2014 military coup: assessing and forgetting

21 05 2018

There’s currently a plethora of stories and op-eds that assess the results of the 2014 military coup.

Despite limited resources, Khaosod is usually a news outlet that is better than others at reporting the events of the day and in trying to be critical of military rule. However, one of its assessment stories is rather too forgetful.

Teeranai Charuvastra is the author and begins with the sad statistic that The Dictator Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has been directing the state since he seized it 1,641 days on Tuesday. In fact, he effectively seized power a couple of days earlier and the official coup announcement then followed.

That long four years is, Teeranai observes, “longer than any other coup leader since the Cold War.”

We are not exactly sure when the Cold War ended. Perhaps its late 1991 when the Soviet Union itself dissolved into its all those republics. Perhaps it is the fall of the Berlin Wall two years earlier. It matters only because if it is December 1991, then there’s only been two military coups in Thailand in that period, both involving roughly the same military crew as is in power now. If it is 1989, then add one more coup.

Two or three coups in Thailand’s long history of military seizures of the state doesn’t necessarily amount to establishing a pattern, although Teeranai’s thinks it does. The claim is that:

Every ‘successful’ military takeover of the last four decades has followed the same script: The generals who led the putsch quickly install a civilian prime minister, ostensibly to give the appearance of democratic rule, before retreating into the shadows. Typically, general elections have been organized within a year.

For one thing, that time period takes us back to about 1978, when Gen Kriangsak Chomanan was in the premier’s seat, having seized power in late 1977 from the ultra-royalist/ultra-rightist regime of civilian and palace favorite Thanin Kraivixien.

But back to Gen Prayuth, who is claimed to have gone off-script. Military junkie/journalist Wassana Nanuam is quoted in support of this claim: “He tore to pieces the rules of the coup.”

Back to the dates. Is there a script. In our view there is, but it isn’t the version proclaimed by Wasana. Rather, the script for the military is in seizing and holding power. When Gen Sarit Thanarat seized power in 1957, he put a civilian in place but in 1958 took power himself. He and his successors held power until 1973. When the military again seized power in 1976, it reluctantly accepted the king’s demand for Thanin to head a government. He failed and Kriangsak seized power in late 1977. Kriangsak held the premiership until 1980, when the military leadership convinced him to handover to palace favorite Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, who stayed until 1988.

Now there’s a pattern. We think its the pattern that Prayuth’s dictatorial junta has had in mind since they decided that the 2006 coup had failed to adequately expunge Thaksin Shinawatra’s appeal and corral the rise of electoral politics.

So Wassana’s triumphalism about The Dictator “breaking a mold” is simply wrong. The military regime is, like its predecessors in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, about embedding the military and throttling electoral politics.

Wassana’s other claim is that Prayuth’s coup and plan to hold power was risky. We think that’s wrong too.

In fact, after 2006 was declared a failure, Prayuth and his former bosses, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Gen Anupong Paojinda, had worked with various rightist and royalist agents to undermine the likely opponents of another military political victory: red shirts and politicians of the elected variety.

ISOC was an important part of that as it systematically destroyed red shirt operations and networks.

In addition, the courts and “independent” agencies had all been co-opted by the military and its royalist and anti-democrat allies.

There was never any chance that Prayuth would hand over to an appointee.

Teeranai’s piece also asks; “So how did Prayuth’s National Council for Peace and Order, or NCPO, manage to stay this long?”

The response is: “The reasons are many, … [that] range from the junta’s use of brute force to Prayuth’s personal influence.” But a “common thread has to do with what the junta is not. The regime’s success, according to most people interviewed, lies in convincing people it is a better alternative to the color-coded feuds and churning upheaval that have plagued the nation.”

We think this is only true for some people and certainly not all. And the people who were convinced are the anti-democrats. Those interviewed are mostly yellow shirts who define “the people” as people like them.

When Suriyasai Katasila says that “The people felt there was only instability… So people accept the NCPO’s [junta] intervention, even though it cost them certain rights,” he speaks for some of Bangkok’s middle class and the anti-democrats.

Other anti-democrats are cited: “people don’t see the point of calling for elections, because they think things will just be the same after the election. People are sick and tired.” Again, these are words for the anti-democrats and by the anti-democrats.

If elections were rejected, one would expect low turnouts for them. If we look just at 2011 and 2007, we see voter turnout in excess of 80%. The anti-democrats propagandize against elections and speak of “the people” but represent a minority.

We’ve said enough. The aims of the current military junta are clear. And the anti-democrats are self-serving and frightened that the people may be empowered by the ballot box. That’s why the junta is rigging any future vote.





Stealing an election VII

6 05 2018

While the military junta runs wild, collecting support, campaigning vigorously and throwing funds at the electorate, its dependent institutions are working for it.

The Bangkok Post reports that “Pheu Thai Party caretaker secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai warned the Election Commission (EC) it should not assume that former leader Thaksin Shinawatra still dominates the party’s activity.”

While Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan declared that there was no breaking of any law if Puea Thai politicians met Thaksin and sister Yingluck in Singapore, his Election Commission chairman Supachai Somcharoen warned that “party members should be cautious when meeting party outsiders — those who fall outside official member or executive status.” He “they must not let outsiders influence the party’s agenda or accept their money to finance activity.”

No one doubts that Thaksin still wields great influence but the potential for the EC to dissolve the party is real. The notion of precluding “external” influence is a junta law that is designed to trump Puea Thai should the junta party/parties look weak in the junta’s “election.”

Screwing with Thaksin/red shirt parties is going to be a strategy for the junta going forward, so that even a minor party like Sombat Boonngamanong’s proposed Grin Party (or Krian Party) is to be expected. The EC has rejected his request to register his part, objecting to its name.

It is all about paving the road to “election” for The Dictator and his allies.





Stealing an “election” V

24 04 2018

A reader pointed out a recent op-ed at East Asia Forum on rigging the “election” in Thailand.

Academic Kevin Hewison points to the many “delays” to an “election” and writes that these:

delays are one element of a set of processes devised by the junta to prevent the election to government of any party associated with exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. For the junta and its supporters, ‘reform’ means neutering the Shinawatra clan’s Pheu Thai Party. The junta’s determination to crush Pheu Thai and the related red-shirt movement draws lessons from the military’s failure to defeat its opponents following the 2006 coup.

Another element of the strategy is the military boot:

Repression has been an important instrument. Immediately after the 2014 coup, the military showed that it had been assiduously acquiring intelligence on the vast red-shirt network by arresting and intimidating its leaders across the country. Several hundred red-shirts went into exile while local networks were penetrated and disrupted. The regime gave particular attention to anti-monarchists and lodged dozens of lese majeste charges. In one case, a red shirt leader was pursued internationally and ‘disappeared’…. At the same time, the regime prosecuted and incarcerated Pheu Thai leaders.

The junta has also:

plagiarised several Thaksin-era policies and launched concerted efforts to win the allegiance of those who voted for pro-Shinawatra parties. Like its yellow-shirted supporters, the junta believes that the provincial citizens who repeatedly voted these parties into government were duped or bought, or are simply ignorant. It assumes that these voters were insincere in their support for Thaksin parties and can be made ‘less stupid’ and weaned from Pheu Thai.

Hewison notes that the “regime and military intelligence is encouraging the establishment of small parties that, while nationally insignificant, may diminish Pheu Thai support in local constituencies” and has restructured the electoral, oversight and political system “to prevent any elected government from actually governing.”

He sees this as a kind of throwback to the 1980s when Gen Prem Tinsulanonda was an “outsider” prime minister, never elected. Prem “mostly ignored parliament” as it was “an unimportant place” where politicians argued and Prem ruled, with the “locus of political power was in the bureaucracy and the military.”

He views the rise of new and self-proclaimed “progressive” parties, as well as the junta-loving parties as “a measure of junta success.” Why?:

Small parties and a fragmented party system mean the military can maintain its political dominance in a Prem-style quasi-democracy that is better thought of as a stifling, semi-authoritarian political system.

This actually leads beyond “elections.” The arrangements put in place will indeed be stifling until, somehow, some way, the military is depoliticized and its repressive ménage à trois with monarchy and super-rich is unpicked.





Dictatorship and royalty

23 04 2018

The military dictatorship has proven itself to have the right attitudes and ideology for dealing with other authoritarian regimes, especially the party dictatorships of China and Laos and the Hun Sen regime in Cambodia. Most especially, Thailand’s military regime has felt most comfortable in dealing with military leaders in those countries.

It has had some issues with Laos, where red shirt and republican dissidents reside having fled the royalist military dictatorship following the 2014 coup. The military dictatorship has kept the pressure on, and we can assume some collusion in the enforced disappearance of Ko Tee from his residence in Laos. He’s presumed dead.

Thailand has a long history of political interference in its smaller neighbor’s politics, and there have been many ups and downs. So it is to be expected that all Lao regimes develop the relationship with some caution.

The current Thai dictatorship has been especially agitated about republican dissidents in Laos and has been seeking a deal to get them jailed in Thailand or, if that fails, to have them silenced.

Speaking in Vientiane, Lt Gen Souvone Leuangbounmy, chief-of-staff of the Lao People’s Armed Forces has “played down Thai authorities’ concerns about political fugitives and those wanted under Section 112 of the Criminal Code…” in Laos.

He says that “Thai political fugitives in Laos will be kept under strict surveillance to prevent them from engaging in lese majeste activities…”. He added that “Laos would be vigilant in trying to stop any acts which could affect Thai people” and soothed the military junta: “Please rest assured. You can count on us…”.

He made these comments as Thai military leaders visited Laos. We assume that he was saying this because the Thai military visitors had raised the issue (again).

Perhaps Lt Gen Souvone’s position is a compromise by his regime, under pressure from the “big brothers.” Will they accept this?





Tom Dundee beats one lese majeste charge

29 03 2018

Prachatai reports that Tom Dundee (Thanat Thanawatcharanon) has beaten his latest lese majeste charge.

