Palang Pracharath and the smuggler

22 06 2020

The ruling Palang Pracharath Party seems to like elections when it can win them. And win they did in a Lampang by-election on the weekend.

How the party went about winning is instructive as it relied on a local thug. Convicted heroin smuggler and alleged underworld figure and deputy agriculture minister Thammanat Prompao.

Convicted heroin smuggler

The  party won a seat formerly held by the Puea Thai Party. This time, only a couple of minor parties ran against Palang Pracharath.

How did this happen, making the Army-backed party a shoo-in? According to the Thai Enquirer, there was an extensive patronage network put together by Thammanat and his local mafia gang (well, that’s our description). The report adds:

Of course much of this network infrastructure that Palang Pracharat has is imported directly from Pheu Thai with many of the MPs within the ruling party were ‘recruited’ from their Thaksin-backed rivals.

And with that recruitment comes the prestige, patronage networks and local knowledge that the MPs have.

This manifests itself most clearly in Thammanat Prompao, the erstwhile Thaksin ally.

Thamamat reckons he used to “love” Thaksin, but one day came to the revelation that there was more to gain by joining the regime.

For the leaders of Palang Pracharath it matters nothing about where its “members” come from. What matters is maintaining their stranglehold on the state. If doing that means cooperating with glutinous thugs, then so be it. In any case, they value such traits among Army officers.

Most especially, “those close to General Prawit Wongsuwan … see Thammanat as irreplaceable because of his role at the center of an extensive network of patronage and ‘baramee’ chains.” The report continues:

This weekend’s by-election was proof that Thammanat plays a pivotal role in provincial electoral politics. He was seen on the campaign trail and seen with the PPRP candidate strategizing and lending a hand on numerous occasion. When the night was won, it was Thammanat whom Wattana turned to thank and hug….

The deputy agricultural minister has become too valuable and too deeply ingrained within the party’s fabric to simply abandon.

Thammanat might be the local thug, but he must pay his respect to his big boss, Gen Prawit. While thanking the “Lampang people for their votes and congratulated Mr Wattana on his victory,” he reported to Prawit.

Prawit was ecstatic: “The PPRP is ready to lead the people in every part of the country toward prosperity and well-being,” and “thanked Capt Thamanat for his important role in the party’s campaign.”

The heroin smuggler is in the veins of the Army’s party.





The virus ate my elections

18 06 2020

School children who fail to submit a homework assignment sometimes come up with poorly fabricated excuses. This has resulted in the reference to one excuse, “the dog ate my homework.” As Wikipedia explains, the “claim of a dog eating one’s homework is inherently suspect since it is both impossible for a teacher to disprove and conveniently absolves the student who gives that excuse of any blame.” In colloquial use, it means that no one believes the childish excuse.

As the Bangkok Post reports, Deputy Prime Minister, the execrable Wissanu Krea-ngam has come up with a similar childish and dopey excuse for another delay in local elections.

He said the further delay was because the “budget earmarked to finance them [was] now shifted to fight the Covid-19 pandemic…”.

Wissanu and Gen Prayuth

Many people can’t even remember when the last local elections were held, but the regime certainly doesn’t want them anytime soon.

His excuse was for local administrative organizations, saying they “have no budget to pay for poll expenses now and it remains unclear if there is leftover money anywhere in the central fund which could be transferred to the organisations.”

A couple of days later, the normally supine Election Commission of Thailand suddenly developed some spine and declared it was ready for local elections and had budget. EC secretary-general Pol Col Jarungvith Phumma the agency was just waiting for the regime to allow elections to take place.

The junta worried that local elections may turn into a referendum on the junta/post-junta regime.

We can only agree with Puea Thai Party spokesman Anusorn Eiamsaard who lambasted the puppet Wissanu, saying that the regime has “tried to suspend political activity in the country for the past six years to make local governments weaker and boost the power of the Defence Ministry…”. (Maybe they have German hotel bills as well.)

Anusorn added: “This attempt to freeze the country will destroy its people…”. Wissanu’s lame and slimy excuse is just another example of the regime’s desperation to hold onto power, to repress and to silence the people.





With 3 updates: Campaigning for Wanchalearm

9 06 2020

Update 1: Apologies to readers. Some of our earlier version of this post was left unedited. We have fixed that now.

Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s enforced disappearance has been taken up by Thai activists and some of the international media.

In a story with worldwide impact, Thomson Reuters reports that the exile’s kidnapping has sparked protests. These aren’t just about Wanchalearm but all of the now “missing” or deceased exiles. As the report explains, the agitation has expanded “reignit[ing] protests against Thailand’s military-royalist elite, with some online questioning a law banning criticism of the monarchy.”

There were protesters at the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok: “Dozens of protesters outside the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok demanded an investigation into the disappearance and accused the Thai state of orchestrating his kidnapping, which Thailand’s police and government have denied.” According to Khaosod, the “protesters submitted a petition to the mission’s secretary and placed posters calling for justice on the embassy’s wall.”

Somyos Prueksakasemsuk and other protesters at the Cambodian Embassy

Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan deflected criticism, saying the matter is one for Cambodia. Previous disappearances have seen no action at all from the Thai authorities, convincing many that the perpetrator/s are protected.

Posters “labelled ‘Missing’ appeared around Bangkok featuring photos of Wanchalearm and other [disappeared] critics of military governments…” appeared around Bangkok. Claimed to be “the work of the Spring Movement, a small group of students at Bangkok’s elite Chulalongkorn University…”, officials working hard to remove them.

One group member told Reuters: “We do not know who directly ordered the abduction, but we can see the ruling elite of this country does not care about this issue.”

Suddenly, there seemed a general “feeling” about “who directly ordered the abduction,” with the hashtag “#abolish112” trending on “Twitter, used or retweeted more than 450,000 times by midday on Monday.” The reporters involved sought a response from the palace! An official said: “The palace has no comment on this issue…”.

Oddly, according to Khaosod, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees also responded saying “the organization cannot give any opinion or information about the disappearance of activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit.” We assume this reflects the royalist domestication of UN agencies in Bangkok.

