New privy councilor and the CPB

12 03 2018

After the unceremonious sacking of Wirach (or Virat) Chinvinitkul  earlier this month a new privy councilor has been appointed.

King Vajiralongkorn “has issued a Royal Command appointing Mr Chirayu Isarangkun na Ayuthaya as a privy councilor effective as of March 11.”

Chirayu has been Lord Chamberlain of the Bureau of the Royal Household for about a year has long been director-general of the Crown Property Bureau, In fact, since 1987, when the then king plucked him from a corruption scandal in the Prem Tinsulanonda government.

The big news is that taking Chirayu out of the CPB allows the king to appoint Air Chief Marshal Sathitpong Sukwimol director-general of the Crown Property Bureau. This means the king now has “his man” in charge of the CPB and all its loot and assets.

Sathitpong was the king’s secretary when he was made caretaker and manager of his personal assets and interests in early 2017. Considered a trusted confidant, back in 2014, Sathitpong played the role of secretary to the prince and was involved in bringing down the family of the estranged wife, then Princess Srirasmi and in reorganizing the palace’s troops.

Brotherly military “advice”

24 02 2018

2006 coup leader Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin has, according to the Bangkok Post, “jumped on the election bandwagon, calling on the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the military junta] to stick to its poll roadmap.”

Gen Sonthi says “he was alarmed by the NLA’s rejection of all seven candidates and believes it is a sign of the political roadmap being pushed back [again].” he added the “regime should pay heed to the people’s demands.”

Gen Sonthi has never been the sharpest tool in the shed, so we suspect he’s reflecting the views of others.

Back in 2012, now deceased Maj-Gen Sanan Kachornprasart, and then retiring as “de facto leader of the Chart Thai Pattana Party,” asked a very direct question of Gen Sonthi. According to The Nation, he asked:

Were Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanond and the bureaucratic elites behind Sonthi and the coup, as had been alleged by red shirts?… Who was behind the coup?

… Was it you or did you not have any personal motivation? Please speak the truth, or else the public will continue to doubt. Before we can reconcile you must speak the truth and clear the doubt.

What was Sonthi’s response? According to the report,

He began by saying no one should ever doubt his loyalty to His Majesty the King, and then added: “I don’t think I can answer. For some questions, you can’t answer even if you are dead. When the time comes it will reveal itself.”

We doubt he’ll say who is behind his current advice.

Updated: Defining the junta by its double standards

21 02 2018

One of the defining characteristics of this military regime has been its double standards.

While the temporary cessation of the planned coal-fired power station in the south is good news for the environment and represents a victory of sorts for the local villagers and supporting activists, this outcome demonstrates the regime’s embedded double standards.

The Dictator has urged “calm after the government decided to put the contentious projects on hold.” Not that long ago, the junta was arresting anti-coal protesters. These protesters have by and large been junta supporters. The junta’s actions against them were a serious splintering of the pro-junta and anti-democrat side.

It may be coincidental, but as the pressure has mounted on the junta from activists it identifies as opponents, the pressure on the anti-coal activists has gone and the junta is bending over backwards to be seen to be meeting their demands and end their Bangkok protest that has lasted more than three weeks.

Indeed, the most recent concession has been to order a fresh environmental impact assessment and to drop all law suits (well, “suspend” the legal actions).

That backdown by the junta was made politically symbolic when Energy Minister Siri Jirapongphan sat on the sidewalk with protesters after a court refused a police request to ban the assembly.

The political outcome was the protesters packed up and returned to their homes in the south.

Such a harmonious outcome is impossible when it comes to pro-election activists. The double standards are obvious. One side can protest for weeks. The other side sees police charges.

A second set of double standards is within the junta itself. As everyone knows, the Deputy Dictator has been caught out flashing luxury watches all over the place. Despite the case having been taken on by the National Anti-Corruption Commission, it has all gone quiet. The Dictator has refused to abandon his old boss and elder military brother.

