Who cut the forests?

23 07 2015

Self-appointed Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha has an opinion on pretty much everything. As The Dictator his opinion is widely heard even if his opinions are those of a cloistered military bureaucrat with little knowledge of real life.

Recently he has had opinions on the environment, commenting favorably on the proposed coal-fired power station down south and denigrating those who oppose it. Military dinosaurs have a penchant for the past, and coal-fired power stations seem set to go the way of the dinosaurs.

Continuing on the environment theme, the military junta ordered an end to deforestation. Recently, The Dictator has remarked that elected governments had destroyed 8.6 million rai of forest in the north and northeast.

Former Democrat Party MP Watchara Petthong seemed a little miffed by this allegation. Watchara stated:

It sounds like the PM is blaming democratic governments – but the true reason forests disappeared was that government officials did not do their duty. Some, like those from the Royal Forestry Department, the Department of National Parks Wildlife and Plant Conservation or the Department of Provincial Administration, sought vested interests….

He added:

Another reason the country’s water resources had turned into bald mountains was that a giant conglomerate lures poor farmers to grow corn to be used as animal feed. This has caused natural disasters like floods, landslide and drought….

We guess he means CP. We’d also note the data on land ownership from an earlier post, reproduced here, which suggests another phenomenon at work; the acquisition of large plots of land across the country.Land 2The CP lot come in second, but are a long way behind the biggest landowner. That Sino-Thai tycoons own huge swathes of land seems to be a relatively recent phenomenon associated with the 1980s boom that began under the premiership of General Prem Tinsulanonda. That followed a huge expansion of agricultural land in the 1960s and 1970s that cleared considerable forest.

The same PPT post had the ownership list for politicians from a couple of years ago. If those top 10 politicians were added together they would have been listed at no. 5 in the list reproduced above. Most of those politicians were serious business people before entering parliament.

Watchara goes further, accusing The Dictator of negligence: “Even in areas under the jurisdiction of the military during the period the PM was then Army Chief, the mountains turned into ‘bald’ mountains. Did the PM ever look into the problems?” He states that “forest encroachment also took place during the Prayut government,” and suggests that the current military dictatorship and the fear it engenders prevents “decent state officials” doing their jobs.

“Politicians and senior officials encroach upon reserve forests, water sources, mangrove forests and the Sor Por Kor land. How can the Land Department issue land title deeds for them? The PM must order a check of all plots and exercise Article 44 to confiscate the land,” he said.

Watchara response is to demand even more use of dictatorial powers (sigh…) and “urged Constitution Drafting Committee chairman Borwornsak Uwanno to incorporate in the charter draft a rule that MPs, Senators, ministers must not be involved in forest encroachment, either directly or indirectly through nominees.”

Given his comments on the military, perhaps he thinks that most future MPs, Senators and ministers will be from the military.

PPT well recalls the encroachment on forests that was encouraged in the war against the CPT (opens a PDF). Many of those areas are those where the “forest encroachers” turn out to be people the military and other security organizations encouraged to settle in and clear forest hill areas in the north and northeast a couple of generations ago.

Even in the late 1980s there were endless streams of military-registered logging trucks coming out of military-controlled hill areas that were deforested. Over several decades, many of the military brass made huge fortunes through their involvement with forest and land encroachment in those areas and along Thailand’s borders.

They worked in tandem with local businesspeople-cum-politicians and with Sino-Thai tycoons.





Absolutism

10 06 2015

PPT should have mentioned academic Patrick Jory’s “Thailand haunted by the ghost of absolutism” at East Asia Forum a few days ago.

EAFHis essential point is that the illegal military dictatorship’s manipulation of politics and law means that “Thailand has reverted to an absolutist state.” PPT has posted about totalitarianism.