Some celebrities – presumably of some significance in Thailand – have taken up Wanchalearm’s case, with Maria Poonlertlarp, a “former Miss Universe Thailand … add[ing] her voice to the growing campaign for the Thai and Cambodian governments to explain the disappearance of Wanchalerm…”. On Instagram she used the #SaveWanchalerm hashtag “calling for  answers from authorities about his disappearance.”

Often timid on such matters, the Puea Thai Party “also called on the government to use diplomatic channels to find his whereabouts.” Sudarat Keyuraphan stated: “He is a Thai citizen that the government is duty bound to protect…”.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary committee is asking questions. Move Forward Party MP Rangsiman Rome, who serves as the committee on law and human rights spokesman, “said the government must be held accountable for the incident.” He stated that the committee “will summon the national police commissioner [Gen Chakthip Chaijinda] to testify about … [Wanchalearm’s] fate…”. He also said others like Special Branch Police commissioner Maj Gen ‎Sarawut Karnpanit and consular affairs department chief Chatri Atjananan would be called to meet the committee. Rangsman observed: “It is the obligation of the government to protect its citizens. On top of that, Wanchalearm has contributed to many youth welfare and other charitable organizations.”

The Bangkok Post reports that the Active Thai Citizen group, led by Kan Wattanasupang, also a member of the Move Forward Party, submitted a petition to the House of Representatives. Kan said “the government must seek to protect all Thai citizens regardless of differences in political ideology.” He added: “We cannot let such gross human rights violations happen to those with political different ideas. In the past, political dissidents have been victims of intimidation, assault or even enforced disappearance,” raising the “mysterious disappearances of other political dissidents including Wuthipong … Kochathamakun and Surachai Danwattananusorn.”

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

Remarkably, there’s also a report about the decrepit, regime-controlled National Human Rights Commission, claiming some role:

Thailand’s state-sanctioned human rights agency on Monday denies turning a blind eye to the spate of abduction targeting Thai dissidents living overseas.

In a phone interview today, What Tingsamitr, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, said his organization has acknowledged the latest case of disappearance, that of activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit. However, What said no formal investigation opens yet because no one has filed a complaint with them.

“We are keeping our eyes on the issue,” What said. “We can’t take action right away since it happened outside the country. We admit that we don’t have power beyond our boundary, but we can coordinate with the foreign ministry and forward the case to Cambodian authorities.”

The case is certainly a “grave violation” of human rights if it has been proven to be an enforced disappearance, he added.

To date we have seen nothing at all of significance from the supine NHRC on any of the disappearances and murder.

What said:

“We have already published reports on many abductees in the past,” What said. “But it’s up to the government and legislators to take the issue seriously. Thailand has signed the UN convention against enforced disappearance since 2012, but it never became a law.”

But its done nothing else. Writing a report does not imply investigation.

Fellow exile Ji Ungpakorn has commented, pointedly observing: “No one should be under the illusion that Thailand has returned to democracy, despite recent elections. The military is still very much in charge and the repression continues.” So has Yammy Faiyen, who recently fled Laos for asylum in France, although her comments will probably be blocked.

At the Bangkok Post, columnist Atiya Achakulwisut bravely speaks some truths. We reproduce in full:

It might be because “it could happen to you”.

It could also be an accumulation of bitterness and frustration, built up over decades of hearing about this or that person suddenly dying or disappearing without a trace or explanation.

It could even be a paradigm shift at long last when the new generation is no longer tied to old norms or affected by traditional fear and dares to express in public what was once considered taboo.

It could be a bit of everything but the day has come when a forced disappearance which would generate only quiet whispers in the past is now causing a genuine public uproar.

The disappearance of anti-government activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit, who was allegedly abducted outside his apartment in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, last Thursday, has been covered by mainstream media.

Chulalongkorn as well as Thammasat University student organisations issued statements condemning the alleged forced disappearance and urged the Thai government to take a stance.

The incident has been widely discussed on social media, especially Twitter where the hashtag #save has drawn hundreds of thousands of tweets.

The outrage and demand for the Thai government to take action are welcoming for the human rights cause although they can be considered surprising considering Wanchalearm was not that well-known.

The Ubon Ratchathani native was against the coup and military rule. He was also wanted by authorities for defying a National Council for Peace and Order summons to report after the 2014 putsch.

In 2018, Wanchalearm was subject to another arrest warrant for violating the Computer Crime Act by operating a Facebook page critical of the government.

The activist has been living in self-imposed exile for more than six years, claiming his political stance led to harassment and other threats to his life.

Now that he has gone missing, a seemingly small player unlikely to affect a sea change in the grand scheme of things, his plight has struck a chord with many people.

Alongside news of his disappearance, photos of Wanchalearm, almost all of them showing the bespectacled 37-year-old grinning, have also surfaced everywhere. A little-known name has become a real person. Wanchalearm has become not just an anti-whatever activist but a son, a brother, a friend.

Indeed, he could be any one of us.

Wanchalearm may harbour anti-coup thoughts. He may have voiced disapproval of military rule or other forms of suppression. But do these thoughts constitute a crime?

Do people deserve to “disappear” because they are critical of something powerful?

Wanchalearm had left the country, yet he could be made to disappear in broad daylight in Phnom Penh, taken by a group of armed men according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) citing witnesses and CCTV images. Cambodian police said they knew nothing about it.

Who could be capable of executing such an operation?

As Wanchalearm’s sister Sitanan begged the Thai government and international agencies to help find her brother, Cambodia’s Interior Ministry suggested the HRW report could be “fake news” while the Thai government has made no response.

Today marks the sixth day since Wanchalearm “disappeared”.

Since the 2014 coup, about a hundred political activists exiled themselves to other countries. Of these, at least six have gone missing while two were found dead, according to BBC Thai.

Wanchalearm is definitely not the first suspected of being “carried away”. The UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances reports 82 unresolved cases of enforced disappearances in Thailand since 1980.

These include Somchai Neelapaijit in 2004, Karen land rights defender Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen in 2014 and political activists Siam Theerawut, Chucheep Chivasut and Kritsana Thapthai during 2018-19.

It is possible that the #save trend and collective anger against the alleged forced disappearance could end up like other save someone or something hashtags before it — making no difference to the oppressive, unaccountable power culture in Thailand and becoming just another footnote in the country’s decades-long political struggle.

