Elections vs. the patronage system

11 04 2017

The Puea Thai Party may think it has a chance of doing well in an election, even if it is the junta’s “election.” We have serious doubts that they could win another election under the junta’s rules. Even if they did, the junta’s constitution will stymie them as a government.

In line with their faith in electoral democracy, the Puea Thai Party has demanded a “general election early next year, revocation of ‘unconstitutional’ orders of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the military junta] and freedom to express opinions about legislation.”

Somewhat oddly, at least in our view, the party sees the “promulgation of the 2017 constitution last Thursday started a process to restore democracy…”. We see it as the beginning of a period of military-backed government.

Meanwhile, the enemies of electoral democracy met with General Prem Tinsulanonda, the President of the Privy Council. The now frail Prem beamed as he accepted the obeisance of some members of the junta (who was missing?), cabinet members, military commanders-in-chief, the national police chief and other top officials.

General Prem “wished Prime Minister [General] Prayut Chan-o-cha success in his handling of the country’s administration and advised him not to be discouraged by problems he has encountered.” For the grand old political meddler, “success” involves “returning happiness” to “the Thai people.”

The Dictator was puffed up and proud, praising General Prem, “who he said was a role model for everyone in the country in terms of loyalty to the nation, religion and the monarchy.”

Readers will be amused to learn that The Dictator “presented a vase of flowers and a basket of gifts to Gen Prem, who in return distributed a CD on the tribute to the late King … and a book of prayer to everyone present.”

Just the thing for men who were responsible for the attacks on red shirt demonstrators seven years ago to the day that eventually left scores dead and thousands injured.

Meanwhile, it seems that Prayuth has decided that as The Dictator, he deserves Prem-like obeisance. He will “open Government House on April 12 for cabinet members, members of the National Council for Peace and Order, armed forces commanders and other officials to perform a rod nam dam hua [water-pouring] ceremony for him to mark the Songkran Festival.”

The juxtaposition of these political positions is defining of Thailand’s political present and indicative of its futures.





Updated: The constitution and the king’s coup

10 04 2017

The New York Times carries an op-ed by David Streckfuss. It is titled “In Thailand, a King’s Coup,” and we guess it will be blocked here in Thailand before too long.

We are not sure we agree with all of it, but will comment later.

Update: Streckfuss is like everyone else. He’s reading royal and military tea leaves and trying to work out what is going on. We can’t do anything different. His hypothesis seems to be that the the changes the king demanded of the junta’s constitution might represent a slap to the military. We are not so sure.

He’s not entirely right when he says that one changes “allows the king to name a regent to act on his behalf, including when he is traveling outside Thailand. This strips the Privy Council, a royal advisory group known to support the junta, of its traditional authority to act in the king’s place on such occasions.”

This isn’t correct. In previous constitutions, the king has had the right to appoint a regent. The change that impacts the Privy Council is that the new constitution removes the Privy Council President’s role of acting as regent when there’s a void. Grand old political fiddler General Prem Tinsulanonda may not like that, but he’s frail and on the way out.

There’s also the capacity for the king to nominate a person or a group to act as regent. We are not sure how this might work.

Another change is that the king doesn’t have to appoint a regent when he’s (often) away. That is giving him a power he didn’t have before but which is an acknowledgement that the new king intends to be away a lot.

Most of the other changes are a rolling back to earlier arrangements.

Then there’s the hypothesis that the king has a political “clean slate” and that this may result in some kind of association with a more democratic Thailand, as Streckfuss has it, the king might “foster a somewhat more open political atmosphere…”.

Don’t hold your breath. For a start, the prince-cum-king does not have a “clean slate.” Anything but. He has been manipulative in events since his father became unable to do much. Think of his efforts to have the now disgraced Jumpol Manmai made police chief.

To date, over 64 years, PPT hasn’t seen any evidence that Vajiralongkorn is going to be a democratic king. We would be very surprised if he turns out to be this, but we’d welcome that almost as much as a democratic republic.

There’s no doubt that Streckfuss is right when he sees the proclamation of the junta’s constitution on Chakri Day as significant. But what, exactly, is the significance? Is it that constitutionalism resides in the monarchy? Is it that “[t]ying the promulgation of the Constitution to Chakri Day is significant …[as it] seems to signal that constitutions are a gift to the people from the monarchy…”.

That’s also a misreading. In fact, royalists have made this point since 1932. That’s why Thailand has the daftly rendered King Prajadhipok Institute, as if the king targeted in 1932 was the real founder of democratic constitutionalism in Thailand. That certainly is an ideological misrepresentation.

