Preparing for Premocracy

30 11 2017

Former academic and failed political candidate Anek Laothamatas has advised Thailand to prepare for the reincarnation of Premocracy.

The Nation reports that Anek, who seems to be a junta messenger, has told political parties that they should make some sort of agreement or hammer out an “understanding” with the military junta and/or it “proxies.”

He says that “[i]f all the parties and the NCPO [he means the military junta] could get together it would allow them to familiarise themselves with each other, which would be advantageous for the political process…”.

It seems that “advantageous” is used to indicate that the junta is going to be running the political show for several years, so the parties need to deal with it.

Anek says that “if there is a proxy party [representing the junta], it will have a prominent role to play in the election as well as in the administration, alongside the winners [another party?] of the election…”. His view is that an “election” will produce a form of Premocracy where the “government and opposition had to work together to create democracy and make politics work for the national interest…”. He doesn’t think the parties can prevent an “outsider” premier, meaning a military boss or proxy.

He said the new charter “clearly stated that the junta had the power to select a Senate that would have the authority to co-select a prime minister. It was impossible to keep the junta from future politics, he added.”

Anek recalled that during “General Prem Tinsulanonda’s term as prime minister in the 1980s, Thailand was under a quasi-democracy and his government did not have its own party…”. He “urged today’s parties to consider Prem’s approach…”.

He then forgets his political history, claiming that “Prem’s administration … was open to scrutiny.” We understand that Anek is engaged is a “softening-up” process for a military-backed or dominated regime and “quasi-democracy,” but he seems to forget that Prem never, ever faced parliamentary scrutiny. The monarchy’s man almost never appeared in parliament for any substantial debate. He was essentially unaccountable.

The junta is unaccountable now and it can only be imagined that it will be in any future form it decides to take.





Going to the goats

29 11 2017

Prime Minister and junta boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha went south in what some say was a campaign trip and a publicity exercise.

It did not go well.

The Dictator’s mobile cabinet meeting took him to Pattani and Songkhla where many promises were made and billions of baht in infrastructure and other projects highlighted.

Listening but not hearing

With his jet black Chinese Politburo hair and Prem Tinsulanonda-style, “royally-bestowed,” but invented “traditional” suea phraratchathan looked suitably 1980s as he campaigned for his “election,” whenever he decides to bestow one on the Thai people.

The Dictator promised to do something about falling rubber prices. Interestingly, because of their political profile in supporting anti-democrats and The Dictator’s military coup, the rubber growers seem to have Prayuth on a string. Thailand’s rubber price follows market prices which were high earlier in the year. The Dictator wants to shore up his political support among growers.

After those efforts, things went south.

General Prayuth seemed to throw doubt on local elections, telling “local administrative organisations not to merely focus on elections…”.

The police and military lit into 500 protesters opposing a coal-fired power plant project in Songkhla’s Thepha district. With images of the authorities pushing people to the ground, “16 people, including four leaders, of the  were arrested Monday after their rally resulted in three injuries during a clash with police.”

Can that one vote?

Many of the protesters also fall into the groups that (previously) supported the junta and the coup. They are now finding out what it means to be considered oppositional. Predictably, The Dictator defended the authorities and their violence.

The Dictator was also short-tempered with potential voters and was accused of being deaf to locals. Worse, The Dictator and his “government” were “perceived as ‘unfriendly’ to residents.”

In another incident, The Dictator launched a pail of “vitriol at a fisherman during his visit in Pattana’s Nong Chik district on Monday when Paranyu Charoen, a 34-year-old fisherman, asked the prime minister to change fishing regulations to increase the number of days that fisherman can put to sea.”

Prayuth’s PR people soon apologized “for his foul temper.”

The Democrat Party sought to make political mileage, saying Prayuth did not understand “the problems of fishermen…”.

Chulalongkorn University political scientist and devout yellow shirt Chaiyan Chaiyaporn warned the junta “to abstain from being a political player.”

It is a bit late for that. What he means is that the junta should not get involved in political campaigning so that it may continue to dominate politics following any “election.”





