Rabid royalists battle “liberalism”

7 09 2019

This Reuters report has been widely distributed, but deserves attention.

It notes the rise of a rightist ultra-nationalism as those who are insufficiently royalist are attacked as “chung chart” which “translates roughly as ‘nation-hater.’ Here, nation equals monarchy and support for the military and its current political regime.

Opposing that regime, the military or being considered insufficiently royalist means being seen by royalist-rightists “as a threat in a kingdom…”.

Royalist-rightists are identified as “waging an increasing battle against the opposition on social media and in the courts, illustrating the deepening political divide in the southeast Asian nation.”

Sound familiar? It should. Nothing much has changed in this royalist-rightist agitation since recently-released Sondhi Limthongkul and the People’s Alliance for Democracy signed up with the monarchy for ousting Thaksin Shinawatra in 2005. He and PAD were followed by royalist-rightist groups such as the Dhamma Army and Santi Asoke (since 2005), No Colors/Multi Colors (from about 2010), Green Politics Group (since 2007), Thai Patriot Network (since 2008), Siam Samakkhi (since 2011), Network of Citizen Volunteers to Protect the Land (2012), Pitak Siam (2012), Sayam Prachapiwat (2012), the White Mask group, People’s Army Against the Thaksin Regime (2013), the so-called Rubbish Collection Organization (2014), and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (2013-14).

This is just a selection of ultra-rightists, many associated with the military’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC). All have been anti-Thaksin. The current lot say:

they are acting in the name of the palace and the army also say they get no direct support from those institutions. Government spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat declined comment on the issue and said Thailand is a free country.

We are sure that there are ultra-rightists who act independently in the cause of promoting the world’s wealthiest monarch, a grasping playboy as a symbol of “the nation,” but we doubt that the military and ISOC are uninterested. After all, they’ve manipulated or arranged most of these groups over five decades.

Claims by by Defense Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich that the “military is not behind any groups…. The military does not support anyone engaged in activism outside parliament” are false.

The report claims that “chung chart” was made popular by The Democrat Party’s Warong Dechgitvigrom, who says:

I see this as liberalism that destroys traditions and the monarchy by claiming to be democratic…. We need to fight them through ideology. The New Right is a political ideology.

Akechai. Clipped from TLHR

The ideological fight usually leads to legal actions and violence. Indeed, there was plenty of political violence in the last days of the junta. Think of the repeated attacks on Sirawith Seritiwat and Akechai Hongkangwarn, among others.

As the report notes, “army chief Apirat Kongsompong … has described Thailand as being in a ‘hybrid war’ against enemies of tradition” and the rightist-royalists are working in support of his “war.”

The current targets of rightist-royalist angst and wrath include the Future Forward Party – who Warong considers false democrats and nasty “liberals.” That party also worries Gen Apirat as they are too popular; the military fears popularity that translates into votes.

The report cites former PADista and Democrat Party minister Kasit Primya as saying: “The two sides are becoming more entrenched…”. There might be more than two “sides,” but as far as we can tell, the “sides” have been deeply entrenched since PAD.

So it is that Future Forward and its supporters are painted by ultra-nationalist rightist-royalists as “want[ing] to destroy the Thai system [monarchy] and change it to the Marxist-Socialist system…”.

On social media, hatred of identified opponents is fanned. Such hatred has long proved useful of the military when it mobilizes violence to support military-backed regimes or to destabilize elected governments.





Evil and threatening

20 02 2017

The anti-coal protest has been seen off by the junta. In the end, it became a kind of political bonding exercise. Double standards proliferated throughout.

The other confrontation has been the 4,000 police and soldiers raiding Wat Dhammakaya. PPT has posted a bit on this case previously and why it has been so central for the junta and for the broad yellow shirt movement.

For the junta and its supporters, the perceived connection to the Shinawatra political clan seems to have been the underlying motivation.

What is not at all clear to PPT is why a wealthy temple, supported mainly by Bangkok’s middle class is politically associated with red shirts and Thaksinites, but the wealth of the temple certainly worries the junta, which continues to operate on the assumption that money motivates all political positions other than those of the great, the good and the royalists.

We do understand that Thaksin and his elected regimes were considered a threat to monarchy and thus nation, so perhaps throwing in the third element of the royalist and nationalist trilogy – religion – is a way of further conveying the royalist notion that Thaksin was an evil threat to the very core of the royalist nation.

In this context, we thought that readers might be interested in the views of a dedicated anti-Thaksinista on the evil threat posed by the temple, its monks and its followers.

Veera Prateepchaikul declares:

The real objective of the operation, I believe, is to clamp down on the temple, to strangle the Dhammakaya cult until it is no longer active and does not pose a threat to Buddhism for its distorted Buddhist teachings.

