Reactionary anti-democrats

22 04 2019

Because the military regime’s five years of political manipulation seems to have been unsuccessful in convincing voters, anti-democrats are becoming panicked.

Those anti-democrats who populate the elite are exasperated at having tried again and again since 2006 to turn Thailand on the royalist path to Thai-style democracy and failed.The junta’s “election” is just the latest refusal to follow the royalist elite.

However, it seems pretty clear that the king and a military that is increasingly his are continuing to push and shove Thailand into the political dark ages.

A  recent effort has been calls for a “national government.” In a royalist twist, Khaosod reports that “[s]even minor political parties … called for a national unity government and for … the King to handpick the upper house.”

These also-rans called a “news conference … at the Election Commission [and] … proposed that a national unity government … to break the state of political stalemate, in which no side has formed a functioning government nearly a month after the March 24 elections.”

Of course, this is a tad nonsensical as the results of the election are not yet known and no government can be formed until after 9 May.  In fact, this is just another ploy to promote a junta-backed government. You know this when their third “proposal” is for seats to be removed from Puea Thai and allocated to small parties (like them).

But is is the other proposal that is most regressive. The group “urged junta chairman [Gen] Prayuth Chan-ocha to refrain from selecting the 250 Senators, as is specified in the current constitution. Instead, they said … the King should pick them.”

In fact, it is widely rumored that King Vajiralongkorn is already engaged in pressuring the junta to appoint his own unelected swill senators.

We suspect the proposal for the king to select senators is reflective of the palace’s views and may even represent prodding from that direction.

The junta’s political crisis is becoming a critical juncture for the nation that may see a further propelling of politics institutions and practice into the past. But, then, that’s been the basis of Thai-style democracy since the 1960s and reflected the political reaction of royals and royalists following 1932.





Royalist “cleaning”

18 03 2019

When a succession and coronation comes along, there’s a lot of “cleaning” that takes place.

Some of this is ritual. Some of it is (kind of) personal. Some of it is about wealth and investment. And, some is (kind of) administrative.

We also think it is about clearing out opponents of the monarchy, a task that has been facilitated by the military junta. It is clear that that cleaning out – or at least repressing and quietening – of republicans and other anti-monarchists has been quite successful.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

It now seems pretty clear that the effort has turned its attention to republicans elsewhere, targeting those who have been active on social media.

In this context, we recommend reading an article at The Guardian, assessing this murderous trend, focused on what looks like enforced disappearances and murders along the Mekong, including Surachai Sae Dan.





With 3 updates: The junta, The Dictator and campaign cheating

5 03 2019

The Bangkok Post made interesting reading today, with a string of stories about the junta, The Dictator and campaign cheating.

First we had the godfather of Palang Pracharat, Somkid Jatusripitak campaigning for General Prayuth Chan-ocha. As a minister and state official, we think this is against the law. We don’t expect the tame and junta-appointed Election Commission to lift a finger to put Somkid in his place.

Campaigning, Somkid declared, as he has previously, that “I am very confident Gen Prayut will [return to power] to continue the mission, and you [investors] will be able to participate in shaping Thailand’s future…”. He went on to describe the government’s performance as “outstanding.” That’s the government he serves. Perhaps he doesn’t mean the two stalled rail projects (here and here).

Going full campaign mode, Somkid attacked other parties: “Amid all the daydreams [of other parties’ political campaigns], the government’s achievements are real and concrete…”, and called for votes for the junta’s party: “Thai people are not stupid. They saw what happened over time so I’m confident Gen Prayut will certainly make a comeback.”

He campaigned at a state-funded event organized by the Board of Investment.

While Somkid crashed through the rules and laws his own junta established, another Deputy PM, Wissanu Krea-ngam babbled that The Dictator-PM “will have to be neutral” when he campaigns for Palang Pracharath and himself. This is utterly nonsensical because it is an impossibility, as demonstrated already by the junta’s pouring of funds into campaigning.

It was Wissanu who, not that many days ago, declared Gen Prayuth ready to run, stating that the PM-junta head “is not considered a state official…”. He said that because the junta’s own charter “bars state officials from running in the election.” As a Post journalists observes, “[r]ight after the comment by Mr Wissanu, the PM’s Facebook page changed his profession from ‘state official’ to ‘public figure’.” We recall that the junta’s EC was “investigating” this, but we don’t expect to hear any more as its master has spoken.

