Conspiratorial musings

25 06 2017

Shawn Crispin at the Asia Times has a view that everything that happens in Thailand is a conspiracy. When he reports on Thailand’s politics, it is almost never from an on-the-record source. But he always cobbles together an interesting story of conspiratorial maneuvers.

We don’t reject conspiracies as an explanation. Indeed, our limited experience of Thailand’s movers and shakers is that they are always planning to foil the next conspiracy even when they don’t know what it is or who is behind it. So conspiracies are often built around and constructed from factual events that are put together into a story that is embellished and may or may not be accurate.

In his most recent outing at Asia Times, Crispin mixes a frothy conspiratorial cocktail, mixing knowns with unknowns and unknowns with speculation and guessing. This is apparently in the tradition of Bush era Secretary for Middle East invasion, Donald Rumsfeld: “there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

He begins with the bomb that “ripped through a Bangkok military hospital in late May…”, and like many, he seems to not be all that convinced by the claims that the military got their bomber. What the bombing does is provide the “potential for Thailand’s ruling military junta to leverage the blast to further delay elections scheduled for next year for reasons of national security.”

Apart from the obvious – elections are not always predictable unless totally controlled, they love uncontrolled power and the junta hates elections anyway – why would they want further delay?

The capture last week of a 62-year-old ex-civil servant suspect with alleged links to coup-ousted ex-premiers Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra’s “Red Shirt” pressure group underscored the notion that political instability and disenchantment are on the rise three years after the military suspended democracy and seized power in a May 2014 coup. Try this:

Polling conducted by the Internal Security and Operations Command (ISOC), a military unit under the authority of the Prime Minister’s Office, has shown repeatedly since the coup, as well as in recent months, that Peua Thai would win any free and fair vote, according to a source familiar with the confidential surveys.

To be honest, we are skeptical of this, not least because the “election” will not be free or fair and the junta has been working for more than three years to prevent such a result. But let’s say it is true. Crispin’s claim is that “the premier appears to be testing the political waters for yet another delay.” That’s certainly true.

That could come in any number of forms, including the death of the queen. Crispin says there are “new worries about the state of 84-year-old Queen Sirikit’s health…”. He adds:

Royal family members, including Vajiralongkorn, recently came together when Queen Sirikit was urgently moved from Siriraj to another medical facility due to a health scare. Many anticipate Prayuth’s junta, led by troops who rose to prominence on their loyalty to Sirikit, would announce and impose another extended period of national mourning that puts politics in abeyance upon her eventual death.

He then talks of factions in the military. Of course, there are many and there always have been, but concentrating on them too closely is like reading tea leaves in a tea house that’s burning down. Prayuth’s in place as long as he can manage the troops and give them toys and positions that provide pay-offs.

But there are always younger fascists keen to get ahead, like the detestable First Region army commander General Apirat Kongsompong, a King’s Guard soldier now tipped as a likely future army commander. We don’t know the king’s preferences yet, and they are likely to be significant for we know he will want a say and that he must have remora-like officers around him.

The referendum also allowed for an unelected premier, which the military-appointed Senate’s presumed cohesive bloc will likely have strong sway over after the next poll. Until recently, analysts presumed Prayuth was the mostly likely candidate to become appointed premier over an elected “unity” government the military would check and control from above. Crispin says he has “frequent one-on-one audiences with [Generals] Prayuth and Chalermchai [Sitthisart].”

Presumably that when’s he’s actually in Thailand and not cycling around parts of Erding and being shot in the backside with plastic bullets.

Vajiralongkorn also seems to be a fan, for the moment, of the General Apirat, not least because the latter will do anything for publicity and promotion. However, that publicity may not always keep the king jolly.

Then the Kremlin watchers-cum-military-watchers in Thailand will be waiting to read October’s military reshuffle list and will see all kinds of messages there. Who won, who lost and that kind of cake decoration. But decorated cakes can have a political impact, not least when a general feels done down.

Is there rising factionalism in the armed forces? We don’t think so as the military is happy enough in harness at present. But things change. The junta is getting criticized far more widely now, and if that continues, Prayuth may be turfed out. But as Crispin concludes:

While Prayuth’s once near-absolute grip has certainly started to slip with new challenges from within the military and a more assertive monarchy, it’s not clear the solider-cum-premier is ready to yield power any time soon to the same politicians and anti-junta activists he believes caused the various problems his military government has aimed and claimed to solve.

We think that’s not idle speculation.





The authoritarian future II

23 06 2017

While we have long said that The Dictator craved being in power for longer and longer, it is useful when our perspective is confirmed, even if that confirmation appears to have been loose blabbing by a general who forgot he’s supposed to keep this quiet.