The old propaganda tricks

22 10 2017

We at PPT haven’t spent much time on the dead king’s upcoming funeral.

That said, we did have a critical post yesterday that was about venal propagandizing for the monarchy. We did that because Thitinan Pongsudhirak locates himself as a commentator of contemporary Thailand for the West. When he makes stuff up, there’s a chance that his readers might just believe his hagiography.

Sure, there has been a lot of this, in Thai and in English. In fact, it is as if the last few years of critical attention to the monarchy has been erased.

Indeed, that has been the task of the military dictatorship. It has wanted to erase discussion, debate and contention over the monarchy. Lese majeste has just been one of the repressive and blunt neuralyzers used.

This has extended further by the dictatorship, in alliance with the palace, by seeking to erase memories of any moments when the monarchy was criticized, put in its place and opposed. Symbols of such periods, like the 1932 plaque, are stolen and disappear.

One of the untruths pedaled by Thitinan is that the dead king “owned no fancy vehicles or other trappings that would have been seen as extravagant and lavish…”.

We take it that “owned” is not a way to hide a lie, seeking to separate the man from his family and palace. But it is simply a lie but one that has been endlessly repeated by palace propagandists.

Forget all those luxury vehicles, erase all knowledge of the wealthiest monarchy in the world, blur images of palaces all over the country, and all the other lavish accoutrements of royal position, power and wealth. Forget how much the taxpayer has subsidized the wealthiest monarchy in the world.

In relation to this, we were interested in a Reuters report on the upcoming funeral. It states:

The military government has set 3 billion baht ($90 million) aside for the lavish funeral. Preparations took almost a year to complete, with thousands of artisans working to create an elaborate structure of gold-tipped Thai pavilions in a square in front of the glittering Grand Palace.

We think this is a gross underestimate, but let’s accept it and observe that it amounts to a taxpayer subsidy of roughly $2 million for each year of the reign.

One outlet, using the Reuters story had this headline: US$90MIL … FOR A FUNERAL –ISN’T THAT TOO MUCH? BUT IF YOU SAY, YOU CAN BE JAILED FOR ‘LESE MAJESTE’: THAILAND REHEARSES LAVISH SEND-OFF FOR LATE KING.

Reuters also includes one paragraph that pokes at the huge propaganda about the monarchy in general, observing that the:

revival in the monarchy’s popularity [following 1932 and especially since 1958] was helped by a formidable public relations machine –- the evening news in Thailand includes a daily segment dedicated to the royals and the late king was often featured in his younger days crisscrossing the country to meet the poor and disenfranchised.

That period was actually rather brief – in a period following the king’s fatigue-wearing counterinsurgency activism and into the General Prem Tinsulanonda period, when the taxpayer took over royal projects – but has become one of the lasting images that the palace and various regimes have not wanted to neuralize.

The hagiography associated with the funeral has reproduced every single piece of royal propaganda and all the old and familiar (approved) images.





Updated: Absurd defenses of feudalism

16 10 2017

Update: A reader rightly points out that our headline is potentially misleading. Let us be clear: the absurdities are all on the side of those implementing, using and defending the feudal lese majeste law.

PPT has had several posts regarding the efforts of a couple of retired generals, public prosecutors and a military court’s decision to go ahead with investigations of a lese majeste charge 85 year-old Sulak Sivaraksa. He dared to raise doubts about a purported historical event from centuries ago. (In fact, the prosecutors have until 7 December to activate the charge or let it lie.)

We have been interested to observe how parts of the media seem to far braver in pointing out the absurdities of this case than when it is workers, farmers, labor activists or average people who are charged in equally absurd cases. If these people are red shirts or fraudsters, there’s often barely a peep from the media.

Conservative, middle class, aged, royalist and intellectual Sulak, who has also been anti-Thaksin Shinawatra, is far easier to defend than those in more uncomfortable political and social locations for some reporters and writers.

His case also generates more international attention, as his cases have always done since 1984, when international academics supported him (and an alleged communist) under the administration led by General Prem Tinsulanonda.