But one thing is clear — his plight has roused the public like never before. His story has been openly discussed, and not just in a quiet whisper. The fear usually associated with such a “disappearance” is gone.

Will this awakening turn out to be a real force for change? For once, it may be the turn of the other side to be fearful.

There may be whispering about the case and even some high-profile expression in Thailand. But that which can only be written about outside Thailand is speculation that “the operation to seize activist Wanchalearm Satstaksit was ordered by King Vajiralongkorn.”

Update 2: AP reports that “Cambodian authorities say they are willing to investigate the reported abduction of an exiled Thai dissident in Cambodia’s capital, though they claim to have been unaware of his presence for several years.” We won’t be holding our breath on that one. Meanwhile, in Bangkok, the regime repressed those raising awareness of the case, with police arresting four students … tying white ribbons at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument in protest against the apparent forced disappearances of Wanchalearm and other victims. They were accused of violating littering and traffic laws.”

Update 3: Khaosod reports that officials are busy in Bangkok erasing murals and tearing up posters that were raising awareness of Wanchalearm’s disappearance. Such actions will be seen by many as admissions of the regime’s complicit role in the enforced disappearance.





Further updated: Watching the watchman

2 06 2020

Gen Prawit Wongsuwan’s “borrowed watch” case before the supine National Anti-Corruption Commission was heard while the agency was headed by one of his cronies. No one was surprised when the NACC dismissed the case.

Seventeen months ago, Ruangkrai Leekitwattana, a member of the Puea Thai Party, wrote to the NACC, asking it “to explain why it did not find Gen Prawit guilty of failing to declare 22 watches he claimed to have borrowed from a friend…”.

He’s now received a reply from Sukij Boonchai, the acting NACC secretary-general:

The letter says the NACC commissioners acknowledged that Pattawat Suksriwong was the owner of the watches and had lent them to Gen Prawit. It also confirmed that Gen Prawit had returned the watches, worth tens of millions of baht, to Pattawat after he used them.

“The borrowing is a ‘loan for use’. While a loan for use is a liability, it is not the type the NAAC requires to be declared in its (asset declaration) form,” Mr Sukit wrote.

The NACC’s definition of liabilities only covers money, not loans for use, in which the assets have been returned to the lenders in their original form (with no money involved), he added.

“Therefore, Gen Prawit is not obliged to declare the borrowed watches as liabilities in his asset declaration form,” he concluded.

Former finance minister, former Deputy Governor of the Bank of Thailand, and qualified accountant Thairachai Phuvanatnaranubala has written that the NACC’s “interpretation” of “liabilities” offended “common sense,” noting that the “prevailing interpretation of liabilities is anything of monetary value, not just something where real money is involved.”

He implied that the NACC has concocted something “special” for Gen Prawit.

Some of Prawit’s loot

Meanwhile, law academic Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, a leader of the Progressive Movement, observed that the NACC’s Prawit rule amounted to a “trick” that “would open the door for widespread asset concealment.” He said:

The NACC’s interpretation destroys the checks and balances of politicians and government officials and renders useless the requirement that they declare assets and liabilities…”.

Luxury assets such as accessories, rings, necklaces, watches, sports cars, etc need not be declared anymore. “All you have to do is get a rich friend of yours to say it is their assets and then explain the properties were borrowed from him.”…

“The interpretation of the NACC today has given politicians and officials a new channel to hide their assets.

To protect the heart of the military regime, do we really need to trade it with the checks and balances we have so painstakingly built since 1997?”

Not Prawit’s watches

Usually supportive of rightist regimes, Mana Nimitmongkol, secretary-general of the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand pointedly asked: “Are we adhering to the rule of law or do we simply use it to favour some influential people? ” That’s really a rhetorical question; of course, there’s no rule of law in Thailand, just support for the ruling clique and their supporters.

The regime’s efforts to protect the aged Gen Prawit are likely to go up a gear as he maneuvers his way to the leadership of the junta’s Palang Pracharath Party, giving the military even more control over the party. A couple of days ago:

Eighteen of the 34 members of the executive committee of the main coalition party Palang Pracharath resigned on Monday, paving the way for the election of a new party leader and executive committee in 45 days.

This paves the way for Gen Prawit to take full control of the party, supported by fascists, anti-democrats and crooks like Paiboon Nititawan, Buddhipongse Punnakanta and Thammanat Prompao.

Gen Prawit channeled his inner Sgt Schultz, lying that “he was not involved in the mass resignation of executives” from his party where he’s officially “chief strategist.” He added: “I don’t know…. I’m not involved with them.”

Truly, these dolts seem to “think” the country is composed of people dumber than they are. Everyone in the country seems to believe that this is nothing more than a military power grab. Party members have already declared that Gen Prawit will be nominated for the “vacant” position.

It actually seems that this was a “deal” done when the party was patched together and to minimally camouflage its military base. As MP for Bangkok Sira Jenjaka explained:

… current party leader and Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana, and secretary-general Sontirat Sontijirawong, who is also the Energy Minister, will no longer have the power to run the party’s affairs.

Asked what was behind “the changing of the guard”, Mr Sira said that this was a deal when the party was formed that the current executive committee members were given one year to work, and their performance would then be assessed.

“They now must admit that it is time for a change,” Mr Sira said.

A cabinet reshuffle will follow and will see a reallocation of lucrative positions as payback for support.

Update 1: Thai Enquirer quotes Paiboon Nititawan on one of the reasons he wants Gen Prawit at the helm of the junta party. He says Prawit “has a lot of influence and prestige and is very generous…”. The generosity of a man who had to “borrow” watches from a wealthy friend raises the question of who funds Prawit’s generosity? There may be several sources. One is the funds that corruption in government provides. Another is the taxpayer funds. And, perhaps, the tycoons who get all kinds of benefits send loot his way. As an example of favors provided, think of the most recent benefit, as land and building taxes are slashed. Who benefits? Not smallholder farmers. Not single home owners. Nope. The beneficiaries are the wealthy:

… the cuts mainly benefit corporate owners of farmland, people who can afford more than one house, as well as owners of vacant land, or commercial/industrial properties.

