Policing activists calling for the junta’s election

20 02 2018

Thailand’s military rulers reckon that “pro-election” activists are in the pay of others. The regime has good reason for alleging this as the military, and particularly ISOC has spent decades creating and funding the right-wing groups that have been instrumental in bringing down elected governments. In the process quite a few people have been murdered.

So whenever they see others agitating they automatically assume they are like the groups they form and back. National Security Council (NSC) secretary-general Wallop Raksanoh has “pledged to go after those who are financially supporting pro-election activists…”.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

Before going any further, we need to note that these activists are agitating for an “election” to be held according to the rules set by the military junta and a timetable that was promised by The Dictator not that long ago. In other words, the military junta is threatened by a small group of activists promoting the junta’s own “election.”

Of course, yet again, the junta has backed away from its “election” pledge, so now these pro-election activists – the junta’s election – are seditious. The military is spending huge amounts of taxpayer money policing those who have called for the junta’s election to actually be held.

General Wallop pledged to “hunt down those who are the backers of the group,” saying that the “activists’ would not pose such a major problem if people were not egging them on…”. He warned of possible violence saying “officials must ensure no third party would exploit the group’s activities by causing violence.” Funny that. It is usually ISOC that provides the infamous “third hand” in Thailand’s politics.

In “hunting down” backers, the regime’s internet police are more heavily blocking websites that support the activists, PPT included.

Army chief Gen Chalermchai Sitthisad also says his men are “searching for the people thought to be supporting the group.” He suspects political parties and he means Puea Thai and Shinawatra money. With both Thaksin and Yingluck visible and in the region, the military junta is having kittens.

Gen Chalermchai said “[s]tate authorities will enforce the laws in a proper way…” against activists, with as many as 100 now having been charges. Ironically, it is Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan who is instructing the authorities on these measures. He himself is accused of multiple acts of corruption and unusual wealth. That’s leaving aside the illegality of the coup he helped plan and implement.





Populism or politics?

10 02 2018

As The Dictator continues his “election”-cum-extended-delays campaigning, he’s decided that he will mobilize thousands of officials to campaign for him.

The Nation reports that “all provincial governors of the 76 provinces, chiefs of 878 districts, and high ranking officers of related agencies across the country gathered at the policy briefing conference at the Impact Exhibition and Convention Centre.” They were there on the orders of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and Gen Anupong Paojunda, the former military boss made Minister of Interior.

They were told that so-called the Thai Niyom Yangyeun (Sustainable “Thainess”) program would pour up to 2 billion baht into communities all over the country. Unashamedly, it also “encourage[s] people to abandon their polarised opinions and work together” meaning that they must not vote for the Puea Thai Party and should “elect” a military-backed party.

Critics label this a “populist policy.” PPT doesn’t see anything particularly wrong with popular policies – this is usually what critics meant when criticizing elected governments – if they assist the poor. However, this is much closer to policy corruption and a promotion of anti-democracy.

Most of the initial efforts in this junta scam involve sending “teams to talk with … local people to learn about their problems in all aspects and encourage them to be aware of their duties as good citizens of the country, and to work with the government to further develop our nation…”.

In other words, pro-junta propaganda and state officials involved are essentially acting a vote brokers.

Gen Prayuth denied his was in any way populist or that the “scheme is aimed at helping the administration cling to power…”.

The Dictator also decided to engage in some political theory, saying that “[i]n a liberal democracy, investors are high-income people and those without capital serve as employees or workers, and it is important to make sure these people can work together efficiently and productively…”.

Thailand is nothing like a “liberal democracy” and won’t be following any “election” the junta decides to hold. Nor is the capital-labor relation definitional of a liberal democracy, but it does sound like The Dictator is promoting Thaksin-like conceptions of Thailand’s capitalism.

Neither Thaksin nor Yingluck were permitted to implement such programs for very long but a military-backed regime can presumably do what it likes so long as it sidelines the Shinawatra clan.





Drunken sailors and soldiers

2 02 2018

In seeking to bolster its “popularity” and electoral appeal, the military dictatorship is spending like a ship full of drunken sailors (well, a massage parlor full of soldiers).

