Tom Dundee gets another 5 years on lese majeste

11 07 2016

Prachatai reports that a military court has sentenced singer Tom Dundee (Thanat Thanawatcharanon) to 5 years in jail for lese majeste. The prison term was reduced by a third for a guilty plea.

According to the report, Tom was charged with two lese majeste offenses for speeches at two red shirt rallies in November 2013.

The first case went to the Criminal Court while the second case was sent to the Military Court “as the YouTube clip of the speech was available online until 27 June 2014, after the coup d’état.”

Tom Dundee

Tom got 15 years from the Criminal Court, reduced by half. In total, he has now been sentenced to 20 years, reduced to 10 years and 10 months in prison. His lawyers say he hopes for a royal pardon.

Pleading guilty and begging for a royal pardon are considered by royalists as significant in re-establishing the sacrality of the damaged royal reputation by demeaning the person seeking a pardon and agreeing to plead guilty.





WikiLeaks, Clinton and Yingluck

24 03 2016

WikiLeaks now has a Hillary Clinton Email Archive. Its pages states:

On March 16, 2016 WikiLeaks launched a searchable archive for 30,322 emails & email attachments sent to and from Hillary Clinton’s private email server while she was Secretary of State. The 50,547 pages of documents span from 30 June 2010 to 12 August 2014. 7,570 of the documents were sent by Hillary Clinton. The emails were made available in the form of thousands of PDFs by the US State Department as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request. The final PDFs were made available on February 29, 2016.

A simple search for “Thailand” produces 73 results, several of which seem barely relevant, with Thailand simply mentioned. PPT hasn’t been through all of these cables as yet.

One that has gained some social media attention, not least via a Facebook post by Andrew MacGregor Marshall, is about Yingluck Shinawatra, the 2011 floods and a visit by Clinton. It is originally from Karen Brooks and forwarded by Kurt Campbell, and dated 16 November 2011. Some interesting bits of this cable are clipped and included below.

Yingluck Clinton

On the politics of the floods:

To keep momentum, Yingluck will need to make changes in her team. Given the poor performance of the past two months, a cabinet reshuffle is a must do. Top of the list is Agriculture Minister Theera Wongsamut, who hails from the Chart Thai Pattana party – a coalition partner but at best a fair-weather friend. Not only has Theera been inept in his handling of the crisis since Yingluck took office (water management being part of his portfolio), but he also served as Agriculture Minister in the previous Abhisit-led government. He is thus seen (correctly) as guilty of either malice or incompetence (or both) for his failure to appropriately manage water levels at the country’s two biggest dams in the months preceding the inauguration of the Yingluck government – which greatly exacerbated the current crisis.

On Yingluck and her work:

She is tired…. Very tired. I saw her last night at her house at 11pm and she told me that she is up around the clock with very little support and a cabinet team that has proven weak (her words were less diplomatic) and unable to rise to the occasion. She said she always expected the job would be hard, but that learning everything about government, while managing. the complexities of the relationship with the palace and the military, while being slammed with a major national crisis – AND doing it all with a weak team – has taken its toll. Even so, she is determined and has fire in the belly. She emphasized that she had won an absolute majority for only the second time in thai history, and that she would not let the millions of thais who supported her down. If it means not resting until her term is over, so be it. She can handle it, she said, because she believes in what she is doing. She will make some changes in her cabinet in the coming weeks once the water has been drained, and then look forward to getting the A Team back in May of next year, when the ban expires on the 111 Thai Rak Thai politicians removed from politics by the courts in 2007 after the coup.

Yingluck on reconciliation:

She made a point of saying that she is ENORMOUSLY grateful that Sec Clinton is coming today. “It’s been six long years of turmoil in this country,” she said. “I’m determined to use my mandate to bring people together and foster reconciliation, like I said in the campaign. I’m working hard to win over the military and help them see they have a real place here without interfering in politics. I’m working hard to do the same with the palace. But let’s face it: democracy here is still fragile. We need the US engaged.”