Update 2: The Bangkok Post appears to confirm that the “generosity” of Gen Prawit has to do with “control the Finance Ministry which is to oversee a 1-trillion-baht Covid-19 relief plan…”. All that loot! It is reported that:

Of the 1 trillion baht, 600 billion is for financial aid and health-related plans for those whose jobs and businesses have been hit by the pandemic. The remaining 400 billion is for economic and social rehabilitation via projects aimed at creating jobs, strengthening communities and building infrastructure.

From the 400-billion-baht portion, the 273 government MPs will receive 80 million baht each while the 207 opposition MPs will receive 40 million baht each. There will still be almost 300 billion baht left over and this is why the finance minister post is being eyed by the PPRP factions….

One of the factions maneuvering for control of Finance is that led by convicted heroin smuggler and serial liar Thammanat.





Updated: Liar challenged

27 05 2020

Now that Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Untruth and Buffalo Manure Thammanat Prompao has come out of self-isolation, he is being challenged by the opposition Move Forward Party.

It is staggering that a convicted heroin smuggler, a man who claims fake education qualifications and a serial liar can not just sit in the parliament but can be a minister. It is even more jaw-dropping that he’s a power broker in the regime’s Palang Pracharath Party and a minister.

Convicted heroin smuggler

(We acknowledge that politicians and their advisers the world over have contracted the lying virus at a rate far higher than the coronavirus but Thammanat’s lies began some time ago.)

Move Forward’s Natcha Boonchaiya-insawat “said the party’s MPs would submit a motion for the impeachment of … Thamanat to the House speaker on Wednesday afternoon.”

Natcha stated that “Section 98(10) of the constitution prohibited anyone found guilty of a narcotics trafficking offence from standing for election to parliament,” citing Thammanat’s heroin smuggling conviction in Australia.

Section 98 (10) of the junta’s constitution states:

(10) having been convicted by a final judgment of a court for committing wrongful conduct in official duties or justice affairs, or committing an offence under the law on the wrongful acts of officials in State organizations or State agencies, or an offence against property in bad faith according the Criminal Code, or an offence under the law on fraudulent acts related to loans of the people, or an offence of being producer, importer or exporter or trader under the narcotics law, an offence of being the owner or keeper of a gambling house under the law on gambling, or an offence of money laundering under the law on prevention and suppression of human trafficking or the law on prevention and suppression of money laundering;…

As Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has declared the heroin conviction a “small issue,” we could expect that the regime’s execrable Wissanu Krea-ngam will again claim that only Thai laws are covered by this section.

Update: In case readers are wondering why Thammanat is important to the regime, consider this report from The Nation:

The candidate for Pheu Thai … has dropped his plans to run in the Lampang by-election despite having a high… chance of beating Palang Pracharath Party.

Pheu Thai’s Phinit Chantharasurin was set to run in the by-election after his son Itthirat, who won … 42,984 votes in last year’s election, passed away. Palang Pracharath’s Wattana Sithiwang, who came in second with 30,368 votes last year, was set to be his No 1 opponent.

However, Phinit decided not to run because he said there was no benefit. He also seems to be leaning more towards Palang Pracharath Party, especially after Deputy Agriculture Minister Thammanat Prompao called on Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan to let Phinit apply for the post of chief executive of provincial administrative organisations.

In return, Phinit was asked to withdraw from the by-election and clear the path for Wattana to become a representative of Lampang.

Blatant, corrupt and devious. That’s why they love Thammanat.





Is the regime in trouble?

24 02 2020

Shawn Crispin at Asia Times had a few things to say before the Future Forward dissolution that deserve some attention. He was writing of the military and its regime after the Korat massacre.

He says the “killings have cast the military’s persistent overarching role – including over ex-coup-maker [Gen] Prayut[h Chan-ocha]’s elected coalition government – in a new dim light as critics blast the brass for being more engaged in politics and business than overseeing their barracks and ensuring security.” He adds:

If that criticism gains momentum while the economy tanks and the government’s big business backers visibly thrive, a new era of political confrontation pitting the conservative forces now propping Prayut and new genuinely progressive ones coalescing in the political opposition could break into the open sooner than most expect.

While a political crisis might be seen off in the usual repressive ways, an economic decline would test the resolve of the big businesses that prospered under the junta. Thailand’s big banks “are unevenly exposed to a handful of big borrowers, namely the ‘five family’ corporations that contributed generously to Prayut’s Palang Pracharat Party’s (PPRP) election campaign…”. At the time of writing, Crispin argued that:

Those corporate links will come under scrutiny if the opposition Peua Thai and Future Forward parties deliver as avowed at an upcoming no-confidence debate that will target PPRP ministers, including Prayut, while looking past other parties’ ministers who, with a shift in political winds, could jump to join a future anti-PPRP government.

That might be less likely now that the Constitutional Court has done its job, but the threat remains that deals done with the Sino-Thai tycoons could be revealed.

Matching Ties: Prayuth and CP Group chairman Dhanin Chearavanont (2nd R) and ThaiBev founder billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi (L). Photo: AFP Forum/Chanat Katanyu (clipped from Asia Times)

Some of the deals included “a land deal involving an alleged subsidiary of ThaiBev created just a day before it purchased Bangkok land from Prayut’s family for 600 million baht ($19.2 million), a sum [that] … far exceeds the land’s underlying market value.”

The Sirivadhanabhakdi family’s investments include “One Bangkok” an “integrated development being built in league with the Crown Property Bureau…. The 120 billion baht ($3.5 billion) development … is the largest ever undertaken in the kingdom.” The Sino-Thai tycoons, the military and the monarchy have dominated politics and business for decades.

Meanwhile, at The Nation, economist Anusorn Tamajai, the director of the Economic and Business Research Centre for Reform at Rangsit University’s Institute of Economics, commented on the dissolution of Future Forward:

He said that the case “showed that Thailand’s semi-democracy is being interrupted by anti-democracy elite.” He observed that “most democratic countries did not dissolve political parties because they were institutions of citizens that maintained the stability of the country’s democracy.” In Thailand, however, “[t]he anti-democracy elite’s attempt to maintain its authority shows that this country does not have the rule of law…”. He reckoned this “has caused a heavy impact on the economy and will cause more impact in the future, especially on investment.”

