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.





Economic failure and the political war

8 08 2015

As any long-term reader knows, we at PPT are not the brightest of sparks when it comes to economics. Yet one is not required to be an expert on the dismal science to know that things aren’t going well in Thailand, except for the Teflon-coated super-rich.

Bloomberg columnist with a strident anti-Thaksin Shinawatra set of columns behind him, William Pesek writes about the economic failures of the military dictatorship.

He begins by noting that in the economic field, despite promises, General Prayuth Chan-Ocha and his junta “has only made things worse.” He says:

Thailand’s growth is the slowest among developing nations, its exports may contract 4 percent this year and Bangkok is the only major Asian stock market experiencing outflows. The currency is down 7 percent in six months.

He adds that: “Factory output has fallen every month but one since March 2013, while exports have declined every month this year.”

Pesek thinks that the reason for this decline is that the junta “lacks an economic strategy. He and his team are so preoccupied micro-managing small-scale public order issues … that they’re neglecting the big picture.”

Should anyone be surprised? What happened after the 2006 coup? The military appointed a bunch of aging royal loyalists to run the country. For a time, sufficiency economy nonsense was promoted, but there was economic torpor. In economic charge, for a time, was the aristocratic Pridiyathorn Devakula, who was so hopeless and lacking in ideas that he was eventually sacked.

What happened after the 2014 coup? Pretty much the same thing, including the appointment of the somnolent Pridiyathorn. The result has been worse than the first time around.

Why repeat the economic mistakes of 2006? The answer is that the military dictatorship is not just economically incompetent, but is politically driven. Its task is political: uprooting the “Thaksin regime.” If this means economic decline, the military is prepared to accept that.

The junta’s anti-democrat supporters are an odd bunch, and in supporting the military’s political mission there has been a strong aversion to “money politics” and “policy corruption” that has included an element of anti-capitalism, in favor of sufficiency economy. Only loyal royalist capitalists are tolerated.

Hence, when The Dictator “explains” economic decline, he says it is a “product of his valiant corruption crackdown (and partly weak exports, too).” He quotes Prayuth: “It’s because some people spend money from illegal businesses and money from fraud…. Now the government has come to set things right, causing that money to disappear.”

Pesek thinks “Prayuth would be wise to reshuffle his cabinet, half of which is comprised of military personnel with little experience in their portfolios.”

That might make some sense, but it would mean abandoning the political war and would be opposed by Suthep Thaugsuban and his anti-democrats.

Pesek suggests that “Prayuth’s first step should be to accelerate the government’s $54 billion spending plans for roads, mass transit and other projects.”

That might make some sense, but it would mean abandoning the political war and would be opposed by the anti-democrats who would label it “populist.”

Pesek also suggests that “Prayuth also must set a clear timetable for relinquishing power.”

That might make some sense, but it would mean abandoning the political war and would be opposed by the anti-democrats.





The dictatorship and Wharton

15 03 2015

Not that long ago, PPT posted about another foray into U.S. academia by royalist interests. That post was about the University of Michigan as royalists forked out loot, with the Crown Property Bureau to promote their interests. There had been a similar doling out of dosh at Harvard (as if it needs it!). Both efforts to curry favor in the U.S. were under the current military dictatorship.

The most recent link to U.S. universities is a “conference” in Bangkok, organized by The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Our attention was drawn to this event by a report that The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, was a keynote speaker at the Wharton Global Forum Bangkok.

The Wharton Dean states that the Wharton Global Forum Bangkok will see “industry and academia will come together to debate ideas and explore new pathways for exploiting the possibilities and mitigating the pitfalls of today’s borderless world, and Asia’s central role in this rapidly changing business environment.”

Shouldn’t we expect him to know that there is no academic freedom in Thailand under the military dictatorship? Shouldn’t he know that some academics have had to escape Thailand while others are prevented from presenting views that are not in line with those of the dictatorship? Surely business schools, which repeatedly talk of good governance and corporate social responsibility, should be ashamed that this meeting is under the auspices of the world’s only military dictatorship, with The Dictator as a keynote speaker.

