Updated: Junta lost in international politics

14 05 2016

PPT has long observed that the junta is manned – and its almost all men involved – by a bunch of inglorious dolts who got to their positions in military and government, not through learning or skills in any arena other than in posterior polishing, mostly in the palace, but of other superiors as they gravitated to the top. Almost none of them have any capacity in governance or foreign affairs.

In foreign affairs, the junta’s record is lamentable. Most recently, its performance at the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was full of lies and hypocrisy. It has to be admitted that “defending” the junta’s record is like pushing piles of excrement up mountains. Yet even looking beyond human rights, the military dictatorship has shown itself incapable. Think of it s failures with the EU. Its fallout with the USA and even its problems with China (on the latter, the big deal was rail, and that seems gone).

In recent days, the junta and its Ministry of Foreign Affairs flunkies have been in a spin over the US and its relationship with the junta. The junta’s actions demonstrate its lack of diplomatic skill and its narrow-minded and bloody-minded approach to criticism. More broadly, its response to the US in recent days show how doltish the regime is.

The most widely reported incident is a tense and very public standoff between US Ambassador Glyn Davies and the junta’s Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai.

The junta became agitated when an AFP report that stated that the US had “condemned Thailand’s arrest of an activist’s mother [Patnaree Chankij] for allegedly insulting the royal family in a one-word Facebook post.”

This report was widely carried internationally and in Thailand. The junta became incandescent over the use of the word “condemn.” The National News Bureau & Public Relations propaganda site declared on behalf of the junta:

The Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs has thoroughly reviewed the United State’s Department of State’s stance on Thailand’s Article 112 and Computer Crime Act and finally found that the US agency has not released any official statement on the matter.

The Foreign Ministry’s Information Department announced that the US Department of State’s spokesperson has not used the term “condemn” during a press conference as mistakenly reported by some news agencies.

Besides, the Information Department said the Thai government has affirmed that it respects the international principles of human rights and values all freedoms and that its actions have been taken only to maintain stability and unity in the Kingdom in the face of the country’s reform plans.

The last paragraph repeats lies and propaganda propagated at the UN.

The first paragraph is at best a deliberate mirepresentation or just another junta lie. US State Department officials have described  “grave reservations about the practice of using military courts to try civilians [and] … utilizing the lèse majesté laws in a way that is unprecedented…” and, after several years of not doing so, the Human Rights Practices Report for 2015 lists lese majeste victims as political prisoners.

The second paragraph is the main point of the report. The junta’s claim is that the word “condemn” was not used, and so the problem in the relationship can be ignored. In fact, the AFP report stated clearly the words used by the State Department:

“These actions create a climate of intimidation and self-censorship,” said Katina Adams, the State Department’s spokeswoman for east Asia and the Pacific.

“We are troubled by the recent arrests of individuals in connection with online postings, and the detention of Patnaree Chankij.

“The arrest and harassment of activists and their family members raise serious concerns about Thailand’s adherence to its international obligation to protect freedom of expression.”

That seems clear enough. Does this add up “condemn”? Various definitions suggest that condemn is a reasonable description of the US statement. Synonyms are: censure, criticize, castigate, attack, denounce, deplore, decry, revile, inveigh against, blame, chastise, berate, upbraid, reprimand, rebuke, reprove, reprehend, take to task, find fault with, give someone/something a bad press, etc.

Foreign Minister Don’s impatient intervention makes things far worse and would have observers believe that the junta is unconcerned about the US. Yet the junta does seem to have a propaganda problem with the deterioration of the relationship with the US. So much of a problem that it has had the official propaganda agency concoct a story of US understanding.

The agency “reports” that General Prayuth Chan-ocha has “clarified to a representative of the United States that his administration complies with human rights principles and expressed gratitude for the country’s understanding of the Thai political situation.”

A reader could be confused by this claim. But who is this “representative”? The report states:

Adm Dennis Blair, Chairman of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA, paid a courtesy call on Gen Prayut at Government House for a discussion on several topics. Deputy Government Spokesman Maj Gen Weerachon Sukontapatipak, who accompanied Gen Prayut during the meeting, revealed that the premier assured Adm Blair of the government’s adherence to the law and human rights principles when making arrests and taking judicial proceedings against law breakers. He insisted that citizens are guaranteed full freedom of expression within the legal framework.

As for the national reform process, Gen Prayut confirmed that general elections will take place in 2017 as stipulated by the roadmap. He also gave details on the guidelines for various areas of reform and said any advice from the US would be welcome.