He further explained that “[t]he Constitution, laws, regulations, and independent organisations arose from the coup d’etat, so the legal form has been always questioned in terms of justice…”, adding:

If the Constitutional Court is able to rule based on justice and treats all parties equally, the conflict will be resolved. But if it is not, the dissolution of political parties and the revocation of political rights will occur continuously, resulting in conflict in society.

How much trouble is the regime in? Much depends a lot on the reaction of Future Forward’s supporters.





With two updates: Monarchist madness reaches new heights

11 10 2019

Army commander Gen Apirat Kongsompong has form as a royalist ideologue. On Friday, as Khaosod reports, he “stunned the nation with an 90-minute tirade on anti-government politicians and academics, in which he accused them of attempting to sabotage the country’s constitutional monarchy.”

Clipped from Khaosod

This is nonsensical, but we must assume that Gen Apirat believes his own rants.

Some readers will recall that it wasn’t that long ago, in February, when we observed that no one should trust the commander of the Royal Thai Army. At that time, Gen Apirat “pledged … that the army will remain neutral in this election…”. That was a lie. Then in July, he doubled down, promising he would:

wash his hands of politics after the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the junta] is dissolved once the new cabinet is sworn in…. From then on, I won’t make political comments nor will I get involved with politics in any way. I’ll perform my duty strictly as a professional soldier….

That was also a lie.

The Army even lied about his speech, saying “Apirat’s speech … as being about the situation in Thailand’s deep south, home to a Muslim separatist insurgency.”

In Friday’s deranged rant, Gen Apirat’s “fiery rhetoric and even invocation of Communist threats in today’s news conference took many observers of the armed forces by surprise.” He lied that “the opposition’s campaign to amend the current constitution as a stealth attack on the monarchy.”

His concocted plot is a clear attack on the Future Forward Party and Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. He targeted them as “communist politicians” and “extreme left” academics “who had studied abroad.”

Gen Apirat “showed a picture of Thanathorn and Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong, albeit with Thanathorn blacked out for an unknown reason. Apirat said he suspects that the pair might be colluding in some ways.” He criticized the young demonstrators in Hong Kong as he accused Thai politicians of colluding with communists.

Oddly, in an anti-communist tirade – for Gen Apirat, the Cold War-era battle hasn’t ended – his criticism of Wong and Thanathorn was joined by the regime in Beijing. Presumably Gen Apirat knows that China is ruled by the Chinese Communist Party. Even so, he supported the Beijing view, beloved of yellow conspiracy theorists and regime supporters in Thailand, that Hong Kong’s protesters were being supported and egged on by “outsiders.”

He babbled:

Joshua Wong has visited Thailand on several occasions. Who did he meet? What type of people did he meet? Did their meeting have a hidden agenda? What did they plot? Now, there is unrest in Hong Kong. A visit [by Thanathorn] can be viewed as giving encouragement and support….

Bemedaled like a North Korean general, Apirat then attacked the opposition parties as “selfish opportunists” and declared that they “cannot be trusted.” He warned “that politicians, academics and other intellectuals may ‘manipulate’ young people to stage protests like those in Hong Kong.”

Like a rabid dog, he went after academics: “He singled out those who had joined or sympathised with the communist movement in the 1970s, saying they had now become academics ‘teaching students wrong things’.”

“I’m not involved in politics. The army has stepped back now that there’s an elected government. But this is about national security. I will never let anyone separate the country,” he said.

His mad view is that something he calls a “hybrid warfare” that incorporates “methods such as online propaganda and more traditional violent means was already being employed in Thailand to destroy the nation.” He further concocted, claiming “politicians were linked to former communists who he said never gave up efforts to seize power…”.

AP expresses its own confusion on this plot:

It was unclear exactly what he was referring to because Thailand is not at war, the military and its allies are firmly in charge having run the country for the past five years, and a long-running insurgency is limited to the nation’s three southernmost provinces. Apirat’s comments appeared largely aimed at opposition politicians who campaigned on efforts to reform the military but have not advocated war or violence.

AP might have added that many former communists – all of them aged – support the military and its government.

As a staunch royalist, Gen Apirat “at least once Friday appeared to be in tears when speaking of King … Vajiralongkorn.” He claimed: “There is a group of communists who still have ideas to overthrow the monarchy, to turn Thailand to communism…”.

Clipped from Khaosod

Gen Apirat then pointedly made the connection between ant-communism, military and monarchy, saying the king “had helped soldiers fight against communist troops in … Loei province on Nov 5, 1976.” He went on:

“His Majesty was in the operation base, ate and slept like other soldiers. His Majesty visited local residents, gave moral support and fought shoulder by shoulder with brave soldiers.”

The royal institution had always protected the nation and battles went on for a long time before the Communist Party surrendered in 1988, Gen Apirat said.

Gen Apirat declared:

The royal institution, the military and people are inseparable. In the past, kings were on elephants surrounded by soldiers. Those soldiers were the people who sacrificed themselves in battles beside kings….

The general and his king (Clipped from the Bangkok Post)

Gen Apirat argued that it was the military that was “with the people.” He said: “They [the opposition parties] criticize the military as being an obstacle to democracy, when in fact we work for every Thai citizen.” That’s after they have repressed, jailed, tortured and murdered the Thai citizens who don’t agree with them.

The Economist observes:

In theory, Thailand’s army, having seized power in a coup in 2014, has returned to the barracks, after handing power back to politicians. But General Apirat apparently sees nothing inappropriate in railing against communists, student agitators and opposition MPs.

Meanwhile, The Nation quoted a critical academic:

Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of Political Science at the Ubon Ratchathani University, said the Army chief was exaggerating the point and acting as if the military owns the Constitution and the country….

Titipol also suggested that Apirat was using tactics allowing the military to make political gains by exaggerating the idea of amending Section 1 and accused him of acting against the principles of freedom of expression guaranteed to the people by the Constitution. He said people should be allowed to voice their opinions constructively about the amendment of the charter, adding that the military does not own the Constitution or the country….

He also said that the Army and the government do not want to amend the charter because it allows the military to stay in power after the military-led coup in 2014….

