The “necessity” of military dictatorship

13 10 2017

In the Bangkok Post, commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak comes up with his repeated excuse for military domination. He claims the succession explains it:

The consequent royal transition is likely to be viewed in posterity as the principal reason why the Thai people have had to put up with Gen Prayut.

Later he states, as he has before, that:

To appreciate how Gen Prayut and his cohorts could seize power and keep it with relative ease, we need to recognise the late King Bhumibol’s final twilight. The royal succession was imminent by coup time, and the Thai people collectively kind of knew the special and specific circumstances this entailed. Power had to be in the hands of the military, as it had to ultimately perform a midwife role. Unsurprisingly, ousted elected politicians may have complained about and deplored the coup but none wanted to retake power during the coup period. They knew that after seven decades of the reign in the way that the Thai socio-political system was set up around the military, monarchy and bureaucracy, it had to be the generals overseeing this once-in-a-lifetime transition.

This is nonsensical propaganda. There were, at the time, and today, many, many Thais who reject this royalist babble. But Thitinan just ignores the deep political and social struggles that marked the period of discord that began with the Asian economic crisis in 1997 and which was punctuated by two military coups.

Thitinan appears to us to be expressing the views of the socially disconnected middle class of Bangkok, those who hate and fear the majority of Thais, and “protect” themselves by attaching themselves to the economic and political power of the Sino-Thai tycoons, monarchy and military.

Thais have “put up with” ghastly military rulers for decades. The military dictators and rulers have used the monarchy to justify their despotism. General Pin Choonhavan used the “mysterious” death of Ananda Mahidol; General Sarit Thanarat promoted the monarchy as a front for his murderous regime; General Prem Tinsulanonda made “loyalty” de rigueur for political office.

Thitinan is wrong and, worse, whether he wants to or not, he provides the nasty propaganda that is justification for military dictatorship. We can only imagine that the military junta is most appreciative.

One reason Thais “put up with” military dictatorship now is because anti-democrats want it, because many of them hate elections that give a power to the subaltern classes. And, as Thitinan acknowledges,

Gen Prayut and his fraternal top brass in the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) have guns and tanks to intimidate and coerce. In their first year in power, the ruling generals detained hundreds of dissenters and opponents for “attitude adjustment”. They even put some of those who disagreed on trial in military court. They also came up with their own laws in an interim charter, including the draconian absolutist Section 44. And they have used and manipulated other instruments and agencies of the state to keep people in check and dissent suppressed.

To be sure, dozens of Thais are languishing in jail during junta rule. One young man, a student with his own strong views, has been jailed for re-posting a social media message that appeared on more than two thousand other pages. The junta also has banned political parties from organising, and has generally violated all kinds of human rights and civil liberties all along.

In addition, the generals have not been immune to corruption allegations….

Thais, it seems, must just “put up with” all this in order to facilitate the death of a king, succession and coronation. Thitinan goes even further, lauding The Dictator:

who grew up in the Thai system from the Cold War, who came of age at the height of Thailand’s fight against communism in the 1970s, seeing action on the Cambodian border against the Vietnamese in the 1980s, serving both the King and Queen and the people in the process with devotion and loyalty.

In fact, General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s military promotion was not forged in “battle” but in providing service to the palace and especially the queen.

Thitinan declares that General Prayuth is the “soul of the nation,” a term once used for the dead king:

When Gen Prayut spoke for the nation [after the last king died], he meant it. Fighting back tears, in seven short minutes, he said what had to be said, and directed us Thais to two main tasks, the succession and the cremation after a year’s mourning. Had it been Yingluck [Shinawatra], who is not known for her eloquence, she might have stumbled during the speech. Had it been Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is fluid and flawless in speechmaking, it would have lacked the soul of the nation.

It had to be Gen Prayut, the strongman dictator and self-appointed premier. He is an earnest man, purposeful and well-intentioned….

Make no mistake, this is pure propaganda for military dictatorship. Make no mistake, Thitinan is justifying military dictatorship for the West, “translating” Thai “culture” for those he thinks are Thailand’s friends. He is saying to The Dictator and to “friends” in the West that 2018 or 2019 will mark the end of an “unusual” time and a return to “normality.” That “normal” is Thai-style democracy, guided for years by the military and its rules.

For those who seek a more nuanced and less propagandist reflection try Michael Peel in the Financial Times. He was formerly a correspondent for the FT based in Bangkok, and has penned “Thailand’s monarchy: where does love end and dread begin?” (The article is behind a paywall, but one may register and get access.) Peel asks: “In a country where few dare to speak openly about the royals, how do Thais feel about their new ruler?”

