Protecting The Dictator

6 10 2015

A few days ago the conservative U.S. commentator Doug Bandow had an op-ed at The Japan Times, criticizing the military dictatorship in Thailand.

A couple of excerpts give the idea of what the op-ed says:

Thailand long has been the land of smiles, a friendly, informal place equally hospitable to backpackers and businessmen. But politics has gotten ugly in recent years.

Now a cartoonish dictator out of a Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera runs a not-so funny junta which jails opponents and suppresses free speech….

Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha seized power last year promising happiness, prosperity and security. But the junta has failed to deliver all three.

It seems that the junta and its flunkies will not accept any of it.

In Japan, the junta’s former Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Sihasak Phuangketkeow, has slithered into Tokyo as the junta’s mouthpiece there.

Sihasak has supported all the recent anti-democratic government so Thailand, even speaking highly of Thaksin Shinawatra when he was arrogant and authoritarian.

Defending The Dictator, Sihasak has written a letter headlined Thailand is on the path to democracy, which is a clueless defense of the junta and the boss. Prayuth seems to get as much protection as the ailing monarch.

He laments that the Bandow article “does not do justice to the heavy responsibilities that have been placed on the shoulders of Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha and his government during such a critical transitional period in Thai democracy.”

Ah… Thai democracy? What is he babbling about?

It was Prayuth and his gang of thugs who seized state power and threw out an elected government. It was The Dictator and his gang of thuggish dullards who chose to do this.

Sihasak is sprouting the junta’s first statements immediately following the coup. Even the junta is less reluctant to repeat this nonsense in this lame manner. It prefers to repress and censor those who favor democracy.

Sihasak has been on the mind-altering Koolaid:

… [T]he Thai government is determined to move forward the road map to democracy that we have in place and we are resolved to steer the country back to the path of a vibrant, strong and sustainable democracy that meets the aspiration of the Thai people.

Rejected II

28 10 2014

On 22 October, PPT posted on junta-run Thailand’s rejection at the U.N. when it foolishly tried for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. A reader points out that we missed a revealing story at The Nation, the day after, providing the slippery response from the slithering Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs Sihasak Phuangketkeow.

Sihasak mumbled about “Thailand respects the decision of UN members who voted to fill vacant seats in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) after it failed to gain enough votes to win a seat.”

Failed PresidentThe unscrupulous and disingenuous Sihasak tuen spinmeister, making the failure a limited victory: “We lost the competition but the support we obtained accounted for about 70-80 per cent of UN members, meaning many countries still trust and believe in us.”

It must be just peachy knowing that up to a third of the world’s governments don’t trust or have confidence in Thailand run by the military dictatorship.

What must be even more galling for Sihasak is that the rejection is personal. The last time “Thailand won the rights council seat for the first time in 2010-2013 and was represented by Sihasak, then ambassador and permanent representative of Thailand to the UN Office in Geneva. He was also voted the council’s president.”

Clearly, his performance was so bad that almost a third of U.N. members rejected him and Thailand.

Updated: Paid to lie for the junta and monarchy

25 09 2014

Thai diplomats usually speak for their country and almost always put the best spin they can on that representation. Nothing remarkable in that. It gets more interesting when diplomats have to lie for their government.

At the China Post there’s a perfect example of this. Kriangsak Kittichaisaree is an executive director of Thailand Trade and Economic Office in Taipei, which means he’s a diplomat. A few days ago he did lie duty for king and country. He wrote to the Editor-In-Chief of the China Post to complain and lie.

Kriangsak wrote to complain about an AFP article “Royal slur cases skyrocket post Thai Coup: Amnesty” which quoted Amnesty International that “14 Thais indicted under the controversial lese majeste law in less than four months.” This is a verifiable fact, but Kriangsak was presumably told to dispute it.

He stated that the report “provided inaccurate information on the current political situation in Thailand.” His lies then became layered: first  he claimed that “Thailand supports and highly values the freedom of expression…”. This is a bogus claim. The lie is made in order to make the ridiculous assertion that lese majeste is just like other laws; of course, it isn’t.

Kriangsak has this spin: “there is a certain degree of restriction in order to protect the rights or repotations [sic. reputations] of others as well as upholding national security and order.” The “national security” bit is the giveaway for there are no “others” considered essential for “national security.”