Jory is pretty much right when he states:

The essence of the political conflict remains unchanged since it began in late 2005, when a movement backed by Thailand’s conservative elite ousted the elected government of the popular Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Today, a power bloc — consisting of the military, the bureaucracy, and Sino–Thai banking and industry, given political legitimacy and ideological unity by the monarchy — continues its struggle to preserve its political supremacy. This power bloc is threatened by the politicisation of Thailand’s rural and urban working classes — whose political potential Thaksin was the first to recognise and exploit.

His diagnosis of the political conflict is also pretty much correct:

The power bloc wages this struggle in ideological terms in the name of ‘reform’. But what is endlessly debated in the pro-establishment media and by conservative intellectuals as a moral issue — how to solve the problem of corrupt politicians, vote-buying, ignorant voters — is in reality a political issue: how to accommodate the entry of millions of Thai citizens into Thailand’s political process. The draft constitution’s oft-stated desire to rid Thai politics of the former is really an attempt to block the latter.

If less eloquently, PPT has made similar points for a long time. Jory’s article deserves a wide audience.





Updated: Land, wealth and influence

28 03 2015

One of the recent “debates” in the puppet National Legislative Assembly had to do with land tax. This issue has been around for decades, and neither elected governments nor authoritarian and military regimes have wanted to touch it. The puppets seemed to drop it pretty quickly, not least because self-appointed prime minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha intervened.

The reason land tax is a hot potato is that Thailand’s elite invests heavily in land, often speculatively, with the idea that it avoids scrutiny and tax, and land thus provides essentially tax-free wealth parking.

In a report at the Bangkok Post and widely reported in other media, the NGO Local Action Links (LocalAct) claims that 530 (then-)elected politicians owned land worth a total of 18.1 billion baht and buildings worth another 6.4 billion baht. The NGO said these holdings indicated “why they are opposed to a proposed land and buildings tax…”.

The error here is that none of these politicians is in the puppet Assembly. All of these politicians were ditched by the 2014 coup. The bigger point is correct: politicians, like others in the broad elite, like to buy properties for the reasons mentioned above.

The average for each of these politicians is about 47 million baht or $1.44 million, the price of a luxury condominium or a modern and well-appointed house and land in Bangkok. Averages don’t mean a great deal in terms of distribution of wealth, for as one of the tables reproduced in the Post shows, land wealth varies greatly. (We always worry about out computational skills when dealing with billions, so hopefully we have got it right.)Land 1 What is interesting in the report is the focus on elected politicians, many of whom have businesses when they enter politics, and that data are what is revealed in their self-declarations of ownership.

Why politicians? Why not the wealth of the military leaders and their puppet politicians?

Sure, the figures aren’t directly comparable, but the land and buildings declared by elected politicians is, on average, less than the average declared total assets of the military and police members of the puppet National Legislative Assembly. In an earlier post we provided these details: If a general in the armed forces, your assets average about 78 million baht, If you managed to become an admiral in the navy, you sail away with average assets of about 109 million baht. The top money secretes to the top police. The average for the police is a whopping 258 million baht.

And then what isn’t emphasized is that these politicians are tiddlers when compared with the whales of land ownership. The study showed that 14 then-MPs held land covering more than 1,000 rai while 25 had more than 500 rai and 126 held more than 100 rai. When the second table is examined, the really big landowners are Thailand’s wealthiest.

Land 2The report in the Post states: “Politicians, however, are not the largest group of landlords, according to Lands Department data.” PPT has posted on this previously.

Some of that data is presented above showing the control by Sino-Thai tycoons, with the top 10 landholders owning almost 1 million rai. That the Sirivadhanabhakdi family owns land the equivalent size to about 1,000 square kilometres, which is about the area of Hong Kong and larger than Singapore (by about 25%) might be a surprise, when it has long been thought the Crown Property Bureau was the largest landowner in the country. It would be interesting to compare values, for the CPB’s land – much of it in high-priced areas of central Bangkok – was valued at about $30 billion about a decade ago.

The Chearavanont family, with about 200,000 rai, is the family that controls the CP group, the agro-industry giant, while United Palm Oil Industry, with some 44,400 rai, is a company that has its main owners in Singapore, and tightly inter-connected and family-owned structures that include, for example, Lam Soon (Thailand).