The blabber was 2nd Army Region commander Lt Gen Wichai Chaejorhor who declared that there’s “widespread support in the Northeast for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to stay in power…”.

Lt Gen Wichai then went on to express blatantly racist – i.e., widely held Bangkok yellow-shirted – attitudes towards people in the northeast. He stated that “Isan people easily believe others. They love sincerely and they are loyal to those they love. They are also grateful…”.

Forget that the northeast has long been one of the most politically progressive regions of the country. But remember that the Bangkok royalist elite has looked down on these people. The anti-democrats in over the past 15 years have – and continue – to look down on those in the northeast as “buffaloes” but this is just the most recent contempt for northeastern progressives, democrats and politicians.

After looking down on northeasterners, the dopey general then claimed “many people in the region have expressed their desire to have Gen Prayut … continue guiding the country forward as it chases national reconciliation and development.”

The general said the bigger general had real support: “They spoke their mind, saying they ‘want Uncle Tu to stay on’. And they meant it, I can reassure you of that…”.

Buffaloes they are: “On many occasions I have had to help them understand the truth and not believe the distorted information being spread in some areas,” but he “convinced” them of his “truth.”

Or, this particular dopey general convinced himself of his “truth.” In all of this, he’s made it clear that the military’s plan is to have The Dictator continue as The “elected” Dictator.

The Dictator’s campaigning is likely to continue in other regions as the junta feels it has stumbled on a strategy for getting “votes.” They are to revive “mobile” cabinet meetings. Thaksin Shinawatra had those and so did Chatichai Choonhavan, but both were elected prime ministers.

We imagine that a political strategy from the late 1980s is considered an innovation by these knuckle-draggers. We know they plan to stay on in power. We have been able to watch them prepare for it for three years.





Childish Dictator

22 06 2017

The Dictator often has tantrums, likes being heard, shouts other down and bullies others. If those sounds a bit like a schoolyard bully, then you are getting an idea about General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s psychological disposition. Of course, he’s far more dangerous than your average school bully, having control of a huge gang of thugs (the RTA) and lots of weapons.

Prayuth as bully

His most recent outing has seen him acting even more like a child by yelling “shut up” you guys. I can’t accept this challenge. The king of the playground is a lot like a pre-teenager telling his enemies to say these things in Thailand. Face the music here he dares them.

According to the Bangkok Post, The Dictator has “lost patience with critics ‘scolding’ the military government from abroad…”. Of course, like a pudgy schoolkid, he’s got it wrong. The “critics” tend to focus on the monarchy, not his military junta.

Unfortunately, his childishness has produced equally childish responses. We think it far better to keep needling Prayuth, exposing the regime’s brutishness, plans and corruption. It clearly bothers him. More importantly, opponents need to organize and get rid of this bunch of useless thugs.





Updated: Military thugs campaign in Khon Kaen

22 06 2017

The Dictator has been on the campaign trail, traveling to Khon Kaen, in red shirt territory but appeared at the yellow-shirted island at the university there.

In his speech, he appealed and whined. His main point was that people should appreciate and like him and the military.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha sought to hoodwink his audience, saying: “I would like to be the prime minister for everyone. All of us should help to avoid conflicts…”. He’s done his bit to avoid conflict, repressing, jailing and murdering over the past few years.

He then beseeched them: “Please do not hate the military. Certainly some soldiers are bad, but there are bad fish in every occupation. In fact, there are more good people than bad ones…”. The bad ones seem to be running the country (into the ground).

At about the time, his 30 of his soldier and police thugs were conducting illegal operations, seeking to repress opponents in Khon Kaen. Prachatai reports that:

security officers … raided the headquarters of the activist group Dao Din and confiscated documents about the controversial healthcare reform. When an activist asked to see a search warrant, a policeman gestured towards a military officer saying, “Here is the warrant.”

The report states that the officer was none other than the traffic-stopping royalist thug Lt Col Phitakphon Chusri, “a local unit leader of the junta’s so-called peace-keeping force in Khon Kaen. He usually appears at political campaigns and activities criticising the junta in Khon Kaen. He was also the one who file a lèse majesté complaint against Jatupat Boonpattaraksa, aka Pai Dao Din, for sharing a BBC biography of King Vajiralongkorn.”

Don’t hate soldiers, just overthrow their regime.

Update: Isaan Record has a story on the thugs. Read it and count the obvious lies spouted by the minions of the military junta. They can lie and concoct as much as they like because the military boot is big, thick and rewarding (for them).