He then adds another lie: “The lese-majeste law … gives protection to the rights or reputations of the King, the Queen, the Heir-Apparent, or a Regent in a similar way libel law does for commoners.” This lie has been exposed many times. The simple response to this blatant lie is to ask how many commoners go to jail for several years for libeling other commoners? Ask how many commoners are denied their constitutional rights (when there any) and the right to bail for libeling other commoners? Ask how many millions of people must self-censor in order to avoid jail for libeling commoners? The answers are all close to zero.

Kriangsak adds another layer of lies when he says the lese majeste law “is not aimed at curbing people’s right to the freedom of expression or the legitimate exercise of academic freedom including debates about the monarchy as an institution.” Of course, it is meant to do all these things.

Unlike libel, lese majeste  is made a political crime that has a chilling impact on the whole population.

Kriangsak’s final fibs are that “Amnesty International failed to acknowledge that the higher number of lese-majeste arrests since 22 May 2014 merely represented old cases…”, and that all cases result in “a fair trial.”

The claim that all are old cases is false – as just one example, see Apiwan Wiriyachai’s case. The idea that any lese majeste victim gets a fair trial would be laughable if it wasn’t such a tragic event for those accused, charged and imprisoned.

Update: The Nation reports on another Thai diplomat who can make a crooked line straight with a lie here and a fib there. The pliable Sihasak Phuangketkeow has told pliant Thai reporters that while he got criticism from a relatively lowly State Department official, reckons he told President Obama that “Thailand … had reaffirmed its faith in democratic values…”. That must explain all the repression, censorship, harassment of academics, lese majeste cases, the military dictatorship and the military’s complete domination of the cabinet and assembly. It is all about “democratic values”!

Appreciating posterior polishing

17 08 2014

PPT was struck by an article at the Bangkok Post entitled, “Prayuth now ‘certain’ to become PM.”

It wasn’t the certainty of The Leader, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, taking the top job (well, next to top job) or the idea that the “[t]op brass [is] to dominate cabinet posts,” for both have been expected for some time. The military dictators are unlikely to release their control of power until they feel certain that Thailand’s rules of politics are such that the royalist state runs on autopilot. The article explains how the cabinet seats are being shuffled about amongst royalist generals.

What struck us was the statement of how the Foreign Ministry “post is … being considered for a civilian, with former minister [71 year-old] Tej Bunnag or permanent secretary for foreign affairs Sihasak Phuangketkeow in the running…”. A civilian! Heaven forbid! But it isn’t even that which grabs attention. Rather, it is the idea that the serial posterior polisher Sihasak could be considered.

In fact, the report states that Sihasak “is seen by Gen Prayuth as an outstanding official…. Since the coup, Mr Sihasak has had the dual role of foreign minister and permanent secretary for foreign affairs. Gen Prayuth is said to be happy with his performance in promoting a good understanding of Thailand’s post-coup situation.”

This tells us quite a lot about Prayuth. He values “yes-men” rather than capacity. His measure of quality is the length of the muscular hydrostat and the slick talker vowing loyalty over anyhting that might be confused with substance.

Australia and the military junta

11 08 2014

Thailand’s National News Bureau reports on the country’s relations with Australia.

Soon after the military junta seized power, the Australian government expressed “grave concerns” about the coup. Hence, it is something of a surprize to read that junta flunkey Sihasak Phuangketkeow, who is “the Permanent Secretary of Foreign Affairs, and acting Foreign Minister,” claims that bilateral discussions with Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting has been reported as support for the military dictatorship.

The report states that “Australia has confirmed its support for Thailand’s road map, as developed by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)…”.

Supporting the so-called road map can be support for the milary junta and even if there is fluff about urging a return to democracy, the report makes it sound like Australia is now officially signed up as a junta fan.

Or is the story a fabrication to keep the junta happy and to imply international support from a Western democracy. After all, Sihasak is not always the most truthful or principled spokesman.

Bringing Prem back in

13 07 2014

Practised posterior polisher Foreign Ministry permanent secretary Sihasak Phuangketkeow is perhaps the appropriate person to bring Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanond back into open politics.

Of course, after the palace’s terrible political miscalculation of the 2006 military-palace coup, where Prem and his co-conspirators in the military and Privy Council were shown to have been directly involved in planning and implementing the coup. This mistake was compounded for the monarchy when the king and queen met the junta almost immediately and in person.

