Will they go home?

8 11 2013

Has the Puea Thai Party hierarchy’s foolish attempt to promote a Thaksin Shinawatra-focused amnesty bill unleashed a political fire storm that will be impossible to contain?

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra may have withdrawn all the bills, but the once-struggling opposition has risen and the PAD-like types have taken control of the movement that the Democrat Party thought it was leading, with protests in several key areas of Bangkok.

With the Preah Vihear decision coming up, the opposition will be unlikely to want to let the crowds disperse in the hope that the outcome of the World Court case will be construed as negative for Thailand. Such a decision would be seen as cause for a nationalist rising that would sound the death knell for the Yingluck government.

Red shirts will be unlikely to allow yet another elected government to be given the chop.

Interesting times ahead. Watch this space.

 





Further updated: Political custard congeals

20 01 2013

PPT has repeatedly noted how the political opponents of the Yingluck Shinawatra government and everything associated with Thaksin Shinawatra congeals around particular causes. While the yellow-hued lot have had their differences over various ultra-nationalist causes like Preah Vihear, the Democrat Party has now come into a gooey political mix with the People’s Alliance for Democracy and other “patriotic” – read xenophobic – groups to demand that the Foreign Ministry “protect Thailand’s national interest.” This refers to a small piece of land that has long been disputed by Thailand’s xenophobes despite a World Court decision in 1962 that went against the then military xenophobes.Yellow, gooey custard

Like the other ultra-nationalists, the Democrat Party and their vacuous – meaning devoid of any original idea – leader Abhisit Vejjajiva believe that Thailand will lose the “clarification case” at the Court, brought by the Cambodian government. Hence they are huffing and puffing about Thailand needing to “formally reject Phnom Penh’s claim that Thailand had intruded on Cambodian territory around Preah Vihear temple…”.

Abhisit supported the Thai Patriot Network, “which plans a rally … against the ICJ’s pending ruling, has the right to express its opposition to the court’s jurisdiction on the issue.” Of course they have the right, but Abhisit should be principled in rejecting ultra-nationalist maneuvering; he can’t because he lacks principles and hopes that demonstrations will further congeal the yellow custard opposition in trying to bring down the elected government.

Joining Abhisit in supporting the so-called Thai Patriot Network is the deep freeze political failure General Boonlert Kaewprasit of the yellow-shirted royalists of the Pitak Siam group. Of course, all of these groups are pretty much one and the same, but the media reports them as separate even when their political campaigns are coordinated. Boonlert says he “would not take part in the rally” but he handed over a list of 80,000 names from Pitak Siam to the other lot so they can mobilize together.

As far as we understand it, the Court’s decision is not for several months yet, so this mobilization is more about anti-elected government activism than anything else.

Update 1: A reader admonishes PPT for not pointing out that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also dived into the custard, rejecting the Court’s authority on this case.

Update 2: The Nation reports that the congealing of yellow/ultra-nationalist political forces continues, although the Thai Patriot Network only managed to rally several hundred supporters opposing the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice. That demonstration was headed by PAD’s Chaiwat Sinsuwong. Chaiwat’s gaggle of mostly elderly protesters told the U.N. that it rejected ICJ jurisdiction and that “Thais were against the government and politicians who ‘betrayed’ the nation by handing over national interests to others.” There’s a social science thesis in this conception of “nation.” He claimed to have 1.2 million signatures opposing any ICJ ruling. The demonstrators also pressured the Army and then the Supreme Court “demanding that the head of the judiciary balance the government’s power to stop it from giving the country’s sovereignty away.” The latter visits were to allies, pushing them to take positions in the political-dispute-in-the-making.

Remarkably, Army boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha then chose to speak for the Army and government, saying that “the Army and the government were waiting for a ruling of the ICJ before planning the next move.” He added a rejection of the ICJ when he stated “… he preferred bilateral talks with the Cambodian government on how to settle the dispute over the plot near the Preah Vihear Temple.”

The congealing continues.

 





Updated: Who let the boys out?