On General Prayuth Chan-ocha and not bringing down the government (just then):

Yingluck tell me she has gone out of her way to work cooperatively with Prayuth, and Prayuth seems to have come to appreciate her sincerity and hard work.

On the relationship with the palace:

The Palace, similarly, has not shown any inclination to use the crisis to bring down the government. The King has given three audiences (made public) to PM Yingluck since she took office. (In the opaque world of the Thai monarchy, this is one key tea leaf to read.) Moreover, other members of the royal family have given the PM private audiences in recent weeks (not publicly known) – including the Crown Prince and two of the princesses. Perhaps most telling, however, is the recent appointment by the government of two palace favorites, Dr. Sumet [Tantivejkul] and Dr. Veerapong [Virabongsa Ramangkura], to the new reconstruction and water management committees. Sumet, who is a long time advisor to His Majesty and runs one of his foundations, would never have accepted the appointment if the King had not explicitly blessed the move. Two others on the water committee are similarly associated with His Majesty.

To be honest, PPT had not previously seen Virabongsa mentioned as a “palace favorite.”

On Thaksin Shinawatra and amnesty or pardon:

Yingluck told me big brother remains in a dialogue with the palace described as “constructive” and expressed hope that this would yield an amicable end to the five+ year drama of his exile – either through a royal pardon or through a parliament sponsored amnesty law, with support from the palace. This is, at best, a delicate dance, and any mishandling or miscalculation on Thaksin’s part could yet trigger another cycle of political drama here.





Into his 5th year

16 02 2016

iLaw and Prachatai have a story well worth reading on Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, who has entered his fifth year in prison for lese majeste. His case, and that of Darunee Charnchoensilpakul, are terrible indictments of Thailand’s incapacity to deal with freedom of expression. The story begins:somyos

January 2016 marked more than four years since Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, social activist and former editor of Voice of Taksin magazine, lost his freedom for the publishing of two articles in the magazine which were deemed to fall within the domain of lèse majesté.

It ends with this:

Even though requesting a royal pardon would likely mean that Somyot would be released and would return to his family more quickly, Somyot is firm in his decision not to take this path. This is because Somyot is sincere in his belief that he has not done anything wrong. If he were to request a royal pardon, he would have to write an appeal in which he explained that he realized his crime and deeply regretted his actions.

We recommend reading the article in full.





PAD, Privy Council and amnesty

20 11 2011

With Thaksin Shinawatra apparently having announced that he “will not accept any benefit from the proposed royal pardon decree…”, the royal pardon story may been thought to have lost a great deal of its relevance. However, PPT thinks it still has legs for the anti-Thaksin crowd. They have seized on this as another opportunity to work towards the overturning of the July election result, and there will be continuing activism on this. In any case, no true yellow shirt would believe anything Thaksin says.

At The Nation it is reported that the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) has “vowed to exploit all legal avenues to stop the government’s attempt to help ex-premier Thaksin Shinwatra [sic], brother of Prime Minister Yingluck, escape a jail term through a royal pardon.” PAD plans to rally outside the Council of State on Monday. They will also file a complaint with the National Counter Corruption Commission and Ombudsman and most strikingly, PAD is urging “the Privy Council not to advise His Majesty the King to bestow a pardon until the constitutionality of the draft legislation becomes clear.”

PAD grinning leader Chamlong Srimuang has emerged to damn red shirts who support Thaksin and with the vow that his group will continue to demonstrate “its readiness to protect the monarchy.” PPT isn’t quite sure what the threat to the monarchy is. Perhaps it is just Thaksin….

Another PAD leader Pipop Thongchai “called on the Council of State, the Office of His Majesty’s Principle Private Secretary [sic], the Privy Council and the military to take stands on the issue to prevent further political conflict.” With that lot, a political conflict is pretty much assured.

Meanwhile, red shirts in Udorn Thani, Mukdahan, Khon Kaen, Samut Prakan and Mahasarakham have rallied in support of a pardon for Thaksin.