Maj Gen Weerachon pointed out that Adm Blair has extensive experience both in the military and the administrative branch and thus already has a clear picture of Thailand’s reform process. During the discussion, Adm Blair showed his awareness of political developments in Thailand as well as the reasoning behind the military takeover of the administration. He also expressed his confidence that the Prime Minister will be able to overcome all impending challenges.

Admiral Blair is not a representative of anything other than the privately-funded Sasakawa Foundation. He has no official role.In fact, Blair “resigned” from the Obama administration after “a tenure marred by the recent failures of U.S. spy agencies to detect terrorist plots and by political missteps that undermined his standing with the White House.”

And what standing does his Sasakawa Peace Foundation have? A good place to begin is the Wikipedia page for Ryoichi Sasakawa, its founder. On his death, an obituary in Britain’s Independent newspaper referred to him in these terms:

The last of Japan’s A-class war criminals has died, a nonagenarian multimillionaire. In the land where most people do their utmost to pass unnoticed, Ryoichi Sasakawa stood out as a monster of egotism, greed, ruthless ambition, political deviousness and with a love of the limelight equalled in his time only by his fellow right-winger Yukio Mishima.

He founded Japan’s fascist party before WW2 and remained an extremist rightist and hardline nationalist even after he was released after the war. His postwar reputation and wealth owed much to gambling and rightist connections, with some claims of links with organized crime and the CIA.*

A failed administrator, unrepresentative of anything other than a Foundation of dubious origins in the Japanese far right, seems a perfect fit for Thailand’s rightist military dictatorship. Certainly, as “diplomats,” the junta is a failure that misrepresents its activities internationally and nationally.

(*There is a curious link between Sasakawa and the monarchy, following this list of links: here, here, here and here.)

Update: Above we mentioned the problems the junta had had with the Chinese on the much-hyped railway project. Interestingly, yesterday The Nation had a story stating that the “project back on track.” What this seems to mean is that “Thailand to be sole investor.” This is quite a different project than that which was touted at a propaganda-like “ground-breaking” ceremony and signed MOU back in December 2015.





More on sufficiency projects and corruption (with several updates)

19 08 2009

Several updates below.

PPT readers may recall our earlier post (in Thai here) on corruption in the Office for Sufficiency Economy Community Projects that had been set up by the Democrat Party-led government. Back then we pointed out that there had been a rising tide of media criticism. The story suggested some serious problems for the government and for the Democrat Party especially as Deputy Prime Minister Korbsak Sabhavasu,  in charge of the sufficiency office, seemed to also be involved in nepotism with his brother working as a deputy director in the office.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva acknowledged problems but denied everything related to the Democrat Party and blamed everyone else, including trying to pin responsibility on the Thaksin Shinawatra government that was thrown out in the September 2006 coup. The office was not dealing in small change, with the government has allocated 21 billion baht to the office.

Over the past couple of weeks, Abhisit has maintained his denials. Now, however, the Bangkok Post (19 August 2009: “Korbsak quits sufficiency project”) Korbsak has resigned as “chairman of the sufficiency economy community project.”

This is a major problem for Abhisit, whose denials were strong. Abhisit has now had to shamefacedly confirm that the opposition Puea Thai Party’s allegations that the sufficiency economy community projects were tainted with corruption are correct.In fact, the initial allegations were not from Puea Thai, but originated from within the communities meant to benefiting from the projects and Peua Thai took them up.

Korbsak is due to hold a press conference that might be embarrassing for the government.

So how does Abhisit deal with the fallout? It seems that the best way is to bring in a died-in-the-wool royalist and widely acknowledged rural development champion to sort it out. Mechai Viravaidya is suggested as the new chairman for the project office. Abhisit says: “I agree with Mr Korbsak’s decision to let Mr Mechai oversee the project. Some schemes under the project will have to be halted so Mr Mechai can examine and fine-tune them.”

Brilliant idea! Except that Mechai* is already vice chairman of the committee overseeing the Office. So what has he been doing in that capacity so far? As vice chairman, royalist champion and development expert he must also bear responsibility for the rampant corruption in an Office that he has overseen. Sounds like a continuing effort at a cover-up.
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*On Mechai see his brief entry at Wikipedia and an authorized biography here. His Population and Community Development Association (PDA) is one of the best-known rural development agencies in Thailand and has had lashings of funds from corporations, international agencies and aid organizations galore. Mechai did much when an appointed minister in 1991-92 to promote HIV/AIDS awareness and action, at a critical time in the development of the disease in Thailand.

