Fear the people III

11 09 2018

Quite some time ago, PPT posted a lot on the fear the military junta feels (for example here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Interestingly, the junta now confirms its fear of the people if they are unshackled.

As Khaosod reports it: “The powers that be who’ve bottled expression and dissent for five years fear the resumption of regular political life…”.

This comes from none other than junta lackey and Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam who stated “that the reason the military regime hasn’t lifted the ban on political activities is because the ruling junta known as the National Council for Peace and Order is ‘afraid’.” He didn’t say what the junta is afraid of, but it is pretty clear that there are many fears: republicanism, separatism, losing positions of bigness, losing face, being shown to be corrupt, seeing Thaksin again, and so on.

But it is clear that the main fear is of the people being able to speak and think more freely. This is why the junta wants to hang on. Others say:

Pro-democracy activist Rangsiman Rome said it’s simple: prosecution. Should junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha fail to retain power after the election, Rangsiman said its self-indemnification for overthrowing the government in 2014 could be overturned.

“They also know that they are on the way down. Many people are talking about taking revenge on them,” Rangsiman said by phone Monday.

We think there’s much in this. The junta bosses are notoriously thin-skinned.

Another activist, Nuttaa Mahattana, thinks the junta is afraid of the people. She said the ban that’s been in place since the coup affects not just politicians but ordinary citizens including protesters such as herself, who’s been charged multiple times with violating the junta’s ban on political gatherings.

“They are afraid of the people… They are afraid that people will be able to speak. They are afraid of people’s expressions,” Nuttaa said.

We think she’s right. They are petrified that all their repression will come undone because they know that the people have simply acceded to the repression but don’t believe all the junta’s guff, which is the ruling class’s guff.





Mid-week reading: monarchy, academics, hypocrisy, hope

30 08 2018

There are several articles we think deserve a reading this week.

The first is actually two articles by University of Leeds academic Duncan McCargo. In recent weeks he’s been reporting on visits he’s making inside Bangkok’s rapidly expanding royal zone. The first was at Asia Times Online, on the end of the military’s Royal Turf Club, which reverts to the Crown Property Bureau, which itself is now the personal property of the king. We have posted on this. This article says little about that link, which is odd, as it is the story.

McCargo’s second piece is at The Nikkei Asia Review and is on the soon to close zoo. In it, he does dare to at least mention the king in the context of the zoo’s closure. We have also posted on this. He implies that it might also suit the military regime. So careful does the academic have to be that self-censorship means a casual reader might miss these associations.

As an important footnote, McCargo did put his name to an undated International Statement in support of Dr. Chayan Vaddhanaphuti and colleagues some time ago.

Another article worth considering is at The Nation, reflecting on the ill-health of exiled academic Professor Somsak Jeamteerasakul and his principles. The comments on hypocrisy among political activists and academics are well made. At the same time, some of the journalists at The Nation, including the author of this piece – Tulsathit Taptim – have also been been extravagant propagandists for those who have attacked and reviled Somsak.

Somsak has indeed stuck with his principles. He’s been brave and determined in addressing important historical issues and the monarchy and Article 112. Like rabid dogs, the military and ultra-royalists attacked Somsak and made him pay.

We wish Somsak a speedy recovery and applaud his efforts to pull back some of the curtains that hide the monarchy and its actions.

The third set of articles is from the Focus on the Global South. Its 4th Newsletter “tackles the issue of democracy in Asia and its different facets–elections, constitutions, (extreme) nationalism, populism, majoritarian rule, and press freedom.” Two of the Newsletter’s items are especially relevant for Thailand. One is an article titled “The Indomitable Spirit of Democracy in Thailand.” The second is an interview with pro-democracy activist Rangsiman Rome. There’s room for some optimism.





Pressure

25 03 2018

We have been seeing considerable efforts by the junta to block PPT. This blocking seems to coincide with posts that are critical of the junta and its “election.” It also coincides with a considerable uptick in anti-junta activism.

Keeping the pressure on seems to be the response. On Friday, pro-democracy activist Rangsiman Rome was detained briefly by a military court “over two-year-old charges he violated the junta’s ban on political assembly while in the northeastern province.” Held for five hours, he paid a 10,000 baht bond. Not much, but the emphasis is on pressure.

On Saturday, activists “stepped up their [pro-election/anti-junta] campaign by urging the army to stop supporting the junta and setting a deadline for the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the military junta] to step down.”

A sign recycled from 2010 (clipped from the Bangkok Post)

While some news reports said 400 people rallied at Thammasat University others said there were up to 2000.

Speakers made three demands: “the election must be held in November; the NCPO must be dissolved and the government must become a caretaker; and the army must stop supporting the NCPO.”