The Bangkok Post reports that the PAD rally on Monday will last the whole day and add that it is seeking a “ruling from the Constitution Court on whether the royal pardon decree is constitutional.”

Over at the Army, The Nation reports that “General Prayuth Chan-ocha has approved the reshuffle of 221 Army colonels in a bid to consolidate his power base. Dozens of soldiers who are close to the Army chief and his colleagues from Class 12 of the Armed Forces’ Preparatory School were given key positions in various army units under reshuffle orders signed by Prayuth on Friday, sources said.”

On the same story, the Bangkok Post adds the somewhat unlikely view that the reshuffle is to “to consolidate power to prepare for the expected fallout of a proposed pardon for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.” That seems unlikely as arranging a large reshuffle is not an overnight decision.

As we have observed, almost all of the anti-Thaksin elements are back in play. It promises to be an interesting few weeks ahead, especially as the yellow shirts call the Privy Council and judiciary up to bat.





Thaksin, monarchy and the pardon (again)

18 11 2011

Predictably, there is a huge ruckus in the mainstream media and amongst the royalist bloggers and social media activists regarding the still strange story of a “closed door” cabinet meeting that has apparently come up with a draft royal decree that might allow Thaksin Shinawatra to be included in the king’s birthday list of thousands usually released following a pardon, along with about 26,000 others in jail and facing jail.

The story originates from Democrat Party parliamentarian Sirichoke Sopha and is now a rallying call, arguably bigger than alleged mismanagement of floods, for the anti-Thaksin, anti-Red Shirt, anti-Puea Thai Party and pro-royalist opposition.

As important background, PPT urges its readers to consult Bangkok Pundit’s account of the history and process of mass pardons associated with birthday and anniversaries associated with the monarch. Pundit points out that the pardon issue is not exactly new, mentioning earlier posts on discussions of the topic. Interestingly, Pundit observes that: “Last year’s Royal Decree for Royal Pardons [under the Democrat Party-led government] had a provision that it applied to those aged over 60 and have a period of imprisonment not exceeding three years…”.

In addition, vociferous and dogged anti-Thaksin activist Kaewsan Atibhodhi is quoted as having noted that the requirement to have served one-third of a sentence was also removed by that government. Kaewsan stated: “Especially regulations that may be to the advantage of Thaksin is the regulation that those aged over 60 and who have less than 3 years of their sentence for the 2007 pardon there was condition that must have served one-third of sentence, but in 2010 the government removed his condition so for 2011 the Yingluck government has the freedom to choose either the 2007 pardon regulations or the 2010 pardon regulations as they prefer…”.

In short, the current government has indeed chosen the 2010 regulations. Presumably Kaewsan and other activists didn’t jump up and down when the Democrat Party made these changes because they knew that Thaksin would be specifically excluded. Now, however, they have gone ballistic.

In the current struggle, the initial claims by the Democrat Party, taken up by the media, focused on the “secret” nature of the cabinet meeting. But aren’t all cabinet meetings behind closed doors? Apparently not. One Bangkok Post opinion seems to imply they are not: “Unlike the approval of similar decrees by previous governments, this draft to seek a royal pardon for convicts on His Majesty the King’s 84th birthday this Dec 5, was approved in a meeting behind closed doors.” Funny, we don’t recall the Abhisit Vejjajiva government being “transparent” in its decision-making in the cabinet. This is perhaps now a triviality associated with this reporting, but every media endlessly parrots it. None seem to mention the legal changes made by the Democrat Party.

Reading the newspapers now has a decidedly retro feel to it, with all of the anti-Thaksin groups suddenly roused from their focus on alleged floods mismanagement, law suits and rehabilitating the Army. For example, the Bangkok Post has a story that cites the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) that explains “it will meet soon to decide what action to take against the proposed pardon.” Most analysts had written PAD off, but as PPT has argued, this is premature. PAD’s boss, Sondhi Limthongkul is also cited, and is reported to have “deplored the pardon plan which he said has piled pressure on the monarchy.” Sondhi claimed “the Pheu Thai Party was blatantly trying to destroy the rule of law…”. Calling this “despicable,” Sondhi declared that PAD would “not sit idly by.”