“This charter largely protects the interests of the political establishment at the expense of the people,” he said.

Gen Apirat is a deranged and armed thug. That makes him dangerous, especially when linked to a fearsome monarch.

Update 1: Naturally enough – we had forgotten – Gen Apirat’s mad tirade came on the anniversary of the previous king’s death and as Vajiralongkorn flew back to Thailand from Germany. The newspapers and media are thus overflowing with propaganda for the monarchy, much of it being concocted stories about “great” achievements. Vajiralongkorn can bask in the reflected glory as his military second in command goes full on monarchy bananas.

Equally crazed is Chairith Yonpiam at the Bangkok Post who suggests that Future Forward must “learn the art of compromise.” In one of the most biased op-eds in the Post for quite some time, Chairith forgets that the 2014 coup came after the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, military and Democrat Party trashed parliament and ousted yet another elected government. He prefers to recall only the red shirt protests while neglecting to mention that the red shirts were slaughtered by the military, including the gun-toting Gen Apirat.

Apirat being “democratic”

And, Chairith goes full yellow saying that the current “political conflict involving the government and the opposition, with the FFP at the forefront, is a clash of ideologies with the former representing the conservative oligarchy and the latter brandishing the flag of liberalism.” That’s a line radical royalists have been peddling. He doubles down by questioning whether the judge in Yala who shot himself is part of “an attack on the judiciary.” He supports ISOC’s use f sedition charges against academics and FF politicians and is warning the party that they had better be careful. The implied threat being that they may end up floating in a river. Why is Chairith not demanding that the military “compromise”? Precisely because his “conservative oligarchy” requires the military’s threats, repression, torture and murder to stay in power.

Fortunately, a Post editorial is far more reasonable, observing that Gen Apirat’s chilling rant “should never have been given by any army chief…”, adding that “the military will not put an end to its meddling in politics.” It observes that “Gen Apirat did not provide a shred of credible evidence for his allegations.” The editorial concludes:

The army chief fails to understand that amending the charter is the job of parliamentarians with input from the public, not his.

Gen Apirat’s remarks yesterday failed to assure the public that he will steer clear of politics. Nevertheless, as the army commander, he must remain politically neutral and avoid orchestrating a political messaging strategy targeting particular groups of people. Gen Apirat will have a hard time convincing many people that he is not engaged in information warfare of his own.

There is zero chance that the Army commander will cease interfering in politics. He’s ambitious, not too bright and a threatening thug. That Future Forward has responded and criticized the thug in green will anger him and his supporters and the conflict will deepen.

Update 2: With the meddling king back in Thailand, things may get even messier. In one report it is stated that Anusorn Iamsa-ard of the opposition Puea Thai Party has said that:

Gen Prayut must set up a panel to look into the matter to assure the public that the government did not use the army as a political tool, and that the army was not trying to support the government so much so that it loses its neutrality….

Of course, Anusorn knows that the Army is not neutral and that the government is infected by military men now in suits and that the Senate has special seats for the military, which means it support the current regime.

The military is clearly frightened by Future Forward’s electoral showing, seeing this as a clear sign that the military are political dinosaurs doomed to repression if they are to maintain their grip on power. This is confirmed with loony complainer Srisuwan Janya petitioning the “National Anti-Corruption Commission to launch an ethics probe against FFP leader Thanathorn Jungroongruangkit after the Chinese embassy last Thursday issued a statement accusing a Thai politician of contacting a group involved in the protests in Hong Kong.” Exactly how and why he is doing this unsaid, but as a mad royalist, he knows who salts his rice.





Further updated: Sameness

5 10 2019

Many years ago, The Who sang about not getting fooled again. They observed: “Meet the new boss, Same as the old boss. In Thailand, that’s true, and while we are sure the public isn’t fooled, the old fools are at it again and again.

The new “elected” regime is the same as the old one, the military junta. But we all knew that, right? It had to be. That’s what fiver years of rigging things was about. And then there was the stealing of the “election.” Now the sameness is being demonstrated.

According to Khaosod, Col Burin Thongprapai, formerly the Judge Advocate General (legal) officer for the junta, has “filed criminal complaints against 12 opposition leaders and academics who spoke in favor of amending the military-backed constitution last month.” These are said to include Political scientist Chalita Bundhuwong and news show host Sirote Klampaiboon along with “Pheu Thai leader Sompong Amornwiwat, Future Forward Party chairman Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and Songkram Kitlertphairote of Puea Chart Party” who  spoke at a public meeting in Pattani about amending the junta’s constitution.

It was also Col Burin who filed sedition charges against Thanathorn back in May.

The Bangkok Post suggests that Col Burin is working for the Internal Security Operations Command and lists him as a Major General and says he “took the legal action on behalf of the chief of the 4th Army Region, which supervises the South.” Chalita has been critical of ISOC.

ISOC and the 4th Army are a bunch of loony nationalists in uniform, better known for their use of enforced disappearance, torture and political murder, reckons that discussing changes to the charter endangered “national security” and its work seeking “solutions to problems in the southern border provinces.” That’s just fantasy land. Or, as those accused described it, “delusional.”

The Post says that the action was approved by Gen Prawit Wongsuwan.

In that editorial the Post says “Isoc’s move is a disgraceful act of intimidation as much as it is an assault on democracy.” It is certainly disgraceful, but it is not an assault on democracy for that does not exist. Indeed, the positioning of ISOC to carry on the junta’s work following the junta’s “election” was intended to maintain the non-democracy.

The editorial concludes: “Isoc’s move, along with Gen Prawit’s apparent approval will likely make many worry that the climate of fear and blatant intimidation, prevalent during the NCPO’s time, are here to stay.” That was always the plan. Who said you wouldn’t get fooled again?

Update 1: And just to add to the sameness of political repression, there’s the case of the foreign journalist (illegally) “detained while he was preparing to interview with a prominent Redshirt activist [Anurak Jeantawanich]…”. The regime’s sameness is exactly what the junta intended. Fooled again.