We can think of another rendering: if the constitution was granted by the king and on Chakri Day, will it constitute lese majeste if anyone criticized it or wants to change it?

(We must add that Streckfuss is wrong that the previous king criticized the lese majeste law.)





Updated: Moving from military dictatorship to military domination

5 04 2017

The Bangkok Post quotes the junta and its minions in saying that a “general election will be held in November next year [2018] at the latest now that the date has been set for the promulgation of Thailand’s 20th constitution, according to the roadmap set by the National Council for Peace and Order[they mean military junta].”

That calculation is based on a “schedule announced in the Royal Gazette on Monday,” which has the king finally and with great pomposity, signing the junta’s much amended and still secret constitution tomorrow.

By that calculation, an “election,” under the junta’s rules and direction, must be held “19 months from that date or no later than Nov 6, 2018.”

Frankly, given that the junta promised “elections” 12 months after it illegally seized power in May 2014, we will believe it when it happens.

But as we have said before, the “elections” will change very little. A few countries like the USA will accept a military-backed but formalistic “elected government,” and that will be seen by some as a plus.

In fact, as planned at the moment, the military and junta will remain the power in Thailand, much as it was through the 1980s. But back then it was General Prem Tinsulanonda ruling with strong palace-backing and a military-dominated senate. This time it will be whoever the junta wants in the premier’s seat backed by the junta’s constitution and its multiple unelected bodies, including the unelected junta.

The Dictator seems reasonably sure that the constitution will be signed tomorrow: “As far as I know, [the king] will sign the constitution on April 6 and I will countersign it as prime minister…”.

Constitution Drafting Committee chairman Meechai Ruchupan appeared somewhat disoriented in his comments. Acknowledging that Article 44 powers will continue, he babbled that the “power cannot be used in violation of the core principles of the constitution. Nor can it change the new charter itself.” Of course, that would depend on interpretations by the Constitutional Court and other bodies developed by and beholden to the junta.

Then on the ban on political party activity, Meechai seemed befuddled, saying he “believes it will be eased after the political party bill is enacted” and then adding: “In any case, they can run their normal operation.” We are not sure what “normal” is and we are sure that the parties don’t know either.

Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd, spokesman of The Dictator, noted that:

Members of the cabinet, NCPO [junta], NLA [puppet assembly] and NRSA [puppet National Reform Steering Assembly] who want to run for MPs must resign within 90 days after the new charter comes into effect. The rule applies only to MPs, not senators or cabinet ministers.

He added: “Once the constitution comes into effect, enacting a law will be more complicated and public hearings and opinions of related government agencies must be taken into consideration…”.

It will be “more complicated” for the junta even if the “complications” were designed by the junta. But Article 44 doesn’t get complicated at all. It just stays and its use is legal before and after “elections.”

In the end, the junta’s road map is a representation of how to move from military dictatorship to continued military domination of politics. That’s the plan, the road map. We retain some hope that the people will reject the dons of the military mafia.

Update: Meechai was certainly addled on political parties, so the junta has made things clear. Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan said “restrictions on political parties’ activities will not be eased even after the enactment of the new constitution.” He added: “Please wait until things become orderly. There is still about one year left [before the poll is held]…”. About a year? Or about two years? The Nation reckons the election date remains unclear.





Jeng jailed for “unspoken” lese majeste

7 03 2017

The Bangkok Post reports on one of the more bizarre lese majeste cases. That’s quite a claim when lese majeste charges have been brought against those speaking of kings dead for hundreds of years, fraudsters and a man said to have insulted a royal dog.

Yet in upholding two lower court judgements and sentenced United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) core member Yoswaris Chuklom or Jeng Dokchik, now 59, Thailand’s sham justice system has shown itself (again) as hopelessly spineless, stupid and warped.

The Supreme Court on 7 March 2017 upheld his sentence to two years in jail for lese majeste. He was immediately taken away to jail.

What did he do?

The three courts that have made judgement have engaged in a remarkable extension of lese majeste to include words left unspoken.

Jeng was sentenced for comments made in a speech to red shirt protesters that were considered by the courts to have implied that King Bhumibol influenced then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s decision not to dissolve the parliament. The court – probably committing lese majeste itself – stated: “His [Jeng’s] statement falsely accused the king of political interference…”.

In fact, Jeng told red shirts that Abhisit refused to dissolve parliament in 2010 on the orders of an unidentified person with more power than both him and Privy Council President Gen Prem Tinsulanonda.

The court were convinced this was the king.

