitor local leaders in other areas in the North and Northeast who might mobilise supporters.”

They are searching for a “plot.” Usually the junta is able to manufacture “evidence” of one. This time they are saying that “the total cost of all the passengers in a single van visiting the capital would amount to Bt100,000,” implying that there’s a plot.

In fact the figure is ludicrous. We think the military is using its own experience of arranging travel and supporters to come to this figure.

The surveillance is being expanded to cover trains and regular tour buses.

The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha continues to fluster and bluster, threatening to “punish” anyone who broke the law. But, as we know, the junta makes up law on the run, using it for repression, so this is likely meant to threaten.

Interestingly, as we predicted, Interior Minister General Anupong Paojinda “said there had not been any irregularities found in the spending of local administration organisations in connection with possible trips to support Yingluck.” We did say that the Attorney General’s office was just reflecting yellow shirt social media fluff.

Update: Reliable social media reports from various provinces in the north and northeast show photos of armed soldiers being deployed in urban areas and entering villages to further intimidate any person considering traveling to Bangkok for 25 August.





I’m not a dictator, just ahead of the curve

15 08 2017

With apologies to The Joker, it seems The Dictator has adopted his line in getting cranky with those who call him out as The Dictator.

A report at Global Voices suggests that Peace TV has been shut for a month for a show that referred to General Prayuth Chan-ocha as a dictator.

We are prepared to believe that The Dictator has again gotten personally ticked off and used his power to have the whole station shut down for a month. However, we think that the real reason for the closure has to do with silencing an outlet that is seen by the junta as oppositional.

But back to the notion that Prayuth doesn’t like being labeled a dictator.

Wikipedia says that a “dictator is a political leader who wields absolute power. A state ruled by a dictator is called a dictatorship.” It adds that a dictatorship is “often characterised by some of the following traits: suspension of elections and civil liberties; proclamation of a state of emergency; rule by decree; repression of political opponents without abiding by the rule of law procedures; these include one-party state, and cult of personality.”

On all of that, if Prayuth isn’t The Dictator, then he’s ahead of the curve.





Threatening Yingluck’s supporters

11 08 2017

The military dictatorship’s fears around Yingluck Shinawatra’s next court appearance grow by the day.

We have mentioned several of the junta’s efforts to undermine any displays of support for her. As the junta does these things it also reveals the deep-seated “beliefs” that underpin the broad yellow-shirted anti-Thaksin movement about the Shinawatra clan and red shirts.

Essentially, that view is that, as Thaksin’s voters were, Yingluck’s supporters are paid, duped and/or ignorant.

So it is no surprise that The Nation reports that the Ministers of Interior and Defense have been told that “local administrative organisations had misused their budgets by funding trips to Bangkok for ‘hidden’ political motives.” While no evidence is produced for such claims, the notion is that ignorant villagers are being “used” by “political interests.” Those ministers have been ordered to ensure that there are no more of these claimed “paid” trips to Bangkok.

Taking the “villagers are stupid” line further, The Dictator has ordered uniformed thugs “to ask people gathering in support of Yingluck whether they knew why they were attending the event and whether they had travelled on their own or were mobilised in large groups.”

These “allegations that free transport is being provided for people to travel from the provinces to Bangkok” actually appear to originate in the social media accounts of rabid yellow shirts and other anti-democrats.

Deputy Dictator and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan “also said he had heard people would be brought from the provinces in large numbers to support Yingluck.

The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, reckons “some” Yingluck supporters “go because [they] … are hired to do so…”.

He warns/threatens that “Yingluck’s supporters … must not violate the law, express contempt for the court, create chaos, violate other peoples’ rights or cause traffic congestion.”