We can’t imagine what “real Buddhism” constitutes for Veera. Not the almost daily scandals of monks drinking alcohol, drug taking, engaging in sexual predation, gambling, high living and so on of official and hierarchical Buddhism. Perhaps he is thinking of that other “cult,” Santi Asoke so close to the yellow shirt movement? He goes on:

More importantly, the trial of Phra Dhammajayo — if there is one — is not the trial of the monk as an individual. It can also be seen as a trial of our own monastic order for its failure to rein in the monk and for its complacency that allowed the monk and his sect to grow so strong they can defy the state and the monastic order with impunity. This does not mean there are no other rogue monks who have misbehaved, but they were deemed a lesser threat than Phra Dhammajayo and the Dhammakaya cult….

Wat Phra Dhammakaya is more than a temple. It qualifies as an empire. Besides the main headquarters in Pathum Thani … [i]t has spread its wings to reach out to the world with meditation centres overseas and across the country, most of which encroach on forest reserves or parks.

Wat Phra Dhammakaya branched out in a similar fashion that a business branches out to get a bigger share of the market.

For the cult, its goal is to attract a bigger following and spread its adulterated Buddhist gospel to encourage its followers to make donations under the slogan that the bigger the amount of the donations, the higher the plane to heaven for the donors.

What the preachers didn’t tell their gullible followers is that some of them may find hell in this life before they may or may not go to heaven in the after-life….

Phra Dhammajayo and the Dhammakaya cult are just one major problem that poses a threat to Buddhism in this country.

We get the feeling that nation, religion and monarchy are under threat. But it isn’t a threat from the Thaksinites as much as from the forces that surround military dictatorship. Conservative forces that seek to maintain feudal and hierarchical institutions of (let’s say) the mid-20th century in a society that has changed.

Winding back the clock to some perceived “simpler”, “purer” and “better” time for the old heads and old men doesn’t mean that their clock isn’t broken. That their “model” (and clock) is broken is their biggest worry and their problem. Thaksin and his supporters heralded the royalist problem, they didn’t create it.





Pandering to the minority?

30 12 2013

The Bangkok Post has joined The Nation in apparently pandering to the anti-democratic movement by naming it as the “People of the Year.” It refers to the “great mass uprising” or “muan maha prachachon” as a kind of middle class revolution that could “go down as a major political landmark and point of progress in Thai history.” The Post adds: “Whether the newly emerged force … will grow into a positive movement that brings about political progress remains to be seen.”

In other words, the selection is, like that of The Nation, either a bit of anti-democratic campaigning, pandering and hope or it is a bit like TIME magazine choosing Hitler as Man of the Year in 1938 which appears as fascination with a demagogue. We don’t know, but we do wonder about the Post’s pitch on this “landmark.”

Let’s look more closely at the claims made in this campaign by the Post (the indented bits are from the newspaper’s story):

Discontent, it is said, is the first necessity of progress.It’s discontent that lies at the hearts of the hundreds of thousands of people who have taken to Bangkok streets since last month to protest against the amnesty law that sought to absolve all crimes and corruption cases from 2006 onwards without any clear justifiable reasons.

It’s discontent against the flagrant abuse of power by a majority of democratically elected representatives who not only voted to pass a law that would have rendered the justice process meaningless but did so at 4:25am _ unbecoming conduct by parliamentarians for such highly questionable legislation.

This is true, as far as it goes. There is no doubt that the ill-conceived amnesty bill was a disaster for all involved. It is true that the amnesty bill motivated many who have demonstrated. However, it is also true that red shirts, both official and others, were also opposed to the amnesty bill. They are not demonstrating.

As the story later states, the bill has since been withdrawn. It might have been added that it never became law.

It is also true that the opposition movement is not primarily about this bill. The anti-democracy movement is primarily interested in destroying what it identifies as the “Thaksin regime” and prevent an election before the rules of elections can again be changed to allow minority interests to control politics.

The almost spontaneous uprising against the draft law started with tens of thousands who joined then Democrat MP and former party secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban at a rally on Samsen Road, and grew into hundreds of thousands within weeks.

It is important to recognize that this anti-democratic movement was formed in 2005 and has been active ever since, seeing various levels of support. The opposition to the “Thaksin regime,” as Thongchai Winichakul points out in an excellent op-ed,  may have begun in late November, but this is “only one battle in Thailand’s protracted political struggle since the violent protests of 2006 that ended with a military coup.”

In fact, the lineage and allies is: People’s Alliance for Democracy (since 2005), Democrat Party (since 2005), Dhamma Army and Santi Asoke (since 2005), Group of 40 Senators (since 2005), palace and military (2006), judiciary (since 2006), No Colors/Multi Colors (from about 2010), Green Politics Group (since 2007), Thai Patriot Network (since 2008), Siam Samakkhi (since 2011), Network of Citizen Volunteers to Protect the Land (2012), Pitak Siam (which began its demonstrations in the same month in 2012), Sayam Prachapiwat (2012), the White Mask group, People’s Army Against the Thaksin Regime (2013), and now the misleadingly monikered People’s Democratic Reform Committee (2013). Each of these groups -and we are sure we have missed some of them – has had overlapping membership and leadership. Essentially, a small group of rightist leaders have worked from 2005 to mobilize and bring down elected governments.