The Forbes list of Thailand’s richest, excluding the royal family are: (1) Sirivadhanabhakdi family, $12.9 billion, (2) Chirathivat family, $12.1b, and (3) Dhanin Chearavanont, $11.5b.

The royal connections of the Sirivadhanabhakdi and Chearavanont empires are well-known. Such connections are unavoidable, but not so the links to The Dictator, the broad anti-democrat alliance and the Democrat Party.

Update: Interestingly, in a revised report, the Bangkok Post – which maintains the original story too – refers to ex-politicians, removes the table showing the Crown Property Bureau and does not mention the CPB when writing of big land owners.





The dictatorship and Wharton

15 03 2015

Not that long ago, PPT posted about another foray into U.S. academia by royalist interests. That post was about the University of Michigan as royalists forked out loot, with the Crown Property Bureau to promote their interests. There had been a similar doling out of dosh at Harvard (as if it needs it!). Both efforts to curry favor in the U.S. were under the current military dictatorship.

The most recent link to U.S. universities is a “conference” in Bangkok, organized by The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Our attention was drawn to this event by a report that The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, was a keynote speaker at the Wharton Global Forum Bangkok.

The Wharton Dean states that the Wharton Global Forum Bangkok will see “industry and academia will come together to debate ideas and explore new pathways for exploiting the possibilities and mitigating the pitfalls of today’s borderless world, and Asia’s central role in this rapidly changing business environment.”

Shouldn’t we expect him to know that there is no academic freedom in Thailand under the military dictatorship? Shouldn’t he know that some academics have had to escape Thailand while others are prevented from presenting views that are not in line with those of the dictatorship? Surely business schools, which repeatedly talk of good governance and corporate social responsibility, should be ashamed that this meeting is under the auspices of the world’s only military dictatorship, with The Dictator as a keynote speaker.

Shouldn’t Wharton be ashamed that it provided The Dictator with a platform to lie – he claimed his government had never infringed human rights – and to attack the very notion of electoral democracy.

Why would Wharton lend its name to the military dictatorship? One reason is that one of the Chairmen of the event is multiple military junta servant and minor prince Pridiyathorn Devakula. He’s been finance minister for both the 2006 and 2014 military junta backed and appointed governments and he’s a Wharton alumnus. That, however, is probably not sufficient to get a big conference for the military dictatorship. That requires money, and Pridiyathorn is not short of a baht. In fact, he is listed as an event sponsor. That requires a payment of $50,000.

The lead sponsors include a bunch of Sino-Thai conglomerates close to the military dictatorship and the monarchy: Double A, Bangkok Bank, CP, Land & Houses, PTT, and the Crown Property Bureau -controlled Siam Cement Group. No doubt most of this lot were happy enough to fork over $100,000 each when Pridiyathorn  and the dictatorship came knocking.





Defining political inanity II

11 03 2015

A couple of days ago, the Bangkok Post felt the need to publish a propaganda piece by “Captain (Ret) Dr Yongyuth Mayalarp,” who is listed as “Spokesperson to the Prime Minister’s Office.”

We at PPT have never quite understood why having been a “captain” in the military (or the police) remains a badge of (dis)honor for the rest of one’s life. If the collective memory here is any good, we recall that the minor prince and royalist politician Kukrit Pramoj, for all his nasty political machinations against “non-royalists,” at least poked fun at this ridiculous notion by, on occasions, using “corporal” to describe himself.

Yongyuth is a long-time military flunkey, having been a deputy spokesman for the 2006 military junta “during the coup.”He worked at the Army’s Channel 5 from 1993, and like so many posterior polishers of the powerful, even worked for the self-important Surakiat Sathirathai when he promoted himself for the UN Secretary-general’s position and failed, as any sensible person knew he would.

