From military junta to military-backed government

20 07 2019

Recently, King Vajiralongkorn returned to Thailand to swear-in the “new” cabinet. Beside his new wife, the king resembled his father in mumbling “that it was normal that, in the process of doing a job, there will be problems, and that it was normal that they must be solved at the core so the administration of the country can proceed smoothly.” Exactly like his father, the king urged the ministers “to perform their duties for the happiness of the people and the security of the country, as they had pledged to do during the swearing-in ceremony.”

Interestingly, Thai PBS chose to interpret this oft-repeated soliloquy as the king having “offered moral support to Prime Minister [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha and his cabinet ministers…”.

With a fractious and grasping coalition Gen Prayuth is going to have to have plenty in his sack of slush funds for keeping his men and women together in government.

What kind of government is this “new” administration? Opponents like Pithaya Pookaman say it is just no longer a junta but a military-backed regime. Others see it as a facade and “a purportedly civilian government…”. One of the most obvious signs of the junta wolf having donned sheep’s clothing is the fact that junta figures continue to dominate cabinet and all the key ministries. The other ministries are the trough that the coalition parties will slosh around in.

Even so, Prayuth has plenty of challenges, including having mafia-like figures in his cabinet.

Likely to be one of the easiest to see off is likely to be the Constitutional Court’s consideration of “the Opposition’s petition, claiming that General Prayut is unqualified to be prime minister in accordance with Section 170 (paragraph 3) and Section 82 of the Constitution.” Based on its previous politicized decisions, we don’t expect the Court to move against Gen Prayuth.

The other case the Constitutional Court has taken on can potentially strengthen Gen Prayuth and his government. It decided “to accept for consideration a petition accusing the Future Forward party, its leader, secretary-general and the executive committee of engaging in activities deemed a threat to the country’s constitutional monarchy.”

Interestingly, the Court was split 5-4 on accepting the case. But, if proven for the Court, Future Forward could be dissolved. Worse charges of lese majeste and sedition could easily follow, seeing politicians being locked up.

Clipped from Khaosod

Getting rid of yet another political party defined as opponents of the ruling class and the military-monarchy twinning may result in instability, but it seems pretty clear that Gen Prayuth can rely on the support of those with war weapons. Indeed, in recent days, the military and police have announced full support for the “new” government. Expect political repression to continue.

If all else fails – the deals, the loot and the repression – expect a military coup. If Gen Prayuth retains support among the ruling class and in the palace, a coup would support him. If he loses their confidence that he can protect and promote the interests of ruling class and palace, then a coup against him might see Gen Apirat Kongsompong put in the premier’s chair.





Humpty’s men

3 07 2019

Marwaan Macan-Markar, at the Nikkei Asia Review, contributes a long and useful review of the remolding of the relationship between monarchy and military.

He claims that diplomats in Bangkok know which military leaders are closest to King Vajiralongkorn by a pin with an “image of Prince Dipangkorn, the king’s 14-year-old son” which are “pinned on the left breasts of a select few military leaders…”. (Dipangkorn is widely considered to be heir apparent, lives in Germany and seldom appears the full quid.)

Gen Apirat

One diplomat described those wearing the pin as “a small network,” with Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong an important bearer of the pin. Gen Apirat is known to present himself as “fiercely loyal to the king.”

Macan-Markar says that this “network” indicate “a major change in the relationship between two of Thailand’s most powerful institutions — the monarchy and the military” under King  Vajiralongkorn.

While his analysis, based on interviews with diplomats, pundits and academics, is interesting, it is one that is based on a kind of “Kremlinology” of military watching which can be somewhat misleading if the forest is obscured by the trees. Hence the interminable speculation over Queen’s Guard versus King’s Guard.

In our view, it is misguided to see the king’s faith in the “senior generals of the King’s Guard, a Bangkok-based faction” as representing a spurning of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and his junta. As far as anyone can tell from available evidence, the junta has done everything that the king has wanted and it is Gen Prayuth, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Gen Anupong Paojinda who have put in place military succession plans that lead from Gen Apirat to Gen Narongphan Jitkaewthae, currently commander of the First Army region and Gen Songwit Noongpakdee, the leader of the Bangkok-based 1st Infantry Division.