The spirit of the 2013 uprising, the will to mass together to challenge injustice and the force for change it engendered, has earned the mass uprising, or muan maha prachachon as it has become known, the Bangkok Post’s 2013 People of the Year distinction.

PPT can’t help thinking about the injustice heaped upon every single elector who has voted again and again for the governments the majority wants, only to see them overturned by unelected minorities. We can’t recall, but were red shirts the Post’s Persons of the Year in 2010 for their campaign for an election?

It is the first time that white-collar working-class people and business entrepreneurs have spoken up and demanded they be treated as informed citizens who are willing to engage in participatory democracy, in activities that go beyond casting their ballot on voting days.

When Sondhi Limthongkul formed the People’s Alliance for Democracy six years ago, only a few thousand people in these classes joined him as the so-called yellow-shirt demonstrators….

This is far from factual. Business people have been funding PAD’s demonstrations since 2005 and have been involved in demonstrations previously – recall the 1992 “mobile phone mob.” The “white-collar working class” is an odd term and seems little more than an attempt to identify middle-class protesters who have come out time and again to oppose elections and pro-Thaksin governments. We have to say we are seriously confused by the claim about Sondhi and PAD. The Bangkok Post’s archives tell a different story.

Indeed, the … movement … is not without flaws.

As the uprising against the political amnesty law grew under Mr Suthep’s leadership, it morphed into a demonstration to oust the Yingluck Shinawatra government and so-called “Thaksin regime” _ a term used to refer to the influence of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on politics and more loosely to the tyranny of the majority.

It is revealing that the Post uses the term “tyranny of the majority” with no interrogation. The term is usually used to refer to a situation where decisions made by a majority mean its interests are so central that those of an individual or minority are ignored in a manner that constitutes oppression. The anti-democrats, however, use this terminology to refer to the Shinawatra clan and associates getting all that they want. They also use it to complain that legislation the Democrat Party doesn’t like gets passed in parliament.  In reality, the Yingluck government has repeatedly backed down on its electoral promises in order to reduce opposition. Recall what political scientists were saying 6-12 months ago: the Yingluck strategy has been, according to Duncan McCargo, to cool political tensions. Kevin Hewison made similar claims in a 2012 article at Political Insight. None of this sounds either tyrannical or despotic.

While its demand seems to resonate with many people _ hundreds of thousands rose up every time Mr Suthep called on them to march _ it is questionable whether the movement is for a “less flawed democracy” as many demonstrators have claimed, or simply “less democracy” as Mr Suthep’s proposal seems to suggest.

Political analyst Chris Baker is cited by the Post:

He said the movement’s rejection of the one-person, one-vote basic principle of political equality is clear.

“Some supporters have clearly said they think Bangkok people should have more weight in the elections than non-Bangkok people. This is important. We outside observers now know what this movement stands for…”.

Thammasat political scientist Kasian Tejapira is also quoted:

He said what is going on is not different from a putsch. It’s just being done with support from the masses instead of military tanks and weapons. “The muan maha prachachon is a capitalist movement that will lead to the tyranny of the minority…”.

Despite this clarity, the Post still it is fascinated by the anti-democratic movement. Part of the reason for this is explained by Democrat Party stalwart and former ASEAN secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan:

He said the rural electorate was awakened and made aware of its political power and potency in an open political process over a decade ago.

Now, the other end of the political spectrum including people who were politically passive have become agitated by the ways things are going.

“Deep grievances are being articulated against a rampant and unprecedented level of corruption, abuse of power, cronyism in business, nepotism in the bureaucracy, intervention in the check-and-balance mechanisms, control of government media and intimidation of free and independent news agencies.

“[They are also upset about] pervasive and systematic violations of human and civil rights, impunity for law enforcement personnel, ruinous populist programmes and ill-conceived government projects. All of these lead to a profile of anger, frustration, bitterness, emotional pain and political divide on the streets of Bangkok,” Mr Surin said.

It is a bit difficult to know where to begin with Surin’s position. We do agree on the political awakening of a decade or so ago. However, as we have shown above, the claim that “the other end of the political spectrum including people who were politically passive” is false. It would only be true if there hadn’t been a 1992, a PAD or a coup. The POst adds to this:

There are those who attend rallies because they want “good people” to govern the country, university students who want to rid the country of conflicts of interest, and those critical of the government’s environmental policies.

A common theme of the protests is the crowd’s opposition to corruption.

