No longer “universally revered”

6 12 2012

Simon Roughneen’s birthday article at the Christian Science Monitor begins with an interesting statement: “Though the royal institution once enjoyed a near-universal respect, recent political polarization has raised questions about the role of the monarchy and about the country’s future after his reign.” He goes on to observe that the “world’s longest-sitting monarch is portrayed as a widely-revered apolitical father-figure…”. Generally the international media has been complicit in this portrayal.

PPT isn’t sure there was ever “near-universal respect” at any time in the past, but the point that the monarchy’s populist position has been reduced by its obvious political interventionism in recent years is an useful observation.

Roughneen spends the article talking of succession and the possibilities of destabilization. He cites historian Thongchai Winichakul who says that at the end of the reign, “the royalist domination in politics will be in disarray, for sure.” The academic adds that the monarchy’s power may decline” but there will be a temptation for “tighter control during the transition…”.

He also quotes Paul Handley who rightly observes that the royalists behind the 2006 coup “cannot be happy that Thaksin’s sister [Yingluck Shinawatra] is prime minister…. I think that limits her ability to begin normalizing politics away from palace intrigue, if that was even in her ability and intention.”

Roughneen concludes: “So for now authorities perpetuate kingly mystique…”. It is as much a charade as a mystique. Times have changed, power is shifting, and the monarchy is struggling to keep its political power and authority.


Stories on floods and migrants

3 11 2011

Simon Roughneen has a story at The Irrawaddy on migrant workers:

“They are using the opportunity to exploit workers,” says Aung, slamming Thai immigration officials and Burmese brokers for extorting Burmese migrants fleeing Thailand’s worst flooding for half-a-century. “I have never seen anything as bad as this…”.

See Reuters on migrant workers also.

More flood updates

29 10 2011

1. A reader points out that the U.S. Navy ship still in Thailand is apparently being asked to extend its stay, described in one report as a “U-turn” by Thai officials. There’s another report here.

2. Simon Roughneen has some photos and a story at the Christian Science Monitor. Bangkok’s central shopping area remains dry, although further out on Sukhumvit, there are reports of flooding as a dyke broke and was being repaired. Bangkok Pundit has a post on Bangkok flooding.

Photo by Simon Roughneen

Update: The following reports come from Google. Two in particular deserve singling out.The first on Bangkok’s “latest test” from the Washington Post and the second from the Wall Street Journal comparing the floods in Thailand to Japan’s recent nuclear meltdown, earthquake and tsunami as a crisis of mammoth proportions for huge number of Japanese firms invested in manufacturing in Thailand.

