Remember the “ban” on populism?

15 08 2018

Long-term readers may recall our posts from the year following the 2014 military coup, where the junta and its puppet agencies all but declared “evil populism” illegal.

As the junta struggled with the sluggish economy, the serial failure economic minister Pridiyathorn Devakula tried a little economic stimulus, but declared it “not populism.” He made the important royalist distinction: “This is not populism, because I am not doing it for votes…”. I only want to stimulate the economy…. If we don’t stimulate it this way, what are we supposed to do?” Pridiyathorn essentially “explained” that he couldn’t be a populist because he was appointed by a military dictatorship. For him, a populist can only be elected evil politician.

When Pridiyathorn was dumped and replaced by former Thaksin Shinawatra minister Somkid Jatusripitak, royalists fretted that populism was being reborn under the junta.

As the military dictatorship worked to excise support for Thaksin and became determined to stay on for years and years, populist economic policies multiplied.

In all of this, though, in a report in the Bangkok Post it is was revealed that the junta decided to ban populism whenever there is an elected regime put in place: “The cabinet … approved a draft monetary and fiscal bill which includes controls on spending for populist policies. The move is aimed at preventing future fiscal problems and enhancing transparency in the state fiscal budget.”

As the junta has worked increasingly assiduously to uproot Thaksinism and embed The Dictator and military-backed regimes into the future, so-called populist policies have become the norm.

The Bangkok Post reports that “populist spending is nearing the cap of 30% of the annual budget…”.

What is called “pork-barrel spending” has reached “29.6% of the 2018 annual budget after the cabinet approved debt repayment extension and lower lending rates for small-scale farmers and a price stability scheme for the 2018-19 rice harvest…”.

That’s about 870 billion baht “to finance populist policies through specialised financial institutions or quasi-fiscal activities.”

If we understand the report, that 870  billion is from 900 billion baht budgeted for fiscal 2019…”.

As the Post points out, that one year’s spending is almost double the alleged “losses” by the Yingluck Shinawatra government on rice pledging.





Prawit’s watches and the junta’s faithful

23 01 2018

It seems that Deputy Dictator and godfather of the military junta, General Prawit Wongsuwan is done for. The question now is how long it will be before his “younger brothers” cut him loose. Or, more likely, when Prawit buries his face and pride and accepts that he must go.

Of course, these military men have great difficulty in understanding concepts other than power, force and hierarchy. So Prawit probably believes that the whole country should just accept that he is a high-ranked “good” person and accept his lame excuses for being in possession of more than two score of luxury watches. But by toughing out the political storm, Prawit and his “brothers” General Prayuth Chan-ocha and General Anupong Paojinda are depleting the regime’s political capital among its faithful anti-democratic supporters.

The latest reports are that diehard anti-democrats and yellow shirts are abandoning Prawit for the sake of maintaining the regime. Yesterday we posted on the Democrat Party “advice” to the junta it has so vigorously supported. Today it is reported that (several times failed) former minister and minor prince Pridiyathorn Devakula has not just urged Prawit to move on but has rebuked the general on his “excuse” for having the multi-million baht collection of timepieces.

Pridiyathorn said Prawit “must resign before his reputation is ruined…”. He added: “I’ve already had someone deliver my message to him — live a happy life, live well and protect your reputation, which is still good…”. If he doen’t go, his “reputation” is sunk.

Pridiyathorn then undercut the general’s “excuse.” Military sources have leaked a story that “businessman Pattawat Suksriwong, who died last year, would often lend the deputy prime minister watches…”. The minor prince, who “enjoyed close ties with Mr Pattawat as the two were friends and business partners” stated that “he never heard any mention of the watch-lending from the deceased.”

Clearly, the faithful, many of them anti-democrats and supportive of the dictatorship, are losing patience with Prawit and Prayuth. Given Prayuth’s plans to remain premier for the foreseeable future, Prawit’s stubborn refusal to exit, these are dangerous times for the junta.





Updated: More corruption allegations

28 03 2017

While there is no news to report regarding Rolls Royce and other related corruption cases, there are more allegations of corruption facing the junta. These are not charges of fabricating plots and murders, but about state action and inaction.