The Nation reports that the Agriculture, Interior and other ministries will shortly begin spending 47 billion baht on The Dictator’s “Thai Niyom” development program That’s about 670,000 baht for every village and community in the country. We are always pleased to see funds flow to the poor but this looks more like a hastily cobbled together vote buying program seemingly developed just in the past few weeks (or the time of the Deputy Dictator’s luxury watch problems). If Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra parties could be accused of populism for programs that were taken to the electorate, what’s this large bucket of money?

Another program has had longer term planning. It also involves a heck of a lot more taxpayer loot: almost 1 trillion baht. The Bangkok Post reports that the junta’s cabinet “has approved 168 infrastructure development projects worth a combined 989 billion baht for its flagship Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) scheme.”

Interestingly, the military is in for its cut. The report observes: “government spending will account for 30%, with public-private partnerships making up 59%, state-owned enterprises 10% and the Royal Thai Army 1%.” The junta has stuffed state enterprises with its cronies. The navy isn’t listed, but it has a project in this scheme as well. Almost all of this investment (minus commissions and cuts) will be shoveled into formerly pro-Puea Thai Party electoral districts.

Such spending is calculated to bring electoral and popularity gains for soldiers who will fill their pockets along the way. More luxury watches?





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.





When the military is on top XII

19 01 2018

It is some time since our last post with this title. There’s a general air in the press and on social media that the political tide may be turning.

For example, commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak says he can see “civil society noises, together with political parties, are now on rise and may build into a crescendo of opposition to the military government.” Others are pleased to see the detestable Abhisit Vejjaiva “damning” the military government with language that is advisory in tone on General Prawit Wongsuwan’s large collection of luxury watches. On social media, many have lauded the dropping of yet another lese majeste case against Sulak Sivaraksa.

While there is some cause for cheer, it might be noted that much of this criticism is coming from yellow shirts and anti-democrats, many of whom were strong supporters of the 2014 military coup. This suggests that that coalition of anti-democrats is unraveling as the junta seeks to embed its rule. The unanswered question is what they propose as an alternative to the junta. Do these critics propose using the junta’s rules and having a military-dominated administration post-“election” – a Thai-style democracy – but where that dominance is not as total as it is now. That is, a simple refusal to allow General Prayuth Chan-ocha to hang on as head of a selectorate regime? Nothing much that any of these “opponents” have proposed since 2005 has looked much like an open political system.

What we can also see, and this also deserves attention from those cheering these developments, is that the junta continues to crackdown on other opponents.  One case involves the National Anti-Corruption Commission, criticized on Prawit, but widely supported by anti-democrats in an action to “determine whether … 40 [elected and pro-Thaksin Shinawatra] politicians submitted the [amnesty] bill with ‘illegal’ intent” back in 2013. If found “guilty,” they would all be banned from the junta’s “election,” decimating the already weakened Puea Thai Party.

Even when criticizing Prawit’s horology obsession, some critics are tolerated and others not. For example, Abhisit and yellow-hued “activists” can criticize, but what about Akechai Hongkangwarn? He’s identified as an opponent, so when he was critical, “four police officers … turned up at [his]… home … to serve a summons.” The “charge” seems to be “posting obscene images online…”. An obscenely expensive watch perhaps?

Then there’s the warning to critics of the junta that there call for The Dictator’s use of Article 44 for to not be made into law. Maj Gen Piyapong Klinpan “who is also the commander of the 11th Military Circle, said the NCPO [junta] is monitoring the situation. He said the NCPO did not ban the gathering on Monday since it was held in an education institute where academics were present to share knowledge. The NCPO merely followed up the event and tried to make sure those present would not violate any laws.” In other words, watch out, you’re being watched. It’s a threat.

Amazingly, Maj Gen Piyapong then “explained” these political double standards:

Commenting about political activist Srisuwan Janya, who has criticised the regime, Maj Gen Piyapong said there is no need to invite the activist for talks as he still has done nothing wrong, but the junta will keep tabs on his movements. “Currently, there is still no movement which is a cause for concern,” Maj Gen Piyapong said.

And, finally, if you happen to be one of those unfortunates – a citizen in the way of military “progress” – you get threatened with guns. At the embattled Mahakan community, where a historical site is being demolished, Bangkok Metropolitan administrators called out the military to threaten the community. The deployment of troops was by the Internal Security Operations Command.