Flood defenses in Thailand’s capital hold up to latest test as coastal high …
Washington Post
BANGKOK — Defenses shielding the center of Thailand’s capital from the worst floods in nearly 60 years mostly held Saturday as coastal high tides hit their peak, but areas along the city’s outskirts remained submerged along with much of the
See all stories on this topic » 
Thai floods boost PC hard drive prices
By Noel Randewich SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Prices for hard drives are jumping as flooding in Thailand creates a shortage of the major component used in personal computers and one big customer is complaining of price gouging.
See all stories on this topic » 
After Earthquake Disaster, Japan Inc. Faces Another Crisis
Wall Street Journal (blog)
By JAMES SIMMS Japan’s manufacturers still recovering from the triple disasters of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown now have to contend with a fourth crisis: Floods in Thailand. For the companies involved, it may be the biggest problem of them
See all stories on this topic » 
Acer and Samsung warn of Thai flood impact
Financial Times
By Robin Kwong in Taipei Computer prices are set to rise following warnings by Acer and Samsung Electronics that severe flooding in Thailand would hit production and that they would pass resulting higher costs on to consumers. The comments are the most
See all stories on this topic » 
Thai flooding disrupting hard drive supplies
WASHINGTON — The massive flooding in Thailand is disrupting supplies of hard disk drives (HDDs) for the world’s personal computer makers, according to companies and market intelligence firms. Around 40 percent of all hard disk drives worldwide are
See all stories on this topic » 
Thailand Flooding Supply Chain Breakdown
Supply Chain Digital
Starting in late July, the 2011 Thailand floods have been the region’s worst in 50 years, and have had a huge impact on the local and global supply chain. It’s going to take some creative supply chain management to solve the logistical problems caused
See all stories on this topic » 
Microchip’s Thailand Factories Operating Normally; No Imminent Danger …
MarketWatch (press release)
There is, however, extensive flooding in other parts of Thailand, including sections of the city of Bangkok, and our heartfelt sympathy and concern goes out to the people of Thailand who have been impacted by these floods. “Our highest priority remains
See all stories on this topic » 
Floods likely to damage quarter of Thai rice crop, exports to be hit
Economic Times
BANGKOK: Thailand may lose a quarter of its main rice crop in the nation’s worst flooding in decades, the government estimates, which could boost prices of the staple and further squeeze shipments from the world’s top exporter.
See all stories on this topic » 
Thailand flooding
Washington Post (blog)
By Elizabeth Flock As tens of thousands of Bangkok residents flee the city to escape the worst flooding Thailand has seen in half a century, they are making sure to bring their animal friends along….
See all stories on this topic » 
Mitsubishi Motors Says Thai Floods to Hurt Sales, Cut Profit
By Anna Mukai and Yuki Hagiwara Oct. 28 (Bloomberg) — Mitsubishi Motors Corp. said the floods in Thailand may cut full-year operating profit by as much as 15 billion yen ($198 million) as factory closures and supply disruptions hurt production and

With 3 updates: Bangkok will flood

26 10 2011

Finally, the Yingluck Shinawatra government and Sukhumbhand Paribatra city administration agree: Bangkok is likely to flood over the weekend. The water has been creeping in, and with high tides, it seems that nothing can save the city from the mass of water flowing south. The Bangkok Post has a report worth reading, with some interesting photos and the following graphic that indicates the potential nature of the flooding in the city:

From the Bangkok Post

Update 1: Readers may also be interested in this view of the historical development of cities in flood zones in Asia.

Update 2: FROC has now stated:

Bangkokians should now accept the reality that all Bangkok areas will be inundated, Gen Pracha Promnok, director of the Flood Relief Operation Centre said Wednesday.

This is because there is so much floodwater in the northern area of Bangkok that the Bangkok authorities and Irrigation Department cannot drain it in time, he said.

“Therefore, Bangkokians should adjust themselves and accept the reality that all parts of Bangkok will be under water. The degree of flooding will depend on the landscape of each area,” Pracha said.

Update 3: Simon Roughneen has an on-the-gound account and some good photography of Bangkok’s riverside flooding.

More on floods

12 10 2011

Simon Roughneen has more on floods at the Christian Science Monitor. Our link is to Simon’s page, complete with new photos.

Photo by Simon Roughneen

Royal shush

25 09 2011

That’s the headline for Simon Roughneen’s most recent story at the Christian Science Monitor on lese majeste. He cites Chiranuch Premchaiporn who reportedly stated “that the coup changed the debate on the online forum she moderates, ‘people became more aggressive and anti-military, while before they were more against Thaksin’.”

Nirmal Ghosh also has a story worth reading at the Jakarta Globe. Amongst many points in his assessment of post-coup events, he states:

Anti-monarchy sentiment began surfacing, mostly on the Internet. When the conservative and military-backed Democrat Party government came to power in a parliamentary vote in late 2008, it said growing anti-monarchy sentiment was a threat to national security.

The coup sparked more, not less, talk of the role of the monarchy in Thailand – though still not in public or in the media.

What he doesn’t say is that anti-monarchy sentiment had long existed but had been repressed, through the lese majeste law and intense propaganda, backed heavily by the military and an elite that decided to hitch its future to a royalist-capitalist alliance. What the coup did was lay bare the alliance and some breaks from the alliance, opened by the 1997 economic crisis. Behind the coup was the unleashing of political forces long repressed – and that was Thaksin Shinawatra’s “crime” in the eyes of the elite.

