Generational change

21 06 2018

Associated with years of military rule and anti-democracy, the old men who have run Thailand for decades are dying off. But they are replaced another group of royalist military thugs who intend to maintain political control and repression for decades to come.

We say this after the announcement of the death of royalist policeman Vasit Dejkunjorn. Usually no one would take much notice of the death of a former deputy police chief. However, Vasit gets plenty of attention because he was seen as close to the dead king, a relationship Vasit played up.

A long time ago we wrote this of Vasit, citing Michael Montesano (where the link is now defunct):

“Briefer of CIA director Allen Dulles during the latter’s late-1950s visit to Thailand, veteran of anti-Soviet espionage in Bangkok, long the Thai Special Branch’s leading trainer in anti-Communist operations, and palace insider at the time of his country’s most intensive counter-insurgency efforts, Police General Vasit Dejkunjorn ranked among Thailand’s most important Cold Warriors.”

His background in the shadows of the Cold War did not prevent him from being of an office holder at Transparency International in Thailand. Vasit remained a warrior for the palace in his columns in Matichon and as a royalist speaker. For a very short time Vasit was deputy interior minister for Chatichai Choonhavan being raised from his position as deputy police chief. Vasit “retired” years ago, but kept popping up in strategic locations. His political views reflect the position of the palace. His royalism and extreme views were inflected with racism, extreme nationalism, support for lese majeste and the rejection of constitutional monarchy as being to constraining of his king.

He was associated with all kinds of rightist, royalist and nationalist efforts to eject elected governments.

As expected, his funeral will be a royal one, with Princess Sirindhorn presiding. That’s a sign of a man who did the palace’s work.

Several of the other old men are on their last legs, including Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, now seen in a wheel chair.

In recent years as Prem, Vasit and others schemed against elected governments and worked to mobilize opposition on the streets and in the barracks, they also managed a transition to “tough” military royalists, trusted to carry forward their preferred royalism and anti-democracy well into the future.

Think Meechai Ruchupan’s role in constitutional manipulation and Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha as military strongmen. This “new generation” of political manipulators are the legacy left by the departing old men.





Elections 101

5 06 2018

The Nation has an editorial worth a read. It is on the need to have an election, even if it is the junta’s “election.”

It begins with the acknowledgement that the “junta is likely to hold on to power at the polls, but its opponents must seize every opportunity for change and progress.”

That’s a bold argument for it acknowledges that the junta is bent and that the elections – whenever they are held – are rigged in the junta’s favor.

By arguing that the junta’s opponents should accept that they will lose and just work for change and progress as the junta allows it seems to us to offer little hope for anyone interested in people’s representation and sovereignty in Thailand.

The Nation argues that the “recent emergence of a raft of political parties is sending a clear signal to the ruling military junta – the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the junta] – and to society as a whole. It is that elections are essential if the country is to continue making progress.”

It may say that. Equally, though, it simply reflects the junta’s plans and its rigging of the electoral system.

The editorial continues by stating that anti-democrats “have come to realise the necessity of an election as a genuine instrument for negotiating power.” We see no evidence of this at all. The anti-democrats were often members of parties before the 2014 military coup and they will be again.

What is clear is that they participate in the belief that the junta will retain its power and that the election will not be free or fair. That’s hardly a vote of confidence in the party system. Devil parties are simply the military’s tools.

The best The Nation seems to offer “citizens” is a “share of the power.” Really? That’s it? Well, yes, that’s what the junta intends. Scraps thrown to parties – see Gen Prem Tinsulanonda in the 1980s.

To suggest that these scraps and a junta “election” will move the “military out of politics” is wishful thinking, unless there is a landslide against the junta. Somehow we don’t see the junta allowing that.

The Nation knows it is whistling in the wind:

The downside of the coming election is that, if junta-allied parties win, it could give the generals a measure of legitimacy and the chance to perpetuate their rule. Political elements that supported the NCPO are now forming parties to contest the race in the hope of claiming enough parliamentary seats to keep Prayut in power.

The military government has put in place legal instruments to extend its rule. It has the armed forces protecting it and dissuading opposition. Public money is being spent on the very kind of populist programmes the generals once derided as a politician’s trick, a bribe for votes. And it is now creating not one political party but many in a bid to ensure it receives a mandate to continue governing.

Remarkably, the editorial the dismisses political parties as grasping and evil. That will help things a lot – for the junta – for that is their lie. Parties can be for the people, but the people have to have a fair chance. Rigging the system from the start is a not a fair chance; it is no chance. Again, the editorial writer knows this:

Generally, the political equation hasn’t changed in four years. There are new parties offering alternatives, but it’s doubtful they’re strong enough to win at the polls. The present regime will see to that. It would be naïve to think the junta would heed calls for a free and fair election. Its need to win the election to gain legitimacy and remain in power is simply too great. But it is wise to call for close monitoring of Thailand’s political developments.