Update 2: In a truly remarkable story – even for Thailand in its current political funk – the Bangkok Post reports that:

Future Forward Party (FFP) secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul [who chairs the House standing committee on laws, justice and human rights] is facing criticism for his plan to call Maj Gen Burin Thongpraphai, legal officer for Isoc’s Region 4 forward command, to testify to a House committee over the legal action filed against 12 people, including key opposition figures, over discussions on changes to the charter.

It is remarkable that rightists are claiming that the military thug, acting for military thug nationalists, cannot be called to a parliamentary committee because Burin was “only doing his job and did not break the law or violate human rights or justice…”. Seriously? Apparently, yes. But there’s no consideration of the rights of those who are hit with Army claims of sedition. That intimidation violates their rights.





With two updates: Junta politics of influence, dark influence and murder

25 09 2019

A quick look at the English-language newspapers over the last day or so suggests that there’s more than a little poor journalism going on.

One was the report that “the Charoen Pokphand Group (CP)-led consortium, winner of the bid to build the 224-billion-baht high-speed railway linking three airports, will be told to sign the contract on Oct 15 or face a fine for failing to honour the terms of the bid.” That “ultimatum was decided upon … at a meeting between Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who oversees the Transport Ministry, Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob, senior transport officials and the chief of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) Office.”

PPT has no brief for the Sino-Thai tycoons at CP, but we would have thought that someone at the Bangkok Post might have recalled that Anutin’s family are the major shareholders in CP competitor Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction. Perhaps it might have also been useful to note that the Chidchob family, Anutin and his father have been political bedmates for over a decade.

While on Sino-Thai tycoons, the Post reported that Viroj and Samrerng Suknamai, the parents of “former beauty queen and actress Nusara Suknamai,” have “filed a lawsuit with the civil court on Monday, demanding 300 million baht in compensation plus a 7.5% interest from the manager of Vichai’s estate and the King Power Duty Free company, which is owned by the tycoon’s family.” Nusara “died on Oct 27 in a helicopter crash outside the King Power Stadium in Leicester…”. When all of the eulogies were for Vichai, at the time of the accident, BBC Sport Editor Dan Roan was in a spot of bother after being caught “talking about Vichai[‘s]… personal assistant Nusara Suknamai.” He correctly identified her “the mistress who died in the crash, otherwise known as member of staff, i.e. mistress… [of the so-called] family man [Vichai]…”. The report does indicate that the fabulously wealthy King Power lot have been pretty tight-fisted in dealing with the “other woman.”

The ruling class’s military-backed regime is anything but tight-fisted when it comes to buying support. Puea Thai Party chief strategist Sudarat Keyuraphan claims to have “an audio clip that would show that Phalang Pracharat had tried to lure …[14] Pheu Thai MPs by offering to pay them certain benefits.” Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan denied this. But no one should believe Gen Prawit. He’s got form on this, having bought up former pro-Thaksin MPs all over the country before the election. That included heroin trafficker and standover man Thammanat Prompao. Now, Gen Prawit needs “to prop up the government’s slim majority.” This wheeling and dealing is expensive and leads to all kinds of policies that are designed simply to raise money for political shenanigans. The media should be more active in pointing out that it is the military junta’s constitution that (re)created the capacity for such political corruption.

While considering the military junta’s corruption, look to the report that the “Parliament’s Anti-Corruption Committee is gathering evidence in a fact-finding probe against Public Relations Department chief Lt-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd over accusations that he verbally and in writing ordered his subordinates to spread information allegedly helping the Palang Pracharat Party ahead of the March 24 national elections and attacking a former prime minister and his party.” Remarkably, the junta government’s former spokesman thinks that like a heroin smuggler, he can simply deny: “Sansern argued that he had never taken sides…”. Back when the junta moved Lt Gen Sansern to his position, the Bangkok Post observed that Sansern was in place to “control all government-run media and enforce censorship rules in the lead-up to the expected 2019 election.” While denying everything, Sansern ran back to the boss: “Sansern said he had briefed Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha about the case.” Of course he has.

And speaking of corruption, the National Anti-Corruption Commission is ever so careful when dealing with its masters the government. A report at The Nation advises that Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives from Anutin’s Bhum Jai Thai Party, Mananya Thaiset – yes, in there with Thammanat – “has not yet submitted her declaration of assets and debts to the anti-graft body within the required time frame…”. While the law requires all to declare their assets, NACC secretary-general Worawit Sukboon “said officials … would gather information regarding the matter and consider issuing a letter to Mananya requiring her to provide her reason for failing to file.” It gets worse as the NACC tiptoes around its masters: “If the NACC decided Mananya was required to submit the declaration, the NACC secretariat will issue a letter to notify her accordingly…”.

Back when the political dealing was in full swing, the Bangkok Post had a source who observed the obvious: “Because it receives a big budget, the ministry [of agriculture] can be used as a political tool…”. Money can be made, voters influenced and parties supported.And, as we know from the Thammanat case, “influential persons” get these positions because they are the party wheeler-dealers. And, Mananya is from a family of chao phor and chao mae. Not that long ago, her brother, Chada Thaiset, also a Bhum Jai Thai MP for Uthai Thani declared “I am an influential person.” Back in 2015 it was reported that. like Thammanat, Chada was considered a “dark influence”:

Crime suppression Division (CSD) police officers and commandos yesterday raided 11 locations belonging to alleged influential figures in Uthai Thani’s Muang and Sawang Arom districts.

Most of the targeted premises were those of former or local politicians. They included the house of former Chart Thai Pattana Party MP Chada Thaiset and a resort building under the care of Chada’s nephew.

The 200-strong “Yutthakan Sakaekrang” operation … seized 20 guns, four bullet-proof vests, two tiger skins, two pairs of wildlife horns and a clouded leopard carcass.

… the operation was part of the Royal Thai Police’s policy to suppress crime, crack down on influential figures and hired guns.

Then in 2017, it was reported that:

A former MP and four members of his entourage were released on bail on Sunday after being detained overnight for carrying firearms in public without permission.

Chada Thaiseth, a former Uthai Thani MP, reportedly has been on an official list of mafia-style figures.

More than 100 policemen, both in uniform and plainclothes, intercepted his convoy on a road in Uthai Thani province on Saturday afternoon.

Chada’s group was driving as many as eight vehicles and a search found several guns and illicit drugs in the cars.