Rather, he’s supported Gen Prawit. When Totrakul Yomnak, chairman of a junta sub-committee against corruption, a puppet committee, sent Gen Prayuth Chan-och “a letter expressing concern about the watch scandal,”and imploring the military “prime minister to take action and show his determination to address graft, which he [Prayuth] has declared a top priority.”

Prayuth “lashed out” and said leave it to the (quiet, compromised and slow) NACC.

Double standards define the regime.

Update: We have noticed on social media a strong rumor that Totrakul is said to have been told by “someone” to attack Prayuth. We haven’t seen anyone naming a name, but the assumption seems to be that the old meddler Gen Prem Tinsulanonda is the one. He’s long talked about corruption as a threat to the nation. If there is a Prem-initiated move against Prayuth, we can’t wait to see who is anointed to replace The Dictator.

Meanwhile, in Chiang Mai, making our point point on double standards on protesters, the military has filed charges against six participants in a pro-election rally at Chiang Mai University “for violating the junta’s ban on public assembly.” The six face up to six months in prison and fine up to 10,000 baht.

They did, anti-coal protesters didn’t. This six face court, the anti-coal protesters met a minister who came to them. The picture is crystal clear.

Updated: An authoritarian royal embrace

18 02 2018

Nothing surprises when it comes to the military dictatorship. It has jailed hundreds, ignored the law, sent refugees back to jails several times, covered up murder and corruption, ignored human rights and embraced the nastiest of autocrats.

BenarNews reports that the junta has “defended its decision to award the chief of Myanmar’s armed forces a royal decoration…”.

Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing was awarded the Knight Grand Cross (First Class) of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant” and was “nominated for the honor by Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn on Aug. 21, 2017, four days before violence erupted in Rakhine state.”

That dating sounds suspicious but even if it is accepted, he has a nasty reputation. In fact, he seems the kind of military leader who would be a brother in arms with the Thai generals. Whatever the timing, the award represents Thai military and palace support for human rights abuses in Myanmar.

He received the award from his Thai counterpart, Gen. Tarnchaiyan Srisuwan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The award, the Thai military said, was “to show the long and close relations” between Thailand and Myanmar.

That truth is confirmed when Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Kongcheep Tantravanich told Reuters that the presentation of the honor to Myanmar’s military chief was “a separate issue from human rights…”.

The royalness of the award frightened human rights advocates. Those “interviewed by BenarNews also criticized the decision to honor the head of the Myanmar military, but asked that they not be identified for fear of being accused of violating Lese-Majeste…”.

Update: Helpfully, the Bangkok Post has an interview with Sen Gen Min Aung Hlaing, pointing out that this is his second royal decoration. He states:

The military leaders of both countries have been quite close for some years now.

I have had a close relationship with Thai generals starting with [chief of Defence Forces] Gen Tanasak Patimapragorn’s predecessor, Gen Songkitti [Jaggabatara].

The one I was closest to is Gen Tanasak [who served in the post between 2011-2014] but I am also close to the others. His successors are Gen Worapong [Sanganetra] and Gen Sommai [Kaotira] then Gen Surapong [Suwana-adth] and the current chief, Gen Thanchaiyan Srisuwan].

He is also close to privy council head General Prem Tinsulanonda and thus has that palace connection that links military and monarchy. When asked of his status as Prem’s “adopted son,” he replied:

During the time when Gen Tanasak was the defence chief, he gave me a chance to pay respects to Gen Prem who is the same generation as my father. When we met, we had an exchange of experiences, of being leaders. He [Gen Prem] gave me advice. Being like father and son is very good and makes things better in many ways.

Frighteningly he says of the relationship between the two sets of murderous militaries:

We are like brothers.

Every time we meet, we exchange experiences.

Thailand is experienced in democracy and has passed so many things.

When we are close like brothers, we open up and share the experience.

The good things in this era contributed to the changes in Myanmar’s democracy.

