Dictatorship of bullies

18 09 2018

Today’s Bangkok Post has three stories that demonstrate that the military dictatorship is a coterie of thugs.

The first that caught our attention is an editorial where the Deputy Dictator’s adviser Pol Maj Gen Surachate “Big Joke” Hakparnhas decided that he has license to bully persons overseas. Of course, the military dictatorship has bullied those it accuses of lese majeste for years, but this relates to a young British woman who claims to have been raped at the “already infamous Koh Tao.”

Big Joke – his real nickname – “has announced an imminent trip to London. There, he claimed late last week, he intends to interrogate the 19-year-old woman who claims to be the victim.”

But this is not an investigation but a bullying. Big Joke has already been loud in his denunciations of the woman’s claims and has now declared that “his London visit could end up proving the rape claim was false.”

The Post states: “There are so many things wrong with this development.” It is right, but this is simply the way things are done under the junta’s regime. And there’s much that is wrong about that.

The second is the news that Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and two other executive members have “met police to hear the charge of violating the Computer Crime Act on Monday.”

They have been charged for telling the truth about the junta’s campaigning and its efforts at hoovering up MPs for the political parties supporting the dictators. The junta has spent more than four years bullying – sometimes jailing, abducting and worse – persons it identifies as opponents. It is the way of the dictatorship.

The complaint against the three came directly from the junta or National Council for Peace and Order. As the Post reports, the “person who filed the charges and allegations, Col Burin Thongprapai, Judge Advocate General (legal) officer for the NCPO…”.

The police “said they would forward the case to the attorney general within four months.” If found “guilty,” the three “who could face a fine up to 100,000 baht and/or a jail term up to five years…”.

And the third story is yet another report of the double standards adopted by the junta. It uses decrees and threats to prevent political parties from doing much at all that is usually associated with political parties, but the junta goes on its merry way, seeking popularity for the upcoming elections.

In the past, the junta and its anti-democrat supporters have referred to these activities as vote buying and policy corruption, but when the junta does it, it is met with wry smiles. Anything is okay in the effort to keep “bad” politicians out of office. “Bad” is now defined only by reference to whether an politician supports the junta.

With The Dictator, Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and his junta henchmen in Loei to hand out large piles of taxpayer loot and seek to steal former MPs away from their parties, it has targeted the Puea Thai Party.

In the past, the junta and its anti-democrat supporters have referred to these MPs as “bad” politicians, corrupt and a threat to the state. Their laundering to “good” politicians is achieved by their agreement to support the military’s thugs.





Fearful, covering up or just thick?

30 08 2018

The military junta has emphasized Thailand’s “uniqueness.” Thailand is probably the world’s only military dictatorship, it “protects” the monarchy more intensely than almost any other constitutional monarchy, its lese majeste law carries higher sentences than anywhere else and more.

It is probably not unique that it has officials and appointed members of assemblies who say some of the dumbest things that could possibly be imagined. They do this with straight faces, without a smile and appear to believe the daft things that flow from their mouths, seemingly disconnected from anything resembling a brain.

Likewise, we don’t think it is unique when the main “anti-corruption” bodies prefer to obfuscate, lie and cover-up for their bosses/friends/dictators.

But combining those “anti-corruption” bodies with officials saying the dumbest things may be unique.

As a case in point is Surasak Keereevichiena, a member of the National Anti-Corruption Commission reportedly stated that “[i]t is difficult for the nation’s anti-graft agency to conclude whether there was any wrongdoing in the Bt1.13-billion purchase of fake ‘remote substance detectors’…”.

That’s bad enough, but what was the reason for this outrageous claim? Get this: Surasak “said it was likely that officials had decided to purchase the devices because they believed the devices would work.” Making this dopey statement dopier still, he babbled that “[s]ometimes, it is not about the value of devices. It’s more about belief, just like when you buy Buddha amulets…”.

Now what is Surasak prattling about? None other than the plastic handled scam wand, the GT200.