That “defense analysts say the monarch’s choice of trusted lieutenants stems from his own military record” is no surprise, now. What they miss, however, is that the king’s succession was a long one, with his father incapacitated, and the then crown prince and his advisers long having had influence over the military brass.

Interestingly, and barely mentioned, is the ways in which the king revamped the Privy Council, the Crown Property Bureau and the palace administration over that period of long succession. In these moves, he made these institutions his own, bringing in junta loyalists and advancing those closest to him, including Air Chief Marshal Sathitpong Sukwimol, long the king’s private secretary and now, arguably, his most powerful adviser, heading the CPB, Siam Commercial Bank and Siam Cement Group, among other important bodies.

ACM Sathitpong Sukwimol (clipped from The Nation)

All of these rearrangements, promotions and not a few demotions and ousters do mean that a military man on the throne has ensured that he has the military under control. Just in case of problems, there’s some “insurance,” with ACM Sathitpong’s younger brother Pol Maj Gen Torsak at the head of a large force of “protectors.”

Naturally, Prawit remained a Prayuth confidant during the five years of the junta, serving as the deputy prime minister and defense minister. Gen. Anupong Paochinda, another former army chief from the Queen’s Guard, was also a key figure in Prayuth’s coup and junta.

That the king promotes the “King’s Guard, the faction he was part of, in the driving center of army power,” hardly seems a revelation. Yet there’s no evidence that the Queen’s Guard is in any way untrustworthy or disloyal. (It was King Bhumibol who placed his son in the King’s Guard.)

With little evidence, Macan-Markar discerns that the generals of Queen’s Guard is somehow more “politically ambitious” than those of the King’s Guard. There’s no evidence for this. In addition, there’s an amnesia for previous claims made. In the view of many pundits, it was the Queen’s Guard who conducted the 2014 coup in order to ensure the current king’s succession. What happened to that position? And, it was the Queen’s Guard coup masters who purged the military of those perceived as disloyal.

Former foreign minister Kasit Piromya is quoted as saying: “The king clearly wants a vertical hierarchy without any distractions and divisions that can cause splits in the army…”. That seems to have been the junta’s aim as well. To see this as a move against the Queen’s Guard ignores the fact that the junta’s role has been to “cleanse” the military, to immeasurably strengthen it and to embed it at all levels of society. That’s the important message, not the Kremlinology of watching factions.

It seems that “experts” on the military blame “factional rivalries” for “repeated coups.” We think the experts need to re-read the history of successful coups.

Former ambassador and new author James Wise is right to observe that “the monarchy and the military exercise authority in their own right, often without reference to the more familiar legislative, executive and judiciary…”. The big picture matters.

When Kasit predicts: “No more coups,” we think he’s in la-la land. It will depend, as in the past, on on perceptions of “threat” to the monarchy and the broader ruling class.





No change on repression

21 06 2019

While some media still delude themselves and readers that the junta’s “election” was about “returning to democracy,” The Diplomat has a story that shows that things haven’t changed and may be getting worse:

Weeks after the March election, the plainclothes officers that had become a familiar sight on college campuses under military rule were back at Ubon Ratchathani University in Thailand’s northeast.

“Things should have changed. But they came with an identical message” to five years ago, said political scientist Titipol Phakdeewanich about a second visit from the special branch police last week. “They were quite confident they could keep politicians in check. But they are very worried about universities and students.”

As the story observes, “[h]eavy-handed responses to even the mildest of criticism have been a defining feature of a junta that routinely threatened and prosecuted opponents…” since its illegal 2014 military coup.

As academic Titipol puts it: “Nothing has changed. But now Thailand is whitewashed by an election…”.

Is it getting worse? We think it is, with the mad rightists unleashed by the junta. Most noticeable is the use of lese majeste as a way to damage and repress.