But back to Yongyuth’s rather poorly-written propaganda piece, replete with English language clangers. It begins:

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha [sic.] has on many occasions talked to the public about his vision for Thailand, entitled “Stability, Prosperity and Sustainability”. He has taken the time to listen and speak to people from all walks of life about the future direction for the country. In light of this as well as the comprehensive reforms that are currently under way, it is only fitting that as citizens, we take some time to reflect on how the country can move forward.

PPT hasn’t seen Prayuth listening to anybody. He’s the boss. He dictates, orders, has tantrums, makes demands, represses and attacks those who disagree with him.

Yongyuth, who has spent some time overseas, mainly in elite circles in Britain, suggests:

We are mindful of the notion that Thailand is undergoing a period of fundamental transition in political development. It is useful for us to think about the experience of other countries and how their paths of major reform and transition share some commonalities with ours.

As Thailand is possibly the only military dictatorship in the world, has probably had more military putsches than any other nation and has a regime that prefers authoritarian royalism to other ideologies, we expect that the comparisons might be thin.

Yongyuth then launches into a barely intelligible account of the justification for the military dictatorship based on The Dictator’s “reading” of recent history, still claiming that the junta’s will “serve as the basis for a sustainable democratic system in Thailand.” Presumably he means Thai-style democracy. He makes the ludicrous claim that the coup, the junta and the military dictatorship can be conceived as “a way to manage the conflict…” that was manufactured by the anti-democrats, in league with the military brass.

Like so many conservatives, and not just in Thailand, Yongyuth and his bosses have a peculiar view of their country:

Many can recall that there was a time Thai society was being held together by a deeper appreciation for national unity based on our national heritage. It was a time when we were able to agree to disagree, a time when civility prevailed even though there were differences in opinion.

Of course, this is the military’s view of its long control of Thailand’s politics, allied with the Sino-Thai business class. The underlings knew that they had to shut up and bear the exploitation of the rich and powerful. It is the military dictatorship’s aim to reimpose that elite hegemony.

Yongyuth finds nothing odd about referring to a democracy “for the people, and by the people”. Declaring that “Thailand is not fundamentally retreating from democracy,” he makes the quite ludicrous statement: “We are strengthening our democratic institutions to prevent outright abuses of democracy in the past…. It is this government’s priority to take care of all of our citizens, and not just the majority like has happened in the past,” before coming up with the anti-democrat line: “… democracy is more than elections and must be based on respect for the rule of law. It must be about good governance, transparency, accountability and equal access to justice.”

Given the military dictatorship’s lack of transparency, zero accountability (that is what martial law allows) and a failed and politicized justice system, we think Yongyuth has used up his brain cells.

Remarkably, although we at PPT are getting used to the strange, remarkable and odd from the minions of the military dictatorship, Yongyuth reckons there are “lessons from international history in terms of democracy, governance and civil society.”

Which lessons? It is here that Yongyuth shows his ignorance. The first example: “We are aware of the Reform Act of 1832 in Britain and how long that took but after much debate and discussion.” Indeed it did take a long time, precisely because the wealthy and aristocratic elite opposed equal voting rights and extended voting rights. The aristocratic elite’s preferred “rotten boroughs” and patronage.

The puppet Constitution Drafting Committee is proposing to restrict voting and to have unelected senators and an unelected prime minister. 1832 in Britain was about undoing such unrepresentative arrangements, not entrenching them.

GuillotineNot content with that mistake, Yongyuth’s second example is even more bizarre: “We are aware of the French Revolution and how ultimately, it was the political will of the people to overcome injustice, poverty and misery, and that exploitation of the poor is unacceptable.”

Ah, did he notice that the French Revolution established a republic, put the king and queen to death and abolished feudalism and the old rules and privileges of the ancien régime. In Thailand, the military dictatorship uses feudal laws like lese majeste to repress opponents and the military itself serves the monarchy and the privileged.

We won’t even bother with the third crazy example. Suffice it to say that when Yongyuth declares that “national reform” by the military and its puppets is somehow “by the Thai people,” he is ignoring, dismissing and denigrating the people.