Meanwhile, the report states that more than “20,000 people signed up to a Facebook account opened by well-known television news anchor Kanok Ratwongsakul … to voice opposition to the decree.” Kanok is one of the anti-Thaksin and anti-Red Shirt mainstays of the mainstream media and closely associated with the anti-Thaksin Nation Group (see here and here). As can be seen in its annual report (a large PDF), both he and his wife held important positions at the NBC of the Nation Group.

Kaewsan is also reported. He said his “Siam Samakkhi group also protested against the royal decree proposal.” He (now) claims that the “royal decree was unconstitutional because it ran counter to the court’s ruling.” He shouts: “How dare you exercise the limited power of the executive to overpower the judiciary for the interest of one man.” That argument will have political clout, but Kaewsan neglects that the decree is a draft that has yet to be approved – as a first step – by the Council of State who look at issues of constitutionality.

Ignoring that step in the legal process, Kaewsan “called for the whole cabinet to be impeached, saying if it stayed, it would amend the constitution to free Thaksin from many other corruption cases. He also recommended Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra be impeached and said that as the prime minister, she could not deny responsibility for the planned decree.”

Kaewsan’s call was supported by yellow shirt, hard-core royalist and appointed senator Somchai Sawaengkarn who joined with the Siam Samakkhi Group (again). Somchai has been behind lese majeste allegations against several political opponents, including Thaksin. Somchai was supported by yellow-shirted Bangkok Senator Rosana Tositrakul who has a long record of opposing the current administration and its supporters. She was vociferous in not wanting an election in 2011, fearing a loss for the royalist party.

Also roused is Tul Sitthisomwong, a long-time PAD activist who is repeatedly identified in the media as “leader of the multi-coloured shirts.” The Nation reports that Tul has already “lodged a complaint with the Council of State against the draft decree. He said opponents of the decree would hold a rally at Lumpini Park today to air their opposition to pardoning Thaksin.”

Rounding out the reconstitution of royalist and anti-Thaksin oppositions, business and academics are reacting. The Bangkok Post claims: “Business leaders are uncomfortable with the cabinet’s approval of draft royal decree for a royal pardon that could include Thaksin Shinawatra, saying it could add political risk at a time when businesses are already suffering from floods.” It seems that capitalists fear more political instability.

Predictably, the Bangkok Post reports that a “large group of academics has joined the growing chorus opposed to the Pheu Thai-led government’s proposed royal decree to pardon jailed convicts on the King’s birthday.” Apparently “large” is less than 90 academics nationwide. Their attempt to be novel on this issue is to claim that the release of “convicted drug and corruption offenders … would further widen the wedge in society, undermine national security and create chaos.” Of course, their spokesperson is from the royalist political science faculty at Chulalongkorn University, which has been remarkably yellow. They even predict “nationwide chaos next year…”.

Of course, the Democrat Party joined these calls, claiming the draft decree “would undermine the justice system and divide society further.” PPT always finds such claims about social division and rule of law laughable when they come from this party, which perpetuated and enhanced “division” as the tool of royalists and in defending the rules and laws of the military junta. Abhisit “confirmed that his party would fight the proposal to the end as it would bring about national disunity.” What he means is that Thaksin remains the devil incarnate and the “national unity” expressed in votes can be ignored. And, he’d so love to have some outside force lift him back to the position he knows he deserves as premier.

The Democrat Party is already looking at impeachment on this case, along with the alleged flood mismanagement where, as reported at The Nation, it has already “lodged an impeachment motion against Justice Minister Pracha Promnok…” and six other Puea Thai Party parliamentarians, several of them red shirts.

