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.





Coup and monarchy

1 01 2015

America’s NBC News chose the coup and its aftermath as one of the “stories, newsmakers, videos and images that defined 2014.” The story at NBC has several video reports attached to it. We summarize the story and add our own observations.

The story begins:

Seven months after seizing power, Thailand’s military rulers appear to be in no hurry to hand over political control. There is talk that elections won’t take place before 2016…. As they settle in for the long haul, Thailand’s gaffe-prone generals have been focused on their mission to “return happiness to the people.”

The generals, and especially The Dictator, seem happy, and so does perennial political meddler General Prem Tinsulanonda, who has cheered the coup from his palace position as head of the Privy Council. Even if the economy is in anti-democrat/coup-induced decline, the royalist Sino-Thai tycoons seem happy enough that the social order has been righted and steadied.

PrinceThe story continues to the events of the past six weeks or so that have demonstrated something else – that Prem and his lot have managed to make Thailand’s succession a “problem” in the sense that what should have been a simple death of a king and his son taking over has become a major political event. The story notes that the “marital (and extra-marital) adventures of the Crown Prince might well have been dismissed as nothing new if not for one thing: timing. Maneuvering for Thailand’s royal succession has been one of the key factors driving a decade of political conflict in the southeast Asian nation — and now it appears that succession may be imminent.”

Normal constitutional monarchies do not have to deal with such meddling and stupidity because normal constitutional monarchies generally operate within defined legal boundaries. Not in Thailand, so the story observes:

… as the year draws to a close, it is palace intrigue and not Thailand’s increasingly eccentric generals who are the talk of Bangkok — albeit in hushed or oblique tones because of draconian laws that limit open discussion of the monarchy…. Among a number of senior police officers arrested in late November for alleged corruption and defaming the monarchy were the uncle and three brothers of Princess Srirasmi…. Srirasmi — who was in line to be Queen of Thailand — was stripped of her royal title and promptly divorced by her husband, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.

The prince, with the son he took from the union with Srirasmi

The prince, with the son he took from the union with Srirasmi

Noting the successionist line, the report says that the prince’s mistresses have been one source of his unpopularity. The report goes on to talk of Sirindhorn as “popular” and alludes to her sexuality as well: “The prince’s younger sister — Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn — has emerged a far more popular figure among Palace elites, the army and in the country at large. Most Thais would prefer to see her take over from her father.” The report adds that:

That leaves the palace in a pickle — though none of this can be openly discussed in Thailand due to the kingdom’s draconian “lese majeste” law, which bans defamation, insults and threats to the monarchy, with penalties of up to 15 years in jail.

Meanwhile, for the prince, it seems that nothing much has changed.

He’s sent out pictures of himself with Prince Dipangkorn, the son he produced with Srirasmi, and reportedly took off to Germany following the split with her. Life seems to have gotten back to normal, despite another wife tossed out and a couple of dozen of her relatives and hangers-on jailed.

What the story doesn’t say is that there appears to have been a very large criminal network operating around the prince and, in the way of the corrupt Thai police and military, it was probably delivering payments right to the top. Of course, the current palace has managed to avoid allegations of corruption, deftly fending them off or allocating them to “evil” politicians or other sundry nasties, but never taking responsibility. Again, the lese majeste law has helped a lot, preventing any discussion of, for example, palace land grabs.Nothing happened

Sounding a bit like PPT, the story says: “Speculation is rife that Vajiralongkorn’s move to strip his now ex-wife (and her family) of their royal titles was an attempt to clean up shop — and perhaps part of a wider deal with the military to clear the path to the crown.”

Getting back to the coup, the story says:

One widely-assumed and unspoken reason behind the coup is believed to be the military’s desire to oversee a royal succession, and Vajiralongkorn’s rapprochement could be just what the army needs.

We think this is probably the deal to watch. As the NBC story says, “If a deal is done on their watch for the Crown Prince to take the thrown — on their terms — then the generals might feel vindicated.”

That’s true, but it also needs to be recalled that the generals are doing more than “managing” succession. They are re-establishing a political system that protects and nurtures the corrupt military-palace alliance.





Further updated: Lese majeste war

30 12 2014

While PPT has been posting almost non-stop on lese majeste cases brought by the monarchist military dictatorship, several points come to mind as we ponder exactly why The Dictator and his band of royalist “brothers” – using the Prem Tinsulanonda view of the military – think that waging lese majeste war is not damaging that which they claim to be protecting.