It is difficult to be critical of a national and international icon. In 1994 Mechai received a Ramon Magsaysay award for Public Service and in 2007 PDA was awarded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Gates Award. The U.S.’s PBS calls him a “Global Health Champion” and Time lists him as an “Asian Hero.” Perhaps less illustriously, he is identified by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation as one of “The Leaders.”

Part of the reason he is liked so much internationally is because he is a part of Thailand’s elite that feels comfortable with foreigners and is one of the “interpreters” of Thailand for foreigners who promote the royalist view of politics and society. Mechai is also seen as a model for his engagement in business (see his CV), his promotion of social entrepreneurialism, microfinance, corportae social responsibility and other neoliberal ideas through the PDA’s projects, making PDA an NGO that is easy to deal with as it feels more like a corporation than any kind of “radical” organization.

And, Mechai has impeccable connections.

Mechai has been one of Thailand’s “elite” of politicians-cum-ministers, seldom holding his positions through election but by appointment. His election success was in the first elected senate. Apart from that he has been, variously, Deputy Minister of Industry (1985-86) and then Cabinet Spokesman (1986-88, for the always unelected General Prem Tinsulanonda), appointed Senator (1987-91), Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office (1991-92, for the twice appointed Anand Punyarachun), Adviser to the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs (1997).

Mechai has strong royal connections. His biography says, simply that he “accompanied Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn on several official foreign trips.” It adds that his “wife Putrie now headed the personal affairs division of King Bhumipol’s private secretary’s office.” Putrie is listed elsewhere as Than Phuying Putrie Viravaidya, His Majesty’s Deputy Principal Private Secretary” and was earlier the Manager of the Royal Projects Division. She is one of the most important figures in the palace. The little comment about accompanying the prince is interesting as there have long been rumors that Mechai has been working with the prince on his image.

Mechai is establishment Thailand.

Update: The Nation (20 August 2009: “Corruption probe will test Abhisit’s integrity”) has an editorial, where the headline speaks for itself. Abhisit is potentially in trouble. However, it seems to PPT that by elevating Mechai one step up the ladder and appointing a Democrat parliamentarian to investigate the alleged corruption the damage control-cover-up is continuing.

Further Update:The Bangkok Post (20 August 2009: “Korbsak quits office post”) reports on Korbsak’s resignation as chairman of the Community Sufficiency Economy Project. Korbsak says he resigned to allow “the government a free hand to investigate alleged irregularities.” He says he is also encouraging his younger brother, Praphote, to quit as deputy director of the Sufficiency Economy Office for Community Development, the office responsible for granting funds to community projects. Praphote is now said to have been the one who screened proposed projects before they were submitted for approval by a subcommittee chaired by his big brother.

Korbsak said that there would be “a fair and transparent investigation by police and the Office of the Auditor-General. He called on Auditor-General Khunying Jaruvan Maintaka yesterday to ask her investigate the alleged irregularities.” Jaruvan is not unblemished herself, is certainly partisan and allegations against “a senior official” being investigated. Korbsak also said that a Crime Suppression Division team had been set up to investigate “possible graft or violations of codes of conduct.” He added that “his Democrat Party’s investigations into the alleged corruption at the agency was expected to be concluded in a few days.”

Abhisit believed that Korbsak’s resignation from the board “should allay fears he would interfere with investigations.” But this is an odd way to investigate. Korbsak and the Democrats have established the parameters and the terms while he and his brother were still in place and with vice chairman Mechai replacing him and the projects will continue, with Abhisit saying: “He [Mr Mechai] will propose the structure of the [project screening] committees and he will have full authority…”. However, for the first time Abhisit said, “the matter might be brought before the National Anti-Corruption Commission for investigation.”

This suggests that the political fallout is already significant as there was lobbying in the Democrat Party to get the failed managers and Korbsak’s brother sacked. A Democrat Party source is said to be concerned that the ” alleged irregularities are threatening the party’s chances in next year’s elections of provincial and district councillors in Bangkok,” and added: “Someone must be held responsible for the damage because of a lack of transparency in the scheme.”

Update (21 August): Prapote, deputy director of the Office of Sufficiency Economy for Community Development and Minister Korbsak’s brother, has resigned from his position.