Thailand and Myanmar’s generals

25 02 2021

Oren Samet has a useful article at The Diplomat. “The Myanmar Public Fights Not to End Up Like Thailand” makes some points that need attention. It begins:

A week after overthrowing Myanmar’s elected civilian government on February 1, coup leader [Gen] Min Aung Hlaing sent a letter to Thai Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha asking – with no hint of irony – for his help in supporting “democracy” in Myanmar. The letter was revealing not for what it said, but for who it was addressed to. Prayut is, himself, a former general, who overthrew Thailand’s elected government in 2014 and has been in charge ever since. When it comes to coups, Thailand’s generals know what they’re doing.

As we know, and despite initial silence and opacity, in recent days, representative’s of Myanmar’s military junta have been meeting with Thai counterparts – most of whom were a part or associated with Thailand’s own military junta in 2014-19.

As far as we know, this is the first overseas visit by a Myanmar government representative since its hugely popular and elected government was thrown out by the coup.

According to Samet, the Myanmar generals are following a Thai script:

When Min Aung Hlaing made his first televised statement since taking power, he repeatedly emphasized that government policies would remain unchanged and welcomed continued foreign investment. Despite the disastrous consequences of previous military takeovers in Myanmar, he promised that this coup would be different.

He might as well have said, “this time we’re doing it Thai style.”

Samet rightly points out that Gen Min Aung Hlaing:

has close connections to the Thai military. He received multiple high-level honors from the Thai authorities, even after orchestrating the Rohingya genocide in 2017. Prem Tinsulanonda, a previous Thai general turned prime minister, considered Min Aung Hlaing his “adopted son.”

Thailand’s royalist military and the interfering Gen Prem has, from the ashes, helped in bringing authoritarianism back to Myanmar.

But, as the world knows, the Myanmar generals are facing stiff opposition. This is not, as Samet claims, being unable to follow the Thai example, but different circumstances. In 2014, the Thai generals didn’t face widespread opposition because they had eliminated, through repression and jailings, the red shirt opposition and its leaders. At the same time, like Thailand’s yellow shirts who hated Thaksin Shinawatra, in Myanmar, several public intellectuals with civil society links have gone over to the generals and express an intense hatred of Aung San Suu Kyi and her alleged arrogance.

The other thing that the Thai military might have shown their buddies across the border is that it is possible to wait out civil opposition while picking off some of that oppositions leadership. The men with guns know that peaceful protest can often be waited out.





Monarchy, politics and partisanship

11 11 2020

Remember all the bleating about the king being above politics?

We all know that this is buffalo manure, demonstrated by the king himself in recent days.

Interestingly, there’s more evidence of the palace being directly involved in politics that emerges on an almost daily basis.

One example is in The Nation, where Parliament president Chuan Leekpai has stated that “he had consulted Privy Councillor [Gen] Surayud Chulanont … about plans for a national reconciliation committee to resolve rising political conflict.” Chuan added “that Surayud, a former Army chief and post-2016 coup PM, declined to express an opinion on the topic.” Sort of: “he asked all sides to consider the community at large…”.

What’s wrong with that? After all, the old meddler, Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, was interfering all the time. But that was wrong. Like the king, the Privy Council is supposed to be above politics, and under the constitution, providing advice to the king, not to leaders of the legislature.

A second example is about other bodies that claim to be “neutral.” The Office of the Chularatchamontri claims that it and all “Islamic organisations at all levels maintain political neutrality.” This didn’t stop them staging “a mass gathering for Muslim residents who stand united in wanting to protect the country’s three pillar institutions.” The report adds:

The event called Ruam Palang Muslim Pokpong Sathaban Chart Sat Kasat (Uniting Muslim Power to Protect the Nation, Religion and the Royal Institution), was presided over by Aziz Pitukkumpol, the Chularatchamontri.

The event took place at the National Administration Centre for Islamic Affairs Chalerm Phrakiat in Bangkok’s Nong Chok district. It was attended by a large crowd of Muslim residents who wore yellow and waved the national and royal flags.

We understand that the Office is a bureaucratic and state organization, and probably was ordered to mobilize, and that the Chularatchamontri is appointed by the king, but why babble about “neutrality” and then act in highly partisan manner?

No one is above politics, and the right continues to use offices of the state for political purposes. The king will be pleased.