So just as the floods have seen a rehabilitation of the military, the pardon issue promises a reconstitution of the yellow-shirted alliances of 2005-06. And, the legal challenges to yet another elected government begin.

Nowhere is this rounding up of anti-Thaksin elements clearer than in the call by PAD for yellow “civil society” to “wake up” and for royal action. Suwat Aphaiphak, PAD’s long-time lawyer saidd “PAD is likely to turn to the National Anti-Corruption Commission for help, as the royal decree is against several NACC laws. Any opposition to the draft from the NACC will provide enough grounds for the Privy Council not to forward the amnesty decree to His Majesty for endorsement.”

Suwat’s call to the Privy Council was supported by “Preecha Suwannathat, former law dean of Thammasat University and an ex-Democrat MP,” who “said the proposed changes would violate the law” and said “he hoped the Privy Council would exercise good judgement when vetting the draft decree if the government insisted on proposing it to the King.”

Interestingly, Suwat claimed that street demonstrations would not be the way forward as “nobody can match the power of the red shirts who are looking forward to the return of Thaksin.” So, as the lessons of recent years have been digested, the action will shift to judicial areas, where the royalists have considerable support.

Another take on this issue is from the red shirt sympathetic who are scratching their heads as to why the Thaksin issue is raised now. PPT has already posted Ji Ungpakorn’s challenge, much of which we agree with. Somsak Jeamteerasakul has said “the government should exercise laws for the public interest instead of that of an individual. He said many pro-Thaksin red shirt protesters had not been treated fairly. It was not right for the government to draft the decree to help Thaksin…”.

In what now can only be a footnote to the rapidly gathering political action is the question of “why now?” The mainstream media has been saying it is because the government’s popularity is declining, it must act now on Thaksin. PPT doesn’t buy this line. Of course, the government has to have a draft amnesty decree in place by the time of the king’s birthday and this important anniversary. It may have been delayed by the floods, but we are still left to ponder why it is that the Puea Thai government has decided to be deliberately provocative when it knows that this action will re-galvanize its opponents.





Prem and royalist reaction

5 09 2011

PPT always reads Bangkok Pundit and like many others, find the blog insightful and thought-provoking.Hence we were struck by the rapid consignment to the political grave given to Privy Councilor General Prem Tinsulanonda following the dumping of Wichien Potposri just hours after the police chief had seemingly tried to protect himself by running off to get Prem’s support:

To put this delicately, Prem’s influence has waned so much that people don’t really even gossip and criticize him anymore. Such criticism is now directed at others. There are others who have a direct connection to senior people in the military and hence there is not the need to go through Prem like what was done pre-2006. Prem has been by-passed…. Once Prem was powerful and mighty and to visit him and to get Prem’s blessing – as Wichien had done – would be a sign of your connections and that you were not to be touched, but now, and particularly under a Puea Thai-led government, it is not something that will help you and may even hurt you.

In other words, Prem’s reported support made no difference to the outcome, ipso facto, Prem’s power is waning.

As BP points out, Prem’s political decline has been predicted since at least the mid-1990s, incorrectly as it has turned out. PPT acknowledges that Prem is 91 and unlikely to be as sharp and scheming as he once was. But is he dead as the political leader of the royalist faction? And, even if he is, does it matter?

PPT has to think that Prem is not finished and that a relatively small victory on the police chief may not be the battle that Prem and royalists are going to focus on. The problem for the royalists following the election is that they must rebuild their political base in order to oppose enemy no. 1, Thaksin Shinawatra.

Part of this process involves the re-branding of the royalist feet on the ground, the yellow shirt movement. Another part will inevitably involve the reconstruction of the failed Democrat Party, still saddled with a myopic and disgraced leadership. The royalist leadership of the military is not in question, although the current leadership will need convincing that its loss of face during the election can have it immediately back in the political saddle. Prem will play a role in this. However, there are plenty of other royalists who can direct this, including Prem’s logical successor Privy Councilor General Surayud Chulanont.

