False promises I

3 10 2020

Like so many of his predecessors, newly-appointed army chief Gen Narongphan Jitkaewtae has insisted his Army will not be politically engaged. He is reported as stating: “The military will not get involved in politics. I will only answer questions about the army’s affairs.”

This is a lie.

The military and especially the Army is always involved in politics. At the most basic level, Gen Narongphan automatically has a seat in the unelected Senate. That Senate maintains a regime that was put in place by the 2014 military coup and was established by the military junta’s 2017 constitution. ISOC, the Internal Security Operations Command, links the military and civilian administration making it, as Puangthong Pawakapan says, “a counter-democracy agency.”  Its well-funded operations parallel civilian agencies and has a countrywide network of agents and officials.

It is also a lie in Gen Narongphan’s own words.

He has said:

“Protecting the monarchy with absolute loyalty and supporting the government to resolve national problems and working to advance the country are honourable tasks for [the generals],” Gen Narongphan said at a ceremony to bid farewell to retiring army generals at its headquarters on Sept 23.

“We faithfully pledge to carry [Thai] ideologies and perform our duties to the best of abilities to ensure peace in society and foster national unity and support the country’s government,” he added.

Every word in this is political.

And, by supporting the monarchy, he supports the status quo and places the military as the protector of monarchy and ruling class.

Gen Narongphan is an ardent royalist who has served as commander of the Royal Guards 904, reporting to the king. He’s completed the king’s special training and is a “red-rim soldier fraternity, specially trained to serve as Royal Guards. Those who pass the elite training programme are given a T-shirt with a red rim to signify their completion of the programme.”





Updated: Flashback 6 October 1976

6 10 2019

As we do each year, we recall the events of 6 October 1976, where military, right-wing thugs and palace came together to murder protesters and unleash a rightist authoritarianism led by a palace man that was soon replaced by a direct military regime.

Those events have had sad resonances over the decades and the blood continues to drip from the hands of those who have been the military’s leaders and its ideologues.

This year we remember 1976 with a reproduction of a booklet that came out on 2008 from the Pridi Banomyong Institute.

Download the 16-page PDF here.

Update 1: For those who haven’t seen it yet, the article by Puangthong Pawakapan and Thongchai Winichakul, “The desecration of corpses on 6 October 1976: who, how and why” at New Mandala is well worth some contemplation.

Update 2: We should have added that the Flashback document is a memoir by yellow shirts like Ing K, trying to put that shade on the events. In that sense, it demonstrates the strong memories and the splits between those made politically active in those days, many of who have become hopeless royalists.





Academic discussion of democracy

25 08 2018

Khaosod reports on an event at Chulalongkorn University that summarizes the outcomes as being:

China’s growing influence in Thailand, middle class support for the junta, a royalist ideology and the West’s declining interest in human rights abroad have led to the ruling junta’s long stay in power….

We were immediately somewhat dismayed. Some of these things may have had an impact but one of them – royalist ideology – disappeared from the report. All we get is the statement that the junta has been:

“manipulating” … “royal-military authority” as an alternative power structure. Prajak [Kongkirati] called the issue of the monarchy the elephant in the room, while Puangthong [Pawakapan] said she could not discuss the issue…. “You see it, but you cannot discuss it openly,” Puangthong said.

We were also dismayed that other “major factors” were simply missed (at least in the report): repression, the bringing down of the red shirt movement and the militarization of almost everything, not to mention the power of the military’s armed threat.

So this report is a bit ho hum, but we are still going to write on it because even the fact of having an academic meeting on the future of democracy is something of an achievement in the junta’s Thailand!

That China gets some of the blame for the resilience of the military junta seems rather overdone. After all, contrary to the daft comments of the American commentator Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at Hoover Institution, who miraculously appears in a range of places “advising” on how to be more democratic, Thailand has long experience with authoritarianism and authoritarianian principles are deeply embedded in many institutions.

Much of that was achieved when Thailand leaned heavily on the US. And as Thitinan Pongsudhirak of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University observed, “China said whatever government you have is okay with us…”.