That is, how do they feel about the succession that Thitinan propagandizes as having “required” military dictatorship working as midwife.





Conspiratorial musings

25 06 2017

Shawn Crispin at the Asia Times has a view that everything that happens in Thailand is a conspiracy. When he reports on Thailand’s politics, it is almost never from an on-the-record source. But he always cobbles together an interesting story of conspiratorial maneuvers.

We don’t reject conspiracies as an explanation. Indeed, our limited experience of Thailand’s movers and shakers is that they are always planning to foil the next conspiracy even when they don’t know what it is or who is behind it. So conspiracies are often built around and constructed from factual events that are put together into a story that is embellished and may or may not be accurate.

In his most recent outing at Asia Times, Crispin mixes a frothy conspiratorial cocktail, mixing knowns with unknowns and unknowns with speculation and guessing. This is apparently in the tradition of Bush era Secretary for Middle East invasion, Donald Rumsfeld: “there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

He begins with the bomb that “ripped through a Bangkok military hospital in late May…”, and like many, he seems to not be all that convinced by the claims that the military got their bomber. What the bombing does is provide the “potential for Thailand’s ruling military junta to leverage the blast to further delay elections scheduled for next year for reasons of national security.”

Apart from the obvious – elections are not always predictable unless totally controlled, they love uncontrolled power and the junta hates elections anyway – why would they want further delay?

The capture last week of a 62-year-old ex-civil servant suspect with alleged links to coup-ousted ex-premiers Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra’s “Red Shirt” pressure group underscored the notion that political instability and disenchantment are on the rise three years after the military suspended democracy and seized power in a May 2014 coup. Try this:

Polling conducted by the Internal Security and Operations Command (ISOC), a military unit under the authority of the Prime Minister’s Office, has shown repeatedly since the coup, as well as in recent months, that Peua Thai would win any free and fair vote, according to a source familiar with the confidential surveys.

To be honest, we are skeptical of this, not least because the “election” will not be free or fair and the junta has been working for more than three years to prevent such a result. But let’s say it is true. Crispin’s claim is that “the premier appears to be testing the political waters for yet another delay.” That’s certainly true.

That could come in any number of forms, including the death of the queen. Crispin says there are “new worries about the state of 84-year-old Queen Sirikit’s health…”. He adds:

Royal family members, including Vajiralongkorn, recently came together when Queen Sirikit was urgently moved from Siriraj to another medical facility due to a health scare. Many anticipate Prayuth’s junta, led by troops who rose to prominence on their loyalty to Sirikit, would announce and impose another extended period of national mourning that puts politics in abeyance upon her eventual death.

He then talks of factions in the military. Of course, there are many and there always have been, but concentrating on them too closely is like reading tea leaves in a tea house that’s burning down. Prayuth’s in place as long as he can manage the troops and give them toys and positions that provide pay-offs.

But there are always younger fascists keen to get ahead, like the detestable First Region army commander General Apirat Kongsompong, a King’s Guard soldier now tipped as a likely future army commander. We don’t know the king’s preferences yet, and they are likely to be significant for we know he will want a say and that he must have remora-like officers around him.

The referendum also allowed for an unelected premier, which the military-appointed Senate’s presumed cohesive bloc will likely have strong sway over after the next poll. Until recently, analysts presumed Prayuth was the mostly likely candidate to become appointed premier over an elected “unity” government the military would check and control from above. Crispin says he has “frequent one-on-one audiences with [Generals] Prayuth and Chalermchai [Sitthisart].”

Presumably that when’s he’s actually in Thailand and not cycling around parts of Erding and being shot in the backside with plastic bullets.

Vajiralongkorn also seems to be a fan, for the moment, of the General Apirat, not least because the latter will do anything for publicity and promotion. However, that publicity may not always keep the king jolly.

Then the Kremlin watchers-cum-military-watchers in Thailand will be waiting to read October’s military reshuffle list and will see all kinds of messages there. Who won, who lost and that kind of cake decoration. But decorated cakes can have a political impact, not least when a general feels done down.