12 01 2013

All media have been reporting on a “rally” by some 50 soldiers outside the ASTV/Manager office protesting the newspaper’s criticisms of Army boss Prayuth Chan-ocha. Prayuth had earlier dismissed the People’s Alliance for Democracy threats on Preah Vihear and belittled the xenophobes. They responded via PAD propagandists at ASTV, which, according to the Post, drawing on classic Sondhi Limthongkul-style mysogynist rhetoric that has Prayuth as an angry woman with a period who has failed as Army commander:

ASTV-Manager issued a statement to counter Gen Prayuth under the headline “Manager or Gen Prayuth: Who is lousy?”

The statement posted on its website, www.manager.co.th, said Gen Prayuth had failed to protect national interests and solve problems. “If the army chief believes that he knows the problems better than anyone else, why can he not solve them?” it asked.

The problems included failure to put an end to violence in the far South and to protect villagers at the border being attacked by Cambodian soldiers, according to the statement.

In fact, Prayuth deserves much criticism for his often bellicose interventions in the political process and for his role in post-coup politics and events that include the bloody crackdowns in April and May 2010, and he needs to be held accountable for these.

So while the president of the Thai Journalists’ Association has reportedly said: “It is inappropriate for the soldiers to rally against the media outlet. They have no such duty…” is right and PAD spokesman Panthep Puapongpan is also correct in saying that “soldiers had no right to dictate editorial policy…”, both are being disingenuous. We say this because both the TJA nor PAD have been contingent supporters of media freedom. Both have not howled in protest when red shirt media has been closed and harassed in the past and nor have they been even-handed in protesting political repression more broadly.

That said, the idea that soldiers should rally and threaten a media outlet is anathema to a democratic system. When Army “protesters” rally it is their bosses who should be held responsible. Prayuth must accept criticism, and respond to it in an appropriate manner. He and his top commander must also accept responsibility for the politicized action of soldiers under their command.

Clearly, this protest is not a bunch of soldiers acting politically and independently, for Major General Apirat Kongsompong, commander of the 11th Infantry Division, and a man with considerable political lineage and recent history, has again defended his boss by attacking the media, again stating that “he and other troops would not tolerate their superior being insulted and were acting to protect the dignity of the army chief.” This is Army bullying and intimidation, yet again. Also confirming the support for this action is Deputy army commander General Dapong Rattanasuwan who “urged soldiers to show restraint in their protest.”

The soldiers actions are throwbacks to earlier decades when soldiers also protested against civilian politicians and other critics. The Yingluck Shinawatra government, timid in dealing with opponents, and its supporters may be tempted to cheer the Army boss for his quite reasonable support of the government on Preah Vihear.

However, that act of “reasonableness” is also wrong. Prayuth shouldn’t comment on political events at all. Comments should be from the Minister of Defense. The Yingluck government should be aware that this politicized Army must be brought under civilian control and professionalized/depoliticized if democratic government is to be embedded in Thailand. Just getting the military on its side is an act of politicization that will have negative and long-term consequences.

Update: The Post now has a longer story that makes it clear that it was Prayuth who let the boys of the leash so that the Army could again be politically intrusive for two days of “rallying” at ASTV/Manager. Another general, Paiboon Khumchaya, who is chief of the First Army Region, “said he gave the soldiers permission to gather at the newspaper offices…”. Paiboon added: “They asked my permission and I approved it because I could not curb their right to protect their supervisor.” This sounds like the Army inventing a new “human right”! What nonsense!

Meanwhile, Sondhi, reported to be “speaking from California,” which means he’s again raising money from the LA-based yellow shirts, “said he would not apologise for his paper’s stand.” He claimed “many army officers were disappointed with Gen Prayuth for failing to protect the army’s dignity when it was ‘insulted’ by the red-shirts and the Department of Special Investigation, which continues to investigate the army’s role in the political violence of 2010.”

On the green side, the dutiful Army lads “said the article has damaged their morale because the army chief is like their “second father”. They demanded the media outlet issue an apology to the general.” How many fathers can they have. Really, this attitude is childish nonsense whether expressed for a Army boss or a king.