Then we found two articles about further moves to neuter the Future Forward Party. It seems that the junta and associated royalists have become very worried that the party may do much better than they had anticipated in the upcoming junta election. Indeed, the junta seems petrified.

So it is that the performing seal called the EC has heard royalist activist Srisuwan Janya’s petition that Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. Unlike cases against Palang Pracharath, “Manoon Wichiannit, the director of EC’s investigation office, issued an urgent letter to Mr Srisuwan inviting him to testify in the case at the EC headquarters…”.

At the same time, Immigration Bureau chief Pol Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn also known as Big Joke, and a confidante of Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, “in his capacity as deputy director of Thailand’s Action Task Force for Information Technology Crime Suppression (Tactics),” summoned Future Forward’s deputy leader Lt Gen Phongsakon Rotchomphu “to meet police investigators over his role in sharing fake news about Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon on Facebook.” It was the junta that filed the police complaint.

Clearly, the junta and The Dictator are not going to allow Future Forward to do well at the polls. Harrasment of this nature is pretty much standard procedure for the junta.

It is for the military as well. Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong is on the hunt for anti-military and anti-junta words from election campaigners. He is sending out hundreds of soldiers to intimidate and spy on anti-junta parties. That command was issued by the junta.

Remember when he said he was going to be neutral? That lasted about 3 seconds. We don’t expect the EC will do a thing to insist that state officials remain neutral.

The spying on parties quickly came to a head when former national police chief Seripisut Temiyavet “produced a photo of a soldier he said was stalking him on the campaign trail.” He lambasted the Army boss, saying “it is not the job of soldiers to follow politicians or other citizens.”

“This has nothing to do with national defence,” he said adding that military “commanders should be acting to protect the country, not concerning themselves with the people.”

Gen Apirat, as is his penchant, went ballistic. As secretary-general of the junta, he ordered “staff to file [several] … complaint[s] against Pol Gen Seripisuth, leader of the Seri Ruam Thai Party.” One for insulting the “military decorations on Gen Apirat’s uniform during a recent exclusive interview with a newspaper…”. Apirat then, like other royalist scoundrels, upped the ante on this by saying that some of the decorations were “royally-bestowed.”

Apirat also order the junta “legal team to file a complaint against Pol Gen Sereepisuth for alleged violation of the computer crime law by posting the remarks made during the interview on his Facebook page.” And just to round things out, Gen Apirat ordered the “legal team … to file a third complaint, this time for allegedly defaming a soldier assigned to ‘observe and ensure his safety’ [that is, spy] while Pol Gen Sereepisuth was campaigning … on March 4.”

It is clear that Gen Apirat is waging a political campaign that is going beyond anything seen from the military for several decades.

In a related report, linked above, the police in Khon Kaen have said that they are “working closely together with the provincial office of the Election Commission (EC) to ensure security in all 2,637 polling stations in the province during the run-up to, and casting of ballots in, the election.” So far, so good, but then the cat was expelled from the police kit bag:

the local police and the local EC office are jointly conducting a surveillance programme to watch out for any violations of the election laws…. We are also keeping an eye on certain groups who may be plotting to stir up unrest during the election period.

No prizes for guessing which parties and people are being watched and spied on.

Quite a series of reports. Free and fair elections. Ha!

Update 1: The Dictator and his devil party have had second thoughts about Gen Prayuth appearing in Korat. A Palang Pracharath source said: “After we discussed the pros and cons, we came to the conclusion that it might not be worth it. So we [the party leadership] will stick to presenting our policies to voters…”. Gen Prayuth said he feared “being targeted by his opponents.” They would have sought to disqualify him for exploiting his position for his devil party. Indeed, they already are. Prayuth doesn’t want to allow them to force the EC’s hand.

Update 2: Future Forward has responded to recent attacks, including some not mentioned above. Pretty well everyone knows that several groups, including the junta itself, are seeking to reduce the party’s appeal and set it up for dissolution.

Update 3: Further to state agencies and officials engaging in politics, Chiang Mai provincial police have been found “conduct[ing] politically related surveys…”. We can be pretty sure that officials, getting people’s names and other identifying information under the guise of “surveying” are doing this to intimidate.





Analysis of recent events

15 02 2019

PPT has refrained from mentioning much of what passes for analysis of the events of the past week. One reason for this is that most of it has been highly speculative and bound in rumor.