“It’s the corruption, stupid!” former finance minister Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala wrote on Facebook.

He was referring to former United States president Bill Clinton’s phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid!” which alerted American voters that the key issue during the 1992 US election was not the war against Iraq but the poor economy.

To be factual, the phrase was not Clinton’s but of one of his campaign strategists. That aside, it is fair to observe that none of these desires are absent from the majority who support pro-Thaksin parties. At the same time, each of these claims has been made since PAD came into existence and the double standards are breathtaking: Suthep has a long history of nepotism and cronyism, not to mention corruption claims; Sondhi Limthongkul has an equally long history of corrupt practices; the Democrat Party had to leave office in 1995 over corruption claims; and when Abhisit was in power, the claims of corruption were from red shirt opponents.

Political commentator Anek Laothamatas is also cited:

The Pheu Thai Party, which has focused on winning votes from the rural base and believed _ falsely _ that electoral victory would silence the minority middle class, must rethink their strategy to regain its support….

He’s right on that. The majority has been repeatedly told by the minority – the middle classes and elite – that electoral victories mean nothing. In democracies that take hold, these classes usually make compromises that allow the poorer majority a say in politics. It seems Thailand’s minority wants another path.





Updated: Rubber, Democrat Party and predictability

29 08 2013

A reader has emailed PPT and asked what we think about the rubber planters blockade in the South. In fact, we know little about it. Our only observations are that the South is the stronghold of the Democrat Party, Suthep Thaugsuban is a renowned and cashed-up political organizer in the South, and that having a mass protest populated by young toughs seems like a logical political tactic if trying to destabilize and blindside the elected government.Rubber-band

Meanwhile, the entirely predictable Democrat Party has announced – did they need to? – that it “will join 12 other political groups in their efforts to try and stop the government from passing the amnesty bill…”. Hadn’t they already done this?

The groups they plan to join with “include the People’s Army to Overthrow Thaksin Regime, the White Maskers, Santi Asoke and the Green Group led by Suriyasai Katasila…”. In other words, they are joining with the People’s Alliance for Democracy and the Democrat Party’s own creations.

As usual, the Democrat Party plans to “mobilise at least 100,000 people…”.

Is anyone listening to them? Apart from the usual troglodytes?

Update: Readers will be pleased to learn from a source other than PPT that the PAD leadership is simply manoeuvring, not quitting.





Tired and lost

9 07 2013

PPT was struck by a recent report at The Nation on anti-government protesters and another, also at The Nation, referring to former premier Abhisit Vejjajiva. Both reports appeared to be comments on the tired and lost who remain defiant.

The first report was about the bedraggled group of protesters who have been at Sanam Luang for about two months, wanting to topple the government. As the report says, this small group, led by People’s Alliance for Democracy campaigner Chaiwat Sinsuwong,

… are not clear on when, or if they will ever achieve that goal [in ousting the government]. There is also no agreement on who should replace the Pheu Thai Party and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, if that day finally comes.

We aren’t even sure if they know why they want to do this.

It was these Sanam Luang protesters who were accused of usurping the white mask movement a couple of weeks ago.

The group consists of “the anti-government Thai Patriotic Front, the Palang Thammatippatai and farmers’ groups protesting the rice-pledging scheme… [and] … [a]bout a dozen Santi Asoke members….

The report is interesting on the rag-tag Palang Thammatippatai protesters for “their communist-style workers’ uniforms – a leftover from the 1960s.” One of them “said he was a real communist supporter, and had joined the rally to call on the government to turn power over to the people,” and then explained that:

the uniforms and caps with red stars …were provided to the group, but he declined to name the benefactor. Before he could provide any more details to this Nation reporter, Yod was taken away by security officers.

The second report, on Abhisit, who “now spends much of his political career attending trials and court hearings … “sometimes as a plaintiff, or witness – but also as a co-defendant in a trial against him and his former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaunsuban – with whom he stands accused of ordering the killings of red-shirt demonstrators in 2010.”

On his claimed innocence, Abhisit quotes his wife but my wife [Pimpen Vejjajiva] is not worried at all.”  Abhisit  says “[s]he strongly believes in my innocence,” which must convince just about everyone….

Abhisit goes on to reveal:

“I told her that someone wanted me to support the amnesty bill [which would allow former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to return home) – saying the case against me would be dropped if I did. Do you know what she said? She said if I negotiated with them, she would divorce me. She said if that means I end up in jail, so be it.”

Hmm. Not sure what t do with that. “Someone”? Wonder who? It really does all sound a bit weak and tired.

At least Abhisit shows some progress. For one who refused to face an election, when he proclaims that the Democrat Party must be pretty darn good because it “won the Bangkok governor’s election and the Don Muang by-election” it seems he is recognizing that elections are significant. Well, at least the ones his party wins, anyway.