It is true that, initially, China was important for Thailand because, as Prajak Kongkirati of Thammasat University, the junta had to “lean on China as it came under pressure from the United States, European Union and Australia in the immediate aftermath of the coup.”

But all that has since changed, and the junta has been enthusiastic on the nations of Europe and the US. Watch these countries accept the rigged election results when the junta decides it can “win” it.

Still on China, Puangthong Pawakapan of Chulalongkorn University, said “China has become the biggest investor-donor in Southeast Asia, provide uncritical support to oppressive regimes in Southeast Asia and has become a model for authoritarian rule in the region.”

Only some of that is true.It is true that China provides uncritical support of oppressive regimes. It is also uncritical of the governments that are not so repressive in the region. We also think that China’s successful marrying of authoritarianism and rampant capitalist development is seen as something of a model.

At the same time, a significant part of the rise of that “model” has to do with the failures of democracy in the West, where citizens have been economically disenfranchised and politically marginalized and the plutocrats and their states have moved sharply to the political right.

What isn’t right is the reported claim that China is the “biggest investor-donor in Southeast Asia.” More research is needed on this. But it isn’t true for Thailand, where the data do show China as the biggest trade partner, even before the junta, but the data up to a year or so ago show China a relative minnow in terms of investment.

As reported, Diamond’s commentary is uninformed on Thailand and rather too formulaic on electoral politics. The claim that: “It’s hard to imagine a long authoritarian rule being stable here,” seems too focused on recent years. Authoritarian rule has been remarkably stable in Thailand since WW2. And, as Prajak points out the junta is now “the longest-ruling regime since 1973…”. He means military regime, because Gen Prem’s regime was in place for a longer period (1980-88).

Prajak is right to observe that “support from the middle class and big capitalists would keep the military in power.” And Puangthong is probably right to say that “Thailand was the worst in Southeast Asia when in comes to the rise of support for authoritarianism among the middle class, though she did not cite any evidence of this.” She added that this support “is the strength of the military regime now…”.





Weekend reads

1 04 2018

We are still kind of catching up from our downtime a weeks or so ago, and want to recommend some interesting material for our readers. Hopefully our military censors/blockers will also learn something from these stories.

At the Bangkok Post: The Cambridge Analytica/SCL Group story is belatedly addressed for Thailand – we commented about 10 days ago – but adds little to the story, although there seems an attempt to diminish the possible role of the Democrat Party even though the only Thai cited is Chuan Leekpai. If there were links between the Democrat Party and/or its government and SCL, look to the party’s Anglophiles for the connecting points.

On the extrajudicial killings at Prachatai: Yiamyut Sutthichaya writes that  “March 17th marked the first anniversary of the death of the young Lahu activist, Chaiyaphum ‘Cha-ou’ Pasae. He was shot dead by a soldier…”. As far as we can tell, nothing sensible has happened on this case since day 1. It has been a cover-up. Read the account, weep for Chaiyapoom and weep for Thailand under the junta’s boot. This is a case of official corruption far more egregious than the Deputy Dictator’s watch saga. The latter interests the middle class who seem to care little for rural kids murdered by military thugs.

“No conspiracy”: The Dictator says he’s stuck to the “roadmap” and there’s no conspiracy to further delay the junta’s promised election. Everyone knows this is a mountain of buffalo manure, but The Dictator keeps saying it. No one believes him – no one – and Alan Dawson at the Bangkok Post calls him out. While at the Post, go and read the stir caused for the junta when Thaksin suggests that Puea Thai will do well when an election comes along. That’s also what the polls say, including the junta’s own polling. That’s also why the junta is splashing taxpayer funds about, seeking to buy supporters.

Insidious Internal Security Act: In talking with political scientist Puangthong Pawakapan, Kritsada Subpawanthanakun reminds us that the the Internal Security Act has now been around for 10 years. A tool wielded mainly through ISOC, it is used to undermine political opponents of Thailand’s establishment. This is highlighted by the fact that the current law was implemented by Gen Surayud Chulanont’s government, put in place by a military junta and borrowing Surayud from the Privy Council. The links between ISOC and the palace are long, deep and nasty.