It is too predictable….

9 01 2013

In a recent post, PPT explained that the Thaksin-Yingluck appeasement strategy had failed, not least because opponents had worked out how to use it against the government and to prevent democratic reform.

So it is that the Bangkok Post reports that the People’s Alliance for Democracy makes predictable demands on Preah Vihear. Essentially threatening mass demonstrations if the government doesn’t capitulate to the xenophobic ultra-royalists, PAD demands that the government repudiate the International Court of Justice, keeps the area militarized (with Thai troops occupying the area), and chase Cambodians out.PAD

Essentially the xenophobes want to trash any international jurisdiction and law that might prevent Thailand ultra-nationalists having control of a tiny piece of land that they have endowed with political meaning.

Predictably, they want to stand on the land and cheer for Thailand and monarchy and if that means trashing law and the deaths of more Thais and Cambodians, these bloodthirsty xenophobes couldn’t care less.





Thaksin-Yingluck strategy has failed II

7 01 2013

Several times PPT has posted skeptically about the political strategy adopted by Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra in dealing with their opposition. Essentially, their strategy is to stay in the government’s seats for four years, no matter what.  To do that, the Puea Thai government has appeased the military, monarchy, royalists and others. Whenever the government has proposed anything that has resulted in rising opposition or criticism, it has withdrawn.

We see this strategy at work on the issue of constitutional amendment. While the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship strategy for 2013 lists constitutional reform as a priority –  “The UDD is unwavering in its conviction that the government must proceed with a third reading of the charter amendment bill” – it seems the government is in full retreat. Yingluck reportedly says: “We will need to take a step back and talk it out to find the causes [of the problems], but not to create more divisiveness. Otherwise [the problems] will never come to an end…”.

All it seems to take is a few determined royalists ranting about a government policy and the government is seen reversing, seeking a safe parking place. So when a royalist bully with palace connections like coup plotter Prasong Soonsiri claims that “wholesale charter amendment is prohibited and a referendum to decide if it should proceed is probably unconstitutional” his views are sufficient for the Thaksin-Yingluck retreat strategy to be implemented. (The current undemocratic constitution, born of the 2006 military coup, is largely Prasong’s work as he was the chair of the drafting committee and repeatedly called the document an anti-Thaksin charter and demanded military action against those opposed to it and the sham referendum.)

The flaw in the Thaksin-Yingluck strategy is that opponents – yellow shirts, military brass, ultra-royalists, palace figures and the Democrat Party – now know that they can use it to get what they want. So it is that the People’s Alliance for Democracy is opposing the authority of the International Court of Justice on Preah Vihear. This in itself is not triggering another retreat, but as this position is reinforced by other xenophobes and ultra-royalists, the risk is government capitulation.

Hence it is no surprise that the “so-called Group of 40 Senators said the Pheu Thai government would have to inform the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that it had no authority to make a ruling over the dispute — and Thailand would not accept a ruling or order of the court that would affect sovereignty over the disputed plot.” This is the usual group of mostly unelected senators that oppose everything the government does. They know that a bit of agitation can get them their way when all the government desires is longevity.

If more opposition weight is added to this co-ordinated PAD-military junta demon seed senators – the same lot who, with Prasong were championing Pitak Siam – then expect the government to be looking for a retreat.





Xenophobia

4 01 2013

People’s Alliance for Democracy is an odd moniker for the leadership of a gaggle of ultra-nationalist, ultra-royalist demagogues. Their followers are an odd mix of religious zealots and mad monarchists. Their politics is a cocktail of feudal nonsense about royal power and antediluvian ideas that reject notions of democracy and representation.

PAD leaders have long stoked hatred of Cambodia over the Preah Vihear temple complex and the 1962 International Court of Justice decision that went against the desires and interests of the Thai military junta of the time and the xenophobia it had stoked. Yes, they advocate against a decision made 50 years ago.

In 2013, PAD leaders have gotten together in a Jurassic zombie-like performance demanding that the Government of Thailand to oppose the ICJ’s pending interpretation of the 1962 decision.