Ghosh concludes: “Beneath the seeming normalcy of the post-election landscape, there remains great unease in the kingdom.” That’s true.

Mediashift looks at lese majeste

2 09 2011

PBS’s Mediashift has a detailed report by Simon Roughneen on lese majeste and recent cases in Thailand. This article looks at lese majeste with the California link to Anthony Chai’s case and U.S. citizen Joe Gordon’s prosecution. Many PPT readers will know the details of the story, that summarizes laws and events for U.S. readers.

David Streckfuss is cited as telling MediaShift that “Thai royalists argue that the Thai monarchy is unique and so deserves unique punishment. But critics claim the law is used arbitrarily as a weapon to silence critics, and undermines democracy in Thailand.” Streckfuss is one of those critics. The article observes:

Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws are likely the most stringent anywhere in the world, and despite King Bhumibol Adulyadej previously saying that he is not above criticism, Thailand’s politically fraught recent history includes a rise in lèse-majesté charges from a handful to hundreds each year.

The article also mentions the case of Chiranuch Premchaiporn which is back in court this week. Roughneen states that he was at the court, “listening to testimony from police officers involved in the investigation against Chiranuch…”, and he spoke with her after one session:

she said that the restarted proceedings seemed to be moving faster than during the previous court sitting held in February, and that she remains “hopeful for a positive outcome.” Some of that optimism may stem from the notably-assertive judge now overseeing the case, who said in court on Thursday that the accused “is not at fault.” However hearings are scheduled to run into October, as things stand, with the witnesses for the accused not due to take the stand until next month.

Rough justice

11 08 2011
Simon Roughneen has a story at The Irrawaddy and at his website (with additional photos) on the 28 July 2011 murder of environmental activist Thongnak Sawekjinda in Samut Sakhon province.

As is often the case in these murders involving “dark influences” – in fact, business people often acting in concert with state officials and hired gunmen –  two men simply pulled up on a motorcycle in the street outside Thongnak’s house and murdered him. He was shot nine times from behind with a 9mm handgun, the preferred assassin’s weapon.

Thongnak had told the police that he had been threatened “during the weeks before he was murdered.” And, his murder followed “several high-profile public protests against coal-related operations in the area” where he was a leading opponent. He had been active in protests in July that had attempted to “press the Samut Sakhon provincial governor to stop coal depots and separation factories pending proper health inspections.” Further, on

July 22, Thongak and a group of residents from nearby Muang District took control of a coal truck which they said was contravening the Samut Sakhon provincial governor’s order banning transportation of coal in and out of the area. Later, on July 26, Thongnak testified in a court case against a company that had transported coal into another district called Tha Sai.

Roughneen notes that in Thailand,

where impunity for the killing of political activists is the norm, the Thai police moved quickly. Seven suspects in the murder case have so far been arrested or have surrendered to police, including Thanayso Wongpim, owner of a coal trucking company in Samut Sakhon province, who nonetheless denies any involvement in the murder of Thongnak. Yothin Theprian, the alleged shooter, turned himself in to police on Aug. 1, apparently as he feared that he would be “silenced” in turn by those who commissioned the murder. He said he killed Thongnak for a 40,000 baht (US $1340) payment.

And yet his wife adds that “the ones who stood to lose most from the campaigns have not been caught.” In addition, justice is not guaranteed even when suspects are held. More often than not, such cases simply fade into oblivion or endless “investigations” that lead nowhere other than to the end of statutory limitations.

Why border clashes?

26 04 2011

Richard Ehrlich has an assessment at Asia Times Online, as does Simon Roughneen at The Irrawaddy, where he assesses domestic issues involved for Cambodia and Thailand. This quote struck PPT as particularly interesting:

Sodsri Sattayatham, a member of Thailand’s Election Commission, said on Monday that the conflict between Thailand and Cambodia might affect Thailand’s upcoming vote. While a date for the election has not been set, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajjiva says he plans to dissolve parliament in early May, with an election to follow in late June or early July.

