Brotherly military “advice”

24 02 2018

2006 coup leader Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin has, according to the Bangkok Post, “jumped on the election bandwagon, calling on the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the military junta] to stick to its poll roadmap.”

Gen Sonthi says “he was alarmed by the NLA’s rejection of all seven candidates and believes it is a sign of the political roadmap being pushed back [again].” he added the “regime should pay heed to the people’s demands.”

Gen Sonthi has never been the sharpest tool in the shed, so we suspect he’s reflecting the views of others.

Back in 2012, now deceased Maj-Gen Sanan Kachornprasart, and then retiring as “de facto leader of the Chart Thai Pattana Party,” asked a very direct question of Gen Sonthi. According to The Nation, he asked:

Were Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanond and the bureaucratic elites behind Sonthi and the coup, as had been alleged by red shirts?… Who was behind the coup?

… Was it you or did you not have any personal motivation? Please speak the truth, or else the public will continue to doubt. Before we can reconcile you must speak the truth and clear the doubt.

What was Sonthi’s response? According to the report,

He began by saying no one should ever doubt his loyalty to His Majesty the King, and then added: “I don’t think I can answer. For some questions, you can’t answer even if you are dead. When the time comes it will reveal itself.”

We doubt he’ll say who is behind his current advice.





Updated: An authoritarian royal embrace

18 02 2018

Nothing surprises when it comes to the military dictatorship. It has jailed hundreds, ignored the law, sent refugees back to jails several times, covered up murder and corruption, ignored human rights and embraced the nastiest of autocrats.

BenarNews reports that the junta has “defended its decision to award the chief of Myanmar’s armed forces a royal decoration…”.

Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing was awarded the Knight Grand Cross (First Class) of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant” and was “nominated for the honor by Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn on Aug. 21, 2017, four days before violence erupted in Rakhine state.”

That dating sounds suspicious but even if it is accepted, he has a nasty reputation. In fact, he seems the kind of military leader who would be a brother in arms with the Thai generals. Whatever the timing, the award represents Thai military and palace support for human rights abuses in Myanmar.

He received the award from his Thai counterpart, Gen. Tarnchaiyan Srisuwan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The award, the Thai military said, was “to show the long and close relations” between Thailand and Myanmar.

That truth is confirmed when Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Kongcheep Tantravanich told Reuters that the presentation of the honor to Myanmar’s military chief was “a separate issue from human rights…”.

The royalness of the award frightened human rights advocates. Those “interviewed by BenarNews also criticized the decision to honor the head of the Myanmar military, but asked that they not be identified for fear of being accused of violating Lese-Majeste…”.

Update: Helpfully, the Bangkok Post has an interview with Sen Gen Min Aung Hlaing, pointing out that this is his second royal decoration. He states:

The military leaders of both countries have been quite close for some years now.

I have had a close relationship with Thai generals starting with [chief of Defence Forces] Gen Tanasak Patimapragorn’s predecessor, Gen Songkitti [Jaggabatara].

The one I was closest to is Gen Tanasak [who served in the post between 2011-2014] but I am also close to the others. His successors are Gen Worapong [Sanganetra] and Gen Sommai [Kaotira] then Gen Surapong [Suwana-adth] and the current chief, Gen Thanchaiyan Srisuwan].

He is also close to privy council head General Prem Tinsulanonda and thus has that palace connection that links military and monarchy. When asked of his status as Prem’s “adopted son,” he replied:

During the time when Gen Tanasak was the defence chief, he gave me a chance to pay respects to Gen Prem who is the same generation as my father. When we met, we had an exchange of experiences, of being leaders. He [Gen Prem] gave me advice. Being like father and son is very good and makes things better in many ways.

Frighteningly he says of the relationship between the two sets of murderous militaries:

We are like brothers.

Every time we meet, we exchange experiences.

Thailand is experienced in democracy and has passed so many things.

When we are close like brothers, we open up and share the experience.

The good things in this era contributed to the changes in Myanmar’s democracy.

We are scratching our heads on “good things,” but guess that “good things” for these military thugs are probably bad things for the rest of us. For example, when asked about “problems in Rakhine state, ” he answered:

I would rather not talk about it. But I will only say that I will do my best to take care of the problem. Furthermore, in Myanmar, there is no ethnic group called Rohingya. They are Bengalis who came from somewhere else. We will follow the laws.

That last bit is also among the lies peddled by Thailand’s military dictatorship.





A catch-up

9 02 2018

PPT has been concentrating on short posts in recent days, trying to keep up with rapidly developing stories. That means we have neglected some stories and op-eds that deserve consideration. So this post is a bit of a catch-up.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun at The Diplomat writes about election delays. We’ve posted plenty on that. He also links to the king, noting that “Vajiralongkorn has been preoccupied with consolidating his position, most evidently through his request to have the constitution amended, particularly when it comes to the provisions related to royal affairs.” Those changes fir the mold of a king comfortable with the regime.