Challenging monarchism I

27 10 2020

Pro-democracy protesters have dramatically changed Thailand’s political and cultural landscape.

One of the best examples is in newspaper reporting. Some outlets have gone full-on mad monarchist, but all are reporting on the monarchy as never before. It was only a few weeks ago that Thais relying on the mainstream media might easily have thought that the king and queen were living in Thailand. Almost no outlet ever mentioned much about the royals spending all their time in Germany and Switzerland.

That’s all changed.

These outlets have to report on events such as last evening’s march to the German Embassy in Bangkok. In reporting such events, the media find that they must say something about them. Sure, they still self-censor on the most radical statements and the students poking fun at the monarch and even purloining his recent statements to ultra-royalists as anti-monarchy memes. For example, when Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha ignored the demand that he go, the Khana Ratsadon 2563 named the 26 October march to the German Embassy “Very Brave, Very Good,” with the note: “Because we can’t talk sense with the dog, we shall talk to the dog’s owner.” A huge banner read: “Reform the Monarchy.”

While not mainstream, like many other outlets, Thisrupt explained why the protesters were going to the German Embassy: “Today, Khana Ratsadon will march from Samyan Intersection to the German Embassy on Sathorn Road. Germany has been the residence of … King Rama 10 for many years. ”

The Nation reports: “Pro-democracy demonstrators submitted a letter to the German embassy in Bangkok on Monday asking its government to investigate whether HM the King is ruling from German soil.” The protesters stated; “The request is aimed at reinstating … the King to Thailand so the Palace is placed under the Constitution and Thailand can return to being a genuine constitutional monarchy…”.

A Thai PBS photo

Thai PBS reports: “Thousands of protesters ended their rally in front of the German Embassy on South Sathorn Road after submitting a letter addressed to the German government stressing their call for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to resign and demanding a probe into … the King’s frequent visits to Germany.”

Can anyone imagine such a reporting even a month ago?

Even anti-democrat ultra-royalists have had to acknowledge that the king they claim to revere prefers to spend his time living the high life in Germany. Their tiny rally at the German Embassy before the thousands of pro-democracy protesters showed up, begged the German government to ignore the “false information” about their usually absent king.

We don’t think the monarchy can recover from this. Of course, after its involvement in the 1976 massacre at Thammasat University, the monarchy took years to recover its ideological hegemony, mainly through military-backed government led by unelected premier and groveling royalist Gen Prem Tinsulanonda. In parliament, ultra-royalists like the reprehensible Paiboon Nititawan, an MP for the junta’s Palang Pracharath Party, continue to wind the clock backwards, “accusing protesters of trying to overthrow the monarchy.”

Military supporters like Paiboon may want the extreme repression and bloodshed they’ll need to push the anti-royalist genie back into the bottle. We think the bottle is also broken.





A tale of two demolitions

22 09 2020

The Crown Property Bureau’s voracious appetite for land isn the so-called royal precinct has finally gobbled up the Si Sao Thewes residence, which had belonged to the Royal Thai Army.

The Bangkok Post reports that the residence is now demolished. This follows the death of Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, the former prime minister, president of the Privy Council, and incessant interfering old man who lived there, on the taxpayers’ account, from 1979 to 2019.

The army is reported to have “returned the historical residence and grounds to the Crown Property Bureau in 2019…”. This is a bit like how the national zoo was “returned” to the king in 2018. This grasping is so the king can build an enormous palace. Given that he resides in Germany, this is just an erection to show how superior he is. But perhaps he’ll move back when the new palace is completed. He’ll be well into his 70s then.

Indicating that the Army was “pushed” into giving up the land, the report states there had been a “plan to turn a building situated on one side of the grounds and used as the army club into a museum of valuable woods.” As army chief, “Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha … presided over the laying of a foundation stone for a new army club there.” Soon after, that plan was shelved and the lad was gulped up by the CPB.

(We should correct the Post story. It states that Prem left the premier’s position “[a]fter eight years … refusing to stay on for another term, saying ‘I have had enough’.” True, he did say this, but the real truth is that many in the political class wanted him gone. Ignoring the conflict to make Prem “revered” is a nonsense.)

Related, as they protested the monarchy’s land grabs, the demonstrators on the weekend declared Sanam Luang to be Sanam Ratsadorn and planted a people’s plaque.

Clipped from Khaosod

Within hours, the plaque was gone. It is reported: “The plaque appeared to be removed some time after 10pm, when Sanam Luang was closed off from the public, and before 5am, when the gates reopened.”