We have to admit having considered that stirring up the lese majeste brouhaha followed by a war on the border, might have had such foreseen consequences.

Trying to fix an election, part III

18 02 2011

Simon Roughneen in the Sydney Morning Herald joins those who think that there will be an election “before the end of June.” Both Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban have spoken of such a possibility, with no commitment to a date.

Chris Baker

The article notes that this latest bit of election speculation came after “MPs voted to amend the electoral format, expanding the party list representation in parliament and moving the remaining constituency seats from a multi-seat to a single-seat format.” Roughneen cites well-known pundit Chris Baker who says that “the amended system could boost Mr Abhisit’s Democrats [he means the Democrat Party, for they are not democrats], the lead party in the governing coalition, but which has been comfortably beaten by pro-Thaksin [Shinawatra] parties in recent elections.” Baker adds that the premier’s party ”did much better last time on the party list than the territorial constituencies. Shifting seats from territorial to party list should favour them.”

PPT said similar things more than a month ago. We remain on the fence about an election date although we think the probability of an election increases as the Democrat Party and their backers get all of their pieces in order.

We have previously posted on how jailing opponents, engaging in massive censorship, killing protesters, being backed by the military, judiciary and palace, banning hundreds of politicians who would oppose the royalist regime or pose an electoral threat, and getting an already rigged constitution fixed (again) seems not enough for the Abhisit government that has now thrown billions of baht at voters.

With all of this in mind, readers should also look at the post at Bangkok Pundit regarding what PPT considers amounts to Thai-style gerrymandering.

PPT also wants to emphasize the article that BP cites, from The Nation. The panel selected and appointed by Abhisit and chaired by yellow-shirted academic and virulent Thaksin critic Sombat Thamrongthanyawong is said to be “poised to recommend the formation of a Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) tasked with a major overhaul of the electoral system, transforming the way governments are formed.” And just guess which party is going to benefit enormously from the proposals so far leaked. Of course, it is the Democrat Party.

Sombat says that the military junta-backed 2007 constitution simply doesn’t cut the mustard and needs a “major rewrite … to improve on Thailand’s political institutions…”. We’re pretty sure this doesn’t involve the institution.

Getting the junta's constitution in place

It may seem strange that the military junta’s basic law doesn’t work for the Democrat Party as the party of the amart. The military worked exceptionally hard, in alliance with all kinds of yellow-shirted intellectuals and junta flunkies to get the constitution passed by a referendum, so it should be in the interests of the amart. It surely is, but the simple point is that this constitution, while rigged for the anti-Thaksin parties still saw them elected in 2007! Therefore it must be changed to prevent such an “anomaly” again.

Basically, the rules have to be changed to ensure a system that is heavily biased against pro-Thaksin, red shirt or populist parties.

So here are some of the draft recommendations from Abhisit’s panel led by Sombat:

The party with highest proportionate ballots, known as the party-list vote, should have first the chance to form a coalition government. As PPT has pointed out already, this is meant to reflect the fact that the Democrat Party did much better on the party list in 2007 than in the constituency seats. In other words, the proposal does away the notion of the party with the most seats getting first opportunity to form a government. By implication, this approach, in good yellow shirt fashion, effectively devalues votes in rural areas where pro-Thaksin parties have their strongholds, especially in the North, Northeast and Central regions.

The House should not have the mandate to censure the prime minister. PPT reckons this comes direct from Privy Council President and former unelected prime minister General Prem Tinsulanonda. We have no evidence for this claim, but recall that Prem refused through his many years to appear before parliament for a grilling. This would remove the capacity for proper scrutiny of government and for one of the more interesting interludes in parliament.

MPs should not be required to have party membership. This would take Thailand back to a period when horse-trading was the main means of building coalition governments and when buying and selling politicians was the norm. The idea of this proposal, again harking back to the Prem model of the 1980s, is to weaken political parties. By demanding coalition governments the outcome is weak government, strengthening the bureaucracy, military and the intrusive extra-parliamentary institutions of business, palace and judiciary.

PPT wonders just how many more fixes the Democrat Party requires before it could win an election?

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