Jeng also named the military and added that there was someone else behind Abhisit before placing his hands over his mouth and saying: “I am not brave enough to say it…. But I know what are you thinking right now. So I will keep my mouth shut.”

By not saying a name, Jeng will now go to jail for two years. That is savage and vindictive.





New military “hero” organizing “reconciliation”

6 03 2017

It has been recognized that Lt Gen Apirat Kongsompong is flying towards the top. When a military regime is seeking to embed authoritarianism, it often happens that the lure of running things, having lots of power and the chance to acquire great wealth causes aspiring green shirts to take a shot of becoming the next military political “hero.”

Most regimes see upstarts pushing the bigger bosses. For example, Field Marshal Phibun had to watch out for not only royalists but also for General Sarit Thanarat and Pol Gen Phao Sriyanon. General Prem Tinsulanonda had the palace on side, but had to see off “Young Turks” uppity generals like Arthit Kamlang-ek.

Now it is General Apirat’s chance.

apirat

The Bangkok Post has been reporting on Lt Gen Apirat rather too consistently than his bosses might like. The latest has him arranging for the “governors of 21 provinces in the Central Plain [to]… team up with officers from the 1st Army to gather views of people in their provinces on national reconciliation as the government expands its push for forging unity upcountry.”

“People” has an odd, junta-friendly, definition, generally meaning “groups” like bureaucrats, academics and business people. The lower rungs of society only rarely get defined as “people” worthy of having “views.”

To kick off the (real) people-free “reconciliation” PR exercise, “governors were invited to have a talk with 1st Army commander Apirat Kongsompong on Friday…”. Somewhat garbled, the report goes on to write of “their joint move” in a “meeting of the chiefs of all units under the 1st Army and representatives from the Internal Security Operations Command.”

It all sounds rather like something arranged in the 1970s about counterinsurgency. Back then, the governors were the key link between the military and civilian bureaucrats. The arrangement meant the military dominated civilian administration.

Lt Gen Apirat has a similar view today, saying “the governors will be the ‘key men’ in this initial stage to gather useful opinions from people from all walks of life.” As it was several decades ago, it is the “military chiefs [who] will serve as supporters and coordinators to invite target groups to air their views at the roundtable meetings…”. And they will have to listen and learn to junta propaganda.

Which groups? They will be “local politicians, scholars, state officials and business persons in the provinces and community leaders and non-governmental organisations.” The real people still can’t be trusted.

The report states that they “will be encouraged to talk on 10 topics, set by the panel appointed to work on a process to restore national unity, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon…”. That is, the selected “trainees” will “discuss” only junta-approved stuff.

In case readers wondered, “national unity” was destroyed by Thaksin Shinawatra being a “divisive” figure. The military is not “divisive” despite its penchant for gunning down protesters.

Lt Gen Apirat declared that he wanted “all participants to adopt impartial attitudes…”. We doubt he understands the meaning of “impartial.”

He also “revealed” that there was an extra topic: “referring to a question raised by [The Dictator] … who wants to know how all parties view the ongoing problems facing the country and how they can help solve them bringing back a peaceful atmosphere.”

Um. Ah. Huh? The other issues in a reconciliation meeting don’t to this? Yes, we get it, Apirat is posterior polishing. When making a run for the top, ensure that current incumbents don’t feel they are in trouble or being destabilized. Butter them up and appear “loyal.”

All this faux “opinion gathering” at the provincial level has “to be completed within this month.” We guess that the military already has the required “opinions” on its lists.

These “opinions” will be processed by – you guessed it – the military: “Once the governors finish their work, the opinions will be sent to a sub-panel led by permanent secretary for defence, [General] Chaicharn Changmongkol.”

This might be good PR for the junta. It is also keeping Apirat in the limelight, where he prefers to be.





Palace punishment

4 03 2017

PPT has posted on the travails of former top cop and top aide to King Vajiralongkorn, Police General Jumpol Manmai.

jumpol-shavedAs has been something of a pattern when the prince-cum-king tires of people or he believes they have done him down in some way, Jumpol was first rumored to be in trouble, then legal cases were mentioned, followed by his disappearance. When he reappeared, like others, his head was shaved and he refused to apply for bail and entered guilty pleas on the legal accusation.

The Nation has a series of photos of what is a public humiliation of the former confidante to the king. Accounts on social media and The Nation report speak of dozens of photographers and reporters fighting for a piece of the new public face of the now officially disgraced Jumpol.

SuriyanThose reporters know that Jumpol is lucky to reappear – others, like Suriyan Sujaritpalawong have died.