Shouldn’t Wharton be ashamed that it provided The Dictator with a platform to lie – he claimed his government had never infringed human rights – and to attack the very notion of electoral democracy.

Why would Wharton lend its name to the military dictatorship? One reason is that one of the Chairmen of the event is multiple military junta servant and minor prince Pridiyathorn Devakula. He’s been finance minister for both the 2006 and 2014 military junta backed and appointed governments and he’s a Wharton alumnus. That, however, is probably not sufficient to get a big conference for the military dictatorship. That requires money, and Pridiyathorn is not short of a baht. In fact, he is listed as an event sponsor. That requires a payment of $50,000.

The lead sponsors include a bunch of Sino-Thai conglomerates close to the military dictatorship and the monarchy: Double A, Bangkok Bank, CP, Land & Houses, PTT, and the Crown Property Bureau -controlled Siam Cement Group. No doubt most of this lot were happy enough to fork over $100,000 each when Pridiyathorn  and the dictatorship came knocking.





Money for monarchy

5 03 2015

A local press report in Michigan has alerted PPT to another foray into U.S. academia by royalist interests. It is recalled that last August, it was reported that, as “human rights in Thailand deteriorate under a military junta, Harvard is collaborating with key supporters of the recent coup to create a permanent Thai Studies program at the university.”

The Daily Press reports that the “University of Michigan has received $2 million to establish the Thai Professorship of Theravada Buddhism.” Innocuous at first glance, especially when the university states that “the gift will enhance one of the largest Buddhist studies programs in North America” and that the “holder of the endowed chair will teach courses and conduct research to advance knowledge of Thai Buddhism.” The chair is to be in the “Department of Asian Languages and Cultures in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.”

Plenty to research given scandals involving fascist politics, sex, drugs and money in Thai Buddhism.

However, the report also notes that the “gift comes from Amnuay Viravan, the former deputy prime minister, finance minister and foreign minister of Thailand, with matching support provided by the Crown Property Bureau of the Ministry of Finance of Thailand.”

PPT’s only mention of Amnuay is in a post about the military junta’s cabinet, where the 1997 economic meltdown involved him and a current member of the the military dictatorship’s cabinet. Amnuay is an alumnus of Michigan and has previously donated. Yet in the context of the Harvard collaboration, the Ann Arbor gift is worthy of scrutiny.

One of the points made in the earlier srticle about Harvard was this:

At the Harvard fundraiser I attended in Bangkok last August, [coup supporter] Surin [Pitsuwan] used the word “beachhead” to describe the envisioned role of the Thai Studies program. His choice of a word with military and strategic connotations is significant. Having overthrown a series of elected governments and facing growing criticism from cold-war allies, the conservative establishment is working hard to rebuild its legitimacy abroad, and setting up a program at Harvard would be an important victory. Surin announced donations from several tycoons, and said he was seeking funding for the program from the King’s Crown Property Bureau, which manages the monarch’s wealth of more than $30 billion.

Given that the same Crown Property Bureau is involved and that the Ministry of Finance has splashed taxpayer funds into this, is Michigan a second “beachhead?

Finance is headed by the wealthiest military sycophant, the minor prince Pridiyathorn Devakula who must have taken this promotion of Buddhism with Thai taxpayer’s money to the military junta for approval. We have no doubt that such a splurge is a part of laundering the dictatorship’s image.

The Crown Property Bureau  is involved because it is burnishing royal credentials when the monarchy is seen as supportive of illegal putsches and is under pressure from the negative publicity of that, the disappearance of the aged king, presumably near death, and the succession of a crown prince demonstrated as grasping, vindictive and dangerous.

Money for Buddhist studies seems meant to wash away many sins and lends credibility to a fascist and royalist regime.