Wikipedia’s page says this:

The GT200 is a fraudulent “remote substance detector” that was claimed by its manufacturer, UK-based Global Technical Ltd, to be able to detect, from a distance, various substances including explosives and drugs. The GT200 was sold to a number of countries for a cost of up to £22,000 per unit, but the device has been described as little more than “divining rods” which lack any scientific explanation for why they should work. After the similar ADE 651 was exposed as a fraud, the UK Government banned the export of such devices to Iraq and Afghanistan in January 2010 and warned foreign governments that the GT200 and ADE 651 are “wholly ineffective” at detecting bombs and explosives. The owner of Global Technical, Gary Bolton, was convicted on 26 July 2013 on two charges of fraud relating to the sale and manufacture of the GT200 and sentenced to seven years in prison.

For Thailand, where the prices paid reached the maximum, this story goes back beyond the early days of this blog. Our first post was in early January 2010, when General Pathomphong Kasornsuk reportedly wrote a letter to then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to urge that a committee investigate the army’s procurement scheme for GT200 “bomb detectors.”

But the news reports of early 2010 point to an earlier purchase of the GT200, by the air force in 2004 or 2005.  Wassana Nanuam, writing in the Bangkok Post (18 February 2010) says future 2006 coup leader ACM Chalit Phukpasuk was commander at the time. 2006 junta boss Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, then army commander and chairman of the Council for National Security (CNS), was impressed with the device and it was used at that time by a unit which provided security for then prime minister Surayud Chulanont.

The Wikipedia page says this about Thailand:

The GT200 was used extensively in Thailand. Reportedly, some 818 GT200 units were procured by Thai public bodies since 2004. These include 535 bought by the Royal Thai Army for use combating the South Thailand insurgency and another 222 for use in other areas, 50 purchased by the Royal Thai Police for use in Police Region 4 (Khon Kaen), six bought by the Central Institute of Forensic Science, six by the Customs Department, four by the Royal Thai Air Force, and one by Chai Nat police. Other agencies such as the Border Patrol Police Bureau and the Office of the Narcotics Control Board use a similar device to detect drugs, the Alpha 6, procured from another company, Comstrac. According to the Bangkok Post, the Royal Thai Air Force first procured the GT200 to detect explosives and drugs at airports, followed by the army in 2006.[30] According to Lt Gen Daopong Rattansuwan, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Royal Thai Army, each GT200 bought by the army cost 900,000 baht (£17,000/US$27,000), rising to 1.2 million baht (£22,000/US$36,000) if 21 “sensor cards” were included with it. In total, Thailand’s government and security forces have spent between 800–900 million baht (US$21 million) on the devices. Figures updated in 2016 claim that the Thai government spent 1.4 billion baht on the purchase of 1,358 devices between 2006 and 2010. Even after the efficacy of the device was debunked by Thai and foreign scientists, Prime Minister Chan-o-cha, then army chief, declared, “I affirm that the device is still effective.” The Bangkok Post commented that, “The GT200 case was a unique scandal because the devices…seemed to fool only the people closely connected to their sale and purchase.”

Tests and experiments conducted in Thailand and in the UK showed that the GT200 and similar wands were an undisguised scam.

Wassana Nanuam, writing in the Bangkok Post (18 February 2010) pointed out that it was Army commander Anupong Paojinda “who approved the purchase of more than 200 of these so-called bomb detectors at the price of 1.4 million baht each in 2009.” As we know, he is now Minister of Interior and part of the junta.

She says that the GT200 was first purchased by the air force in 2005, when future coup leader Air Chief Marshal Chalit Phukpasuk was commander. “After that, [2006 coup leader] Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, then army commander and chairman of the Council for National Security (CNS), became impressed with the device. He asked that two of them be sent for trial. They were used at that time by a unit which provided security coverage for then prime minister Surayud Chulanont.”

Despite the legal cases elsewhere and the tests, Anupong, Prayuth and others refused to acknowledge that the GT200 didn’t work. They mumbled about soldiers finding them useful. Questions were raised about the commissions paid.

In mid-2012, reporters asked “army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha if the GT200 had actually been taken out of service.” The response was an emphatic no. Then the now premier and more than fours years as The Dictator, stated: “I affirm that the device is still effective. Other armed forces are also using it…”.

Indeed they were, including in the south, where people were arrested based on “tests” using the GT200. Prayuth “insisted the GT200 has proven to be effective in the army’s operations in the past. But he would respect any scientific test if it proves otherwise.” Of course, those tests had already been conducted. The (future) Dictator believed the GT200 worked. Full stop.