Just in the Bangkok Post, there have been three op-eds and one editorial that each point out the ridiculousness of the case against Sulak. These include:

Yellow-hued, anti-Thaksinist Veera Prateepchaikul writes that the latest case is “unique in its absurdity.” He says he sees two troubling issues with the case:

First, … why did it take police three years to decide to send this case to the prosecutor — a military prosecutor in this case because we are now under the junta regime?

The second issue concerns the police interpretation of the lese majeste law or Section 112 of the Criminal Code in a way which makes the law look like it has an infinitely long hand which can delve into an event which took place some 400 years ago. The land on which the elephant duel was said to take place was not even called Siam.

Kong Rithdee, who has been pretty good and brave in calling out the lese majeste fascists, points out the absurdities of the case:

Another day, another lese majeste story. This time the interpretation of the contentious law goes back much further, to 1593 to be precise, to a dusty battlefield somewhere before “Thailand” existed.

The use of a military court to possibly sentence an 85 year-old to 15 years in jail is also mentioned as absurd.

Kong makes some connections that warrant more attention:

The scope of interpretation of Section 112 has been one of the central bristles of modern Thai politics, and while there have been cases that raised your eyebrows and body temperature (that of Jatupat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpattararaksa, to name just one), this wild reading of the law to cover an event from 400 years ago borders on dark comedy.

He asks if the absurdity of Sulak’s case tells Thais that they must not discuss or adopt a critical perspective on history. It seems Thais are expected to accept schoolbook nationalism and the jingoism of royalist film-makers.

Ploenpote Atthakor takes up the blind royalist nationalism. She observes that, in Thailand, there is no “dialogue” about historical events, “especially the parts concerning historical heroes or heroines, or even villains, hardly exists. Anyone who dares to question particular historical episodes may face trouble.” She notes how the history that got Sulak into trouble has changed several times and is disputed by historians.

Ultra-nationalism blinds Thais. The red hot pokers have been wielded by feudal-minded royalists and military dictators.

The Bangkok Post editorial extends the discussion to law and injustice:

In what appears to be an attempt at law enforcement, authorities in the past two weeks have taken legal action against two prominent public figures by resorting to what appears to be a misuse of both the law and its principles.

One is Sulak’s case and the other person is Thaksin, one of his lese majeste cases and the retroactive application of a law. The Post states that the cases “not only put the Thai justice system under the global spotlight but will also jeopardise law enforcement in the country.”

The editorial questions the police’s interpretation of the law, saying it:

is worrisome and has prompted questions about how far such a law should be applied. If Mr Sulak is indicted, it would create a chilling climate of fear and hurt the credibility of Thailand’s justice system….

In proceeding legal actions against the two men, the authorities must realise any abuses of the law can set bad precedents with a far-reaching impact on Thai citizens.

All these perspectives are right. We applaud these journalists for daring to defend Sulak and, in one instance, even Thaksin. At the same time, it would be brave and right to point out the absurdities that face many others charged with lese majeste. The military dictatorship has gotten away with being absurd for too long.





The “necessity” of military dictatorship

13 10 2017

In the Bangkok Post, commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak comes up with his repeated excuse for military domination. He claims the succession explains it:

The consequent royal transition is likely to be viewed in posterity as the principal reason why the Thai people have had to put up with Gen Prayut.

Later he states, as he has before, that:

To appreciate how Gen Prayut and his cohorts could seize power and keep it with relative ease, we need to recognise the late King Bhumibol’s final twilight. The royal succession was imminent by coup time, and the Thai people collectively kind of knew the special and specific circumstances this entailed. Power had to be in the hands of the military, as it had to ultimately perform a midwife role. Unsurprisingly, ousted elected politicians may have complained about and deplored the coup but none wanted to retake power during the coup period. They knew that after seven decades of the reign in the way that the Thai socio-political system was set up around the military, monarchy and bureaucracy, it had to be the generals overseeing this once-in-a-lifetime transition.