The government and its supporters would use any means necessary to win an election that has to come eventually, since further delays are impossible.

Heading towards it, the rules of the game are not particularly fair and the players are hardly equal. Plus, with the junta as a player in the game, there is no real regulator supervising the polling. Despite all of this, the election is still the best choice.

At present, it is the only choice on the horizon. But the junta will ensure there is little or no choice. If, and it is a huge if, anti-junta parties can cobble something together, they have to challenge all that the junta has done. The boys in green will not stand for that.

So Thailand is stuck unless the military can be disciplined. We leave that option to better strategists than us. It is the biggest challenge facing the Thai people for 80+ years.





Stealing an “election” V

24 04 2018

A reader pointed out a recent op-ed at East Asia Forum on rigging the “election” in Thailand.

Academic Kevin Hewison points to the many “delays” to an “election” and writes that these:

delays are one element of a set of processes devised by the junta to prevent the election to government of any party associated with exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. For the junta and its supporters, ‘reform’ means neutering the Shinawatra clan’s Pheu Thai Party. The junta’s determination to crush Pheu Thai and the related red-shirt movement draws lessons from the military’s failure to defeat its opponents following the 2006 coup.

Another element of the strategy is the military boot:

Repression has been an important instrument. Immediately after the 2014 coup, the military showed that it had been assiduously acquiring intelligence on the vast red-shirt network by arresting and intimidating its leaders across the country. Several hundred red-shirts went into exile while local networks were penetrated and disrupted. The regime gave particular attention to anti-monarchists and lodged dozens of lese majeste charges. In one case, a red shirt leader was pursued internationally and ‘disappeared’…. At the same time, the regime prosecuted and incarcerated Pheu Thai leaders.

The junta has also:

plagiarised several Thaksin-era policies and launched concerted efforts to win the allegiance of those who voted for pro-Shinawatra parties. Like its yellow-shirted supporters, the junta believes that the provincial citizens who repeatedly voted these parties into government were duped or bought, or are simply ignorant. It assumes that these voters were insincere in their support for Thaksin parties and can be made ‘less stupid’ and weaned from Pheu Thai.

Hewison notes that the “regime and military intelligence is encouraging the establishment of small parties that, while nationally insignificant, may diminish Pheu Thai support in local constituencies” and has restructured the electoral, oversight and political system “to prevent any elected government from actually governing.”

He sees this as a kind of throwback to the 1980s when Gen Prem Tinsulanonda was an “outsider” prime minister, never elected. Prem “mostly ignored parliament” as it was “an unimportant place” where politicians argued and Prem ruled, with the “locus of political power was in the bureaucracy and the military.”

He views the rise of new and self-proclaimed “progressive” parties, as well as the junta-loving parties as “a measure of junta success.” Why?:

Small parties and a fragmented party system mean the military can maintain its political dominance in a Prem-style quasi-democracy that is better thought of as a stifling, semi-authoritarian political system.

This actually leads beyond “elections.” The arrangements put in place will indeed be stifling until, somehow, some way, the military is depoliticized and its repressive ménage à trois with monarchy and super-rich is unpicked.





Updated: Songkhran campaigning

11 04 2018

Brief conjecture back in January was that nonagenarian Privy Council chairman and political mover-and-shaker of years gone by, Gen Prem Tinsulanonda had snubbed The Dictator and his men.

Whatever the problems was back then, the interferer is back on the job now, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha took his junta and other hangers-on over to Prem’s taxpayer funded digs for an anointing by the king-like figure who just can’t leave things alone:

Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha led his cabinet ministers and military top brass to wish Privy Council president Gen Prem Tin­su­lanonda and receive his blessing at his Si Sao Theves residence on Wednesday morning.

Over-using the word “traditional,” the old man apparently agreed to boost The Dictator’s “election” campaign by commending Prayuth “for his leadership that he was confident could bring the country to peace and happiness…. He wished the prime minister to succeed in work.”

Yes, he’s said such platitudes previously, but it is a signal to Prem supporters that The Dictator is the man for the premier’s job going forward.

Update: The Bangkok Post has more details on Gen Prem’s words of support for The Dictator and his military junta. Prem reportedly said he had been “contemplating how long Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha would need to lead the nation to success” and added that he “would support him [Prayuth] all the way.”





Updated: How’s the new king looking?

7 04 2018

Each year, the academic journal Asian Survey has articles which provide brief country summaries of the previous year’s significant events. For 2017, well-known analyst and commentator Duncan McCargo has completed the article on Thailand (opens a PDF).