Future Forward’s spokesperson, Pannika Wanich is one target, accused her of lese majeste. She says: “It’s a witch hunt. Progressive politicians have frequently been accused of being anti-monarchy…”. It is also the yellow-shirted tactic that is used against democrats or anyone considered too pro-Thaksin. Future Forward has scared the bejesus out of the political dinosaurs and the ruling class.

After the assault (clipped from Matichon)

The story also points out rising “systematic violence,” including murders and enforced disappearances.

It cites Anon Chawalawan from iLaw, who says: “We are seeing rising numbers of violent attacks against democracy activists, often by masked attackers, since the election. But there have been no arrests…”.

One recent case is Sirawith Seritiwat (left).

No arrests. Probably because these are officially-sanctioned thugs.





Destroying Future Forward

11 06 2019

Over the past decade or so Thailand’s ruling class have repeatedly rejected the will of the people. It has achieved this its armed wing in the military that has seized power twice, slaughtered protesters and assaulted and repressed. It has also used the judiciary to enforce its will, several times dissolving popular parties.

It is doing it again. The Future Forward Party, which did surprisingly well in the junta’s 2019 election, is being punished and it will be destroyed.

So far, the regime – still the junta – has moved, through the puppet election Commission and the Constitutional Court, to charge the party’s leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit with several alleged offenses and has succeeded in having him kept out of parliament. It has also brought charges against the party’s secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul.

In another report of the determination to eliminate Future Forward, we learn that the slavish lapdogs at the EC have “accepted a petition against the Future Forward Party (FFP) over claims by some of its MPs that they were offered money to vote for Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha as prime minister…”. No complaint against Palang Pracharath has been seriously investigated because the EC and that party both belong to the junta.

Another tactic used by the ruling class has been to use its parliamentary wing to destabilize elected governments. This was seen when its former attack party, the so-called Democrat Party, deliberately damaged parliament and went to the streets with the ruling class’s anti-democratic street gangs.

The new, preferred ruling class party is the junta’s Palang Pracharath. Already, we see that it has descended into the maniacal monarchical slime to attack Future Forward’s spokesperson Pannika Wanich.

Everyone in Thailand knows that this is a witch hunt and that Future Forward is being targeted and will be destroyed. Yet it seems nothing can be done. The junta’s control remains strong. More importantly, the ruling class, its junta and its minority of anti-democrats have learned that overturning the people’s votes is rather simple. And, if it gets out of hand as it did in 2009 and 2010, well, the opponents can be killed and jailed.





Rewarding the elite’s servant

27 05 2019

As we said previously, to say that Gen Prem Tinsulanonda is “revered” is inaccurate for it was mainly some rightist, royalist Thais who revere Prem for his “loyalty” and steadfast opposition to elected government. It is also true that many Thais hated Prem as an unelected military politician and incessant political meddler.

Those Thais who “revere” Gen Prem for his efforts on behalf of the ruling class also rewarded Prem.

A Bangkok Post report states that Gen Pissanu Phutthawong, described as an aide to Gen Prem – there seem to be several such men who claim a relationship with Prem – “had told him of his distribution plans for the assets and savings from his salary that he had accumulated since becoming a privy council member.”

The interesting bit is that while Gen Pissanu refused to disclose the amount of the money and assets,” he did say that “the total was hundreds of millions of baht.”

There have previously been disputes over Gen Prem’s wealth. His Foundation’s dissolution was announced in the Royal Gazette just a month prior to his death. It seems likely that his acolytes will squabble over his accumulated wealth.

Gen Prem not only received a state salary for his whole life since 1941 and spent most of his life in state-provided housing, using state-provided transport and so on. He also spent periods being rewarded by the Sino-Thai tycoons for his “service” to them as a political leader. Most prominently, he was associated with the geriatrics running the Bangkok Bank.

An academic account referred to the way that wealth that flowed to those close to the king, and Gen Prem demonstrates that.





Updated: Prem dead II

27 05 2019

As mentioned in our earlier post, buffalo manure is to be piled high for the deceased Gen Prem Tinsulanonda. That said, there are some interesting accounts emerging. We link to some of them here and comment briefly on some of them.