Rangsiman “said that if the three demands are not met, his group would begin a major series of prolonged rallies on May 5 to oust the NCPO.” He called the junta a “traitor to Thailand.”

Sirawith Seritiwat “said the army would be the first to be pressed to end its support for the NCPO.” He declared that: “If the army does not respond, we’ll pile pressure on the government and the NCPO’s network such as the National Legislative Assembly…”.

When the protesters tried to walk to Army headquarters, “skirmishes were reported as they tried to pass through a wall of police and soldiers…”. There were some 600 junta protectors at work against the activists.

At Army headquarters, Rangsiman thundered:

When there is democracy, your dirty bosses will go to jail, so don’t lick their boots too much,” Rangsiman said. “Don’t you feel anything? That you have to come protect military headquarters but not a single soldier is here?

Pressure on all sides.





Rallying on ending the military dictatorship

10 02 2018

The pro-democracy rally near the Democracy Monument drew hundreds of activists on Saturday.

The authorities tried to prevent the rally in various ways, including a childish effort to cover open areas at the monument with potted plants, forcing hundreds of protesters onto footpaths.

In the end, the rally went ahead with speeches by several people including some of the MBK39.

As well as demanding an election that they said would mean the end the military dictatorship, speakers demanded that the Democracy Monument and what it stood for be given back to the people:

People seeking to cast ballots are blocked by police. A monument has been turned into a garden. No matter what this country has become, this monument still has meaning and significance. Let’s make today the beginning of an end to dictatorship….

Rangsiman Rome declared:

We meet today to demand an election and the end to the power succession. We show a three-finger salute today — first for the election, second for the end of dictatorship and third for democracy….

He also demanded that “politicians” get off their fat behinds and do something to support the pro-democracy activists.

The rally concluded with three of the the MBK39 co-leaders taken away to a police station. Rangsiman, Sirawich Serithiwat and Arnon Nampa were taken to the Saran Rat police station and then the Pathumwan police station. Earlier, Akechai Hongkangwarn, another co-leaader, had been whisked off by police before he could attend the rally.





Updated: Watching and waiting

10 02 2018

On one watch front, the luxury front – the news is… well, no news. The Nation reports that National Anti-Corruption Commission President Pol Gen Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit declared that the NACC’s “secretary-general has not yet updated the corruption-fighting body about whether Deputy PM [Gen] Prawit Wongsuwan has submitted his third try at an explanation about his possession of luxury watches.” Is he getting coaching? Probably not. Neither The Dictator or the Deputy Dictator believe that laws apply to them.

The other thing to watch is is the so-called MBK39. The junta got a legal slap when the the courts unconditionally released them. Four of the activists, named below, did not front the police and courts. That said the charges of “violating the public assembly and internal security laws, as well as the junta’s order on political gatherings” remain in place and could see a penalty of 7 years in jail. The laws include a charge of assembling within 150 meters of a royal palace (Sirindhorn’s). In effect, this “law” bans public gatherings in several of the locations where anti-government protests have been ignited in the past and is one more piece in the return to pre-1932 jigsaw and the deification of royals and their spaces.

The thing to watch is a a pro-election assembly this afternoon Bangkok time. It is reported that “[a]ctivists Rangsiman Rome, Sirawit Serithiwat, Ekachai Hongkangwan and lawyer Anon Nampa … would be attending the event to be held near Democracy Monument at 4pm.”

The police have said “they would immediately arrest the four when they showed up at today’s event” using warrants from the previous case against them.

Akechai said: “Why not go? … The court’s rejection to detain [activists from the] January 27 assembly has already proved that this kind of assembly is rightful by law.”

Update: Akechai didn’t get a chance to go. Junta thugs arrested him early on Saturday morning, and took him to Lat Phrao police station and then to Pathumwan police station. He seemed unfazed by the arrest; it is kind of “normal” under the dictatorship.

How’s that “democracy” looking to you Gen Joseph F Dunford?





Repression and manufactured paranoia

30 01 2018

As expected, the junta has responded to the mounting criticism it is catching. And, as expected, it has not gone after the anti-democrats involved but anti-coup activists.

The repression is unsurprising but the borrowing of manufactured nationalist paranoia is a little more bewildering.

Khaosod reports that the military junta “has ordered seven of the most prominent pro-democracy activists [be] charged with crimes including sedition after they launched a protest campaign calling for general elections to be held in November.”

It might seem somewhat odd that sedition now includes demanding that the junta stick to its promises.

Acting for the military dictatorship, Col. Burin Thongprapai,  filed police complaints against seven activists. They are:

Sirawit Seritiwat, Nutta Mahattana, Democracy Restoration Group leader Rangsiman Rome, student activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, former lese majeste convict turned political activist Ekachai Hongkangwan, human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa and newcomer student activist Sukrid Peansuwan.