Clipped from Khaosod

Police had already stated that “they considered the plaque illegal, since it was placed there without permission from the authorities.”

On cue, Fine Arts Department director Sataporn Thiengtham jumped about spluttering that “the group behind the plaque … broke the laws that protect historic sites.” When asked if he wasn’t babbling double standards, he denied this.

As the report points out, stooge Sataporn’s “department took no action when several key monuments associated with the 1932 revolution that toppled the absolute monarchy disappeared in recent years.” This included the “commemorative plaque on the Royal Plaza…”.

All of this is about the king’s neo-absolutism and his need for wealth and land.





The king and his antics II

11 09 2020

Thailand’s king and his antics in Europe have attracted plenty of unfavorable comment, The most recent is from The Statesman. While we think that most of PPT’s readers will know all of the facts and antics recounted, we consider the article by Francis Pike, with our added illustrations, worth reproducing in full:

The depraved rule of Thailand’s Caligula king
Protestors are risking it all to take on the monarchy

Fu Fu

The Roman emperor Caligula was renowned for his extravagance, capricious cruelty, sexual deviancy and temper bordering on insanity. Most famously, before he was assassinated, he planned to appoint his favourite horse as a consul. This is probably a legend. But King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who ascended the Thai throne in 2016, adopted Caligula’s playbook for real. In 2009 the then crown prince promoted his pet miniature poodle Foo Foo to the post of air chief marshal, in which capacity he served until his death in 2015, aged 17. Foo Foo’s cremation was preceded by four days of formal Buddhist mourning.

The poodle first came to the attention of the general public when a video was released showing him eating cake from the hand of Vajiralongkorn’s third wife, Princess Srirasmi, while she cavorted in a G-string at the dog’s lavish birthday party. At a 2009 gala dinner in honour of Vajiralongkorn, Foo Foo was kitted out head to paw in black-tie dress and, according to a WikiLeaks-revealed account by US ambassador, Ralph Boyce, ‘jumped onto the head table and began lapping from the guests’ water glasses, including my own’.

When on parade the new king wears crisp, snowy-white, gold-braided, Ruritanian military uniforms or elaborate Thai regalia that make him look like a Buddhist temple in human form. In downtime his dress code can at best be described as kinky: trainers and low-hung jeans paired with the skimpiest of crop tops. His back and arms are festooned with possibly fake tattoos.

Vajiralongkorn is famously lecherous. Indeed, in his youth, Thai aristocrats would pack off their daughters to Europe to get them out of his clutches. Happily for Bangkok’s elite, the crown prince’s tastes, after his divorce from his first wife, an aristocratic relative of his mother, were consistently low-rent. His second wife was an aspiring actress, albeit of the soft-porn variety.

Prince, and kids in earlier times

The marriage did not last. After Vajiralongkorn put posters all over the palace accusing her of adultery, she fled to London and later to the US with her children — apart from a daughter who was kidnapped and brought back to Bangkok. The daughter was elevated to the rank of princess, but her mother and brothers had their diplomatic passports and royal titles revoked by the crown prince. The Thai public was left horrified by his treatment of his family.

Another marriage followed in 2001, to the aforementioned Srirasmi, though it was not publicly announced until 2005 when the crown prince, by then in his early fifties, declared it was time to settle down. How-ever, in 2014 he stripped his wife of her royal titles because of her relatives’ corruption. Srirasmi’s parents were jailed for two and a half years each for lèse-majesté.

Sineenat

Five years later, on 1 May last year, and just three days before his official coronation, Vajiralongkorn married for the fourth time, to Suthida Tidjai, a former Thai Airways hostess, giving her the title of Queen Consort. The Thai people were dumbfounded when just two months later, the new king named his mistress, Major General Sineenat Wongvajira-pakdi, as his Royal Noble Consort; it was the first time this form of address had been used for more than 100 years. The new relationship lasted three months. On 21 October, Sineenat was stripped of all her titles and disappeared from public view, supposedly for being disrespectful to the queen.