Some self-styled analysts and quite a few academics have produced speculative accounts. Several managed to come up with different interpretations of the same events. Some have seemingly reproduced other accounts. Some of the more careful have come up with possible scenarios, allowing readers to choose the version that suits their perceptions and biases.

Perhaps that’s why PPT found New Mandala’s “Q&A: Supalak Ganjanakhundee on Thailand’s week of chaos” useful. Supalak is editor of The Nation. We highly recommend reading it, and we only present some highlighted bits and pieces here.

Supalak says that both Thai Raksa Chart and Puea Thai are under threat and the former will be dissolved by the Constitutional Court according to the so-called Royal Command:

The court will probably rule against the law, as the courts often do—the appeal to something outside the law, to make judgements on the law. If we are to make a clear argument, there is no legal status to the royal command.

The “election” campaign will now be dominated by the junta’s party attacking the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra parties as disloyal:

[Palang] Pracharat will try to create a political discourse against the Thaksin camp, by arguing that he brought the royal family into Thai politics—this is a dirty thing in Thai society. It’s not appropriate to have high society running in dirty politics. Now Pheu Thai is in a very awkward position indeed.

It is noted that Thaksin’s gambit was  not supported by many progressives who believe that there’s no place for royals in democratic politics. Supalak doesn’t rule out a pro-royalist alliance between Palang Pracharat and the Democrat Party.

The comment that “Thaksin underestimated the King” seems self-evident:

the royal command on Friday night was not a law. A royal command can only be applied within the [royal] house, not to people outside the house and particularly not in the political sphere. So it was logical for Thaksin. He might have calculated that this outcome was possible, but he underestimated the King. The other possibility is that the King changed his mind—otherwise Prayuth might not have shown his confidence by jumping into the game.

Later Supalak adds:

The royal command is an interpretation of the law…. The royal command has implied that if you’re born into the royal family, you cannot resign. I think that’s a very ambiguous interpretation to establish the monarchy above the law.

Supalak dismisses analysis that has the king commanding the military and opposed to the junta:

I don’t buy the theory that the King is so strong. I understand that he is trying to build the influence of his faction in the military…. His power is not—well, he could not have consolidated his power already. It will take time to have everything under his control. From my understanding, the military wants to have their own voice…. Now we live in a situation where the monarchy and the military are in tension over who will control who. It will take a few years for a clear picture to emerge….

The King commands loyalty from some factions of the military but people like Prawit and Prayuth want to be like people like Prem—middlemen between the palace and the military. They’re building their own regimes but this might also take time as they each hedge their bets.

In moving forward, Supalak is, in our view, making a good point in observing:

If you combine the idea of network monarchy and the deep state together, we might say that the overall effect is the emergence of some new regime that combines the military, the monarchy and capital. Big capital is always willing to support the monarchy, willing to support the military. Pracharat is the perfect model for combining royalty, the military and capital. The difficulty [in consolidating a model] is the unpredictable character of the King.

On the king’s politics:

… the monarch is not interested in institutionalising its power, working through laws, custom, norms and tradition. We cannot simply say—refer to the constitution for the role of the monarchy. Every constitution in recent history has been designed to enhance, not limit, the role of the monarchy. The trend is towards a direct form of rule. The people surrounding the King are not trying to institutionalise the monarchy.

On the future of free and open discussion:

The trend will not be an opening up [of discussion]. It will be a closing. Look at what the King has done since he took the throne—the message has been that he wants the country to be in order, disciplined. Look at the way he dealt with the constitution. He amended the constitution after the referendum—that’s the standard by which he exercises power. It’s not the rule of law. I really have little hope and will be pessimistic that our country will be ruled by the rule of law…. We are living with fear.





Updated: A decade of PPT

21 01 2019

A decade has passed for Political Prisoners in Thailand. We admit our huge disappointment that we are still active after all these years.

By this, we mean that PPT should have gone the way of the dinosaurs, being unnecessary as Thailand’s political prisoners, its military dictatorship and political repression would have been a thing of the past. But political dinosaurs flourish in Thailand’s fertile environment filled with fascists, royalists and neo-feudalists. Sadly, the political climate in  the country is regressing faster than most pundits could have predicted.