The first story is about wealthy minor prince and former junta minion (two juntas, in fact, the one resulting from the 2006coup and from the 2014 coup).

Former deputy prime minister Pridiyathorn Devakula has very publicly complained about an “irregular move by the military” to “form a national oil corporation that he said would have unrestrained power.”

The National Legislative Assembly has rejigged a Petroleum Bill “in its second and third readings” to “centralise all authority in the management and allocation of national energy in one organisation.” Pridiyathorn says a “group of military officers was behind the addition…”.

He adds that they tried it before, when he was deputy prime minister. He says they were “six former high-ranking military officers in the NLA…”.

He asks: “Why does it emerge in the second reading, and why does the cabinet let it happen?” The answer is that the corrupt military men want to further enrich themselves.

Pridiyathorn explains: “Such a corporation with rights to all petroleum sources in the country could do more than one may imagine. It could organise bidding contests, or even form subsidiaries.” He adds: “When regulation and operation rest within one organisation, who will do the scrutiny? Finally, we cannot control it.” Then as a “good” person of high birth, he adds the bogey: “If politicians later influence it, you will be sorry…”.

Right. But for the moment, it is a bunch of military politicians who will make more money than they thought possible.

The second story is from the anti-corruption activist Srisuwan Janya, secretary-general of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution. He focuses on borders and the Cambodian border in particular. He claims that “Deputy Prime Minister [General] Prawit Wongsuwon and 2nd Army commander Lt Gen Wichai Saejorhor of neglect of duty in allowing a casino to be built by Cambodian investors in a disputed border area was filed with the Ombudsman on Monday.”

Borders are the preserve of the corrupt military, allowing considerable wealth accumulation. Borders are, as shown during the past few governments, politically important in Thailand. Srisuwan claims that by “allowing private individuals to invest in a gambling business in the area, the agencies responsible had committed malfeasance, causing damage to society and the country…”.

Both are potentially explosive claims. However, the junta will ambiguate and threaten the media that reports any news that they think destabilize their grip on power.

Update: The Dictator blinked on oil, sort of. He “has rejected the idea of having the Defence Energy Department initially run the national oil corporation if it is to be set up.” He acknowledged that the “idea” for a national company came from “the Thai Energy Reform group led by Rossana Tositrakul, ML Kornkasiwat Kasemsri and Panthep Puapongphan.” All are paid-up yellow shirts and ultra-nationalists. Prayuth kept the idea of a national company open, but not run by the military, at least not for this moment.

On a casino in a disputed border area, the claim has been denied, as expected, but ultra-nationalists are at work again.





Twice failed minister gives advice to failed military rulers

21 12 2015

Former deputy premier in the first cabinet of the The Dictator and finance minister to the military-backed post-2006 coup cabinet, minor prince Pridiyathorn Devakula has decided to criticize and give advice to The Dictator. This is sure to spark anger and perhaps even some retribution.

He has “urged the government [… he means junta] to reveal the ‘truth’ about the country’s economic situation.”

Scenes from “A Few Good Men” come to mind.

For some reason which is entirely unclear to PPT, someone decided that this failed prince should speak “at a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of reformer Puey Ungphakorn’s birthday in Chai Nat’s Nong Mamong district…”. We can’t think why a failure had an opportunity to speak about Puey, apart from the fact that both had been governors of the Bank of Thailand and both served dictators. Puey became quite a different man, and after being “branded a communist and ‘destroyer of unity’ by the political right of Thailand” lived his later years in political exile.

Pridiyathorn declared that the dictatorship “had to tell the truth about Thailand’s current financial state to help the country get through the current economic hardship.” Still wedded to dictatorship of the royalist military, he declared that “the government was on the right track in boosting investment by putting funds into the agricultural sector…”. His advice is “the government should not make unrealistic promises as it would cause people to lose faith.” And he urged that the junta “accelerate its work on economic stimulus projects.”

The criticism is the implication that the government is hiding something. The advice is to do things that he himself was simply incapable of doing.