For more on ISOC: Nutcha Tantivitayapitak writes of “ISOC’s cultural mission” in “the ideological promotion process of ‘nation-religion-monarchy’ by the security agencies…, especially after the enforcement of the 2008 Internal Security Act. Security agencies such as ISOC, which has power over civilian agencies, moved forward in ideological indoctrination through cultural tools.”





Caving in

1 04 2018

The repression associated with lese majeste is critical for the maintenance of the status quo in Thailand. So critical in fact that even the thought of an amendment to the law is greeted with threats of violence. As it has been for seven decades, the rightist alliance between monarchy and military is a keystone for the establishment order in Thailand, with lese majeste, ultra-royalist ideology and murderous enforcement are the means for maintaining that conservative order.

When the Anakhot Mai/New Future/Future Forward Party was recently formed, ultra-royalists foamed and fumed about a young academic lawyer, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, who had once called for minor amendments to Article 112 of the criminal code. Ultra-royalist Sonthiya Sawatdee “petitioned the Election Commission … to disqualify the FFP. He alleged that Piyabutr’s previous involvement with the anti-lèse majesté group Nitirat had caused conflicts among the country’s population, in violation of the Organic Act on Political Parties.”

Knowing that in royalist Thailand Sonthiya’s banal claim may well carry weight, Piyabutr immediately went into reverse political gear, declaring “he would not press the issue of amending the lèse majesté law in the new party…”. He is quoted: “I insist that I will not involve the party in the issue of amending Article 112 of the Criminal Code and will not press the issue in the party…”.

Piyabutr’s backpedaling has opened debate.

Exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul, himself a victim of ultra-royalist and military attacks, “commented that without the issue of amending Article 112, the new party would be just a smaller version of the Phue Thai Party.” He saw a familiar path being taken whereby the young become prematurely old as they flinch on the most significant political issue of recent years, the monarchy.

Somsak believes that the new party didn’t have to say anything:

“When the party’s general meeting (to pass policies, select executives, etc.) happens, and Piyabutr or other important party members see that it is inappropriate to put the issue of Article 112 into the policies because it will lead to the party’s disqualification, then just remove it and register without this issue. So what’s the necessity of yesterday’s announcement [by Piyabutr]? I can’t’ see one…”.

He might have added that the new party has little chance of attracting large numbers of voters, so the strategic withdrawal on monarchy means little more than another ultra-royalist and military victory in its crusade to “protect” the monarchy and, thus, the establishment.

Puangthong Pawakapan of the now-defunct Campaign Committee for the Amendment of Article 112 was less critical, saying Piyabutr ‘s vow was unsurprising as “the political establishment never hesitates to suppress those who challenge the royal defamation law, making an amendment to Article 112 through legislative measures nearly impossible.”

Puangthong added:

“The difficulties in this issue are not about the number of votes in the parliament, but it is a sensitive issue that political parties are afraid to touch because they will be easily attacked by anti-monarchy allegations…. This is why all political parties are afraid to fix this issue. This is why people’s signatories and the draft amendment [to Article 112] by the CCAA 112 was immediately rejected by the Parliament Chairperson, who was at that time a Phue Thai MP.”

It is clear that Puangthong “believes that Piyabutr’s statement was a strategic move to ensure that the FFP will wins seats in the parliament, which will allow the party to make progress on other significant political missions, like eliminating the military influence from Thai politics.”

We recall, back in 2004-2005, so-called progressives signing up to the People’s Alliance for Democracy and its royalist agenda, using a similar line of argument. They may have been anti-monarchy or even republican, but saw the need to get rid rid of Thaksin Shinawatra as being so crucial that they could accommodate the royalist stuff, and fix the monarchy later. How did that turn out for them? Most are now ardent royalists.





ISOC is dangerous

15 11 2017

For those who haven’t yet seen it, ISEAS has published a paper by Puangthong R. Pawakapan that is well worth reading and digesting. It can be freely downloaded.