Because of the need to rebuild, PPT thinks the royalist battle lines will be drawn to issues that relate directly to Thaksin. Election victories by pro-Thaksin parties and Thaksin’s clear and widespread support don’t count for the royalists. Their hatred of Thaksin runs deep and they are unlikely to ever forget or forgive what they see as his assault on their system of control and wealth.

The petition delivered in 2009 (Bangkok Post photo)

Hence, the royalists are going to push and attack around issues of loyalty to the monarchy. The headline event at present is the resurrection of the Thaksin royal pardon issue. The Abhisit Vejjajiva government buried this petition and it was never likely to see the light of day while they were in power. For royalist opposition to the petition back in mid-2009, see here (in fact, a search for “petition” produces a bunch of posts).

It is thus no surprise to see The Nation with a major story on the resurrection of the royal pardon petition, emphasizing that the issue is a test of Yingluck Shinawatra’s loyalty to the monarchy. The Nation makes the conflict clear:

With the government reviewing a petition spearheaded by the red shirts in 2009 to seek a royal pardon for her brother Thaksin, new PM Yingluck is obliged to make a tough decision which will show the true colour of her leadership.

Will she uphold the monarchy by keeping the King out of politics? Or will she bend the rules in order to rescue Thaksin despite adverse implications that may undermine the monarchy?

Leaving aside the fact that The Nation seems to have missed all of the previous government’s politicization of the monarchy and the palace’s own work on that score, the stand-off and likely repercussions are clear: allow the petition to go forward and Yingluck is a hated red shirt who only works for her hated brother.





Privy councilor inspects new army “war room”

16 01 2011

Thanks to Thai Intelligence News, PPT’s attention was drawn to a very significant article in the Bangkok Post that reports the official opening of a “new, modern war room … built at the 1st Army Region headquarters as a command post to cope with situations on parts of the border with both Cambodia and Burma, and internal political crises…”. PPT suggests that repressing internal dissent is the main task of this so-called war room. Indeed, that is the principal role of the army (and has been since its modern formation).

Interestingly, a senior privy councilor inspected the “war room.”

The 1st Army Area Command is responsible for Bangkok and the Central provinces, “including the adjoining Thai-Burmese border in Prachuap Khiri Khan and Kanchanaburi provinces in the west and the lower half of the Thai-Cambodia border, operating out of Prachin Buri. It controls as many as three infantry divisions, plus cavalry and artillery.” The reason it is pretty clear that the “war room” is to stifle internal political mobilization is that it was established on the orders of army commander General Prayuth Chan-ocha after he became boss in October 2010. He has spoken often of his main task as involving protecting the monarchy from opponents.

It is the 1st Army Region headquarters “where army chiefs and senior government figures hold meetings to monitor particular situations and give orders at times of political unrest…”. It is noted that “Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who is in charge of security affairs, frequently used the First Army headquarters in Bangkok as a situation monitoring centre.”

Privy councilor Pichitr

The Bangkok Post report notes that the new “war room” recived visits from a bunch of senior figures associated with the military, the current regime and it backers, including “Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, Gen Prayuth, [and] former army chief and 1st Army region commander Gen Anupong Paojinda…”.

The list of official visitors also included privy councilor General Pichitr Kullavanijaya. While privy councilors, like the monarchy, are expected to be “above politics,” like others of his ilk, Pichitr has been reasonably outspoken in recent years on a range of political topics. He has attacked Thaksin Shinawatra, accusing him of creating all of the political problems facing the country. On one occasion he invoked the name of former US ambassador Ralph Boyce in claiming  that Thaksin had been involved in money laundering. On another occasion he became directly political, attacking and warning the red shirts against a petition campaign for a royal pardon for Thaksin (whatever happened to that petition of millions of sigantures?). That petition caused considerable politicking by the privy council.

PPT assumes that Pichitr’s visit was meant to be symbolic of the link between the army and the monarchy in alliance against domestic opponents like the red shirts.