Brian Klaas may not be a well-established commentator on Thailand, but selling himself as “on democracy, authoritarianism, American politics, US foreign policy, political violence, and elections.” He has an op-ed at The Washington Post. There are problems with his op-ed. His description of the 2014 coup sounds more like the 2006 coup, some factual errors – no “elections approached in 2015” and there’s a bunch first person references including this gem: “Every time I’ve interviewed generals in the junta in Bangkok, they say the right things. They know how to speak in the Western lexicon of democracy — promising a swift return to elections and human rights protections. But they don’t follow through.” Still, his analysis of the junta’s delaying tactics on “elections” is accurate.

At the East Asia Forum, Tyrell Haberkorn is correct that the “dictatorship has methodically entrenched itself…”. She goes on to explain how a central element of that process is political repression. She’s also right to observe that the “most potent tool in upholding the status quo of the dictatorship is the most feared provision of the Criminal Code: Article 112, which stipulates a punishment of 3–15 years’ imprisonment per count of lese majeste.”

At the Journal of Contemporary Asia there are a couple of new papers on Thailand. One is behind a paywall but is probably of interest as it is on rice policies. Politics and the Price of Rice in Thailand: Public Choice, Institutional Change and Rural Subsidies by Jacob Ricks looks at the history of rice policies and subsidies. The second, anonymous, article is currently available for free download. It is Anti-Royalism in Thailand Since 2006: Ideological Shifts and Resistance.

The last link was sent by a reader and is in the category of the weird. The Independent, said to be Singapore-based, recently had this headline: “‘Very erratic’ new Thai King may pave the way for Kra canal leading to Singapore’s doom.” It says that the king is “favorable to building the Kra Canal … [and] that several leading figures on the Thai Privy Council are fully behind the project…”. The source is revealing: the extremists of the LaRouche organization, including its Schiller Institute, misidentified as a “think tank.” The LaRouche group has been promoting this project for decades as part of its support for a “new Silk Road” with LaRouche speaking in Bangkok several times. We have previously mentioned some of the LaRouche links to rightists and royalists in Thailand, including Sondhi Limthongkul, and the connections to the alt-right in the U.S., including quite mad conspiracy theorists.





Prem, the junta and rising criticism

22 01 2018

Brief reports state that nonagenarian Privy Council chairman and political mover-and-shaker of years gone by, Gen Prem Tinsulanonda has announced he “will not be able to attend a traditional reception party on Sunday night to mark Royal Thai Armed Forces Day for health reasons…”.

Naturally enough, reporters reckon this must be further evidence that the old man has run out of patience for Generals Prayuth Chan-ocha and Prawit Wongsuwan.

We don’t know, but are tempted to believe Lt Gen Pitsanu Phuthawong, Prem’s taxpayer-funded aide, who says Prem, “has eaten less and felt weak since early last week.” But then Prem is said to be still chairing Tuesday Privy Council meetings and he usually loves military shindigs as he bathes in his former glory.

Pretty much all the other reporting is of disenchantment – for the yellowish lot – and exasperation – for those who have opposed the junta since the coup.

The Democrat Party, with leaders who have been staunch supporters of the junta, is now regularly rolling out critics of the junta who appear to provide “advice” to the junta.

The latest is Deputy Democrat Party leader Nipit Intarasombat. He said the yellow “dream” of “reform” is now unlikely as “some key figures in the government are embroiled in scandals stemming from allegations over a lack of transparency.”

Nipit sees no way out for The Dictator who protects Prawit as his elder “brother” unless he behaves more like a politician and protects his own ass.

The failure to deal with such scandals means:

the government and the regime seem to be moving away from the path of reform as the regime begins to interact with political groups which were former allies of the Pheu Thai Party, such as politicians from the Sasomsap family who wield political influence in Nakhon Pathom province.

This is causing huge dissatisfaction among the yellow ones.

Nipit even complained that “it was strange the regime is more keen to foster ties with certain politicians than the Democrat Party, which is the chief rival of Pheu Thai.”

Despite all of this, Nipit reckons Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha will easily become an outside premier.

Nipit seems to ask for The Dictator to pay attention to his party.

Meanwhile,  Puea Thai is more critical, saying “the government now faces crises entirely of its own making which threaten its downfall.”

Party secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai reckons the junta faces a crisis of confidence in leadership, another on its “flip-flops on the election roadmap, that it lacks transparency and another crisis over its distortion of the rule of law.

A weak and illegitimate military regime is dangerous.





Further updated: Prem votes for Prayuth (maybe)

28 12 2017

The President of the king’s Privy Council, General Prem Tinsulanonda, a former but never elected military prime minister and, more recently, a leader of anti-Thaksin Shinawatra forces and a coup planner, has redoubled his love for the military dictatorship.

Khaosod reports that the junta’s annual New Year visit to pay homage to the coup-master saw a public and mutual love-fest among these military opponents of a democratic Thailand.

The report states that Prem “showered the ruling junta … with his praise and support.” And why not. They are his boys doing his work for him.

Prem “blessed” the dictators and stated that “the public would be on the side of junta chairman Prayuth ‘Tuu’ Chan-ocha as long as he keeps working for the greater good.” He said:

Tuu has used up nearly all of his reserve forces. He barely has any reserves yet… But if you show the goodwill you have for the Thai people, more reserves will show up. Therefore, please stick to your goals, so that you will have more reserves….