Everyone who watched knew that this was a coup the palace wanted and helped bring about. When politics became more complicated and divided, these mistakes and miscalculations became the grist of the political mill, severely damaging the monarchy and requiring the massive use of lese majeste and related laws to repress anti-monarchy sentiment.

So when the planning was underway for the 2014 coup – for years, according to one source who should know – the military and palace decided that the latter had to be quiet and operate behind the scenes. Quiet, seemingly disconnected, and saving a ton of face and a little remaining political capital.

Now that the coup is done and the military dictatorship firmly repressing dissent, rigging the future of politics and smashing red shirt organization, the palace is being brought back in.

The Bangkok Post reports that the leader of the royalist faction is being wheeled out to support dictatorship. Prem “has been invited to visit China to mark the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries…”. What better way to mark a return of the boss than to have him make the links to other authoritarian regimes.

Bottom buffer Sihasak “said he was informed by the Chinese government about the invitation, which he claimed reflected the close and long-standing relationship between the countries.”

The dictatorship wants to make this event a big deal as it will be portrayed as a big deal for a regime that is pretty much isolated except from other authoritarians and dictators.

There will be “another exchange of high-level visits, including a royal visit.” Both Chulabhorn and  Sirindhorn have long links with the authoritarian regime in China, so one or both of them will continue that link. Sirindhorn has been the favored propagandist for China in Thailand.

Sihasak threatened the recalcitrant West, stating: “Thailand is ready to work with any country that wants to cooperate, but a true friend is a friend in tough times.” The palace seems ever ready to support authoritarianism at home and abroad.

Updated: Recycling 2006 propaganda

11 07 2014

At the Bangkok Post it is reported that “Foreign Ministry permanent secretary Sihasak Phuangketkeow has urged US media to gain a better understanding of Thai politics, explaining the latest putsch in Thailand differed from coups in other countries in several ways, especially the ‘benevolent intentions’ behind seizing power.”

Sihasak has a record of switching sides, having once been an avid supporter of Thaksin and then deftly switching to the royalist side around the time of the 2006 coup and then the election of the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime. He was the one who was asked to defend lese majeste and a trail of human rights violations (murder of red shirts by his current bosses, cluster bombs, human trafficking, etc.) when he was posted to Geneva.His great ability is his English language. He now “serves as acting foreign minister…”.

So he’s a slippery and unprincipled character. Just the kind of person a military dictatorship would want to send out to defend its 2014 coup.

Sihasak landed in New York to tell “US journalists about the background of Thai politics and the coup’s motivations, as well as the junta’s three-step plan leading to democracy.” Only a deluded junta can imagine that journalists in the US covering Thailand will be fooled by a throwback junta’s Orwellian doublespeak. That his propaganda exercise was directed at “two senior representatives from The New York Times” speaks volumes for the impact Thomas Fuller’s accurate and incisive reporting has had.

Sihasak says: “I tried to explain why the National Council for Peace and Order [NCPO] had to seize power. I told them the coup was aimed at restoring peace and moving democracy forward…. It was Thailand’s last resort to bring the country back to normalcy and the coup helped maintain democracy, not destroy it…”.

Right. So the repression, crackdowns, arrests, intolerance of dissent, trashing of the law and constitution, and the implementation of a lese majeste regime is about restoring democracy (after the junta has destroyed its opposition).

The New York Times is not, we expect, so gullible as to believe such errant nonsense.

Sihasak’s recycling of 2006 justifications for the military-palace coup must amuse the journalists. He says he told them: “If there was no change on May 22, there may have been bloodshed. The army had no choice…”. Lacking ideas and justification for a coup, the military dictatorship makes it up, using words that are exactly the same as in 2006.

Sihasak reportedly also “met the Asia Society’s executive vice-president Tom Nagorski, and proposed a joint meeting on the Thai-US relationship, inviting American policy-makers, members of Congress and think tanks familiar with Thailand.”

This sounds remarkably like the deal Abhisit and his government engaged in back in 2009 and 2010. The appearance at the Asia Society by then Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya in 2009 was a disaster when he was unprepared and spoke in yellow-shirt style.  Yingluck appeared there as well after her election and had an easy task, not having to defend a pathetic unelected regime or a bunch of military despots.

Still, the junta seems to think that a bit of the ancien regime’s blarney might convince those who have had the scales removed from their eyes. Treating the foreign audience as political nincompoops is unlikely to be a viable strategy in 2014.