The Central Role of Thailand’s Internal Security Operations Command in the Post-Counter-insurgency Period is an important account of ISOC. Its executive summary is as follows:

  • The Thai military’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) was in charge of a wide range of civil affairs projects during the country’s struggle with the communist insurgency between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s.
  • These projects — including rural development programmes, mass organizations and mobilization campaigns, and psychological operations — provided justification for the military to routinely penetrate the socio-political sphere.
  • Since the Cold War drew to a close, little attention has been paid to ISOC’s role and power within the state apparatus.
  • Since the coups of September 2006 and May 2014 that toppled the elected governments, ISOC has been dangerously empowered and increasingly employed by the military regimes to dictate the country’s political direction.
  • The power of the Thai military is exerted not only through its use of force but also by means of its socio-political arms. ISOC represents a potent tool with which conservative elites can undermine and control electoral democracy and through which the military can maintain its power.




Updated: Academics say no

17 04 2016

The Bangkok Post reports that a “group of academics has slammed the draft constitution, saying it weakens the parliamentary system and restrict people’s rights and liberties.”

This is not unexpected following Nitirat’s rejection of the military’s draft charter.

This group of academics considers itself “a network of academics for citizens’ rights” and spoke at Thammasat University. According to the Post they are: “Anusorn Unno, dean of Thammasat University’s faculty of sociology and anthropology, Pichit Likitkijsomboon, from Thammasat University’s faculty of economics, Decharut Sukkumnoed, from Kasetsart University’s faculty of economics, and Puangthong Pawakapan, a political science lecturer at Chulalongkorn University.”

Their statement opposing the draft charter was clear:

  • the draft charter curtails the people’s rights and liberties
  • this draft constitution was only for the benefit of a certain group of people
  • the draft will weaken the parliamentary system
  • it paves the way for an unelected “outsider” to be prime minister
  • the draft destroyed the rule of law regarding power separation
  • it allows the state to infringe on people’s rights by acting in the name of national security
  • amendments will difficult or impossible

The group called on the junta “to return power to the people by calling an election as soon as possible if the draft charter fails to pass the referendum, and allow the parliament which takes shape after the election to draft a new constitution and carry out reforms based on fully-fledged democracy.”

Update: A reader suggests moving beyond academics:

1. Starting any time now, the people openly draft their own charter, publicize it in well-identified versions, hold elections in every village until one version gets an absolute majority of eligible citizens’ votes.
2. After the Repudiation on 7 August, the people hold demonstrations throughout Thailand against the dictatorship – ประยุทธ์ออกไป ! – filling the jails to overflowing.
3. After the Repudiation on 7 August, the people hold a general strike until Prayuth and his cronies are gone
4. 1,2,3 above in serial combination.

There needs to be a call – by word of mouth, via Facebook, in handouts, on posted sheets, … that this is the final confrontation between the people and the Army, to banish the Army from politics forever and a day, and to establish the rule of law, based upon the peoples’ constitution.





Waiting for a bus that doesn’t arrive

6 02 2016

Bloomberg has a pretty neat first paragraph in a recent story on Thailand:

Thailand is waiting for a new constitution, waiting for the restoration of democracy, waiting for the succession in its monarchy, waiting for an economic recovery and waiting for rain.

The wait could be very long indeed. Rain will fall before the junta moves on, the generals ever decide to give up their power.

Waiting

Some other bits of the story will have the military bosses grinding their teeth even more. Here’s some selections:

… [O]verseas investors have voted with their feet. Applications for foreign direct investment slumped 78 percent in the first 11 months of 2015. Exports have fallen for three straight years.

“It’s partly self-deceiving to legitimize their existence, and partly their loss of touch with reality,” said Puangthong Pawakapan, an associate professor of international relations at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. “The junta leaders do not see how people now are worried so much and struggling with economic hardship.”