We are scratching our heads on “good things,” but guess that “good things” for these military thugs are probably bad things for the rest of us. For example, when asked about “problems in Rakhine state, ” he answered:

I would rather not talk about it. But I will only say that I will do my best to take care of the problem. Furthermore, in Myanmar, there is no ethnic group called Rohingya. They are Bengalis who came from somewhere else. We will follow the laws.

That last bit is also among the lies peddled by Thailand’s military dictatorship.

Prem, the junta and rising criticism

22 01 2018

Brief reports state that nonagenarian Privy Council chairman and political mover-and-shaker of years gone by, Gen Prem Tinsulanonda has announced he “will not be able to attend a traditional reception party on Sunday night to mark Royal Thai Armed Forces Day for health reasons…”.

Naturally enough, reporters reckon this must be further evidence that the old man has run out of patience for Generals Prayuth Chan-ocha and Prawit Wongsuwan.

We don’t know, but are tempted to believe Lt Gen Pitsanu Phuthawong, Prem’s taxpayer-funded aide, who says Prem, “has eaten less and felt weak since early last week.” But then Prem is said to be still chairing Tuesday Privy Council meetings and he usually loves military shindigs as he bathes in his former glory.

Pretty much all the other reporting is of disenchantment – for the yellowish lot – and exasperation – for those who have opposed the junta since the coup.

The Democrat Party, with leaders who have been staunch supporters of the junta, is now regularly rolling out critics of the junta who appear to provide “advice” to the junta.

The latest is Deputy Democrat Party leader Nipit Intarasombat. He said the yellow “dream” of “reform” is now unlikely as “some key figures in the government are embroiled in scandals stemming from allegations over a lack of transparency.”

Nipit sees no way out for The Dictator who protects Prawit as his elder “brother” unless he behaves more like a politician and protects his own ass.

The failure to deal with such scandals means:

the government and the regime seem to be moving away from the path of reform as the regime begins to interact with political groups which were former allies of the Pheu Thai Party, such as politicians from the Sasomsap family who wield political influence in Nakhon Pathom province.

This is causing huge dissatisfaction among the yellow ones.

Nipit even complained that “it was strange the regime is more keen to foster ties with certain politicians than the Democrat Party, which is the chief rival of Pheu Thai.”

Despite all of this, Nipit reckons Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha will easily become an outside premier.

Nipit seems to ask for The Dictator to pay attention to his party.

Meanwhile,  Puea Thai is more critical, saying “the government now faces crises entirely of its own making which threaten its downfall.”

Party secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai reckons the junta faces a crisis of confidence in leadership, another on its “flip-flops on the election roadmap, that it lacks transparency and another crisis over its distortion of the rule of law.

A weak and illegitimate military regime is dangerous.

Further updated: Prem votes for Prayuth (maybe)

28 12 2017

The President of the king’s Privy Council, General Prem Tinsulanonda, a former but never elected military prime minister and, more recently, a leader of anti-Thaksin Shinawatra forces and a coup planner, has redoubled his love for the military dictatorship.

Khaosod reports that the junta’s annual New Year visit to pay homage to the coup-master saw a public and mutual love-fest among these military opponents of a democratic Thailand.

The report states that Prem “showered the ruling junta … with his praise and support.” And why not. They are his boys doing his work for him.

Prem “blessed” the dictators and stated that “the public would be on the side of junta chairman Prayuth ‘Tuu’ Chan-ocha as long as he keeps working for the greater good.” He said:

Tuu has used up nearly all of his reserve forces. He barely has any reserves yet… But if you show the goodwill you have for the Thai people, more reserves will show up. Therefore, please stick to your goals, so that you will have more reserves….

I’d like to express my admiration and pride for the works that Tuu’s government has done…. I’d like to also stress on Tuu’s words that he will bring happiness to Thai people. He must commit to this goal, no matter how exhausted he is.