The economic bosses matter

18 10 2015

When the Thai ruling elite is defined, most analysts will include the monarchy and its hangers-on – what we tend to identify as “the palace” – the military as the repressive muscle required to maintain the elite, and the mainly Sino-Thai tycoons who have cemented their position since the late 1950s, rising to economic power with the monarchy and under the protection of the military.

It is widely believed that a coterie of palace-supporting capitalists funded several of the anti-Thaksin Shinawatra street movements, from the People’s Alliance for Democracy to the People’s Alliance for Democracy.

Since the coup, the lumbering junta has not seemed to pay much attention to the private sector. It was more interested in royalist ideology and political repression.

The junta made the mistake of appointing failed and lazy Finance Minister Pridiyathorn Devakula as its economic czar and the economy saw a downward spiral. It was only when it got around to appointing former Thaksin minister Somkid Jatusripitak that the business class felt that it mattered to the military.

This makes it interesting, as reported in The Nation, that the “Constitution Drafting Committee will seek opinions from the private sector before deciding whether to give an independent agency the power to check government policies…”.

Clearly, the junta wants some support for its plan to have some kind of unelected panel with the power to  veto policies disliked by the elite that might be introduced by any elected government in the future.





TRT economic policies revived

29 08 2015

The military dictatorship has been hopeless at economic management. Part of the reason for this is that it resurrected failed finance minister and (his major “qualification”) minor prince Pridiyathorn Devakula as its chief economic minister. As predicted, he again failed.

Perhaps humiliatingly, the military junta, while reshuffling the cabinet to strengthen military domination, The Dictator appointed former Thaksin Shinawatra finance minister Somkid Jatusripitak. The idea is that the Sino-Thai “technocrat” has a magic economic wand and can revive the economy.

The thinking and memory here seems to be that, despite all of the “sins” of the Thai Rak Thai government, it was economically successful and that success brought political support.

In a throwback set of policies, Somkid is reported to be reviving “the One Tambon One Product (Otop) scheme to kick-start the grassroots economy while boosting multiple business and industrial clusters with new incentives…” and the “Village Fund scheme…”.

Somkid told business leaders “that the economic situation is not yet a ‘crisis’ but there has been a lack of private confidence plus a slowdown in the global export demand.” Reviving the Keynsianism of the Thaksin period, Somkid declared that “we have to re-balance by shifting our focus to domestic activities and SMEs (small and medium enterprises) to strengthen our economy.” The emphasis, as emphasized by some business leaders is on “boosting domestic consumption.”

The problem for Somkid is that he is not an ideas man and, under the military dictatorship, he lacks a team of economic advisers who can provide innovative policies. Hence, we see the return to old policies for a domestic economy that has changed considerably over the past decade and a half. He also lacks the support at the top that Thaksin gave him in the early 2000s. Convincing the political troglodytes and economic morons of the junta of the need for innovative economic policy is like excavating dinosaur fossils.





How many generals does it take to change a cabinet

24 08 2015

Depends how you count then, but 15-16 seems to be The Dictator’s answer. The new cabinet is a bit smaller than the previous one, meaning that military and police types have more seats than in the previous junta-dominated cabinet.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha was his usual angry self when reporters pointed out that the new cabinet was more military dominated than the previous one:

“So what when the new cabinet has more generals…. What happened with the past (governments) when there were  none…?”

The Dictator needs lots of generals around him, no matter how dim they are, for the respect they give him and because he prefers to operate in a hierarchical milieu.

We can think of plenty of answers to the general’s query, but it was a rhetorical question. The Dictator can’t conceive of any arrangement where civilians, especially elected ones, could ever be permitted to rule in Thailand. He considers military men the nation’s “natural” rulers.

If we were to observe anything positive in the changes made to the cabinet it is that The Dictator got rid of two serial failures who get positions for the capacity to represent the royalist duffers who think they run the country. We have previously mentioned wealthy minor prince Pridiyathorn Devakula as a lazy and failed former finance minister from a previous military-backed government and failed businessman and serial minister Narongchai Akrasanee. Both are gone.

The military dominance of cabinet indicates a determination to maintain military rule for some time to come.