PAD zealots

PAD zealots

The Cambodian government has gone to the ICJ because of continuing tension over Preah Vihear as the Thai military and PAD zealots have repeatedly sought to challenge the ruling on the ground, with several armed clashes in recent years. PAD now demands that the Thai government repudiate the ICJ and “refuse to recognise the court’s pending ruling.” PAD doesn’t know what the ruling will be, but says that “if Thailand fights the case and loses, it is likely to lose the disputed area.” The zealots will be unhappy and they prefer military confrontation and fighting that saw the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime using using cluster bombs to make its territorial demands.

PAD wants the government to declare that “the ICJ has no authority to intervene in the dispute and it does not accept the ICJ’s jurisdiction.” Of course, PAD wants the Thai military to continue to be in place at the complex and opposes “the ICJ’s injunction which orders demilitarisation of the disputed area, saying compliance is unnecessary when the ICJ’s jurisdiction is not accepted.”

Of course, the militaristic types in PAD, urged on by former mercenary Chamlong Srimuang, believe that an appearance that Thailand has “lost” territory (that it hasn’t had) will be a boon for PAD’s tired leadership in building support for yet another push to oust an elected government.





Wikileaks: king and foreign affairs

21 04 2012

A 27 July 2008 cable, released by Wikileaks, and under the name of U.S. Ambassador Eric John, is mainly about issues related to the Preah Vihear temple area and the People’s Alliance for Democracy agitation regarding the Samak Sundaravej government’s relations with Cambodia over the temple.

A couple of weeks earlier, Foreign Minister and Thaksin Shinawatra lawyer Noppadon Pattama had resigned over the temple issue. He was replaced by career diplomat and royalist Tej Bunnag. Tej had previously been assistant to the king’s Principal Private Secretary Arsa Sarasin.

On the appointment of Tej as foreign minister, John reports:

An Australian diplomat told us on July 29 that King Bhumibol had directed the hurried appointment of palace advisor Tej Bunnag as Foreign Minister (ref A), and this appointment reflected the King’s serious concern over both the Preah Vihear tension and Thailand’s chairmanship of ASEAN.

PPT doesn’t know if the Australian diplomat was correct or the source of his/her information, but the perception of direct palace intervention was remarkably widespread.





Two border tales

8 12 2011

Readers may be interested on two reports related to Thailand’s borders:

1) The Irrawaddy has a report on the Thai industrial and port development project at Tavoy/Dawei in Burma. PPT has mentioned this Italian-Thai corporation-led development previously, here, here, here and here.

This report is of a visit to the area by a “fact-finding mission” from the Foundation for Ecological Recovery. Beerawat Dheeraprasart, FER’s chairman said “he is worried about the environmental impact of building the massive seaport.”

FER reported “that the Thai Investment Board has offered a substantial sum of money to build the Tavoy Deep Seaport and Industrial Zone.” FER worried about issues of local participation and environmental impact and compared it to the troubled Map Ta Phut Industrial Zone in Rayong, although the Burma project is said to be “eight times bigger than …[Map Ta Phut].”

FER sees the investment in Tavoy as an effort by the Thai investors as an attempt to flee the troubled Map Ta Phut project.

2) The other report is on the violent border clashes between Thailand and Cambodia earlier in 2011 by the International Crisis Group. The report, which also reflects on ASEAN’s role, is titled Waging Peace: ASEAN and the Thai-Cambodian Border Conflict (the link is to the Executive Summary, from where the PDF of the report can be downloaded).

The ICG argues that the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) used the issue of Cambodia’s attempt to list Preah Vihear as a World Heritage site “to whip up nationalist sentiments against the subsequent Thaksin [Shinawatra]-back[ed] government and Cambodia in 2008, halting border demarcation and setting off the deadly bilateral confrontation.”

The role of ASEAN is said to break “new ground by deciding to dispatch observers to monitor a conflict between member states.” Well, kind of, for the deployment of border observers has yet to take place, mainly because Thailand’s Army is obdurate, a point noted in the report.