Update: More horse manure from Sihasak reported at the Bangkok Post. The Post says that the Sihasak reckons “United Nations agencies are still confident in Thailand’s role as a leader in the region despite the military coup…”. Sihasak “met the president of the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly John W Ashe, the chef de cabinet of UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, Susana Malcorra, and president of the Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc) Martin Sajdik.” We are unsure how Sihasak came to his conclusion when the report states that all he met said that Thailand should return to democracy. That might be what the military dictatorship says but no reasonable U.N. official could believe them. The claim that “Ecosoc chairman Sajdik saw Thailand achieving success by adhering to the rule of law, justice and transparency” seems a bizarre interpretation and suggests that Sihasak is making stuff up or the report is missing something.

Updated: Thailand’s shame

21 06 2014

There are many reports available on Thailand’s downgrade to Tier 3 – the lowest tier – by the U.S. government. The Guardian reports that:

The US has signalled its mounting concern over modern-day slavery in Thailand and Qatar after it downgraded both countries on its human trafficking watchlist following revelations of appalling maltreatment of migrant workers.

Thailand was relegated to the lowest rank in the state department’s Trafficking in Persons (TiP) report – meaning it is now considered no better than North Korea, Iran or Saudi Arabia in the way it treats workers and protects them from abuse.

Reuters makes the same point:

The U.S. State Department downgraded Thailand, Malaysia and Venezuela on Friday to its list of the world’s worst centres of human trafficking, opening up the countries to possible sanctions and dumping them in the same category as North Korea and Syria.

This comes at a critical time for the country: coup, military junta, the reports earlier by The Guardian on slavery on ships in the seafood industry, and the mammoth movement of fearful Cambodian migrant workers back home, probably now numbering close to 200,000.

One point to note about this is that, while it comes at a time that reflects particularly badly for Thailand’s military dictatorship, it is not just the military that has failed and, indeed, been implicated in trafficking. All recent Thai governments have been downright awful on this matter, with the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime being amongst the most hopeless. With its military allies, Abhisit’s government adopted hardline tactics more than once. It copped plenty of flak. Then minister Kasit Piromya even worked on plans to repatriate Burmese refugees. The Yingluck Shinawatra government was unable to reign in the military.

The complicity of military and civil officials in trafficking is shown in the TiP report:

There continued to be reports that corrupt Thai civilian and military officials profited from the smuggling of Rohingya asylum seekers from Burma and Bangladesh (who transit through Thailand in order to reach Malaysia or Indonesia) and were complicit in their sale into forced labor on fishing vessels. Thai navy and marine officials allegedly diverted to Thailand boats carrying Rohingya asylum seekers en route to Malaysia and facilitated the transfer of some migrants to smugglers and brokers who sold some Rohingya into forced labor on fishing vessels. Additionally, there are media reports that some Thai police officials systematically removed Rohingya men from detention facilities in Thailand and sold them to smugglers and brokers; these smugglers and brokers allegedly transported the men to southern Thailand where some were forced to work as cooks and guards in camps, or were sold into forced labor on farms or in shipping companies.

The mistreatment of migrants in Thailand is reflective of the elite’s gross capacity for vile exploitation that is often embedded in deeply held and racist perspectives on the elite’s entitlements and privilege. The current military dictatorship is probably the least likely regime to do anything serious about this shameful situation.

Update: One of the creepy things about recent politics in Thailand is how some officials switch sides and sound equally disgusting no matter which political side they currently “represent.” There are several examples, including The Eel, who is notoriously slippery and slimy. Another is the former Thaksin Shinawatra posterior polisher from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sihasak Phuangketkeow. In response to the U.S. report discussed above, the slippery permanent secretary of the Ministry “responded angrily to the TIP report today, calling the downgrade unfair.” He added that he felt “very disappointed and strongly disagree with it [the downgrading].” This comes from a person who has spent his recent years defending the undefendable on human rights, like the military’s use of cluster bombs and the draconian lese majeste law. This slippery character even announced that “Thailand deserve[d] an upgrade in the annual TIP report for its ‘significant progress’ in combatting human trafficking.” There is either more horse manure at MFA than at Churchill Downs or the place is full of dunces. It seems like it is the latter, for Sihasak stated, “I insist that Thailand upholds the principles of human rights…”. He’s deaf, dumb, blind and stupid it seems.