The final statement: “After taking everything into consideration, including my future, I still want to be Abhisit – not Thaksin,” might be a laugh, but it is a sad and sorry claim.





Updated: The old gang regroups

26 10 2012

Prasong

The Nation reports that former intelligence boss Squadron Leader Prasong Soonsiri has agreed to join the anti-government rally nominally organized by old soldier General Boonlert Kaewprasit and his Pitak Siam royalist front. Prasong is one of those who claims to have been a coup plotter in 2006 along with senior military figures. Palace insider Prasong has explained that a cabal of serving and retired military leaders, including then Army boss Sonthi Boonyaratglin, began planning the coup in July 2006. As in previous coup-plotting, Prasong says he “wants this administration ousted.”

Prasong knows quite a bit about coups. He has been involved in a range of political campaigns over many years. Prasong has a short entry at Wikipedia that mentions his role as head of the National Security Council. The entry finishes by noting that “Prasong was a central figure in the 19 September 2006 Thai military coup that overthrew Thaksin Shinawatra’s elected government…. A palace insider and favorite of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Prasong was later appointed by the junta to the National Legislative Assembly.” Prasong has also been a strong supporter of the People’s Alliance for Democracy and a strong opponent of Thaksin. Also close to the military brass, Prasong acted as a palace and junta lackey in being chairman of the committee which drafted the 2007 constitution.

Pitak Siam is boosted by Prasong’s decision to again emerge from the shadows and push for extra-judicial and extra-constitutional politics. The paper also reports that the infamous Dhamma Army is going to show up. These royalist militants are rabid supporters of the PAD’s Chamlong Srimuang and the Santi Asoke sect.

Also rejoining his old anti-Thaksin allies is General Pathompong Kesornsuk, said by the report to be a “former chairman of advisers to the Armed Forces.” That’s a pretty innocuous way to describe a man who is a rabid nationalist and royalist who appeared, in uniform, on the PAD stage back in 2006. Close to the yellow elements of the Democrat Party, like Boonlert, he has repeatedly made the unconstitutional call for the military to carry out coups, laced with neo-fascist ideology.

Boonlert

Boonlert, Prasong and Pathompong all have close relations with figures in the palace.

This group has stated “that they could no longer stand the rampant corruption and moves to defame the monarchy.” The latter is a nonsense claim, but one that will always be used even against the monarchy-timid Yingluck Shinawatra regime. They criticized Yingluck for having “failed to heed criticism from academics.” Shame on her! Heavens, the “academic” is just so very significant! While that hardly seems like a battle cry, this is a dangerous group that is able to mobilize like-minded neanderthals.

Interestingly the old gang’s almost all here! The gang that conspired to bring on the 2006 coup and then engineered the judicial coup in 2008 is coming back together. Sure, Sonthi Limthongkul is absent, but there are plenty of yellow shirts and he can make a grand entrance later. The question is how much of the old palace, military and capitalist support is also there.

Update: The Bangkok Post has a story on the participation of The Dhamma Army. Describing it as an “ultra-conservative religious group allied to the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy,” the Dhamma Army is one piece of the conservative apparatus that must come together if they are to achieve yet another unconstitutional royalist overthrow of an elected and popular government.

As another story in the Post points out, “Gen Boonlert is also trusted by Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda and by Gen Prem’s inner circle.” It is that inner circle which will be watching this test of the political waters.





Wikileaks and Surayudh on king, Thaksin and Chamlong

13 08 2011

Continuing PPT’s series on Wikileaks cables, we found the 28 February 2006 report of a meeting between U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce and Privy Councilor Surayud Chulanont of interest.

Boyce and Surayud

Surayud describes the political situation at a time when the anti-Thaksin Shinawatra People’s Alliance for Democracy was building its demonstrations against the prime minister. Boyce says that Surayud stated that the political was “a mess.”  He claimed that “two ‘willful’ characters, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and Dharma Army leader Chamlong Srimuang, were locked in a confrontation.”

It seems to have been Surayud’s view – or at least the one he wanted the Embassy to note – that Chamlong was the key opposition figure. Boyce summarizes:

Surayud said that Chamlong was no longer as important as he had been in 1992, when he led the democracy demonstrations that brought down the military government, but he still has a lot of influence. Chamlong’s leadership of the “Santi Asoke” religious sect gives him control of a large number of followers (the Dharma Army) that he can turn out for demonstrations. His sudden involvement in the anti-Thaksin movement has exacerbated the “no compromise” nature of the confrontation.

