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].”





Heroes and villains I

23 12 2017

Thailand’s politics under the despotic military regime has been one-sided but marked by impunity and double standards. The regime has been repressive, grasping and opaque. The military junta has used feudal laws and absolutist decrees to grind down its opponents while building its own political base.

Thailand’s villains are relatively easy to identify. Most of them wear uniforms (and expensive watches). They sit in puppet assemblies and courts or at the top of ministries. They collect allowances and advantages that build wealth and status. The faces may change over the years, although there’s remarkable longevity, but their politics remains the same: royalist anti-democracy.

Heroes are those who challenge the anti-democratic status quo. They pay dearly for it. Somyos Prueksakasemsuk has been jailed for almost seven years. Hundreds have been jailed or “re-educated,” others have died in prison and thousands have been intimidated and silenced. Some have fled into exile and hundreds find themselves ostracized from a conservative, royalist and hierarchical society.

There is little good news for the heroes. This makes a recent report in the Bangkok Post a bittersweet article.

Already serving a jail term on an unfair and concocted lese majeste conviction by a junta court, student activist Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa “posed for a photo in a graduation gown of the KKU’s Law Faculty with his parents.” He was prevented from attending his graduation ceremony because he was locked in a junta jail.

With seven other heroes, Jatuphat appeared in a court at the villainous 23rd Military Circle to deny charges “of holding a public assembly to protest against the military regime at Khon Kaen University (KKU) in 2015.”

While Chartthai Noiunsaen, Phanuphong Srithananuwat, Chatmongkol Jenchiewchan, Narongrit Uppachan, Natthaporn Arthan, Duangthip Kararit and Neeranut Niemsap were released on bail, Jatuphat went back to prison.

Another hero, Rangsiman Rome, failed to appear. We understand that he refuses to recognize the court. If that is so, it’s a brave act. Anything that challenges the villainous regime is brave.





Updated: Yingluck and Boonsong

26 08 2017

While a lot of the media attention has been on Yingluck Shinawatra’s no-show at the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions verdict day, the related sentencing of her former colleague Boonsong Teriyapirom to 42 years in jail and his former deputy Poom Sarapol to 36 years in the so-called government-to-government rice sales case deserves attention too.

Earlier, the former commerce minister said he would “respect the court’s decision which ever way it went.” It went the way that everyone had expected and he and his deputy were found guilty. So were a score of others. As Prachatai reports it:

The two were accused of violating the 1999 Anti-price Collusion Act for helping Chinese companies that did not represent the Chinese government to obtain the government-to-government rice export deals with Yingluck’s administration.

The court also sentenced Manas Soiploy, a former director-general of the Department of Foreign Trade, to 40 years of imprisonment and his deputy Tikhumporn Natvaratat to 32 years in jail for involvement in the deals.

Akharaphong Theepwatchara, former director of the department’s Rice Trade Administration Bureau, was sentenced to 24 years while Apichart Chansakulporn, the executive of Siam Indica Co Ltd., the rice exporter company, got 48 years imprisonment.

The court also demanded Siam Indica to pay 16.9 billion baht damage to the Ministry of Finance.

Eight of the total of 28 accused were acquitted while the rest got jail term and were ordered to pay damages in accordance to the proportion of their involvement in the rice deal.

Perhaps Yingluck got wind of these horrendously long sentences and decided that she was likely to get the maximum sentence in her case (10 years and a large fine), and to seek other climes (although officials claim there is no record of her leaving the country).

Khaosod explains some of the courts decision and the case:

The Supreme Court said the four government-to-government deals made in 2011 and 2012 were made with state companies in Chinese provinces which were not authorized to represent Beijing. The deals allowed them to buy rice from Thailand at below-market prices.

Evidence later showed that Siam Indica resold the rice back into the domestic market. They were accused of violating two anti-corruption statutes: the 1999 Price Rigging in Public Sector Contract Bidding and a 1999 anti-corruption law called the Organic Act on Counter Corruption.

In September 2016, the Anti-Money Laundering Office ordered over 7 billion baht in assets seized from Siam Indica, Apichart and his network after they were indicted by the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

Apichart was known to have close ties to exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. A previous firm he led won the right to sell rice from a rice-pledging program under Thaksin’s administration.