Is there rising factionalism in the armed forces? We don’t think so as the military is happy enough in harness at present. But things change. The junta is getting criticized far more widely now, and if that continues, Prayuth may be turfed out. But as Crispin concludes:

While Prayuth’s once near-absolute grip has certainly started to slip with new challenges from within the military and a more assertive monarchy, it’s not clear the solider-cum-premier is ready to yield power any time soon to the same politicians and anti-junta activists he believes caused the various problems his military government has aimed and claimed to solve.

We think that’s not idle speculation.





On the junta’s use of lese majeste

8 05 2017

Reproduced in full from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw):

(Bangkok, Paris) The number of individuals arrested on lèse-majesté charges since the May 2014 military coup has passed the 100 mark, FIDH and its member organizations Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw) said today.

“In less than three years, the military junta has generated a surge in the number of political prisoners detained under lèse-majesté by abusing a draconian law that is inconsistent with Thailand’s international obligations.”

Dimitris Christopoulos, FIDH President

Article 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code (lèse-majesté) imposes jail terms for those who defame, insult, or threaten the King, the Queen, the Heir to the throne, or the Regent. Persons found guilty of violating Article 112 face prison terms of three to 15 years for each count.

The number of people who have been arrested under Article 112 of the Criminal Code has reached 105, following the arrest of six individuals on 29 April 2017. Forty-nine of them have been sentenced to prison terms of up to 30 years. To date, at least 64 individuals are either imprisoned or detained awaiting trial on lèse-majesté charges. At the time of the 22 May 2014 coup, there were six individuals behind bars under Article 112. Eighty-one of the 105 cases involved deprivation of liberty for the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The remaining cases are related to individuals who were arrested for claiming ties to the royal family for personal gain.

“Many of those arrested are democracy activists and outspoken critics of the military regime. In some instances, they were kidnapped from their homes by military officers and interrogated in secret for several days in military camps before being formally charged. Lèse-majesté defendants are rarely granted bail, and so spend months or even years fighting their cases while in detention. All of this makes a mockery of ‘justice’ in Thailand’s justice system.”

Jon Ungpakorn, iLaw Executive Director

On 28 March 2017, following the review of the country’s second periodic report under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in Geneva, Switzerland, the UN Human Rights Committee (CCPR), expressed concern over the “extreme sentencing practices” for those found guilty of lèse-majesté. The CCPR recommended Thailand review Article 112 to bring it into line with Article 19 of the ICCPR and reiterated that the imprisonment of persons for exercising their freedom of expression violates this provision. The CCPR also demanded the authorities release those who have been deprived of their liberty for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

“The Thai government has run out of excuses to avoid reforming lèse-majesté. Article 112 must be brought into compliance with Thailand’s international obligations as demanded by numerous UN mechanisms.”

Jaturong Boonyarattanasoontorn, UCL Chairman




Regime not sufficiently monarchist?

23 10 2016

At the same time that the military regime is using the late monarch and the period of mourning for political purpose, it is also accused of not being sufficiently monarchist.

It has spent a week trying to smother a royalist social media campaign that declares the junta disloyal for “ordering the removal of the late king’s portrait.”

The Bangkok Post reports that The Dictator has now had to issue an order banning the removal of the ubiquitous portraits that capture a king of 20 or 30 years ago.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha has “prohibited public offices from removing the pictures or portraits” of the “late King, as well as those of Queen Sirikit, and must keep them in good condition…”. It was added:

If they come with text such as ‘Long Live the King’ or the Pali version of it [Teeka Yuko Hotu Maha Racha], it may be changed appropriately. If they are to be replaced or decorated with black or white ribbons, the changes must be quickly made and the pictures put back without delay….

Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd “reaffirmed the government had never ordered the removal of the portraits as shared by some users in social media.” He demanded that these users “should refrain from sharing such information without sources.”

Any notion that the regime would undermine the monarch that they have literally (at Corruption Park) and metaphorically hoisted high for their own regime is potentially damaging. That they might be preparing for the new reign is likely to prove unpopular among its constituency of mad and even sane monarchists (and other seeking to undermine the regime).





Further updated: Unsubstantiated rumors and speculation

13 10 2016

Because the palace provides little information, there is considerable speculation about the king’s dying days.

Social media has some pretty long and involved discussions of what’s happening and what will happen.

Much of this is highly speculative. For example, there social media speculation that the prince returning to Thailand by a TG flight is seen as significant of something by some, such as control by the military junta. Some see his return as evidence that there will be no intervention in succession. We will soon know if any of this speculation and guessing is worth the huge efforts that go into it.