The Bangkok Criminal Court dismissed the case against the red shirt activist, citing weak evidence. Actually, there seems to have been no evidence.

The ridiculous charge against Tom was over the comparison he made between Thailand and Denmark and traffic control related to monarchs. As we have said before, this discussion of the stopping of traffic for royals in Thailand has been official and widespread.

In other words, this fourth charge against Tom was ultra-royalists being vindictive and taking advantage of the royalist courts to punish political opponents.

On 29 March 2018, the court ruled that the “complaint described by the public prosecutor cannot prove that the defendant’s speech is a violation of Article 112 of the Criminal Code…”. This is a bit of a breakthrough, acknowledging that actual evidence is required for prosecution.

Making this case even more bizarre, Tom had earlier agreed to plead guilty (as “required” by the royalist police, prosecutors and military regime). It seems the court accepted the plea but agreed it cannot punish him.

Tom remains in jail, having been “convicted” on three other lese majeste cases.





Updated: A catch-up II

28 03 2018

Continuing our catch-up:

Khaosod reports on the prosecution of red shirt leaders: Nothing unusual about that. After all, one of the central tasks of the military dictatorship has been to break up and disburse the red shirt movement, jailing leaders and repressing the movement since the 2014 military coup. The unusual bit is that this prosecution refers to events in 2009. Prosecutors accuse red shirt leaders “group of inciting unrest and an open rebellion against the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva in a April 2009 protest, which saw parts of Bangkok occupied for several days.” Political advantage is being maintained.

Reuters reports on new political blood: It says that Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit sees little prospect of winning a junta “election.” He says: “Election laws are unfavourable to us, timing is unfavourable to us, the attitude of the government is unfavourable to us…. The chance is very slim. But a little hope is better than no hope at all.” Joshua Kurlantzick is quoted: “Political success in Thailand depends on being able to placate the military and royalist elite…”.

Andrew MacGregor Marshall has a new article available: Entertaining Ananda is the “story of Britain’s bumbling efforts to win the loyalty of Thailand’s young king [Ananda Mahidol] in the last months of his life.” PPT hasn’t read it yet – it is rather long – but it looks very interesting, based on documents from British archives.

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that the 10 United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship leaders have all entered not guilty pleas in the case mentioned above. The court “set May 28 for the examination of evidence and witness lists submitted by both the accused and prosecutors. Witness testimonies are to begin in August.” The charges are “illegal assembly and stirring up unrest from Jan 31 until April 4 of that year [2009] by organising rallies at several important government offices…. They are also accused of being involved in two more serious incidents — the torching of a public bus and the hijacking of a petrol tanker that was later found abandoned during a violent street protest.” (Some aspects of the report are historically inaccurate.)





Ultra-royalists vs. NKOTB

16 03 2018

A little while ago, PPT posted on the attention to the young phenoms threatening to enter politics and to shake up the system. At the time, we reckoned that there would be lots of grey hairs who would work assiduously to undermine them and added that claims of treason, sedition and even lese majeste might follow.

It didn’t take long. Prachatai recently had a story on the rising opposition to the now named Anakhot Mai or Future Forward Party, which is the 58th party to register with the Election Commission.

As Prachatai puts it:

The spotlight of Thai politics is shining on the party’s key leaders, Thanathorn [Juangroongruangkit] and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, a law professor at Thammasat University. They have claimed that the party will break the vicious circle of Thai politics, where the military claims to be a middleman to solve the political conflict. Piyabutr said the military itself is, in fact, the root of the problem.

Royalist criticism has already been heard. Ultra-royalists accuse the new party of republicanism. The loudest critic has been M.C. Chulcherm Yugala, a nasty and conservative prince and general, or as the loathsome Thailand Tatler puts it, “Maj Gen His Serene Highness.” His blast is that the new party intends “to turn Thailand into a republic” where “the abolishment of the Article 112 was only the first step.” He added that the party had “a connection with the anti-establishment redshirts.”

Maj Gen His Serene Highness Chulcherm thundered: “This land, this kingdom must have the monarchy, and the kings will last forever. Don’t ever think of abolishing it.” He then said he “will run a political party to protect the monarchy as well.” We thought that was the job of the Democrat Party and the military devil parties.

It isn’t Chulcherm’s first political brush. Back then there were thoughts he was a reddish prince, but that’s all gone now and Chulcherm avers a politics that is distinctly driven by 1932 concerns for the monarchy. He seems to claim not just blood links but political alliances with dead king, that king’s dead sister, queen and current king.

In our view, it is somewhat disappointing to read that Piyabutr argues “that his movements in the past with Nitirat was to promote democracy and actually to protect the monarchy so the institution would not be abused as a political tool.” He went on to observe that the “Thai authorities [we guess he means the military junta] nowadays are also aware of the problems under the lèse majesté law and seeking a way to reduce numbers of the prosecutions.”

It’s disappointing because royalists will never believe him or vote for the new party. That ultra-royalists go mad is to be expected. That’s how they play politics.