No shame Abhisit

17 09 2011

A reader points out a report in the Bangkok Post, where former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, now leader of the trounced Democrat Party in opposition, who demands that the new government, led by Yingluck Shinawatra, clarify its position on Cambodia.

It seems Abhisit thinks the government should have a policy closer to that of his administration when he criticizes Yingluck’s government for allowing

Phnom Penh to unilaterally express its stance on sensitive issues – for example, the withdrawal of troops from the Preah Vihear area, its reaction tor the International Court of Justice’s ruling on the ancient Hindu temple, and the release of the two Thais – Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Pipatanapaiboon – imprisoned in Phnom Penh for spying and illegal entry.

We guess that Abhisit is serious in making his claim. We can see that he feels no embarrassment in his position. It seems that being born into an elite family and schooled at upper crust English schools and universities teaches one immense self-confidence and arrogance.

Abhisit’s own “clear position” when he was in charge meant continuous conflict with Cambodia. Looking back through his time in power, we find that at the beginning, Abhisit and his colleagues were only too willing to hitch the Democrat Party to the People’s Alliance for Democracy’s ultra-nationalist ranting on the Preah Vihear temple and its grounds. Despite some mutual slagging off, that position held. Abhisit seemed more intent on talking peace with PAD than in dealing with a sometimes hot war on the border. He never seemed very keen to reign in PAD’s militant efforts on Cambodia.

Abhisit-era cluster bomb (Photo credit: Stéphane De Greef, Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor)

The main reason for this position was that Abhisit and his Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya recognized that Hun Sen was sympathetic to Thaksin Shinawatra. In their simplistic view of the world, support for Thaksin meant rejection by the government, anger and threat. It was as dumb as that. This personalistic approach to foreign policy meant: letting Thailand’s racist nationalists off the leash; recalling diplomats; royalists speaking badly of Hun Sen; jingoistic militarism; illegal claims to “ownership” of Preah Vihear by government ministers; the capture of a Thai spy; and Abhisit sending his own spies into Cambodian territory. And we are leaving out the short and sharp military skirmishes on the border that included the Thai use of cluster bombs, several border evacuations and an unknown number of deaths.

Laughing at Abhisit? (Photo credit: Bangkok Post)

In all of this, the only consistency seems to be a Pavlovian Abhisit jumping up and down each time Thaksin is mentioned in the context of Cambodia.

And, oh yes, Abhisit also managed to have his deputy engage in secret talks with the Cambodians on economic zone border treaties….

Exhibiting his usual consistency on this matter, Abhisit yesterday blamed Thaksin. Yingluck, presumably being inconsistent in Abhisit’s eyes,

posted a message on her Facebook page, saying Thailand and Cambodia have agreed to hold formal and open talks about their disputed maritime area and that Prime Minister Hun Sen has promised to help the two jailed yellow-shirt supporters….

She added:

Following the visit to Cambodia yesterday, a new era in Thai-Cambodian relations has begun and this relationship will the foundation for development and cooperation for the benefit of the people in the two countries.

Goodness, she seems to be taking a rational and cool-hearted approach to Cambodia! Presumably Abhisit would rather dust off the cluster bombs and get the artillery going again. PAD and the xenophobes might applaud; few others would.





German government on debt, planes and Thailand’s response

27 07 2011

This a long post updating the seized plane saga.

The Nation has a report on the German Embassy in Bangkok unexpectedly entering the fray on the Thai government’s 30 million Euro debt owed to Walter Bau, a now insolvent German construction firm that was involved in the Don Muang tollway. The big news remains the seizure of a Boeing 737 decked out in royal livery in Munich and the threat of a second seizure.

It seems that, several days ago, the Embassy issued a statement “demanding that the Thai government repay the debt…”. The statement, in Thai and German, “said that the embassy truly hoped that the Thai government would make a quick decision to repay the debt, otherwise the matter would affect German investment in Thailand.”