The colonel chuckled that his people had “solid recorded evidence that the seven protest leaders have violated the junta’s ban on political gatherings of more than four and committed acts of incitement against the state.”

The junta’s Burin “said the seven were singled out because they are leaders and committed sedition.”

So the next time The Dictator talks about an election, presumably he’s committing sedition. The junta is now sinking into nonsensical survival mode. It is likely to become dangerous as these ridiculous repression fails.

As one of the accused observed, “[t]he fire has been lit…”, adding:

They want to snuff the fire at its source because everyone’s getting energized. The people have become lively again, and even the media reported it on the front page in a sympathetic manner…

Meanwhile, Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan has sent an aide out to declare that the “pro-democracy campaign was orchestrated by foreign powers.” This was followed by a claim worthy of alt-right fruit loops claiming that anti-coup activism results from “trickery by foreign powers” providing the examples of “Iran and Hong Kong.” Several other right-wing leaders and regimes have made similar claims.

The idea of such accusations is to appeal to those anti-democrats who consume mad conspiracy theorists, themselves in the pay of foreign states.

Things are going to get nastier still.





Further updated: Sparks beginning to fly

28 01 2018

Quite some time ago we said that, as in the past, the spark that lights a fire under Thailand’s military dictatorship might come from something quite unexpected.

We think we might have seen that spark and it may be two events that have begun to tip the political balance. One is Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan’s luxury timepieces. It isn’t so much that he’s seemingly corrupt. After all the timid middle classes and the wealthy capitalist class “understand” corruption and it is a price they are ever willing to pay so long as they can continue to prosper. And, if the corrupt are “good” people, then it’s okay. What has led to a beginning of an unraveling of this political relationship is Prawit’s arrogance about his massive watch collection and the demonstration (so far) of cover-up and impunity. This taints the junta as self-serving, grasping and certainly not “good” people.

The second spark is the continual delay in the holding of an election that is neither free nor fair. The middle and capitalist classes were fully prepared to accept the junta’s manipulated constitution, its forcing of the constitutional referendum, the tinkering with the details, a senate that maintains military political dominance and human rights restrictions. However, as well as the political repression of the lower classes, they wanted something of a say in politics via that unfair election. By delaying numerous times, the junta is displaying arrogance and a craving for power “unsuited” to the middle and capitalist classes.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

The peeling away of support even sees diehard yellow shirts, the boosters for the coups of 2006 and 2014, criticizing the military junta it bet on for turning back the lower class political tide. It also sees cracks appearing in the junta’s domination and control both in events and institutions. We have posted on the “We Walk” march and its court victory. Some of the NGOs involved in that event were those that were present at the birth of the People’s Alliance for Democracy in 2006. For some of those yellow shirts, there is disappointment in the regime for not doing sufficient political cleansing. More disappointment comes from the decisions by the junta to allow legal pursuit of PAD and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee. Such legal cases are not just a disappointment but construed as a betrayal.

In this context, the re-emergence of political protest is telling. First We Walk and now the student activists. It isn’t that these students haven’t pushed the junta before. In fact, they have been regular opponents, but they have faced numerous legal cases, arrests, abductions and so on. The Bangkok Post reports their most recent event this way:

The Democracy Restoration Group, led by Sirawich “Ja New” Seritiwat and Rangsiman Rome, posted on Facebook on Friday asking people who share the same views to join them at 5.30pm at the BTS skywalk near the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre.

Pathumwan police said they did not try to stop the campaign so long as it did not block traffic.

Around 100 people came to the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre at 5.15pm while police stood by and took photos of the participants. Many of them showed the sign “Election 2018” or show its photo on their mobile phones.

Core leaders of the group took turns giving speeches.

Interestingly, the demonstrators emphasized not just elections but watches.

Update 1: A reader emailed us saying that we missed one of the most important bits of the linked Bangkok Post story. That reader is right that we should have specifically noted that the rally brought together stalwarts of both red and yellow shirts, with ultra-nationalist yellow shirt Veera Somkwamkid and red shirt iconoclast Sombat Boonngamanong. That is an unexpected alliance. Yet it is just this kind of unusual alliance that has underpinned anti-military movements in the past.

Update 2: An updated Bangkok Post report has more from Veera. He declared: “There are no colours right now…. It’s all about joining hands and removing corruption from the country.” He added: “The problem is we cannot rely on the government because they are in fact the ones who are not transparent.” The principal organizers, the New Democracy Movement declared “it will continue to pressure the government and Gen Prayut to dismiss Gen Prawit and to keep his promise to holding the election this year. They will gather again in the same spot on Feb 10.” Meanwhile, in Songkhla, “members of 19 civic organisations walked from Hat Yai municipality to Sena Narong army camp in Hat Yai to voice their grievances over several state projects in the South and to support the [People Go Network/We Walk group].”