Of course, Surayud claims that the king is “neutral.” As Boyce explains in the cable, with PPT’s emphasis added:

Surayud said that the King was not taking sides. Nonetheless, both sides were trying to drag him in. Media firebrand Sondhi Limthongkul had taken the lead, with his constant references to the King in his weekly demonstrations. Thaksin has played this card as well. (Comment: For example, in his weekly radio address right before the February 4 demonstrations, Thaksin commented that the King “only had to whisper in his ear” and he’d resign. Surayud said that Thaksin’s comment caused great perturbation among the Thai and was an inappropriate reference to the monarch. End comment.) The King’s focus is on preserving the monarchy, according to Surayud. The King also, naturally, wants there to be no violence.

For Surayud, this political neutrality spilled over into the Army. Without a hint of irony dawning on Boyce, this is his account of the privy councilor and former army boss’s comments:

The military also doesn’t want to intervene on either side, according to Surayud. He admitted that there had been “some talk” within the military about the option of a “one-day” coup which would turn power over to the King. (Some of this has been picked up by the press.) But Surayud said he had spoken directly to Army Commander Sonthi (a Surayud protege) and he absolutely did not support such a move.

Surayud went on to note “discomfort that his name has been mentioned as a possible interim Prime Minister in case of a coup, and said that he was keeping a very low profile in order to avoid fueling such speculation.” Of course, he took the position later in the year when the coup finally materialized.

The privy councilor then turned to Thaksin and was revealing. Surayud noted that he had given advice to Thaksin. He “recalled talking to Thaksin early in the PM’s first term, and warning him that he had to avoid the taint of corruption, since the Thai people would not stand for that.” He went on to mention the sale of Shin Corp, commenting: “I guess he just couldn’t help himself.”

Surayud then speaks to an obstacle that has bedeviled the palace and royalists to this day: “… despite the outrage by the Bangkok elite, Surayud felt that Thaksin was still popular with the people who form the core of his support: the poor, farmers, and the working class, particularly up-country.”

In summary, Boyce reports that he believes Surayud: “As things stand now, we do not believe that the military wants to step in, nor does the King want to be caught in the middle.”

As things turned out, the military needed palace prodding and manipulation to undertake a coup, not least because there were pro-Thaksin elements that opposed a putsch, and the palace wasn’t caught in the middle, moving firmly and decisively against the elected prime minister.





Unions, PAD and the “democratic” royalist elite

1 05 2011

When Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai Party government was first elected, it was on the back of a nationalist rejection of the Democrat Party’s lack of independence from the International Monetary Fund’s demands for the further liberalization of the economy following the 1997-98 economic crisis. At the time, organized labor was pretty much on board with TRT.

However, there was soon grumbling about the government breaking promises. Then, in 2004, when Thaksin’s boisterous threats and popularity had cowed the whining of many middle class NGOs and intellectuals, it was the state enterprise unions that first gave anti-Thaksin opposition some backbone.

These unions waged a protest campaign that demonstrated that that the TRT government could be challenged. The state enterprise unions opposed the privatization of EGAT, and the government backed down. While others got most of the credit in the mainstream media for rolling back privatization, it should not be forgotten that rallies of up to 50,000 opposed TRT policy. In fact, this was not forgotten when the People’s Alliance for Democracy was brought together, with state enterprise unions playing a significant role.

With their one time leader Somsak Kosaisuk installed as one of the PAD leadership, the state enterprise unions signed up for the anti-Thaksin campaign and stayed with it through its domination by the royalists and Sondhi Limthongkul and the Dharma Army-Santi Asoke alliance around Chamlong Srimuang. This curious alliance led to the unions being seen to support the 2006 military coup and the Fascist-like claims that wanted to prevent the lower classes having much participation in politics.

All this seemed a clear betrayal of the years of economic and political struggle by unions which had earlier included anti-monarchy actions associated with the 1932 Revolution.

It seems appropriate the, that this Labor Day, there has been an interesting development. The Bangkok Post reports that the State Enterprise Labour Relations Confederation “is defecting from the movement led by the People’s Alliance for Democracy because PAD leaders have said they support undemocratic political change…”.

SELRC leader Sawit Kaewwan is quoted as saying that “PAD bosses had often suggested the country be ‘shut down’ for national reform despite the fact that a new election was near. They had also expressed a desire to change the political structure to an undemocratic system. Sawit claims that such ideas “were in opposition to the political beliefs of the confederation…”.

Where was Sawit in 2006? The answer seems to be in this statement: “We believe in democracy and we do not agree with the enforcement of any power or any individuals’ power for political changes [coup]. We also oppose all forms of dictatorship…”. We imagine that Sawit would associate Thaksin and TRT with some kind of “dictatorship.” However, as we noted above, it was state enterprise unions that showed that TRT could be successfully opposed.

The significant point now is that Sawit says “the board of directors of the labour confederation had resolved that its leaders should withdraw from the PAD and refrain from joining the PAD on rally stages as well as at other activities. The confederation told the PAD of its intention on Tuesday.”