The king’s extravagance is no less remarkable than his private life. A monarchy that was impoverished in the postwar period had, by some estimates, increased its wealth to between $40 billion and $60 billion by last year. Most of the wealth resides in land; ownership of some four square miles of central Bangkok makes the Thai monarchy the world’s wealthiest by a large margin. Overseas holdings include a major stake in the Kempinski hotel group.* Indeed, for years Vajiralongkorn has spent months on end at the Munich Kempinski with his harem and servants. In addition, he owns a mansion on Lake Starnberg to the southwest of Munich. In spite of his huge allowances as crown prince, affording him ownership of two Boeing 737s, it is thought that he had to resort to begging funds from the then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to cover his gambling debts.

Why do King Vajiralongkorn’s private shenanigans matter? Royal families throughout Europe have long weathered sexual and financial scandals. Juan Carlos may have had to step down as king and go into exile, but the Spanish monarchy has survived. So too has the Belgian monarchy after the former King Albert II admitted to a love child. There is no suggestion that Prince Andrew, cherubic by comparison with King Vajiralongkorn, will bring down the British royals because of the Epstein imbroglio. But the key difference is that, unlike Thailand, all those are constitutional monarchies.

Bhumibol and Ananda

In Thailand the monarchy is integral to the country’s real power structures. This was a 70-year legacy of Vajiralongkorn’s father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Bhumibol’s reign started under a cloud following the killing of his 20-year-old predecessor, King Ananda Mahidol, by a single shot to the head with a Colt .45 pistol. After a questionable trial two servants were executed for the murder, though it is widely suspected that the king was accidently shot by Bhumibol, his brother. For the first decade of his rule King Bhumibol was entirely powerless and lived under the rule of the quasi-dictator Field Marshal Phibunsongkhram, who, during the second world war, had allied Thailand with the Axis powers.

Bhumibol, Sirikit, Prem

But gradually, as Thailand inched towards a democracy, Bhumibol won the adoration of the Thai people thanks to his moderating influence and good works, such as paying for medical facilities for the poor. His political power increased. In 1952 he bravely refused to preside over ceremonies for Phibunsongkhram’s new militaristic constitution.** However, Bhumibol’s finest moment came in 1981 when he faced down the ‘April Fools’ Day’ coup d’état by fleeing Bangkok and raising the Thai royal standard at the military base at Khorat, where General Prem emerged as the new military strongman. There followed what is now known as the ‘Network Monarchy’ era, a coalition of military interests and those of the financial and industrial elite based in Bangkok. As a former American deputy-president at Thailand’s Bank of Asia noted: ‘Thai politics has been about dividing up the pie among the elite.’ At the centre of the web stood the Thai monarchy. Elected democratic institutions remained largely an adornment to this oligarchic structure.

In 2001 a business chancer and mobile phone billionaire, Thaksin Shinawatra, later the owner of Manchester City FC, swept to power with his Thai Rak Thai party promising a populist agenda including reform of health and education. Much to the chagrin of the ‘Network Monarchy’, Thaksin won a sweeping electoral victory again in 2005. Bhumibol, who loathed Thaksin, gave tacit support to the coup that first removed him and then sent him into exile two years later. Until his death in 2016, Bhumibol thwarted, either by military or judicial coup, the democratic will of the Thai people, who since 2001 have consistently voted into power Thaksin-backed parties and their proxy leaders. Bhumibol’s historic reputation, albeit tarnished by his thwarting of the democratic will, became an important pillar of resistance to Thaksin’s outsiders. After Bhumibol’s death in 2016, the critical power of the monarchy was left in the hands of his dissolute playboy son.

Will King Vajiralongkorn redeem his dire youthful reputation and do a ‘Prince Hal’, moving to the path of royal righteousness? The signs so far are not good. Just over a week ago, the Royal Noble Consort Sineenat suddenly re-emerged with no information other than an inventive Royal Gazette announcement that ‘It will be regarded that she was never stripped of the royal consort title, military ranks and royal decorations’.

More important than this saga of extra-judicial fiat, the king intervened in the drafting of a new constitution by the military junta in 2017 to grant himself new powers over the appointment of regents. In addition, the new constitution asserted the king’s rights to ‘manage’ during any constitutional crisis. Given that Thailand has had 17 military coups since 1932, this is not trivial. Two crack regiments have also been put under his direct control. As the political exile and professor at Kyoto University Pavin Chachavalpongpun has noted, the king ‘is basically running the country now, though he’s not doing that like his father did through moral authority. He’s using fear to solidify his position and to take command.’