When the military is on top VIII

21 06 2017

The Dictator has asked for “public support for the Thai-Chinese high-speed railway project to help it get off the ground, while reiterating that his Section 44 order to speed up construction is in the country’s best interests, not a special favour to China.”

Has anyone asked how a high-speed rail line, which will be a passenger service through reasonably sparsely populated areas, is economically viable? Freight to Laos, Vietnam and China might be, that wouldn’t be high-speed.

Yet this is kind of a side issue when the military dictatorship simply decides and decrees that its will be done.

Let us remind the anti-democrats, so driven by (crocodile) tears over “corruption,” that you do get exactly what you whistled for.

An op-ed at the Bangkok Post makes some useful points:

… [Q]uestions over transparency and possible breaches of ethics have come to the fore.

… Of the total nine laws that will be sidestepped, seven were promulgated to ensure transparency and fairness in state procurement and two others involve the employment of foreigners in the project.

… The invocation of Section 44 prompts some people to compare the [General] Prayut[h Chan-ocha] project to the one proposed by the Yingluck Shinawatra administration.

Like it or not, it’s obvious the project proposed under the Yingluck government, which encompassed the same 256-kilometre route, seemed far better in terms of efficiency and transparency.

The Yingluck version, as handled by former transport minister Chadchart Sittipunt, would have cost 140 billion baht, against [G]en Prayut’s 179 billion. Under the Yingluck administration, the rail track was included in a mega-infrastructure development package and proposed to parliament for consideration….

The difference between the train project of this government and that of Yingluck’s is that the previous administration’s project was open to all legal examination mechanisms and underwent international bidding, which would provide the country with the best offer.

You get what you whistle for: a military dictatorship that is opaque, repressive and corrupt.





Updated: Trains, land and all that money

18 06 2017

PPT likes trains. We like public transport generally. We acknowledge that Thailand’s public infrastructure has been neglected and that many of the public transport developments that have taken place have been for the middle class in Bangkok. When it comes to rail other than the subway and skytrain, the infrastructure is a crumbling mess.

In short, rail links to the region and across Thailand can have considerable benefits. That was illustrated, in part, by the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime wanted a rail link to China. It is why the Yingluck Shinawatra government established a high-powered team investigating and seeking to move the project forward.

So what is the military dictatorship up to?

As we know, after years of failing negotiations with the Chinese, The Dictator has used Article 44 “to expedite the Thai-Chinese high-speed railway line between Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima and enable work to begin this year.”

Only between Bangkok and Korat and high-speed. That means, so far, no links regionally and suggests a passenger service. It also doesn’t say what “high speed” means. But because the military junta is doing it, precious few details are available.

The junta’s decree “aims to clear technical and legal problems for the delayed 252-kilometre railway.”

It is a remarkable decree in that it “instructs the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) to hire a Chinese state enterprise to supervise the construction of the Thai-Chinese railway.”

That Chinese company “will oversee the design of the railway infrastructure as well as rail and electrical systems. It will serve as an adviser for the project’s construction and provide training in system-related knowledge for the project staff.”

In other words, the junta is establishing a kind of Chinese monopoly for Thailand on this huge project. It is not just rail because all such projects are also about land. (Yes, we know other contracts for other lines have been considered with the Japanese.)

The contract “must be ready within 120 days,” suggesting that there’s already a preferred contractor. After that, “Thailand and China would then be able to sign an agreement for the design contract…”.

As Khaosod says, using Article 44 will “remove all legal obstacles preventing China from taking charge of every step in the construction of the high-speed railway project.” It says ten “relevant laws and junta orders involving government procurement…”. It also said that “Chinese engineers and architects are also exempted from professional licensing requirements.”

Interestingly, the use of Article 44 “shielded the project from going out to international bidders and exempted it from a mandatory process to estimate costs.” The order states that an “unspecified amount of funds [is] to be approved by the interim cabinet.”

The order would also “allow construction to take place on protected lands…”.

What isn’t stated is that the line will involve the compulsory acquisition of land from landholders and will gobble up land that was previously allocated with limited title, exactly the kind of land the junta has been so agitated about in other areas such as national parks.

That Dictator Prayuth Chan-ocha is “due to visit China to attend the ninth BRICS Summit in September,” might add something to the use of Article 44, recalling that he wasn’t invited to a recent meeting in China, seen as a snub.

Another Bangkok Post report has the World Bank urging “the Thai government to hold an open bidding for the long-delayed Thai-Chinese high-speed railway project linking Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima to ensure transparency.”