Prem apparently nominated Prime Minister’s Office secretary-general General Vilas Arunsri as a future prime minister: “You can easily become a prime minister because you work closely with Prayuth…”. That’s a tip worth following.

While it is no longer entirely clear how much the aged Prem speaks for the Privy Council or for the palace, his opinion still carries political weight, clearly Prem is voting for continued military domination that mirrors his own time in the top job.

Update 1: The Bangkok Post has some important additions to the Khaosod report. It adds that Prem “warned Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha Thursday that he has lost much of his support base but still has a chance to win the public over by serving as a positive role model.”

Prayuth is reported to have “responded by indicating he has a list of populist policy plans up his sleeve including some aimed at improving stagnating wage levels.” More plans and more giveaways?

Prem said that The Dictator “must stick to this goal and be determined to do everything in his power to make the public happier…”. And he continued: “I hope he stays true and attracts more supporters. Tu can do it, we can do it, too — and we are doing it…”.

Update 2: One of the odd things about social media debate on Prem’s talk with The Dictator is the the glee with which anti-coup types greet the seemingly negative comments. It strikes us as odd because both Prem and Prayuth are peas in a pod, even if there are times when they maneuver around each other. They each agree on the way “forward.” But Prem seems unhappy with the ever-extending “roadmap.” He wants more senators beholden to him whenever the “election” comes and he wants Prayuth to hold an “election” before the junta becomes politically rancid, thus ensuring authoritarianism or Thai-style democracy is Thailand’s political system into the future. Prayuth seems less keen. In any case, it remains to be explained who Prem speaks for these days.

Troubles for the junta I

18 12 2017

The military dictatorship, keen to extend its political role into the future, is running into a series of problems that suggest struggles over power will intensify as political jockeying for position deepens.

Corruption cases, previously ignored, swept under the rug or “investigated” to exoneration are now getting under the junta’s skin. One recent case is the death of a military cadet where the usual excuses for such deaths are not being accepted.

More challenging because it targets the Deputy Dictator is General Prawit Wongsuwan’s extensive  watch collection. His latest attempt at explaining his unusually expensive watches is about a dead “friend”:

According to Gen Prawit’s close aide who asked not to be named, Gen Prawit is under pressure as he does not know how to make the public believe the Richard Mille watches belonged to his friend.

If his “friend” is dead, then Prawit’s story of “borrowing” watches is unlikely to be verified. If the “friend” existed but is now dead, we assume Prawit might claim to inherited the watches.

The point, though, is that the scandal and chatter won’t go away.

More revealing are the splits that seem to be appearing in the yellow-shirted alliance of anti-democrats who have supported military dictatorship.

While Suthep Thaugsuban continues to support military rule and seeks its extension, his Democrat Party and the broader yellow shirt movement have become critical of the junta and its attempts to entrench its rule.

The Bangkok Post reports the former PAD leader Somsak Kosaisuk as railing against a “military party.” Somsak and Democrat Party MP Watchara Phetthong reckon there’s a “plot to set up a new party in support of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.” The vehicle is claimed to be “a military party which will support Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak as party leader while the name of the party will include the word Pracharath, the government’s public-private collaboration…”.

Somsak warned that “military-backed parties of the past, including the Manangkasila and Samakkhitham parties, had failed because the people did not accept them.”

Somsak’s history is not all that comprehensive, but leaving that aside, Watchara mangles it when he says “Gen Prayut should follow the example of Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, who said ‘that’s enough’ when he was invited by parties to take the premier’s post once again.” He seems to forget the huge pressure to get rid of Prem, including threats about “revealing secrets.”

Even if their history is a bit off, the idea for a military party may not stymie a Prem-like reign for The Dictator. As in the Prem period, the Democrat Party may not be opposed to that.

But the kerfuffle also shows that the regime remains troubled. It is seeking ways to cement its influence but finds the political alliances and parties cumbersome and confounding.