The Bangkok Post has a couple of stories and will probably have more. One of these is a listing of Prem’s “achievements” and refers to him by the kindly term “Pa Prem.” In fact, Prem’s career was of an ambitious right-wing military leader. A second item in the Post is an editorial. Like the previous king, Prem is said to be “revered.” It would be more accurate to say that some rightist, royalist Thais revere Prem for his “loyalty” and steadfast opposition to elected government. Indeed, many Thais hated Prem as an unelected politician and incessant political meddler.

The main error in this editorial is the mistaken view that Prem decided of his own volition to leave his unelected premiership in 1988. The editorial states:

Gen Prayut[h Chan-ocha] and the regime would do well not to forget Gen Prem’s wise decision to relinquish power before the tide turned against him. The regime has been accused of trying to hold on to power at any cost, which is at odds with the example set by Gen Prem.

This view is mistaken as it ignores the long and intense political struggle that eventually forced Prem out. Indeed, that is what will be needed to force out out the Prem-ist junta and its illegitimate political child, the Palang Pracharath-manipulated coalition.

AP has a sound obituary that appropriately links Prem and Prayuth. It also makes a useful point via academic Kevin Hewison:

That coup [2006] was probably Prem’s last major political intervention, and it was one where he misjudged…. He expected elation and praise for his open role in getting rid of Thaksin. Instead, his intervention lit the fuse of a political polarization that continues to haunt Thailand’s elite.

The New York Times obituary is useful and forthright, with another academic, Duncan McCargo noting Prem’s long alliance with the last king:

The king trusted Prem absolutely … seeing him as an incorruptible figure who shared his soft and understated approach, but who was a skilled alliance-builder and wielder of patronage.

We are not quite sure how McCargo knows Bhumibol’s views, but his comment recalls his coining of the term “network monarchy” that describes Prem and the king’s manner of meddling in all manner of things in Thailand.

Reuters mentions Prem’s political meddling and the rewards he received from the conglomerates that benefited from his promotion of monarchy. Prem provided the links – the network – for Sino-Thai tycoons to connect with the palace and his politics provided considerable protection for the ruling class and its profits.

BBC News quotes its correspondent Jonathan Head on Prem’s role in making the monarchy more overtly political:

He will be remembered as an ardent royalist who helped to cement the monarchy’s place at the very top of modern Thailand’s power structure….

AFP has a measured account of Prem’s political meddling and the rise of the monarchy:

Hailed as a stabilising force by allies but loathed by critics as a conservative underminer of democracy in the kingdom, General Prem was a top aide to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and helped cement the unshakeable bond between the monarchy and the military.

It adds that “General Prem became a figure of revulsion in Thailand’s pro-democracy camp.”

Update: Bloomberg’s story on Prem’s death hits the nail on the head: “Royal Aide Accused of Plotting Thai Coup on Thaksin Dies at 98.”





Ruling class and the unruly

28 04 2019

It is always enlightening – or should we say, confirmatory – when members of the ruling class speak for the regime.

Recently, Thai PBS reported on comments by Supreme Court President Cheep Chulamont where he pondered how to make Thais obey his ruling class and their regime.

He whined that the “problems” facing the country – he means the ruling class – “stem from the Thai people themselves” because, he says, they “do not accept one another and do not accept the Constitution, the supreme law of the land, which has set the roles and responsibilities of all organizations…”. Cheep moans: “How can the Thai people live in peace if they do not accept the rules?”

Let’s translate. The constitution was foisted upon the country by an illegal military coup. It was crafted by junta lackeys to promote the interests of the junta and the ruling class. It was “passed” by a “referendum” where people were prevented from campaigning against it, with not a few being jailed by both the military and civil judiciary, enforcing junta decrees.

His claim that the “court has no vested interests” is, we think, disingenuous. Cheep knows full well that his courts represent the ruling class and apply double standards.

One of the main reasons for this is that the judiciary has been brought under the control of the monarchy, at least over the course of the last long reign.

Like so many before him, Cheep bleats that the hoi polloi should stop being unruly and obey the ruling class. Blind obedience will allow some scraps to fall to them from the ruling class’s glutenous feast.