It is also reported that Somsak Kosaisuk, who remains an adviser to the confederation, has “quit as a PAD core leader, and Mr Sawit himself has resigned from the PAD’s group of second-tier leaders.” In another Bangkok Post story it is noted this move “followed an SELRC resolution on Tuesday demanding Mr Somsak and Mr Sawit quit the PAD because the yellow shirt movement’s campaign was undemocratic.”

Meanwhile, Somsak remains leader of the PAD-aligned New Politics Party while rejecting the PAD leadership’s demand for the party to boycott the general election. He appears to be trying to drag the NPP away from PAD. This would appear futile given the domination of Sondhi and Chamlong. However, the damage to NPP and PAD is potentially very considerable.

Somsak appears to have left a way open for PAD to reconcile with the unions, saying “he and Mr Sawit might join PAD rallies in a personal capacity later if they agreed with the group’s activities and approaches,” and noting that he was not in conflict with Chamlong, Sondhi or other key PAD leaders. Even so, he lambasted PAD leaders for “campaigning for something which is ‘close to a coup d’etat’…”.

Pundits seems ready to write PAD off. In a further report in the Bangkok Post the now “embattled People’s Alliance for Democracy” is said to have “lost another ally, with a former fund-raising group demanding an immediate end to its ‘divisive’ rally.” The group mentioned is the ironically monikered “Thais Love Peace group” that has called on PAD to “end its protest and stop verbally attacking its critics.”

Group leader Kanchanee Wallayasewee said “her group raised money for the PAD during its 193-day protest two years ago against the Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat governments.” She claimed that the group included “businessmen, self-styled defenders of the monarchy and online social network activists.” But because PAD speakers were now attacking her members and “distorting” information, her group was jumping ship.

Kanchanee also accused “some alliance co-leaders” of “exploiting the higher institution [monarchy] and trying to foment a pretext for a military coup.” She indicated that many of her wealthy and well-placed supporters were upset when “smeared” by PAD.

She added that her group was ready to support the upcoming election. PPT guesses that this group is already shovelling money into the coffers of the government coalition parties.

This potential loss of support for PAD is seen by several pundits as the beginning of the end for the ultra-nationalist royalists. PAD and Sondhi have been able to mobilize people and this is threatening to the elite and this means that PAD has been tolerated but never fully trusted.

When PAD was necessary for the resurgent royalist elite was in beginning activities that allowed for Thaksin’s huge electoral mandate to be challenged and then to oppose other elected pro-Thaksin governments. In each instance, once the elite had its political path cleared, the result was a military coup and judicial coup. Following that, PAD usually hibernated. Think of how PAD demonstrations ceased in 2006 as Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda took the lead in marshalling forces for the coup.

PAD has been unsuccessful in its current round of rallies, drawing small crowds and becoming desperate and uncontrollable – as witnessed by its attacks on former supporters. That said, it should not be forgotten that PAD did begin this round of bloody border disputes with Cambodia, giving the military further fillip. And yet it now seems clear that the elite strategy is finally coalescing around the idea of an election that it believes the royalist Democrat Party can win. The military has been least convinced of this approach, but the border war and the frantic use of repressive powers to stifle opposition seem to be the approach that has been agreed.

And, quite suddenly, all of the anti-democratic, coup-supporting, royalists and military brass are democrats….





Bangkok protests

15 02 2011

The Bangkok Post reports that summonses have now been issued targeting  the 10 co-leaders of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), “requiring them to report to police for violating an order of the Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order (CAPO)…” under the Internal Security Act. CAPO prohibited the use of roads around Government House and the parliament that were occupied by PAD .

Those summonsed are: Maj-Gen Chamlong Srimuang, Sondhi Limthongkul, Prapan Khoonmee, Panthep Puapongpan, Rak Rakpong (Samana Pothirak, leader of the Santi Asoke sect), Suriyasai Katasila, Terdphum Jaidee, Pibhop Dhongchai, Amorn Amornrattananond and Tossapol Kaewthima.

While Chamlong Srimuang said his group would co-operate  with the police, he had brought a civil suit against a police investigator on the 2008 airports case, and The Nation reports that the The Thai Patriot Network had “filed a complaint with Central Administrative Court, asking the court to annul the government’s ban on demonstrations in seven Bangkok districts…. The complaint alleged that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his Cabinet had unlawfully invoked the Internal Security Act to ban demonstrations in seven Bangkok districts.”

PAD protests are likely to be bolstered each time there is a clash on the Thai-Cambodian border. PAD’s unhappiness with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is likely to further increase.

The red shirts now seem remarkably “well behaved” when they protest.

Just to add to the mix of protests, the Bangkok Post reports that the Assembly of the Poor, which was seen as weakening, now “says thousands of its members are on their way to Bangkok for a protest to put pressure on the government to open all the sluice gates of the Pak Moon dam and properly compensate people affected by its construction.”