The article is necessarily short but has some comments on King Vajiralongkorn that merit posting here, not least because they mesh with some of PPT’s comments a few days ago.

In the abstract, McCargo states that “…King Vajiralongkorn is untested and lacks popular legitimacy.” True enough, although it has to be said that almost all those who succeed to thrones are largely “untested” and that popularity is no qualification for monarchy, where it is bloodlines that matter. Like a few other commentators, including some who are anti-monarchists, there’s a tendency to unfavorably compare Vajiralongkorn with his deceased father. Unfortunately, some of these comparisons required considerable retro-acceptance of palace propaganda about the dead king.

When he deals with the new reign, McCargo observes:

New King Vajiralongkorn’s detractors have long dismissed him as a playboy who takes little interest in serious matters, but since ascending the throne on December 1, 2016, he has proved to be an activist and interventionist monarch.

This is an important point. The areas where he has intervened, however, have been mostly about the monarchy and its privileges and the control of the palace. Clearly, Vajiralongkorn has been planning his succession maneuvers for some years. McCargo continues:

King Vajiralongkorn apparently pays very close attention to government policies and matters of legislation, especially where they may affect the legitimacy or privileges of the monarchy, or touch on matters of religion. He carefully monitors promotions and transfers inside the bureaucracy, especially the upper echelons of the military and the police force.

His interest in religious matters goes back to the 1990s and we know about his intervention in police promotions. Readers may recall that the last police intervention was in favor of Pol Gen Jumpol Manmai. Later Jumpol was made a Grand Chamberlain in Vajiralongkorn’s palace. That didn’t go well and, as far as we can recall, nothing has been seen or heard from Jumpol since…. Which reminds us, if legal infractions cause the king to disgrace a senior aide, can we expect that Gen Prem Tinsulanonda will soon be sacked from the Privy Council by the king?

Presumably the upcoming military reshuffle will result from a junta-palace consensus. One report reckons the reshuffle buttresses The Dictator’s position.

But back to McCargo’s commentary. He says:

… the new king remains neither popular nor widely respected; crucially, while his father never left Thailand after 1967, King Vajiralongkorn spends much of his time in Germany. His private life is the topic of constant gossip and speculation. The prospect of his coronation—and a raft of associated symbolic changes, such as new banknotes, coins, and stamps—fills many Thais with apprehension.

In fact, Bhumibol visited Laos in April 1994 (an error also made officially), but this slip doesn’t diminish the point about Vajiralongkorn’s extensive periods away from Thailand. On the bit about gossip, that’s been true for several decades and the king seems to have accepted that he is a “black sheep.” That there is “apprehension” over symbolic changes may be true, but if a report in the Bangkok Post is to be believed, that apprehension seems to be dissipating. It says:

Large crowds formed long queues at provincial offices of the Treasury Department to exchange cash for the first lot of circulated coins bearing the image of King Rama X on Friday, the Chakri Memorial Day.

Palace propaganda continues apace, the military junta has crushed republicans, and monarchists are remaining adhered to the institution if not the person.

Update: Another measure of apprehension dissipating might be seen in the report of “traditional” clothing sales. While the report refers to the influence of a hit soap opera, the influence of the king’s efforts at a revival of all things pre-1932 are having an impact too.





Donation corruption and double standards

6 04 2018

We missed this story a couple of days ago and it deserves wide circulation.

The Bangkok Post reports that the “Department of Special Investigation (DSI) says it did not bring charges against Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda, who received a cheque worth 250,000 baht from the owner of a real-estate company implicated in a loan scandal…”. It is also “claimed that another cheque with an undisclosed value was deposited in a bank account belonging to ACM Prajun Tamprateep, a close associate of Gen Prem.”

This story goes back 14 years and is big news because another alleged recipient is Panthongtae Shinawatra. His case has gone to court. Prem’s case hasn’t. Neither has Phajun’s. Why is that?

According to DSI boss Paisit Wongmuang his agency “did not bring charges against all the cheque recipients…”. No further explanation as to why some are prosecuted and not others.

The Post cites a “DSI source” who said the “250,000-baht cheque was merely put into the General Prem Tinsulanonda Statesman Foundation and the money was not used for Gen Prem’s own purposes.” The source added: “The intention is clear that this was a charity donation…”.

The payment to “ACM Prajun’s bank account” was “explained” that “the sum was used to organise a banquet for those attending a course at the Thailand National Defence College…”.

In terms of law and corruption, it makes no difference what the money was used for. If some get off, all should. If some are charged, all should be.

This is one more example of double standards under the military dictatorship.





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.