One current social media rumor is that the “old brass” from the Privy Council is currently meeting with the junta’s “new brass.” This seems  reasonable speculation and we’d guess that such a meeting would not be the first. If there is going to be any interference in succession, these are the main players but there’s no recent and compelling evidence to suggest that there will be such an intervention, but the junta’s Thailand is highly secretive and that needs to be kept in mind.

Reports from Thailand suggest that there is a calm “waiting” going on. That said, we can expect considerable grieving when it is announced that the king has died.set-index

Update 1: Here is another claim that needs to be considered carefully before believing it. And we mean the one by the junta’s “Deputy junta head for the Economy” Somkid Jatusripitak, who declares that the “authorities are now hunting for people who are causing Thailand’s stock market to plummet rapidly.” Apparently now infected by junta-itis, which affects the brain, detaching it from reality, he says he “has ordered Securities and Exchange Commission of Thailand (SEC) to find people who are spreading rumours causing rapid fall on the nation’s stock market…”.

It’s the Royal Household Bureau’s announcements and then the failure of the junta and palace to say anything about the way they are dealing with the king’s demise that are causing the drop.

Somkid “said that Thai people should not become victims of those who are spreading rumours for personal gains, adding that people should trust in the nation’s economic potential and follow news from the government sources only.” See what we mean? Only believe the military dictatorship!

Then, remarkably, he added to the rumors: “This country is now at a very important moment and things will gradually get better…”. So the king is dead or about to die, now confirmed by this statement.

Update 2: The Bangkok Post reports that Princesses Sirindhorn, Soamsawali, Chulabhorn and Prince Vajiralongkorn are again at Siriraj Hospital. We see no mention of the queen, who is also hospitalized.





Promoting political allies II

15 09 2016

A few days ago, PPT posted on the rise of the new Army boss General Chalermchai Sittisart.

It seems the Bangkok Post’s military correspondent essentially agrees with us. Wassana Nanuam reckons that The Dictator’s promotion of Chalermchai was a “bold move [that] has surprised many.”

As we said, there should be no surprise as The Dictator is selecting a man “well-suited with what he called ‘the current situation’.” She means well-suited to managing the military junta’s continued control of politics, “election” or not.

Chalermchai is not from the Burapha Phayak clique, having never “served in the 21st Infantry Regiment (Queen’s Guard) nor the 2nd Infantry Division where Gen Prayut[h Chan-ocha] and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon grew into their military careers.”

But Chalermchai is well “qualified” for repressing the junta’s opponents. The new boss “is from the ‘red beret’ Special Warfare Command (SWC) where he had served in intelligence and secret services throughout his career.” He served on the Thailand-Cambodia border during the Khmer Rouge era meaning he probably made a reasonable amount of money.

He also served under another red beret, General Surayud Chulanont, now a privy councilor. The report says he “formed a close bond with Gen Surayud.” That bond and links to the queen have been critical for Chalermchai’s rise.

Gen Chalermchai’s is not due for retirement until September 2018 meaning Gen Prayuth can expect “stability within the army…”. The report states that “[s]uch stability is important for Gen Prayut if he becomes a non-elected prime minister of an elected government.”

Chalermchai’s appointment is also a sign that Prayuth “wants to maintain close ties with Gen Surayud and strengthen relations with the Si Sao Thewes clique of Privy Council president [General] Prem Tinsulanonda.”





Near death recoveries

1 08 2016

Both the king and queen spend all their time in hospital, each suffering the multiple ailments of the old. They are both kept alive by teams of doctors. Alive may not mean that they are able to do anything at all, including breathing.

The Royal Household Bureau is issuing regular “reports” that are irregular and still opaque.

One recent report has the queen being moved from Siriraj hospital to Chulalongkorn Hospital. This routing seems regular now. She was moved because an “x-ray showed a slight inflammation on her lungs and blood tests showed an infection…”. Why she isn’t treated at Siriraj, where she resides and where the king is treated is unclear.

As always in these reports, the queen is said to be “improved, with her fever having “subsided and coughing … eased…”. Even so, “she will remain at the hospital for a while longer before being moved to the same hospital as the king.” That is, moved back to another hospital.

Meanwhile, AFP reports that the king still has a fever and continues to be treated with antibiotics. The Bureau stated: “After taking antibiotics his condition has got better but he still has some fever…”.

It seems the king is on antibiotics all the time and has repeated fevers. He also continues to have problems with his catheter that drains excess spinal fluid.

Both seem essentially terminally ill, with doctors working very hard to keep them alive.