It is therefore interesting that in the past month, demonstrations of up to 10,000 people have called for the powers of the king to be curtailed. Protestors have defied Thailand’s draconian lèse-majesté laws — which can incur up to 15 years’ imprisonment — to chant ‘Down with feudalism’. It remains to be seen whether the protests are a straw in the wind of future political instability. The new king’s attempt to transition from a monarch with influence within the ‘Network Monarchy’ to a monarch who rules is fraught with danger. But at least Vajiralongkorn is unlikely to come to Caligula’s sticky end; the king has a ready-made home for an exile in his beloved Bavaria.

*For discussions that reflect changes in ownership, see here and here.

**The refusal to attend was a fit of pique and self-interest.





Updated: King controls Army, Air Force and Police

29 08 2020

The winner in this years reshuffles of the military and police is King Vajiralongkorn. While loyalists have been in charge of these forces for decades, the palace has always had and expressed preferences. Vajiralongkorn has previously been involved in contests over the appointment of police chiefs.

Yet the recent approval of heads of Army, Air Force and Police suggest that the appointments have all been made to satisfy the king.

Nikkei Asian Review has recently recounted how “[t]rusted military allies of Thailand’s monarch have moved to extend their reach into the armed forces…”.

Whether this amounts to “alienating Prime Minister [Gen] Prayuth Chan-ocha from a pillar he needs to prop up his government,” remains to be seen. After all, Gen Prayuth is a staunch royalist and has been premier for more than six years. The last prime minister to serve longer was Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, another royalist, and he had to face down coup attempts.

According to unnamed sources, it was palace favorite and Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong who boosted “Gen Narongphan Jitkaewthae, the assistant army chief, to succeed him in September as the new commander of the army, which has 335,000 active-duty troops.”

Gen Narongphan is known to be trusted by Vajiralongkorn while Gen Prayuth is reported to have  favored Gen. Natthapon Nakpanich, the deputy army chief. But, of course, it is the king “who wields ultimate authority in this Southeast Asian kingdom.”

The report goes on to observe:

In a country where demonstrations of loyalty to the monarchy are prized, both Apirat and Narongphan wear theirs around their neck — special shirts with a red rim around the collar. The shirts show they have passed special training for soldiers in the elite Royal Command Guard, also known as Royal Guard 904, which answers only to the king.

The two generals also belong to the King’s Guard, a Bangkok-based military faction with a rich army pedigree. The monarch himself served in the ranks of the Wongthewan, as the King’s Guard is called in Thai, during military service in the 1970s while he was crown prince.

Given the king’s connections with the Air Force and with Air Chief Marshall Sathitpong Sukwimol as his long-serving private secretary the rise of palace loyalist Air Chief Marshall Airbull Suttiwan has been expected.

Meanwhile, at the police, Gen. Suwat “Big Pud” Chaengyodsuk, “a former commander of a royal protection police unit” has been approved as the next national police chief. Big Pud is reported to have “attended the same military cadet class with the current army chief Gen. Apirat … and was a classmate of Chakthip [Gen. Chakthip Chaijinda, current police chief] when they studied at the Royal Police Cadet Academy.”

Most significantly, Big Pud commanded the “police commando unit tasked with providing security to the Royal Family members and carrying out other tasks assigned by King Vajiralongkorn.”

The chances are that after these appointments are approved that a harder line will be taken against students and anti-monarchists.

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that there’s been pushback on the Air Force appointment, with Air Chief Marshall Airbull reportedly pushed aside after complaints, that included barb that “the nomination of ACM Airbull from ‘a special signal’ was damaging.” In the past, unless Vajiralongkorn has changed his mind, he has tended to be insistent. Let’s watch this.





Updated: Amnesty? Why now? II

21 07 2020

We had an earlier note on a new proposal for political amnesty, this time from the yellow-shirted side. Since then, there’s been considerable discussion and speculation regarding the “real” source of the proposal.

The Bangkok Post summarizes some of this discussion. It is worth reading. Some will remark on the “fate” of People’s Alliance for Democracy leaders:

On Feb 13 last year, the court upheld eight-month prison sentences for six former PAD co-leaders for their role in the seizure of Government House during 2008 street protests.

Five of them were later granted a royal pardon on the occasion of … the King’s coronation.

It is also worth noting that it was only last month that Supreme Court upheld rulings by lower courts against five leaders of a United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship protest in July 2007 that marched from Sanam Luang to the taxpayer-funded residence of the then president of the king’s Privy Council, Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, accused of fomenting the 2006 military coup.