He was supported by then Defence Minister ACM Sukumpol Suwanatat under the Puea Thai government. Dense and commenting on a report that the Department of Special Investigation was investigating whether the devices were purchased at exorbitant prices, he “said: “The GT200 detectors can do the job and they have already been tested…”. He also babbled that the DSI “should also ask those who are using the detectors because if they don’t work I want to know who would buy them.”

By April 2013, the Bangkok Post reported that investigations in Thailand have shown that “13 agencies to buy 1,358 GT200 and Alpha 6 detectors worth 1.137 billion baht.” It added that fraud charges are being considered by the NACC.

More than 5 years later, Surasak has come up with his ludicrous claims that mimic his bosses in the junta. He added that the junta-shy NACC would “come up with a clear-cut conclusion on the matter ‘at an appropriate time’.”

He said: “if soldiers in the field … have faith in the bomb-detectors and believe they work, then they would consider the equipment worth the money spent. But he admitted that there are people who question their worthiness considering the prices paid.”

We are tempted to conclude that Surasak is dumber than a sack of hammers, but that would do damage to hammers. We should consider that he may be fearful of The Dictator and his team of military thugs. He might love them and feels the need to cover up to protect them. Or some combination of these.





Shoveling money into the electorate

28 08 2018

The military dictatorship’s electoral campaigning has hit high gear in a frenzied shoveling out of money “seemingly aimed at winning the hearts of voters at the grassroots.” That’s according to an account at The Nation.

As it looks increasingly like the junta and The Dictator have the confidence to hold their rigged election, they are pouring money into “projects” meant to turn voters to the junta’s party/ies.

Senior junta figures are associating themselves with those projects. Of course, these are state-funded projects or, more correctly, taxpayer-funded.

There’s nothing wrong with a government promising and then delivering on projects that benefit the poor. However, it has to be recalled that various pro-Thaksin Shinawatra governments were lambasted for such schemes – albeit that they were put to the test of elections.

Worse, many of these schemes were criticized as policy corruption by opponents and ended up in cases before courts that even brought down governments. Those critics have thrown their support behind two coups and the junta’s government.

As we understand them, these critics blasted Thaksin-allied governments for policy corruption because they saw those governments enriching ministers and Thaksin himself. They now say the junta is not enriching itself, so this may be vote-buying but is not policy corruption….

The junta’s targets for the spending are explicitly those considered likely to have voted for the Puea Thai Party: “farmers, low-income people and rural residents.” The aim being to turn their attention to junta-supporting parties.

The efforts include “a three-year moratorium on farmers’ debts, continuing through July 2021.” Recall that back when Thaksin first came to power with Thai Rak Thai? That costs Bt2.7 billion in “debt-interest compensation to the BAAC due to the suspension of debt repayments.”

Another important effort has involved the military’s Mafia-cum-Robin Hood seizing of assets from those it identifies as “loan sharks,” returning assets like cars and land titles to those who took loans. While we don’t condone illegal lending, the actions of the military in “applying pressure” seem as illegal as the loans. The targets are red shirt areas in Khon Kaen and Udonthani .

The junta has also ordered the BAAC to consider restructuring “debt that farmers have owed to the BAAC since 2000. This project involves combined debt topping Bt6 billion and interest of Bt4 billion.”

The junta “has made it a policy to hand out money to needy people every month. In the second phase of this undertaking this year, monthly handouts increased from Bt300 to Bt500 for individuals earning less than Bt30,000 a year and from Bt200 to Bt300 for people on annual incomes of less than Bt100,000.”

In addition, the junta is “injecting Bt200,000 each into more than 82,000 communities throughout the country.” Remember the Thaksin government’s scheme?

Then there’s “a Bt40-billion project to offer cheap loans to homebuyers on low incomes.” Recall the Ua Arthon projects under Thaksin?

The National Legislative Assembly is supporting the junta’s vote-buying efforts. The Bangkok Post reports that the “40-billion-baht budget for the Pracharat scheme has been spared from being trimmed…”. Originally scheduled for cuts, those cuts have been “redistributed … to other agencies instead.”

It’s all hands on deck to shovel the money out before any election. The pay-off is is expected in votes for the junta.