Oddly, a later report in The Nation manages to mangle events, actually writing that “Jumpol surrendered to the Crime Suppression Division to face the charges…”.

The reporters also know that land encroachment charges seem rather “light” if Jumpol is really to be disgraced as others usually face lese majeste charges.

After all, not that long ago, former appointed premier, coup plotter and Privy Councilor General Surayud Chulanont was seen to have engaged in forest encroachment and nothing legal seemed to happen to him. He was still able to remain on the Privy Council as he apparently retained the support of General Prem Tinsulanonda and the palace. At the time, Surayud was seen as a leading light in the anti-Thaksin-cum-yellow shirt machinations against Thaksin Shinawatra and his parties and supporters.

Another reason for huge interest in the Jumpol case is that he is widely considered to have provided a link between Thaksin and the prince-now-king. The evidence for this is seen in some Wikileaks speculation and because Jumpol was treated as a Thaksin man by the former Abhisit Vejjajiva regime, despite his links to the then prince.

The police state they “have yet to charge him with violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code, which involves lese majeste,” so it seems that this step is likely.

After his initial appearance, the military used one of their aircraft to take Jumpol to Nakorn Ratchasima for several legal matters associated with land encroachment.

One further step in the palace punishment process is to also charge family members as “accomplices.” These people may have committed real crimes, but their position close to a now “failed” royal relationship also places them at risk and they also get disgraced.

In this quite feudal and narcissistic approach to “relationships” has now seen Jumpol’s wife appear to be charged. Unusually, the police banned reporters from taking photographs of her.

She is described as having “turned herself in to police yesterday to face the same [forest encroachment] charges. She is reported to have “denied some of the charges against her, but allegedly made partial admissions during the police interrogation.” She was released on bail.

It is also reported that:

three other defendants had been released on bail after police investigators concluded that they were unlikely to flee. They were identified as Region 5 Police deputy commissioner Pol Maj-General Pongdej Prommijit, his wife Chanasit Pisitwanit, and her relative Manop Plodkhoksoong.

We suspect there’s a lot more to play out in this case.





Still getting the monarchy wrong

17 02 2017

Ralph Jennings, a Contributor at Forbes says he “cover[s] under-reported stories from Taiwan and Asia” but seems to specialize on China and Taiwan. Thus, venturing into things royal and Thailand is thus a stretch and a test of knowledge.

He’s right to observe that the monarchy in Thailand has “massive influence.”

But the picture he paints of the last king is pure palace propaganda when he states:

He had stopped coups, spearheaded rural infrastructure projects and met commoners in rough or squalid conditions. His actions helped strengthen people’s confidence in their country with an otherwise wobbly government.

Let’s correct a bit. He also initiated coups, as in 1957, and he supported coups, as in 2006, when it suited him. And that’s just two examples. He also supported right-wing extremists and acted as a prompt to massive blood-letting, as in 1976. The palace hand was always meddling in politics. The “infrastructure projects” are presumably the royal projects, many of them grand failures and, since the General Prem Tinsulanonda era, at great taxpayer expense.

And, “wobbly government” hardly seems to fit much of the reign, when the monarchy collaborated with ruthless military regimes, just as it does now.

The author is correct to observe that King Vajiralongkorn “is not expected to advocate changes in Thailand that reflect mass concerns or even go around meeting people.”

Recall that the dead king also essentially gave up “going to the people” for most of the last two decades of his reign. For one thing, he was too ill. For another, the “going to meet the people” was a political strategy for winning hearts and minds in his campaign to remake the monarchy. By the 1990s, this was largely achieved.

That King Vajiralongkorn is claimed to have “signaled little interest so far in shifting Thailand from quasi-military rule toward more democracy after a junta took power in 2014” seems an odd observation. And, in this quite natural political position for a monarchy such as Thailand’s, the new king follows the dead one.

That the new king wants more power for the throne is clear to all. That’s why the military’s “constitution” has been changed. But to say that the new version – we still don’t know the exact nature of the changes – allows the king “more freedom to travel overseas, where he has spent much of his life, and can appoint a regent to rule when he’s not around” is a misunderstanding of what The Dictator has let be known. The point of the changes was to allow him to not have a regent during his jaunts.

And, Mr Jennings must be the only one who thinks “[e]lections are due this year.”

He is right, however, to add that “[o]bservers believe that with King Vajiralongkorn, Thailand will continue to retain its strict lese-majeste laws, which ban any criticism of the monarchy.” That is a requirement of continued domination by a royalist elite.