Transparency may be important but it won’t happen in this project, just as it hasn’t in all major projects and purchases by the junta. Most infrastructure projects involve 30-40% “commission” payments. Junta-related interests are salivating.

And the land! So much land! It will be appropriated and then rented or sold to the tycoons for all kinds of projects that will further enrich them.

Bangkok Post’s Umesh Pandey grumbles that the use of Article 44 by a “caretaker” regime is wrong: “In any given scenario the job of the caretaker government is to look at maintaining the status quo and not undertake major policies that involve committing the country’s resources for years if not decades to come…”.

He keeps forgetting that this is a military dictatorship and that it has no intention of fading away.

He asks: “who is going to be responsible for the transparency of the multi-billion-dollar project.” The idea is that wealth generation for the few is built on monopolies and opaque arrangements. That’s Thailand’s history, and not just under juntas.

And Umesh notes that The Dictator’s order also “silences opposition to any project, overriding the system of checks and balances that would make sure Thailand gets the best deal.”

Thailand is a loose concept. We know from wealth data and from details about the unusually rich who gets the best deal. And they define themselves as “Thailand.”

Umesh continues: “People like myself are all for the project but I wonder how clean the process is going to be, especially as rumours swirl of kickbacks to contractors.”

He isn’t wondering, he knows. Then he raises another point:

Then there is the issue of a possible election late next year. As any economist would tell you, the time between green-lighting a project and seeing the money flow in can be anywhere from nine to 12 months — around the time the election is expected.

Is that a coincidence? Certainly, signs of economic growth right before the polls could be an advantage to some.

We remain unconvinced about an “election,” but we see his point. But what of the land? All that land.

Update: Prachatai has two stories on the train line, one that is about middle-class concerns regarding safety where professionals raise this issue. The other is interesting in that in a review of the week, it raises the issue of the use of Article 44 to create “extraterritoriality,” but only in the title. It is an interesting issue and harks back to the decades it took to roll back the extraterritoriality enshrined in the Bowring Treaty.





Secret meetings at the junta’s processing terminal

17 06 2017

Readers may recall that four months ago it was reported that an iLaw study pointed to the apparently unconstitutionality of some members of the military junta’s puppet National Legislative Assembly who were being paid large amounts of money for seldom appearing at the NLA. Immediately, the details of “leaves” taken were considered “secret.”

Clean hands?

At the time, the limelight was on The Dictator’s brother, General Preecha Chan-ocha, who had a record of nepotism and other allegations of corruption, all of which seem to have faded away or that he’s wriggled out of. It helps to have your sibling lording it over the country. It can make you rich and gets you off all kinds of potential charges.

Preecha hardly ever attended the NLA, but pocketed the salary, which was on top of numerous other salaries he collected because he has multiple positions, all state sinecures.

PPT guessed that Preecha would get off this one and continue to receive money for nothing because can “leaves” are secret. We predicted an announcement will be made that the non-attendees were “on leave.”

Sure enough, almost immediately, that statement was made by none other than Deputy Dictator and Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan has declared that “it is not a problem that General Preecha Chan-o-cha, the former Defence permanent secretary and brother of the prime minister, takes frequent leave from legislative meetings…”. But he did say that “a committee is being set up to examine the case.”

Less than a week later, the vice president of the military’s NLA said “an internal review” found the seven members in question had in fact met the minimum participation requirements and would not be dismissed. No details were provided so we can assume this was all fudged and fabricated.

As might be expected under the military dictatorship, things went quiet and it was all forgotten. Preecha and his fellow non-attendees still pocketed the money.

The story returned yesterday, and readers will not be amazed to know that Preecha and his buddies have been officially cleared.

The NLA told the media that “the seven members, including former Army Chief General Preecha Chan-o-cha, did not breach the regulation.”

The reason for this was that “they sometimes had to perform their normal duty as state officials…”.

Of course, this is a nonsensical response that, on the face of it, ignores the NLA’s own rules.

However, we will never know what actually happened or get any further detail because “the meeting was held in secret for one hour today [Friday].”

Yes, that’s how the military dictatorship works.

Just to confirm suspicions that this was a concocted result, the “NLA also voted in favour of amending its work procedure rule, removing clauses which set out the number of times a member fails to vote that would cause membership to be nullified.”

That is clear. Loud and clear. The NLA is a rubber stamp for the junta almost always voting unanimously for laws handed down by its paymasters.

This decision acknowledges that the NLA is irrelevant; it doesn’t even need members present to do the junta’s bidding. In fact, calling it a “rubber stamp” assembly is giving it too much credit. It is an expensive processing terminal.