How to “win” an “election” I

13 08 2018

A few days ago, PPT posted on the strategies the military junta may use to keep delaying its “election.” One thing we added was that the junta could hold an “election” and cheat and manipulate to win it (the Cambodia model).

All of this discussion was motivated by reports that the Puea Thai Party remained the most electorally popular party in the country. This despite all the repression and money the junta has used to make itself and its preferred parties “popular.”

Of course, we should have mentioned a longer term strategy that the junta has had percolating in the background all along: ban Puea Thai or decimate it by banning dozens of its politicians from contesting an “election.”

We were reminded of this strategy by a report at the Bangkok Post. As the junta and its allies have been filching “members” from Puea Thai – this report says at least 50 – it has talked, threatened, teased these defectors with various “offers.” Widely reported have been offers of favorable treatment in legal cases.

The report refers to so-called graft investigations by the National Anti-Corruption Commission. (Such cases are what the junta uses the NACC for; it is not interested in cases against the junta, only in the cases against the junta’s opponents.)

It seems there are two such political cases against Puea Thai that the NACC can rule on when the junta tells it to pull the trigger.

One “investigation” is a quite ridiculous case that seeks to ban politicians for a endorsing for a vote in parliament a bill that was quickly withdrawn. This voting is termed ” abuse of authority.” Under the Yingluck Shinawatra government, these then-MPs endorsed the amnesty bill.

The second case is about the 1.9 billion baht compensation the Yingluck government made available to all victims of violence during political protests from 2005 to 2010.

Opponents declared that these funds were mainly for “red-shirt protesters that support the party.” Perhaps that was because, attacked by the military, it was mostly red shirts who were killed and who suffered the more severe injuries. But the point was that all were eligible.

What the NACC “will look into [are] claims that compensation was not paid out in line with the 1959 Budget Procedures Act, causing more than 1.9 billion baht in damage to state coffers.” That’s every single baht of the funds in a case that can be determined whenever the junta needs to ban Puea Thai and/or its former MPs (who don’t do deals with the junta).

That case against more than two dozen former MPs “will come to a final verdict and forward it to NACC’s main board next month.”





Delusion and reality

10 08 2018

A report in the Bangkok Post suggests that the military junta is delusional. But we don’t think they are, at least not on this one. Rather, the junta’s minions at the National Legislative Assembly, are exceeding themselves in fabricating news, piling buffalo excrement mountain high. As we posted yesterday, the NLA, in doing the junta’s bidding and scrapping the (old) Election Commission’s selections for poll inspectors. It is clear that the junta, after falling out with the (old) EC, wants these appointments to be of their men and women.

As this move has been controversial, the dolts at the NLA’s Secretariat claim to have conducted an online poll on the move. Guess what? It “shows 100% of respondents support a bid by some NLA members to seek legal amendments to nullify the selection of poll inspectors — a move which could further delay the general election expected early next year.”

By Thursday, every single one of about 6,800 people who went to the site “voiced support for the proposed amendments which will effectively scrap the entire process…”. We actually believe this because we’d think the junta and the NLA mobilized soldiers, their cyber-snoops and other supporters to go to the site and “vote.”

Such stuffing of the “ballot box” may be a last ditch strategy for the junta when it comes to the “election” that may be held some time in the future. In making this prediction, we were reminded of some comments in a recent story by Shawn Crispin at the Asia Times Online, who was also betting on a “May election.”

Crispin points to “local media … awash with reports that the newly formed, pro-junta Palang Pracharat Party has poached politicians from both Peua Thai and the Democrats, with some local papers suggesting that either party could collapse under the weight of the supposed defections.” The Palang Pracharath lot reckon they have the “election” sown up under the junta’s rules. The report cites “Suchart Chanataramanee, the party’s co-founder and [Gen] Prayut[h Chan-ocha]’s military academy classmate, [who] has boldly predicted Palang Pracharat will win the next polls, though not with a majority. If no party wins an outright majority, the military-appointed Senate lends its vote to picking the next premier, a scenario that favors Prayut.”