Given that cases from more than a decade ago continue to drag on, perhaps there’s motivation for some. Maybe something else is going on behind closed doors. We still can’t determine the source of this new amnesty proposal, but it does appear to have high-level support.

Update: Interestingly, amnesty proposer Kamnoon Sidhisamarn is also urging a light touch with student demonstrators. Clearly, something has changed, at least for Kamnoon.





Convicted heroin trafficker rises

13 07 2020

The Palang Pracharath Party was morally bankrupt from the moment it was formed at the behest of the military junta. Yet it is proving it can dive deeper into the political muck.

NNT reports that after being its puppet master since it was an idea, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan’s move to the formal leadership of the military’s puppet party, sees his men and women being moved into top administrative positions in the party.

Gen Prawit “has appointed 10 new deputy leaders at the first meeting between Gen Prawit and party MPs.” They are listed as: “Mr Santi Promphat who also acts as party director, Capt Thamanat Prompow, Mr Suriya Juangroongruangkit, Mr Nataphol Teepsuwan, Mr Somsak Thepsutin, Mr Puttipong Punnakanta, Mr Wirat Ratanaset, Mr Nipan Siritorn, Mr Paiboon Nititawan, and Mr Suchart Chomklin.”

This is an interesting mix of money, yellow-shirted ideologues from the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, and local “influentials” with criminal links.

With convicted heroin trafficker Thammanat Prompao rising in the party it would be no surprise were he to be promoted from deputy minister to minister.

Such a rise would be reminiscent of the case of Narong Wongwan:

After the coup d’état of 1991 and ahead of the election in March 1992, he joined with other provincial businessmen, bureaucrats and supporters of the military coup group to form the Justice Unity Party, of which he became the chairman. The party won the election and Narong was designated prime minister, when media alleged that the United States had refused him entry admission due to … [suspicion] of involvement in drug trafficking. The US government threatened that relations between the two countries could worsen in case that Narong became head of government. He had to relinquish premiership and the parliament instead nominated the putschist General Suchinda Kraprayoon. Really, Narong had not been prosecuted as there was no sufficient evidence.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that Narong rose during the time of another unelected military prime minister when he “joined the government of prime minister Prem Tinsulanonda, becoming deputy interior minister in 1980, deputy minister of agriculture in 1981, rising to be minister in 1983.” Also unlikely to be a coincidence, Narong represented the Phrae area in parliament. Thammanat represents the adjoining province of Phayao.





Updated: More political prisoners

28 06 2020

Along with every other media outlet, Khaosod reports that, on Friday, the Supreme Court upheld rulings by lower courts against five leaders of a July 2007 protest that marched from Sanam Luang to the taxpayer-funded residence of the then president of the king’s Privy Council, Gen Prem Tinsulanonda. The rally accused Prem of fomenting the 2006 military coup.

Nattawut Saikua, Veerakarn (then Veera) Musikapong, Weng Tojirakarn, Nopparut Worachitwuthikul, and Wiputhalaeng Pattanaphumthai were sentenced to two years and eight months in prison for “illegal assembly and using violence to resist police orders.”

Fellow UDD leader Thida Tawornsate Tojirakarn observed that these men are political prisoners. The five were immediately taken from the court to prison.

While the reports refer to the five as red shirts, it needs to be noted that the wearing of the color hadn’t taken off at this time and the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship-led rally and march had most people wearing yellow shirts, which was a display of “loyalty” following the 2006 60th anniversary of Bhumibol’s reign.

Another UDD leader, Jatuporn Promphan, reflected on the double standards in the judicial system: “I once said to them that on our way of fighting, it’s either death or imprisonment…. Over the past decade, we took turns getting in and out of the prison.” Jatuporn is “also due to stand trial on the same offense…”.

The double standards refer to the efforts by several royalist regimes supported by the pliant judiciary to lock up red shirts and UDD leaders while those from the royalist People’s Alliance for Democracy and People’s Democratic Reform Committee who also occupied parts of Bangkok and several state properties for extended periods, with considerable violence, get off quite lightly.

Few of the reports said much about the rally at Gen Prem’s free lodgings, so PPT went back and looked at reports from the time.

Asia Sentinel had a perceptive report. It began by observing:

On Sunday night, UDD leaders caught police unaware by marching with thousands of supporters to the house of Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda, a former army chief and prime minister who is held in high respect by much of the Thai public due to his proximity to the king.