Yet, the deals done were not that easily explained. As the Bangkok Post tells it, the court decided:

… in the past G-to-G rice sales to China had been done through China National Cereals, Oil and Foodstuff Import Export Corporation (Cofco).

But the rice sales panel chaired by Poom during the Yingluck Shinawatra government changed the G-to-G definition to include sales to other state enterprises and use ex-factory prices instead….

Poom later approved two sales contracts for 5.2 million tonnes with two Chinese provincial state enterprises not authorised by Beijing. Boonsong later took over as chairman of the panel and signed another two contracts to sell another 2.4 million tonnes.

All in all, the four contracts causes damages of around 17 billion baht, the statement said.

The ruling said there were irregularities involving the four contracts.

“Payments were made in cashier cheques. Buyers could resell the grain to a third country. The contracts were amended to change the rice types and amounts without bargaining to ensure the changes were in the best interest of the country.

“After the sales, payments were made in hundreds of cashier cheques in the country and an authorised Thai company took delivery of the grain and sold it to local rice traders without shipping it to China or other countries,” the statement said.

“Mr Poom, Mr Boonsong, Mr Apichart and others brought the two provincial state enterprises to buy rice from the Foreign Trade Department, saying they were authorised by Beijing, at low prices without competition.

“When rice market price fell, the enterprises did not take delivery as specified in the contracts. Instead, they asked to change the contracts so they could buy the same type of grain at lower prices,” the ruling said.

For those interested, historical rice prices are here, suggesting that, in the court’s reckoning, the damage done was not the total amount of the deals done, but that the reduced prices were the issue for the court. Losing money may be poor business and poor state business, but the sentences are mammoth.

The media’s interest now naturally turns to Yingluck’s whereabouts.

At Khaosod, Human Rights Watch’s Sunai Phasuk said “he was still trying to piece together the reason for her no-show.” He was unsure why Yingluck would flee. As he says:

“We still try to understand the situation here since she had fought for more than two years and there was no sign that she would not show up in the last minute,” Sunai said. “I want to see an official statement from Pheu Thai Party or the UDD, so the people are told what’s going on.”

He added:

this will intensify the disharmony as Yingluck’s supporters see her as the victim of an unjust trial, while the opposite side sees Yingluck as the sister who follows her brother’s footstep. The two sides will never reconcile.

Another commentator, Jessada Denduangboripant, mused:

“In reality, there have been many negotiations between Yingluck and the government as well as those backing the government because if she’s found innocent the government would lose face while if she’s imprisoned, there’s a risk of an uprising. The way out is to let her leave the country, which is not easy without some assistance. Jessada said. “They think it’s win-win for both. Yingluck may have to flee but at least she is free abroad. The government may be criticized for being lax. Those who lose the most are the people who have been lured into supporting (her). This is also not good for democracy.”

Political activist Rangsiman Rome, also wondered about a win-win: “I cannot really tell who gains and who loses, but I want to give your readers a question: Did Yingluck secretly negotiate with the NCPO?..”.

One rumor is that the junta created a win-win situation telling her she would be jailed. It offered her an avenue to flee and promised an election if she left.

Yellow shirts are disappointed that Yingluck wasn’t locked up and complain that she is “just like her brother.” But they also complain that the regime has let her “escape.”

The Dictator and Deputy Dictator believed she had fled. But they did not rule out that she was in hiding in the country. They “ordered security authorities to check border crossings and search for former prime minister Yingluck…”. General Prayuth Chan-ocha questioned her “bravery.”

While rumors swirl of her taking a boat, crossing the Cambodian border and flying to Singapore, CNN reports an anonymous Puea Thai Party source as saying Yingluck has joined Thaksin in Dubai.

Update: While PPT prefers to wait for Yingluck to emerge and say what she has done and where she is, some reports deserve attention. For example, The Nation reports an unnamed “security source” who claims “Yingluck went to Koh Chang in the eastern seaboard province of Trat and flew in a helicopter to Phnom Penh, from where she reportedly took a chartered plane to Singapore. She was accompanied by a senior state official who helped facilitate her departure without having to pass proper immigration process…”.

Added to this, the report cites another unnamed source in the Puea Thai Party: “It’s impossible she left without the military’s green light.”

Meanwhile, “Yingluck’s mobile phone signals were detected as coming from her house in Bangkok’s Bueng Kum area, according to a police source.” If they can track her phone it seems unlikely they allowed her to wander off overseas unattended.