The Embassy pointed out that the “international arbitration tribunal’s decision in 2009, which issued an award against Thailand to compensate damages to Walter Bau in the amount of around 30 million Euros plus interest and legal costs of around two million Euros.” The Embassy concluded that “the Thai government should immediately follow the tribunal’s decision…”.

In other words, pay up. The issue is getting out of hand because no government, and especially not the outgoing Abhisit Vejjajiva government, is ever able to roll back royal power and prerogative. As to paying debts and international obligations. Cluster bombs, human rights abuses, state murder, abuse of migrants, forced repatriation… (we could go on and on). The Thai state has a poor track record.

A later story has the Thai government’s response, which appears to threaten a deterioration of bilateral relations.

Putting bilateral relations at risk

When acting government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn decides to weigh-in on the increasingly bizarre case of the alleged royal jet, you sense that things are going to get testy.

As an aside, we really have to ask how long one can act as an acting spokesman. Yes, we know it was a deal to allow the “academic” Panitan to keep his bolthole at Chulalongkorn University, but isn’t two years and more a bit over the top in the manipulation of the system? Panitan should have given up his position at Chulalongkorn long ago and returned the keys for his office and apartment. His case shows just how petty the elite gets when they wish to protect their privileges – every last one of them, no matter how trivial.

But back to Panitan’s intervention, no doubt reflecting Abhisit Vejjajiva’s position. In the Bangkok Post it is reported that the “Thai government spokesman has warned the German Foreign Ministry to be cautious in demanding that Thailand compensate a German company that invested in the Don Muang Tollway.” He also lambasted it for getting its facts wrong – although the report doesn’t say what facts were wrong. In any case, facts have never really bothered Panitan. Look at all the stuff he made up about red shirts over the past couple of years.

Panitan was responding to the German Foreign Ministry’s statement through the German Embassy in Bangkok that the Thai government should pay up on its debt to the Walter Bau company administrator.

Panitan sounded Abhisit-like when he said that the German Foreign Ministry was not recognizing the “separation of the executive and the judiciary, and he was surprised that the German Foreign Ministry that seen fit to comment on the justice system.” That sounds suspiciously like the pot calling the kettle black. But let’s get it right: the Germans were making a point about damage to the bilateral relationship.

Panitan “insisted that the legal dispute between the Thai government and Walter Bau was in the process of an appeal and many legal aspects of the case had yet to be considered.” Is he sure? The Attorney General and others have said that the Thai side has (belatedly) mounted an appeal, and this sounds suspiciously like it was after the seizure of one of the two Boeing 737s that the government now claims it gifted Prince Vajiralongkorn for his personal use.

 

It seems the Thai Foreign Ministry is “about to explain the issue to its German counterpart right away.” Gee whiz, if that’s true, maybe they can explain it all to the rest of the world in terms that aren’t simply silly contradictions and fabricated responses.

Panitan added a warning: “Bilateral relations had been good at the levels of their governments and their people, the present issue was sensitive and the German Foreign Ministry had to be careful and ensure it has the correct information…”. He means information that accords with the Thai government’s view.

Then, for some reason that is not immediately clear, Panitan went the Thaksin Shinawatra route. He claimed that Thailand “expected good cooperation from the German government in relation to the expected extradition of deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as it was reported that Germany already granted entry to Thaksin. Mr Panitan said Thaksin had to face justice in Thailand.” That all makes sense, doesn’t it? Maybe not. Panitan and his lot had more than two years where they first tracked Thaksin and then decided they didn’t want him. Now that they are heading out the door following their electoral trouncing, the Thaksin hunt is suddenly resurrected again. Why?

We think it is a threat that says to the Germans that Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya and Prime Minister Abhisit are prepared to Cambodianize this issue. Watch out Germany, and watch out Puea Thai. the Democrat Party is saying it wants a time bomb to use against the new government and expose their alleged anti-monarchism. Hand them this no-win situation, created by the outgoing government (just like the ICJ and Preah Vihear) and watch the fireworks. Bilateral relations can be and have been used by this unscrupulous mob to attack Thaksin and other opponents. They seem set to do it again.