King, queen, Prem and military coup leaders

The protesters accused Prem, who was in the compound at the time, of acting as the puppet master behind the coup last September that ousted Premier Thaksin Shinawatra. They called on Prem to resign.

The UDD set up a makeshift stage in front of Prem’s house on Sunday afternoon and made speeches for five hours or so, according to witnesses and news reports. But in the evening, after the protesters vowed to permanently camp outside the residence, riot police attempted to break up the gathering and arrest the leaders, prompting demonstrators to hail rocks, chairs, sticks, water bottles and pieces of broken flower pots at the police, who eventually retreated.

Most reports put the UDD crowd at 5,000 to 10,000, with some counting up to 20,000. The police eventually mobilized about 2,000 officers. The police:

made two more attempts to arrest the protest leaders, charging at  demonstrators with clubs, pepper spray and tear gas. Each time the demonstrators fought back with fists, rocks, sticks, bottles and anything else they could find.

Weng said the protesters withdrew when threatened with the army, saying, “We didn’t want anybody killed from this event.”

The police claimed that 200 of their officers and about 70 protesters were injured. Six protesters were arrested and charged with “causing chaos, obstructing the work of authorities, and damage to state property…. Police were also seeking arrest warrants for eight or so other UDD leaders…”.

The report wonders about the police action, saying:

It’s unclear why authorities attempted to break up the protest this time as many similar
protests had occurred earlier without incident. Some observers said the army may have been spooked by UDD statements that the group would camp out in front of Prem’s house — an unacceptable scenario for generals who swear allegiance to the royal advisor.

It also notes Prem’s coup role:

Although Prem is supposed to be non-political as a privy councilor, coup opponents blast the 86-year-old for a series of speeches he gave a year ago in which he donned full military garb and said soldiers should be loyal to the king instead of the government. Many observers said the speeches set the stage for the coup.

The Irrawaddy (July 23, 2007) carried a report that royalists declared Thaksin behind the UDD. The then president of the Constitution Drafting Committee Prasong Soonsiri, cheered the arrests, saying: “He [Thaksin] is probably responsible for supporting the clash, and he won’t stop there…”. This was a widely held view among the military-installed regime led by former Privy Councillor Gen Surayud Chulanont.

Shortly after the event, the Union for Civil Liberty issued a statement:

Declaration concerning the avoidance of violence during a conflict of opinion

During a protest by the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DADD) at the home of Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda in the Thewes district of Bangkok, there occurred violent clashes between police and demonstrators. Alleging the part played by General Prem in organizing the military coup of 19th September 2006, protestors called for his resignation. As a result of the clashes which took place in the late evening of Sunday 22nd July, according to news media, 106 persons were injured.

The Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) maintains that the holding of non-violent protest to make known a political viewpoint is a civil right and a fundamental component of the democratic system. It is the duty of government to assure that the right of citizens to exercise this right is respected at all times, whether their action is against or in support of government, or to express other political opinion.

It is a matter of great regret that the protest on 22nd July last could not enjoy such a right to free expression due to the action of the police in blocking the protest march to the residence of General Prem in the Thewes district. The action angered some participants in the protest leading to the use of force and many casualties both among the protestors and the police.

To avoid the recurrence of such violence, perhaps on an even larger scale, the Union for Civil Liberty submits the following proposals:

1. Appoint a committee of persons acceptable to the public to investigate the events which occurred on the evening of the 22nd July for presentation to the Government and to the public.

2. Take court action against those who have acted illegally, whether the police or the protestors, in order that justice be done and human rights be protected.

Statement issued on 23rd July 2007
Union for Civil Liberty

So, for seeking to exercise their freedom of expression, these men are jailed. The regime that went after them was a junta-appointed administration that was vehemently royalist and anti-Thaksin. The double standards are as clear as they ever were.

Update: For another take on double standards, especially in comparing red shirts and yellow shirts, read this op-ed.





Gorging on state funds

21 06 2020

Reading the media the past couple of days and we feel like the regime, its ministers and its buddies are engaging in gluttony, seemingly gorging on state coffers.

One deal we posted on them recently got more press coverage:

The Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) Office’s Eastern Special Development Zone Policy Committee yesterday signed the [290-billion-baht] deal with winning concessionaire, U-Tapao International Aviation Co, an offshoot of the BBS Joint Venture that won the bid to develop the “aeropolis” in Ban Chang district of Rayong Province….