But Crispin questions whether “the junta believes it is luring enough vote-winning politicians, as well as its own propaganda touting Prayut’s supposedly strong grass roots popularity, to finally hold long-delayed elections…”. He adds that “most independent analysts believe it will resoundingly lose.” He cites some statistics:

Reasons abound to doubt recent rosy pro-junta projections. Suan Dusit, a local pollster, showed in June that 55% of respondents saw Peua Thai as the country’s top party, with the Democrats at 34% and Palang Pracharat at a mere 17%. A National Institute of Development Administration survey in May also showed Peua Thai outpacing Palang Pracharat, though by a narrower 32% to 25% margin.

Polls conducted by the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), a military spy agency, have consistently shown that Peua Thai would resoundingly win new polls, a person familiar with the surveys told Asia Times. Those results haven’t changed even with Prayut’s recent populist-style forays upcountry, the same source says.

Crispin then wonders whether there will be an election, saying the junta “still has election escape routes…”.

One is the king’s coronation, and that hasn’t been announced.

Another is that the king could ask for amendments to the election laws.

Then there’s the unnamed “official close to the premier [who] says some in the junta remain reluctant to hold elections that could tilt towards instability while Thailand holds next year’s rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), a statesman role Prayut would apparently relish as a prestigious capstone to his tenure.”

And there are others not mentioned: the junta may just decide to stay on; the junta could create instability so it can stay on; the election inspector fiasco could delay the poll; the queen might die and require a military-managed funeral; the junta could hold an election and cheat and manipulate to win it (the Cambodia model); and so on.

Whatever excuse, with Thaksin Shinawatra criticizing the junta and declaring his forces will win the long struggle, the junta will be considering all its anti-democratic options.





Saving the junta’s face, intimidating opponents

3 08 2018

Thailand’s military dictatorship is as prickly as it is dishonest.

It says it was compelled to act against Future Forward Party leaders because it “distorted facts” and “adversely affected the NCPO’s [the junta] reputation.”

Junta mouthpiece Maj Gen Piyapong Klinpan said legal action was taken because Future Forward party members were considered to have “distorted information” that the junta lies was “provoking public disturbances and violating the Computer Crime Act…”. The party members talked about the junta poaching members from other parties that are prevented from even meeting.

Of course, no “disturbances” resulted, so clearly the junta is saving face and repressing political opponents. Further, the statements made by the party were accurate, suggesting that it is, in fact, the junta that is “provoking public disturbances” by rigging the election and underwriting, supporting, promoting and protecting the Palang Pracharath Party.

In a footnote to the linked story, the junta’s mouthpiece expressed disinterest in claims by two Puea Thai Party members that they are being tailed by the military.

The military junta uses the military forces as black shirts to intimidate and repress. They do so with impunity. We can only guess at the huge level of funds filched from the taxpayer to fund the junta’s election rigging.





Controlling “election” campaigning

2 08 2018

The junta and its puppet parties campaign for the “election” while preventing others from doing the same. The blatant rigging of its “election” involves not just its rules on elections, but on making every aspect of the “election,” and the run-up to it, suit the junta and hobble and disadvantage opponents.

Silencing opponents through the use of junta laws and decrees is a pattern of rigging a result and seems likely to be a strategy the junta will be using to “train” and “tame” politicians and to shift further advantage to the junta and its parties.

One example of this is the use of computer crimes law against Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and the Future Forward Party.

Most junta attention, however, has been to the Puea Thai Party. In just the most recent case, party member and former minister Pichai Naripatapan has “been summonsed to report to the Technology Crime Suppression Division on Thursday to answer a charge relating to his criticism of the regime.”

He is accused of having “posted a false statement which could undermine national security and the economy or trigger panic among the public.” Pichai says he has no idea what the summons is about.

As with Thanathorn’s case, the complaint against Pichai was made by the junta.

Of course, the junta has been undermining Puea Thai since the coup – indeed, it was one of the tasks set for the junta. Preventing the party from winning yet another election underpins almost everything the junta does.

Indeed, Pichai alone has “received a total of 11 summonses since the NCPO took power…”.

Pichai “criticised the regime for using the Computer Crime Act to restrict freedom of expression, especially as an election approaches, and insisted his comments and criticisms are based on public information and can be verified.”

It isn’t just the computer crimes law that the junta uses to silence critics. It uses lese majeste, sedition and other laws and decrees. It can do so with impunity because it controls the law, manipulating it as it wants and for its own advanatage.