Prayuth pushes Thai-style democracy

15 01 2018

Children’s Day in Thailand seems to officially involve making children comfortable with weapons and with the gangsters who command the military. This year, in his speech for the event, The Dictator declared: “Our country cannot afford any more conflicts. We certainly must have democracy. But it is Thai-style democracy. We must not break the rules. I ask all Thais to consider this…”.

A conflict-free politics is a repressive politics. The trick of a democracy is in handling conflict, minimizing it and channeling it in ways that avoid violence. That’s not always successful, but its arguably far superior than having trigger-happy goons running the show.

The Bangkok Post reported that Puea Thai Party’s Chaturon Chaisang reckoned that The Dictator had “cultivated authoritarian values for children…”.

That’s true and it is also true that he’s been doing this since the coup in 2014. There can’t be any surprises in The Dictator’s musings.

When he declared that “children … do their duties to the best to be the pride of their family. The priorities are nation, religion and the monarchy — keep Thainess forever…” he’s repeating royalist and military ideology. In fact, they see all Thais as children.





Updated: Domination plans

6 01 2018

Seldom has PPT been able to fully agree with analysis in the mainstream media. Generally we rummage about in it and post bits and pieces drawn from it to highlight things about the monarchy, lese majeste and political repression. Nor have we always been fans of the Bangkok Post’s military affairs reporter Wassana Nanuam.

However, a recent piece by Wassana in the Bangkok Post is one we can recommend. “Regime lays plans for post-poll control” says much that PPT has been posting about for several years, and we are pleased that others are recognizing the junta’s plans and writing about them in Thailand. Wassana writes about how the junta “has been busy ensuring its success at the ballot box” and establishing its post-“election” regime. And she’s still unsure when the junta will be prepared and ready to “win” its “election.”

Being prepared translates as being sure no pro-Thaksin Shinawatra party has any chance of looking electorally powerful. The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha seems to believe that he is the only one who can prevent such a “catastrophe” for the military, the royalist elite and the anti-democrats. He may also need a military party. As Wassana comments: “Gen Prayut, Gen Prawit [Wongsuwan, the watchman] and Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda are united in wanting to prevent Pheu Thai from winning sufficient seats to form a government.”

As we have been pointing out, the polls are likely to be a stitch-up when they are permitted. Wassana explains some of the mechanisms:

As interior minister, Gen Anupong has assumed authority over the past few years for transferring provincial governors and chiefs of district offices, while Gen Prawit, who is believed to have good relations with several political parties, will likely be the one who convinces politicians to defect to the military party.

The armed forces and other security agencies will also be deployed to achieve this goal.

The burden of helping a military party become a key party in the formation of the next government will, however, fall on the armed forces. They are no longer politically neutral these days [they never have been], … with their leaders serving as members of the NCPO [junta].

Army chief Chalermchai Sitthisad serves as the secretary-general of the NCPO and head of the NCPO’s peace and order command that controls the entire military and police.

Assistant army commander Apirat Kongsompong, a close aide of Gen Prayut who serves also as a deputy chief of the NCPO’s command, meanwhile, is expected to emerge as the new army chief in the military reshuffle expected between September and October.

Gen Apirat will take up a key role in controlling the armed forces including during the election.

General Anupong has also been ensuring that local electoral authorities and “independent” agencies are in the junta’s pockets. And, PPT does not rule out military ballot box stuffing and corrupt counting to get the required electoral outcome.

Worryingly, Wassana reveals how the military and its ISOC will be used in provincial areas:

The armed forces will play a bigger role in attempts to bar Pheu Thai from winning the race. Military officials will act more or less as canvassers for the military party and assess the popularity and the overall situation of parties in each constituency.

With his special powers provided under the charter’s Section 44, Gen Prayut may deal by this means with canvassers from other parties in the name of suppressing mafia-style thugs and illegal weapons — ever-present threats during elections.

Of course, plans can be upset. We’d love to see a broad-based opposition to the military’s operations and planning. However, this particular regime has been far more repressive and nasty than any of its recent predecessors have been (in, say, 1991-2 and 2006-7). It has also shown itself to be prepared to murder and maim to maintain its preferred regime (as in 2009 and 2010). And, it has worked assiduously to dismantle opposition organizing. All of this suggests that a broad-based opposition to continuing military fascism is unlikely without some kind of special spark.

Update: On this topic we also recommend “Brave the third wave.”