A pattern? You bet.

Turning to the other side of politics, Khaosod reports that Nawat Tohcharoensuk, a Puea Thai politician was found guilty of “engineering the murder of a civil servant” and was “sentenced to death on Tuesday … [but] will continue serving as an MP for the opposition, his party said.” He’s appealing the verdict, so the case is not over, but even so, it might be considered prudent for him to step down. But with gangsters in the government, the opposition has them too. And a bit of reading suggests the modus operandi of a dark influence:

Prosecutors said Nawat hired two police officers to gun down Suchart Khotethum, an administrative official in Khon Kaen, in front of his home in 2013. Investigators cited romance-related vendetta as the motive.

And, just to finish off with state violence of the military kind, we see the remarkable report that “four red-shirt co-leaders on Monday … confessed to their roles in the violent protest outside the home of the late Privy Council president, Prem Tinsulanonda, in 2007.” Perhaps they confessed to get the case settled? Perhaps a deal has been done? We can’t help but wonder because Nattawut Saikua said:

he and fellow red-shirt co-leaders offered their apologies because the protest outside Gen Prem’s residence caused injuries among both protesters and police officers on duty.

“We are sorry for what happened,” he said, before insisting the red-shirt co-leaders harboured no grudge with the late Gen Prem.

No grudge? Why’s that? He was one of those who perpetrated the 2006 coup and egged the military on in 2014. He supported crackdowns on red shirts that resulted in deaths and injuries to thousands. He dis this for the military-monarchy alliance that underpins the ruling class. With all the royalist buffalo manure that surrounds this creepy general, there’s no criticism allowed. No one has asked about his unusual wealth, revealed when he finally died.

What a week it has been for a political system designed by the military junta.

Update 1: Legal eel and Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam declared Nawat’s “tenure as an MP was now voided, even though the appeal process was not finalised…”. He said the “constitution stated clearly that MPs lost their status when convicted of a criminal offence.” While we think Nawat should step down and while Wissanu picks and chooses which aspects of the constitution he adheres to, we are not so sure he’s right on this. All sections in the constitution relating to convictions refer to final judgements. Indeed, Article 29 offers a general protection to those in the legal process, stating:

A suspect or defendant in a criminal case shall be presumed innocent, and before the passing of a final judgment convicting a person of having committed an offence, such person shall not be treated as a convict.

Despite this, and the fact that “appeal is automatic in the case of a death sentence,” the House Secretariat is advising a ruling from the Constitutional Court. Of course, the judgement of that Court will probably follow Wissanu.

Meanwhile, in another case of twisted ethics (see those above), the junta’s Palang Pracharath Party is “likely to field Krungsrivilai Suthinpuak in a potential by-election despite the Election Commission (EC) having issued him with a yellow-card for attempted vote-buying.”

The junta’s 5 years seems to have yielded an administration of goons and crooks.

Update 2: Being ever so gentle and flexible with junta party allies, the NACC has decided that Deputy Minister Mananya Thaiset “must declare her assets and liabilities despite her insistence she is under no obligation to do so.” But she’s forgiven for “interpreting” the law incorrectly and can take longer to get her assets list in order before submitting it. Can anyone imagine such leniency for the other side of politics? Of course not. The Post believes Mananya is known “for spearheading a mission to ban toxic farm chemicals.” We think they are gilding it. She’s best known for being from a family of dark influences.

Chada Thaiseth’s convoy stopped by more than uniformed and plainclothes police on a road in Uthai Thani province in 2017. Clipped from The Nation.





Updated: On that oath

15 08 2019

The oath taken by the military-backed government’s new ministers – many recycled from the military junta’s government – goes on.

The oath is sworn before the king, and as everyone knows, the junta’s own constitution states:

Section 161. Before taking office, a Minister must make a solemn declaration before the King in the following words: “I, (name of the declarer), do solemnly declare that I will be loyal to the King and will faithfully perform my duties in the interests of the country and of the people. I will also uphold and observe the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand in every respect.”

When this regime’s ministers were sworn in, the last sentence was omitted.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

No one is prepared to say why. Normally talkative ministers like Wissanu Krea-ngam have avoided talking about it. Opposition politicians and serial complainers have rightly stated that this is a serious breach of the constitution. Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has mumbled that this omission was “unintentional.” He refuses to resign and says that he will wait to see what the Ombudsman says about not declaring an intention to uphold the constitution.

Puea Thai Party MP Cholnan Srikaew told the Bangkok Post: “We don’t think it was a case of carelessness. Rather, it may have been [the prime minister’s] intention to evade significant phrases in the oath…”.

Based on the silence, evasion and embarrassment, we think that Gen Prayuth may have been told what he was to say at the palace. When the oath was first raised, Gen Prayuth “insisted … the oath was in compliance with the charter and, most importantly, in line with … the King’s advice that the government stay committed to serving the country and the people.” Add to this Wissanu’s first remonstrance, we think it is a pretty fair guess that the PM and ministers followed royal command:

Wissanu on Thursday said he would rather not answer the questions when asked by reporters whether the incomplete oath would affect the cabinet or whether the prime minister must seek a royal pardon. “One day you’ll know why we shouldn’t talk about it,” he said.

When a reporter asked him to explain for “knowledge’s sake”, Mr Wissanu said: “This is not ‘knowledge’ but something no one should stick his nose into.”

This means the agitation on the oath is not just a political issue but an issue regarding taking a stance regarding the further rolling back of Thailand’s political history and 80+ years of practice.

Update: The Bangkok Post, now calling the oath neo-feudal edit a “slip,” reports that “Chief Ombudsman Wittawat Ratchatanan said a review of the petition will take about two weeks and that the Ombudsman’s office will rule on the legitimacy of the oath on Aug 27.” Recent cases handled by this office have involved coffee shops, prices at airport restaurants and airport luggage. Ombudsman Wittawat is an Army General and Royal Guard with no experience outside the Army until he became Ombudsman in 2012. He has served with all of the former junta members and the last time he was asked about investigating anything to do with Gen Prayuth, he ran a mile. So there is no reason to think that this general will find against another general who is his boss, no matter how clear the constitution. (It would be good to be proven wrong on this assessment.)