“The main achievement of the military was achieved within 24 hours,” said Korn Chatikavanij, a former finance minister and a member of the Democrat Party, whose supporters largely cheered the coup. “Subsequent to that they haven’t achieved much. But then I never expected much.”

What can we say? Korn is right, but when he says he didn’t expect much, he is disingenuous. He wanted the military as much as all his anti-democrat and elite chums.

“I don’t believe Thailand will have an election until the succession is completed and the throne is stable,” said Puangthong at Chulalongkorn University. “This is the main objective of the 2006 and 2014 coups. If the king passes away — the mourning period will be at least one year. The junta will use it to condemn any politicians demanding an election.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” said Than [Rittiphan, 23, a student of international relations at Ramkamhaeng University in Bangkok and a member of the New Democracy Movement]…. “This country is not a toilet that you can put up a sign saying ‘under construction.’ You cannot wait for democracy.”





Longevity and the military dictatorship

25 11 2015

Readers may find this paper at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies:

Protracted Period in Power Can Prove Perilous for Thailand’s Military Government

By Puangthong Pawakapan (Associate Professor at the Department of International Relations, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University)

Executive Summary:

  • The rejection of the draft constitution by the National Reform Council in September has effectively delayed the next general election. No doubt the prolongation of the military government’s time in office provides an opportunity for it to consolidate power, but it also creates a challenge for the junta as well.
  • Its endeavour to re-establish the old elite’s domination over electoral politics by way of a new constitution is no easy task. Despite the military leaders’ distrust of politicians, cooperation and negotiation with major political parties are vital to their pursuit.
  • How soon the Thai people can have an election depends on how secure the old powers feel with the new political game and how well the royal succession goes.
  • On observation, the longer the junta stays in power, the more serious missteps it tends to take. Its incompetence in handling complex issues, both domestically and internationally, has quickly eroded its credibility.
  • But while the junta may be in a weak position, its opponents are showing themselves to be much weaker and more deeply divided.




Attitude and adjustment

20 09 2015

AFP reports that the military dictatorship’s “attitude adjustment” campaign against critics has almost reached 800 known detentions. That is about 50 a month. In addition to this, it has been jailing opponents and others considered troublesome for the palace at a rate of more than one a month, mostly on trumped up lese majeste charges that are seldom contested or even scrutinized in court. Then there’s all the threats, late night “visits,” repression, censorship and propaganda.

Some argue that the regime is not particularly nasty – indeed the regime itself makes such claims – because it isn’t jailing thousands or killing opponents. In fact, the killings by Thailand’s military have been almost as regular as mileposts on a highway, with the most recent mass murder being of opponents in 2010.

AFP writes of “blindfolds and black site prisons” as elements of the junta’s “attitude adjustment sessions — brief periods of involuntary incarceration that can last up to seven days” and sometimes longer. Like a mafia gang, the military provides an “invitation” to join military officers to “have a chat — albeit an invitation that no-one can refuse.”

In the report, AFP, Puangthong Pawakapan, an academic at Chulalongkorn University who was also summoned and Paul Chambers are forgetting history when they observe that “the junta … is rolling out increasingly harsh interrogation techniques as it stamps down on dissent.” This is not “a new trend,” as Chambers asserts. He and the others forget that this regime has regularly been accused of torture, beatings and thuggish stand-over tactics when dealing with red shirts. What is perhaps new is the use of these tactics against middle class opposition.

Chambers is on firmer ground when he notes that this move “illustrates a regime which has become more desperate about holding on to power…”.

A few days ago, the Washington Post also commented on “attitude adjustment.” In an editorial, it states that Thais “seem to have good reason these days to question the generals … its plan for a faux democracy, … why the country’s economy remains stagnant, or why the regime has been so sluggish in responding to a terrorist bombing in central Bangkok last month.”

Rather than grabbing “[a]nyone who asks those sensible questions … is likely to be deemed in need of an ‘attitude adjustment’ by the generals’ increasingly erratic leader, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.”

In fact, it is the generals who need attitude adjustment. They need to reject dictatorship, illegal actions, impunity, torture, corruption and political murder.