This is nonsensical propaganda. There were, at the time, and today, many, many Thais who reject this royalist babble. But Thitinan just ignores the deep political and social struggles that marked the period of discord that began with the Asian economic crisis in 1997 and which was punctuated by two military coups.

Thitinan appears to us to be expressing the views of the socially disconnected middle class of Bangkok, those who hate and fear the majority of Thais, and “protect” themselves by attaching themselves to the economic and political power of the Sino-Thai tycoons, monarchy and military.

Thais have “put up with” ghastly military rulers for decades. The military dictators and rulers have used the monarchy to justify their despotism. General Pin Choonhavan used the “mysterious” death of Ananda Mahidol; General Sarit Thanarat promoted the monarchy as a front for his murderous regime; General Prem Tinsulanonda made “loyalty” de rigueur for political office.

Thitinan is wrong and, worse, whether he wants to or not, he provides the nasty propaganda that is justification for military dictatorship. We can only imagine that the military junta is most appreciative.

One reason Thais “put up with” military dictatorship now is because anti-democrats want it, because many of them hate elections that give a power to the subaltern classes. And, as Thitinan acknowledges,

Gen Prayut and his fraternal top brass in the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) have guns and tanks to intimidate and coerce. In their first year in power, the ruling generals detained hundreds of dissenters and opponents for “attitude adjustment”. They even put some of those who disagreed on trial in military court. They also came up with their own laws in an interim charter, including the draconian absolutist Section 44. And they have used and manipulated other instruments and agencies of the state to keep people in check and dissent suppressed.

To be sure, dozens of Thais are languishing in jail during junta rule. One young man, a student with his own strong views, has been jailed for re-posting a social media message that appeared on more than two thousand other pages. The junta also has banned political parties from organising, and has generally violated all kinds of human rights and civil liberties all along.

In addition, the generals have not been immune to corruption allegations….

Thais, it seems, must just “put up with” all this in order to facilitate the death of a king, succession and coronation. Thitinan goes even further, lauding The Dictator:

who grew up in the Thai system from the Cold War, who came of age at the height of Thailand’s fight against communism in the 1970s, seeing action on the Cambodian border against the Vietnamese in the 1980s, serving both the King and Queen and the people in the process with devotion and loyalty.

In fact, General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s military promotion was not forged in “battle” but in providing service to the palace and especially the queen.

Thitinan declares that General Prayuth is the “soul of the nation,” a term once used for the dead king:

When Gen Prayut spoke for the nation [after the last king died], he meant it. Fighting back tears, in seven short minutes, he said what had to be said, and directed us Thais to two main tasks, the succession and the cremation after a year’s mourning. Had it been Yingluck [Shinawatra], who is not known for her eloquence, she might have stumbled during the speech. Had it been Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is fluid and flawless in speechmaking, it would have lacked the soul of the nation.

It had to be Gen Prayut, the strongman dictator and self-appointed premier. He is an earnest man, purposeful and well-intentioned….

Make no mistake, this is pure propaganda for military dictatorship. Make no mistake, Thitinan is justifying military dictatorship for the West, “translating” Thai “culture” for those he thinks are Thailand’s friends. He is saying to The Dictator and to “friends” in the West that 2018 or 2019 will mark the end of an “unusual” time and a return to “normality.” That “normal” is Thai-style democracy, guided for years by the military and its rules.

For those who seek a more nuanced and less propagandist reflection try Michael Peel in the Financial Times. He was formerly a correspondent for the FT based in Bangkok, and has penned “Thailand’s monarchy: where does love end and dread begin?” (The article is behind a paywall, but one may register and get access.) Peel asks: “In a country where few dare to speak openly about the royals, how do Thais feel about their new ruler?”

That is, how do they feel about the succession that Thitinan propagandizes as having “required” military dictatorship working as midwife.





Updated: 6 October and dictatorship

6 10 2017

A few days ago PPT post about the new website has been launched from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science, to establish and maintain an archive about the massacre of 6 October 1976.