Updated: The China factor

14 06 2014

Reuters reports on the rapid tilt to China by the military dictatorship in Thailand. Thailand’s new military leaders have been quick to seek the support of regimes that are more likely to be amenable to a dictatorship, and China is certainly one of those.

It reports that a high-level military delegation has traveled to China for talks. Led by General Surasak Kanjanarat, the meeting was to discus “future plans of action” between the two militaries. Reuters notes that the “bid by Thailand’s military rulers to strengthen ties with China comes after Western powers, including old ally the United States, criticized the May 22 coup and called for a speedy return to democracy…. The junta has said it has China’s support.”

Reuters also reports that”the first major corporate deal since the coup, state-owned China Mobile Ltd agreed to buy a 19 percent stake in Thai telecoms group True Corp for US$881 million.” There’s no particular surprise there as True is dominated by the CP Group, which has long invested in China and is one of the Sino-Thai tycoon families that is royalist to the core.

The dictatorship may think that cosying up to China will act to quiet criticism from the Americans, but then that criticism of the coup has been very limited involving little more than the required cancellation of tiny amounts of military aid. PPT thinks it more likely that the junta is simply reflecting the political views of the conspiratorial extremists in the anti-democratic movement who have identified the U.S. as pro-Thaksin and an enemy. Most of this extremist group is ethnically drawn to China.

That said, part of the visit and the pandering to China is also about shoring up the Chinese tourist market. Reuters notes that Chinese inbound tourists were down by about 50% so far in 2014, and the dictatorship certainly wants those tourists back.

Update: Related to this post, the junta’s propaganda really does seem lame. The state propaganda unit reports that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has “confirmed many countries now understand the political situation in Thailand and express readiness to provide cooperation in various fields.” The MFA is a nest of coup supporters, so we can expect such pleading from them. It proclaims that Sihasak Phuangketkeow, who PPT once described as “a well-known mouthpiece for any kind of state repression and censorship” and who is now Permanent-Secretary for Foreign Affairs – rewarded for his toadying to the anti-democrats and fascists – had informed the junta “that he had received positive feedback from many countries during his visits to them.” The junta will probably want to believe him, although Sihasak is also a former protege of Thaksin Shinawatra,so they may be wary of the messenger, hoping that he is as politically slippery as The Eel.

Thailand’s draconian lese majeste law criticized

7 10 2011

In The Nation it is reported that a long list of countries have urged the Thai government to reconsider its draconian lese majeste law.

The comments came during the Universal Periodic Review session at the U.N. Human Rights Council. It is reported that:

Representatives from the United Kingdom, France and Slovenia shared the view that the lese majeste law affected freedom of expression and urged Thailand to consider this aspect of liberty. Hungary and Finland urged Thailand to invite the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression to visit Thailand.

The representative of Norway – also a kingdom – made the most concrete suggestion, pointing out that although Norway has a lese majeste law, a charge can only be brought with the personal approval of the king in order to “avoid abuses”.

… Other states whose representatives urged Thailand to amend the law included Switzerland, Brazil, Spain, Sweden and New Zealand. Some of these, including the Canadian representative, also raised the issue of the Computer Crimes Act, which critics say is also being used by the Thai government to curb freedom of expression.

The report also notes the conspicuous absence of the US on the lese majeste issue. That is not unexpected as the U.S. has been hopeless on this issue for many years, unable to see the victims of lese majeste repression as political prisoners. With such a huge blind spot in its so-called human rights report, the U.S. has little credibility amongst observers of human rights in Thailand.

It cannot be expected that the U.S. would join other credible countries in urging the “Thai government amend the lese majeste law to bring the country’s level of freedom of expression in line with international standards.” A European diplomat is cited as saying that “Washington’s lack of comment on the issue put the US ‘in the same league’ with dictatorial states.”

The U.S.’s partners in silence were China, Syria, Singapore and Burma.

Of course, Thailand’s official representatives mumble on about being “keen to prevent the misuse of the law” and having committees to ensure the law is not abused, but this is all nonsense. Lese majeste is used to silence critics. Thai Ambassador to the UN Sihasak Phuangketkeow, who is a well-known mouthpiece for any kind of state repression and censorship made himself look stupid by claiming that the media in Thailand is free when there is the continuing censorship of tens of thousands of web sites.

PPT hopes that the countries that spoke against lese majeste repression will be more vocal about the imprisonment of hundreds on this draconian charge.

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