When we began PPT on 21 January 2009, we hoped it would be a temporary endeavor, publicizing a spike in lese majeste cases to an international audience. Instead, a decade later, we are still at it and dealing with the outcomes of royalist politics gone mad. We now face the repressive reality of the continued dominance of a military dictatorship, brought to power by an illegal military coup in 2014. This regime is underpinned by a nonsensical royalism that masks and protects an anti-democratic ruling class. Royalists have fought to maintain a royalist state that lavishes privilege, wealth and power on a few.

In “protecting” monarchy, regime and ruling class, the military junta has continued the politicization of the judiciary and is now rigging an “election” that may, one day, be held, if the king finally decides that he will allow an election. That “election,” embedded in a military-royalist constitution, will potentially be a political nightmare, maintaining military political domination for years to come.

A better, more representative and more democratic politics remains a dream.

When we sputtered into life it was as a collaborative effort to bring more international attention to the expanded use of the lese majeste and computer crimes laws by the then Abhisit Vejjajiva regime and his anti-democratic Democrat Party. That regime’s tenure saw scores die and thousands injured in political clashes and hundreds held as political prisoners.

The royalism and repression that gained political impetus from anti-democratic street demonstrations that paved the way for the 2006 military coup and then for the 2014 military coup have become the military state’s ideology. Those perceived as opponents of the military and the monarchy were whisked away into detention, faced threats and surveillance and some have died or been “disappeared” in mysterious circumstances, and continue to do so in recent months.

This royalism and repression has also strengthened the monarchy and the new monarch. The junta has supinely permitted King Vajiralongkorn to assemble greater economic and political power. It has colluded with the palace in aggregating land for the monarch that was previously set aside for the public. It has colluded in destroying several symbols of the 1932 revolution, emphasizing the rise of neo-feudal royalism that leaves democracy neutered.

On this anniversary, as in past years,  we want an end to political repression and gain the release of every political prisoner. Under the current regime, hundreds of people have been jailed or detained, subjected to military courts and threatened by the military. The military regime is not only illegal but is the most repressive since the royally-appointed regime under Thanin Kraivixien in the mid-1970s.

The 2006 and 2014 coups, both conducted in the name of the monarchy, have seen a precipitous slide into a new political dark age where the lese majeste law – Article 112 – has been a grotesque weapon of choice in a deepening political repression.

From 2006 to 2017, lese majeste cases grew exponentially. Worse, both military and civil courts have held secret trials and handed out unimaginably harsh sentences. And even worse than that,  the definition of what constitutes a crime under the lese majeste law has been extended. Thankfully, in 2017 we were unable to identify any new lese majeste cases and some in process were mysteriously dropped. We don’t know why. It could be that the military’s widespread crackdown has successfully quieted anti-monarchism or it might be that the king wants no more cases to get public airings and “damage” his “reputation.”

The last information available suggest that there are at least 18 suspects accused of violating Article112 whose cases have reached final verdicts and who remain in prison.

As for PPT, despite heavy censorship and blocking in Thailand, we have now had more than 6 million page views at our two sites. The blocking in Thailand has been more extensive in 2018 than in past years. This is our 7,999th post.

PPT isn’t in the big league of the blogging world, but the level of interest in Thailand’s politics and the use of lese majeste has increased. We are pleased that there is far more attention to political repression and lese majeste than there was when we began and that the international reporting and understanding of these issues is far more critical than it was.

We want to thank our readers for sticking with us through all the attempts by the Thai censors to block us. We trust that we remain useful and relevant and we appreciate the emails we receive from readers.

As in the past we declare:

The lese majeste and computer crimes laws must be repealed.

Charges against political activists must be dropped.

All political prisoners must be released.

The military dictatorship must be opposed.

Update: We completely botched the number of views at PPT. We have amended above to 6 million, not 3 million as we originally had.





Monarch and missing items

19 01 2019

There are a couple of pieces related to the monarchy that are worth reading this weekend.

The first piece is on missing monuments.

As well as the “missing” royal decree needed for the 2019 election, there’s the “missing” monuments to the 1932 revolution. One is the 1932 revolution plaque. Another is the Laksi monument to the defeat of the 1933 royalist revolt.

In a post at his blog, exiled activist Ji Ungpakorn writes about the latter:

The latest casualty is the Lak-Si Democracy Monument, north of Bangkok, which commemorates the military victory against the Boworadet royalist rebellion one year after the revolution. This monument was removed at night, under the watchful eyes of soldiers, in late December.