On this day in 1976, royalists and rightists were mobilized with and by the police and military in a massacre of students and others they had decided were threats to the monarchy. With claims of lese majeste and communists at work, these “protectors” of the monarchy and royal family engaged in an orgy of violence, killing, injuring and arresting thousands.

For a radio program on the events, listen to the BBC’s Witness story on the October 1976 events in Thailand, with  archival audio footage of reporting from the time and Ajarn Puey Ungpakorn, and a present-day interview with Ajarn Thongchai Winichakul. Read Puey on the terrible events by following the links here.

The king and the royal family fully supported the massacre at Thammasat University.

In remembering this massacre in the name of the monarchy, we are reminded that the current military dictatorship bears many of the characteristics of the dictatorship that resulted from the murderous events of 6 October in 1976.

Thanin Kraivixien was a dedicated fascist judge who served the king. His government was established to turn back the political clock and established a 12 year plan to do this. Today, three years of military dictatorship is meant to be followed by 20 years of rewinding under military, royalist and rightist tutelage.

Mercifully, Thanin’s extreme authoritarianism only lasted a year but military-backed rule continued until 1988, first with General Kriangsak Chomanan as premier. He was replaced by the more reliable royalist posterior polisher, General Prem Tinsulanonda. After 1988, Prem retained considerable political influence and has repeatedly supported military coups. His support for the current dictatorship has been stated several times.

Update: The military remains exceptionally prickly about this event of 41 years ago. And justifiably so in that military fingerprints are all over one of Thailand’s worst massacres of civilians. So it is that Khaosod reports that a film about the event was prevented from being screened on the anniversary. By the Time It Gets Dark or ดาวคะนอง is a 2016 film directed by Anocha Suwichakornpong. It has has some very good reviews.

But the military censors weren’t interested in art. According to Khaosod, theatre owner Thida Plitpholkarnpim announced two hours before it was to show that the thugs had said no. She added: “Don’t ask for the reason…. They misunderstood the story of the film. They couldn’t even remember the name of [tonight’s] activity.”





Following some trails and not others

30 09 2017

The media seems flooded with Yingluck Shinawatra stories. Dozens of them. And most of them are about the “hunt for Yingluck.”

We understand that the anti-democrats, including the Democrat Party, are beside themselves with rage about Yingluck’s disappearance, but we can’t help feeling that the attention is over the top. We wonder if the news blitz isn’t part of a junta plan to reduce the attention to its role in her departure. After all, the DNA swabs and “scientific” policing seems pretty much like a performance rather than an investigation. And what will the “investigation” show? She’s gone. Maybe some scapegoats facing minor charges? It hardly matters except as a performance for the anti-democrats.

While following trails, the Krungthai Bank (KTB) and Krisda Mahanakorn (KMN) real-estate company loan scandal has produced some interesting social media.

The Bangkok Post reports that:

… photos circulated online purportedly showing a cheque worth 100,000 baht signed by Wichai Krisdathanont, a former executive of KMN, on Dec 26, 2003. Also featured was a purported deposit slip showing that the cheque had been deposited into the bank account of Adm Pachun Tamprateep, an aide to Privy Council President Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, five days later.

Another photo shows part of a 250,000 baht cheque written out for a general whose name started with the letter “P”. It was supposedly signed on Sept 20, 2003 also by Wichai. According to the online post on social media, the money was then ordered to be wired to the bank account of the General Prem Tinsulanonda Historical Park Foundation.

The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) is hot on the trail. Well maybe not. It “has set up a panel to look into petitions urging the agency to probe individuals suspected of receiving embezzled money…”.

Its director-general Paisit Wongmuang said “the panel, formed by him, will look into all petitions and determine whether there were new issues that needed to be investigated.”

At present, the only targets seems to be Shinawatra-related cases, including Panthongtae Shinawatra.

We can’t wait to see how DSI fudges any notion that higher-ups might have pocketed millions more than Panthongtae is accused of receiving.

Interestingly, it seems that the photos have been leaked from DSI’s own investigators. It seems someone reckoned there was a cover-up going on.