I’d like to express my admiration and pride for the works that Tuu’s government has done…. I’d like to also stress on Tuu’s words that he will bring happiness to Thai people. He must commit to this goal, no matter how exhausted he is.

Prem apparently nominated Prime Minister’s Office secretary-general General Vilas Arunsri as a future prime minister: “You can easily become a prime minister because you work closely with Prayuth…”. That’s a tip worth following.

While it is no longer entirely clear how much the aged Prem speaks for the Privy Council or for the palace, his opinion still carries political weight, clearly Prem is voting for continued military domination that mirrors his own time in the top job.

Update 1: The Bangkok Post has some important additions to the Khaosod report. It adds that Prem “warned Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha Thursday that he has lost much of his support base but still has a chance to win the public over by serving as a positive role model.”

Prayuth is reported to have “responded by indicating he has a list of populist policy plans up his sleeve including some aimed at improving stagnating wage levels.” More plans and more giveaways?

Prem said that The Dictator “must stick to this goal and be determined to do everything in his power to make the public happier…”. And he continued: “I hope he stays true and attracts more supporters. Tu can do it, we can do it, too — and we are doing it…”.

Update 2: One of the odd things about social media debate on Prem’s talk with The Dictator is the the glee with which anti-coup types greet the seemingly negative comments. It strikes us as odd because both Prem and Prayuth are peas in a pod, even if there are times when they maneuver around each other. They each agree on the way “forward.” But Prem seems unhappy with the ever-extending “roadmap.” He wants more senators beholden to him whenever the “election” comes and he wants Prayuth to hold an “election” before the junta becomes politically rancid, thus ensuring authoritarianism or Thai-style democracy is Thailand’s political system into the future. Prayuth seems less keen. In any case, it remains to be explained who Prem speaks for these days.





Updated: Shuffling the same military deck

26 11 2017

Readers may recall the columns of speculation about The Dictator’s cabinet reshuffle. There were all kinds of motives attributed to The Dictator. Pundits claimed he was trying to increase the dictatorship’s popularity, he was trying to boost the economic ministries, and/or he was civilianizing his military dictatorship in preparation for “elections.”

As far as we can tell, this was all wasted energy. What The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, did was maintain the dominance of the military. As we have said many times before, this is looking like a regime that is settling in for the long term.

The interesting thing in all of this for us was the position of the monarchy. In the past, cabinet reshuffles were announced by prime ministers and the composition of proposed cabinets was widely reported, with the king merely signing off. Of course, there may have been discussions with the king beforehand, but it was the executive’s political ground.

In our memory – correct us if we are wrong – it was only recently that the names involved in the reshuffle were withheld until after the king had signed off. As far as we can tell, there was plenty of discussion and even official announcements of the reshuffle list before the king signed off even under General Surayud Chulanont (see Bangkok Post, 3 October 2007). Again, and given Surayud’s previous Privy Council position, discussions may well have taken place with the palace and General Prem Tinsulanonda. Even so, the executive maintained its position.

Even under Abhisit Vejjajiva, put in place by the military in 2008, saw huge public debate over his cabinet but seemed to retain executive dominance (see Bangkok Post, 21 December 2008).

We have a feeling-cum-memory of the capitulation of the executive to the palace came under the military dictatorship. This means that it was all secret until approved by the king, giving even more political and constitutional power to the palace. Are we wrong?

Update: On the cabinet reshuffle, Bangkok Post editor Umesh Pandey has a view that it “can be seen as a very positive step for the gradual transition of Thailand towards a more democratic society…”. Seriously? He gives plenty of reasons for not believing him.





Updated: Rewarding Suthida

15 10 2017

A couple of days ago a Royal Gazette announcement was circulated quite widely. It was about the award of one of the highest-ranked royal decorations to the commander in King Vajiralongkorn’s guard.

The reason for the interest is that, as Khaosod reports it, that commander is none other than the king’s most senior girlfriend/consort/concubine (we are unsure of the appropriate term), General Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya.

The Knight Grand Cross of the Most Illustrious Order of Chula Chom Klao is reserved for the royal family members, Privy Councilors and members of the royal household). There are normally 30 male and 20 female members of this order.

The report notes that the announcement of this award “coincided with the first anniversary of King Bhumibol’s death, and the formal date of King Vajiralongkorn’s [retrospective] ascension to the throne.”

Suthida is often in the military uniform. The king promoted him to general when he took the throne. Her “qualification” is that she is the king’s favorite consort.

Today, General Suthida is the “de facto head of security for … the King. Although she formally holds the title of deputy commander of the royal guard corps, the top rank had been left vacant since December 2016.”

As the report states, “Suthida had been serving in the royal guards unit since 2013, when King Vajiralongkorn held the title of Crown Prince.”

Update: For those who can read Thai, BBC Thai has a very useful account of Suthida’s rise, beginning from 2012 and listing the many promotions and awards that have been showered on her by the prince-now-king. Each event is linked to the Royal Gazette.