He argues and explains that the “history of the crushing of the royalist rebellion shows why the royalists wish to destroy the monument.” His brief history of the popular movement and military actions to defeat the royalists in 1933 is important. He concludes:

Conservatives have constantly tried to cover up and dismiss the history of the 1932 revolution. That is why most Thais probably have never heard of the 1932 plaque or the Lak-Si monument. That is also why the conservatives built the moment of the deposed king Rama 7 in front of the present parliament after the 6th October bloodbath in 1976. It is like building a monument to King George in front of the US Congress!

Ji has earlier written on the plaque’s destruction.

The second piece is by Edoardo Siani in the New York Times. It is about how the “junta has tightened its control while trying to bask in the popularity, mystique and beliefs that surround the monarchy.”

While it is a bit difficult to agree that Vajiralongkorn came to the throne “he inherited a nation in chaos.” By that time, the chaos of political activism of previous years had been replaced by a dull repression and sullen political quiet.

Apart from that, Siani has some useful insights on monarch and military. Noting that the military is likely to remain politically predominant following any “election,” Siani observes:

Still, some measure of change may be in the offing. The army has a new chief, and the Royal Command Guard, which answers directly to the king, is expected to gain in authority. Since acceding to the throne in December 2016, King Rama X has also asserted his own authority, claiming more prerogatives for himself.

Change often implies progress but in this prediction, Siani is predicting regression, even if royalists see something else:

Rama X is said to have picked the dates for his coronation. The ceremony will take place at the same time, in early May, as his father’s coronation in 1950, but will last only three days, not five, as back then. A sign of modesty, perhaps, but above all a statement that the late king’s legacy will be carried on. By the time King Rama X is coronated, Thailand will have exited the dark dusk of the ninth reign. Or so the astrologers say.

PPT’s resident astrologer reckons the signs are of a long political dusk leading to a long, dark night for Thailand’s democrats.





Madam Secretary criticism affirms Thailand’s feudalism

19 11 2018

A couple of days ago we posted on the episode of Madam Secretary that includes commentary on Thailand’s monarchy and the feudal lese majeste law. Most controversial is the part of the episode that includes a call for the monarchy to be brought down. The episode is available here.

The episode opens with comments on Thailand from the main character, the US Secretary of State, who emphasizes the feudalism of the monarchy and a statement that “Thailand is a country where free speech does not exist.”

A religious studies professor who was born in Thailand has a monologue – a speech in Bangkok – that goes like this:

Thailand is a land of contradictions. A Buddhist nation that worships its own king as semi-divine…. This … country imposed on its people the worship of a man nowhere recognized in its Buddhist faith….

Where does it [Buddhist faith] say that one man and his family should be worth over $30 billion while many of his people starve and beg in the streets?

… I call for an end to this family’s rule over Thailand. Let the monarchy die when our king passes from this world and let the people of Thailand choose their own leaders, not false gods.”

She’s arrested for lese majeste and threatened with decades in jail while her friend seeks a pardon from a king portrayed as an angry and unsmiling old man.

While all this is fiction and the episode is not always accurate – it is a fictional TV show – the attention to the monarchy and lese majeste is pretty much as it was used, particularly after the 2014 military coup. And, parts of the episode were made in Thailand.

As expected, the regime has had to respond.

The Bangkok Post reports but cannot repeat any of the main material of the episode because Thailand is indeed a country where free speech does not exist. It also gets some things wrong, stating, for example that the episode “makes no mention of Thai reaction” when it explicitly does so and has a scene where Madam Secretary says the US has to prepare a response to the Thai reaction.

In real life, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is reported to have “asked the Thai embassy in Washington to ‘convey our concern and disappointment to CBS’ over the Nov 4 episode.”

As expected, Ministry spokesperson Busadee Santipitaks complained that the “episode … presented the Kingdom of Thailand and the Thai monarchy in a misleading manner, leading to grave concern and dismay from many Thais who have seen it…”. We have no idea if the latter claim is true or not, but the portrayal of a lack of freedom of expression, the feudal and hugely wealthy monarchy and the draconian lese majeste law are not misleading.

And here’s where the Ministry and royalists dig themselves into a monarchist hole. In responding, the Ministry confirms the episode’s portrayal of the monarchy.