The military dictatorship II

8 03 2015

Conservatives, royalists, rightists, anti-democrats and even royals make much of Thailand’s difference or distinctiveness when compared with the rest of the world. They assert that Thailand, its history and its politics is “different from every other place in the world.

In one respect, they are right, and Wikipedia’s page on military dictatorship proves this:

DictatorshipYes, according to this source, Thailand is indeed unique! It is the only country in the world run by a military dictatorship.

PrachataiWe might quibble with the listing – after all, the military junta did appoint puppet assemblies and so on –  but the point is clear enough: Thailand is suffering a dinosaur regime, best fitted to the 1950s and 1960s, when there were many military leaders who felt it their duty to protect the interests of a privileged elite.

And, if one examines even the headlines from, say, Prachatai, the image is that the military junta is getting on with self-assigned job, dictating.

This military dictatorship is repressing, controlling, jailing, threatening and seeing enemies in every corner of the nation.

Military dictatorships in Thailand are associated with periods of shared and growing wealth between monarchy, military and Sino-Thai tycoons. They are also associated with a political dark age of extreme royalism, repression and fear.

 





Sour wine and old green bottles

13 01 2015

Tan Hui Yee at the Straits Times has a useful discussion of the constitution drafting charade. We at PPT felt that it was a good follow-up to our earlier comments on the charade where we were disgusted by the political toadying of Somchai Wongsawat.

Recall that Somchai babbled about lawyer-for-royalist-hire Bowornsak Uwanno being “respected” and about the military dictatorship’s “sincere effort” to “take care of the country, solve the conflicts, and lead our country forward.” When he asserted that: “We accept and understand it. I want everyone to think of the country, so that the international community will not look down on us…”, he was wrong on every count.

Tan explains why he is so very wrong.

Thailand’s 19th Constitution (depending how you count them) is “being penned under the close watch of the military government, with martial law shielding the drafters from the most contentious of debates.”

While there will be some debates, this is mostly a facade of squabbling amongst a narrow set of options acceptable to the military dictatorship.

As Tan says, the “Constitution Drafting Committee plans to hold public hearings from this month. While the final version will be tabled only later this year … its broad strokes are already apparent to most observers…”.

What is broadly acceptable? “It will crimp the power of erstwhile dominant political parties and make it easier for an unelected person to assume the helm of the country.”

Borwornsak wants “an unelected premier as a last resort that can be used to break a political deadlock and avert military intervention.” This is nonsense, but then that his his stock in trade.

Chulalongkorn University political scientist Naruemon Thabchumpon says “This is a ‘retro’ Constitution,” that many know will “usher in a period of unstable coalition governments that dominated Thai politics more than a decade ago.”

PPT has been saying this for several months. And Tan agrees that it is “the 1980s, [when] military strongman Prem Tinsulanonda was prime minister despite being unelected” that seems like the model. He notes that it is “Prem, who now heads the Privy Council … [who] remains an influential elder to the current crop of coup-makers.”

He’s the boss, but is gradually being eased out. Despite this, his ideas a widely accepted by the royalist military, in the palace, by the Sino-Thai tycoons and other members of the elite who know they must rule to protect their wealth and political power.

Academic prostitutes like Panitan Wattanayagorn, who is now advertised as “an adviser to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan” – he does have many patrons all of them right-wing fascists – sounds exactly like Somchai when he asserts the “ideas being discussed by the Charter drafters ‘far exceed expectations’… saying, “everybody needs to compromise…”. By “everyone” he means all who do not agree with the rightist military fascists.

Tan concludes with a note on the uncertainties of succession, pointing out that “some wonder if the drafters would work in a clause or two that would legitimise a role for the junta even after elections.”

We know the answer: yes. The result will be, in Tan’s words “a shiny new Constitution, but exactly the same powers pulling the strings.” Even the wine being poured into the Army’s green bottles is sour.








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