…[T]he BBS Joint Venture comprises Bangkok Airways, which owns 45% of the shares, BTS Group Holdings which owns 35%, and Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction (STEC) which owns 20%.

So we can identify two conglomerates involving two of the countries wealthiest Sino-Thai tycoons – the Prasarttong-Osoth family at Bangkok Airways and the Kanjanapas clan at BTS. It was Forbes lister Prasert Prasattong-Osoth giving advice to Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha recently. It seems advice doesn’t come cheap. Then we have Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction:

Interesting. But what can we expect from people who are used to having with state officials in their pockets.

Then we saw that idea from convicted heroin smuggler and Deputy Agriculture Minister Thammanat Prompao for seizing land  illegally occupied by resorts and hotels, and then renting it back to them. Brilliant! Thammanat is already a baht billionaire and this looks like a surefire way to double money and pay for more of his big brother’s parliamentary seats and maybe even some watches. A Bangkok Post editorial commented that the scheme “is so outrageous that it should be dropped immediately…”.

And what about the news that the “Finance Ministry is ready to consider retail operators’ proposal for tax breaks on shopping to stimulate domestic spending…” with 50,000 baht per shopper! Now, who could that help most? We suggest it would throw shiploads of money into the big retailers, like the Chirathivat and Umpujh clans who are also Forbes listers.

It also potentially helps out the royal family and specifically Princess Sirindhorn, a member of the country’s wealthiest family that already scoops up billions in taxpayer funds. It was Chadatip Chutrakul, chief executive of majority royal-owned Siam Piwat Co, the operator of Siam Paragon, Siam Center and Iconsiam, that “said the government should come up with measures to compel people to leave the house and spend more.”

Happy to grab more loot

An academic once calculated that Princess Sirindhorn’s shareholding in Siam Piwat provided more than US$55 million per year from her property in the Siam-Ratchaprasong alone. She may be a bit short this year, so the state purse becomes a surrogate source of wealth.

Such “private” deals seem to be gathering pace under the virus crisis and rehabilitation plans. Recall how just a few weeks ago, the biggest of the business whales, multi-billionaire Dhanin Chearavanont was urging the regime to turn the country into a ‘safe haven’ for wealthy visitors.” His wish seems to be the regime’s command, with Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn declaring that the “government’s tourism-revival strategy is to target big spenders seeking privacy and social distancing in the Covid-19 era, rather than try to attract a large number of visitors…. He added that the virus “provides an opportunity to reset the sector, which had become reliant on Chinese groups and backpackers…”. With 11 million Chinese tourists in 2019 and a total of almost 40 million, it seems there’s a determination to crush most of the industry and all that flows from it to every other part of the service sector, which before the virus accounted 46% of total employment and 57% of GDP.

And, these “private” deals are being institutionalized, with the regime reviving a Prem Tinsulanonda-era idea, agreeing with the private sector “to revive the Joint Public-Private Consultative Committee (JPPCC) as a core forum for the two to work together on solutions for the country’s social and economic rehabilitation after the pandemic.” That was first suggested a year ago but looks increasingly likely to become a processing terminal for turning state funds into private gains.

Finally, we may have missed the announcements, but it seems that the long-delayed contracts for the Sino-Thai high (probably medium) speed railway are being doled out. If the reporting is right, it suggests smoke-filled rooms and cosy deals. We quote the Bangkok Post:

SRT governor Niruj Maneepun yesterday told the media that Contract 2.3 is worth 50.6 billion baht, which includes funds for the railway system, rolling stocks and staff training….

The signing of the contract will be carried out in October as planned, Mr Niruj said.

Contract 2.3 is one of seven railway contracts worth a total of 179.4 billion baht for the Bangkok-Nong Khai High-Speed Train Project. Contract 2.3 would cover the project’s first phase, which is a 253-kilometre stretch from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima….

The construction for the whole project has been ongoing since 2018 and it is expected to finish in 2023. [In fact, very little construction has occurred, apart from a very short section near Nakhon Ratchasima.]

So far, the SRT has said the project is making progress, noting it is finding contractors to develop all seven phases. It said a few have already agreed and signed some of the contracts.

That doesn’t look like open tendering, not that such systems stand in the way of the transfer of funds to private sector cronies and giant corporations.