An AOP protest in 2007

The AOP has been rallying in front of the Ubon Ratchathani provincial hall for more than a month and has now decided “to move its protest to the parliament in Bangkok.” The AOP expects 5,000 assembly members to make the trip to Bangkok.

Their action follows an unfulfilled promise in December from PM’s Office Minister Sathit Wongnongtoey to “seek cabinet approval for the permanent opening of the dam’s sluice gates.” Nothing had happened since the promise was made.

It seems that the Abhisit and his government is now faced with a growing array of issues and problems – the south, corruption, the border, protest groups, red shirts, the failure of investigations into the events of April and May 2010, increasing army dissonance, etc. – that make for considerable political uncertainty.





With several updates: Abhisit reveals the contradictions of dealing with PAD

9 01 2011

Yes, we dubbed him “Teflon Mark,” but we think Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is digging himself into an ever deeper hole on the yellow-shirted border crossers.

The Bangkok Post reports that Abhisit is talking tough,warning Cambodia, reassuring the nationalists in Thailand that his government is not caving in to Cambodia: “The ruling cannot be used to support any claim by Cambodia over border demarcation,” he said in a statement indicating that the yellow shirted nationalists remain important for his government.

The prime minister sent Panich Vikitsreth, a Bangkok Democrat MP to the Thai-Cambodian border, saying “a group of Thai citizens had lodged a complaint with the government, saying they could not  make use of their land within the disputed border area.”

Recall that he earlier denied sending Panich to this particular location. That particular untruth seems now forgotten.

Panich was sent to the border with Veera Somkwamkid, co-ordinator of the Thai Patriot Network joined to the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), and with members of the conservative Santi Asoke sect, another PAD ally that often sends it members into the front line of militant of nationalist actions. They follow PAD leader Chamlong Srimuang.

Abhisit says that “the PAD and Santi Asoke were also concerned about the issue, so Mr Panich volunteered to join them in an inspection of the area.”

It is clear that Abhisit knew of the trip and who was involved. Of course, the Democrat Party has a long-established connection to these groups,even if it is criticized from time to time by the yellow-shirted media.

Then Abhisit joins those who have managed to deliberately lied in the face of clear evidence to the contrary when he says:  “I don’t believe those seven Thais intended to either trespass on or spy in Cambodia…”.

PPT doesn’t believe spying was involved, but the intent to cross the border to provoke arrest is clear.

Abhisit is under pressure from PAD for more militant actions, but he is also dealing with them on this issue. And that is where his problem lies, for the extreme right pushes him for more. For example, Prasong Soonsiri, former National Security Council chief, former foreign minister and a royalist coup planner close to PAD, accuses the government of being “too submissive.”

His view is that “the government to insist that the seven Thais were arrested on Thai territory and not to accept the Cambodian court’s verdict if they are found guilty.” He adds that these seven have “contributed to society.”

Abhisit is locked into these lies and alliances with the conservative right.

Update 1: The problem for Abhisit continues as PAD scream for “no retreat,” yelling a nationalist mythology that claims land that is both in dispute but also land that “is Thai” even if not within its current agreed boundaries. See this in the Bangkok Post, where PAD issued a statement demanding that “the government to force Cambodia to free seven detained Thais without any condition.” PAD claims there is evidence – has anyone seen it? – “showing that the seven Thais were arrested in Thailand’s territory.”

PAD “condemned” all those “who had told reporters that the Thais had entered into Cambodian territory.” This included: “Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, Defence Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon and Sakaeo provincial governor Sanit Naksuksri.” Notice that Abhisit is missing from the list, because he hasn’t fallen into this traitor’s trap. Still, he gets a bollocking for “failing to use their authorities [sic.] to pressure Cambodia to free seven Thais.”

The yellow-shirt people group also condemned Prime Minister Hun Sen, Cambodian government and soldiers for arresting the Thais in Thailand’s territory and brought them into Cambodia court, despite Thailand had helped Cambodian refugees during the civil war in the neighbouring country. PAD called on the government to reject any ruling by the Cambodian court – what if they are declared innocent and freed? – and demands an “an official ultimatum to Cambodia…”.

As we noted above, Abhisit cannot easily escape the alliance that was forged in the period when the Democrat Party needed PAD activism to get them closer to snatching power. That debt is large and difficult to repay in full.

Update 2: In The Nation, Abhisit says this: “I want to bring back the seven now and all other issues will be dealt with at a later date…”. The yellow shirts really have him jumping!

Update 3: Bangkok Pundit has a neat twist on this story, linking Panich to the Santi Asoke sect: “Panich’s involvement arose because he is a Santi Asoke follower and former Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs.” This is followed-up with another interesting statement: “Panich was strongly supported in the by-election in 2010 by Santi Asoke’s Dharma Army.” The Democrat Party can’t escape its debt to the yellow shirts.