December has seen dozens of lese majeste cases and accusations and exceeds anything PPT has seen since we began monitoring such cases in early 2009. Why now?

PPT has mentioned the necessity of preparing for succession. While the king is indeed still alive, his latest appearance suggests that he can’t be functioning as king as he is not remotely competent. Of course, if Thailand was a normal constitutional monarchy, a king with dementia probably wouldn’t matter at all; but Thailand isn’t normal in any shape or form. And, it is the king and his minions like Prem and the aged duffers of the Privy Council who should be blamed for creating a political system that hinges on the health of a very old man.

Another reason for using the lese majeste law is to shore up a political, economic and social order that the elite of rich royalists, stupendously wealthy Sino-Thai tycoons (including the king’s palace), and numerous hangers-on, like the military brass, think has been under threat. They blamed Thaksin Shinawatra for this threat. Of course, they are wrong, but perception counts in politics.

All this kind of makes sense, but why the sudden huge spike in the lese majeste war? We have mentioned succession house cleaning.

We think that there is something to all of these suggestions. However, a Khaosod story caught our attention and set us thinking some more.

It states that the military dictatorship has now “authorised” – read that as “ordered” – Thailand’s internet providers “to shut down any websites deemed critical of the monarchy ‘in 30 seconds’ without seeking approval from any authority.” This is quite a demand, technically and practically, but this military dictatorship seems set on crushing anything it considers anti-monarchy. The story cites an official:

Thakorn Tantasith, a member of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission (NBTC), said today that all Internet Service Providers (ISP) based in the Kingdom have been instructed to monitor the websites under their watch and close down any sites that contain libelous remarks toward the monarchy….

“They can shut down any page with content that threatens the national security or violates Section 112 immediately. They don’t need to seek any approval from the NBTC or any agency,” Thakorn said, “If they have doubt about whether some websites are guilty of the crime, they can contact a five-person special working group of the NBTC.”

If the committee deem the website to be in violation of lese majeste laws, it will shut down the site in 30 seconds, Thakorn explained.

PPT believes this is in violation of the Computer Crimes Act, but laws do not bother a military dictatorship that illegally grabbed power. As the Bangkok Post points out, “[u]nder previous law and regulations, police had to ask a court for permission to block an internet site or a web page. It is not clear who or what agency has authorised the ad hoc, freelance censorship.”

Why now? Thakorn has a remarkable answer, saying that “the new measure is a response to the spike in lese majeste violations in the past several months.” He added: “We have to tighten the screw to prevent any further offences, or at least reduce them…”.

This is truly grotesque. The spike in lese majeste cases is a result of the military dictatorship declaring lese majeste war. It has actively sought out cases, some of which are trivial in all respects, others being political vendettas, and it has begun sifting through old cases to prosecute them more stringently. As Khaosod points out, “[a]lthough discussion and negative remarks about the monarchy have always been taboo in Thailand, the Thai junta has significantly stepped up enforcement of the draconian lese majeste law in recent months.”

The only new spike in cases that is not driven by this lese majeste warfare on the part of the junta may be the prince’s housecleaning. Is it the housecleaning for succession that has worried the military dictatorship? Are they seeing a response to Srirasmi’s ouster that worries them because they fear they can’t control social media when the prince takes the throne?

What was our new thought? In fact, we have said it previously, but not in recent months: we think the military dictatorship, encased in the cocoon of ultra-royalism, is demonstrating its weakness. With no ideology other than banal royalism, and with a monarchy in decline, the military has painted itself into a political corner. When the monarchy crumbles, so does the military. We can’t wait!

Update 1: A reader emailed us an made an excellent point. The reader observes that there’s “another angle to ‘why now’? The military wage war because that’s what they do. OK, in Thailand the only wage war against unarmed, innocent civilians but not only in Thailand. That’s been the trend…”. The reader adds:

It you’re going to have a permanent war against ‘anti-monarchists’ … you need an endless supply of anti-monarchists. Their tragic, absurd Inquisition provides the endless supply of  anti-monarchists … and enables their permanent war on anti-monarchists.

Update 2: Another reader pointed out an article by commentator and political exile Pavin Chachavalpongpun that looks at reasons for the lese majeste war and says pretty much the same as we do above, a couple of days earlier. He comments on: “Propping up a weakened monarchical institution and disguising the uncertainty of the royal succession is one rationale.” He adds: “Attempts to control society, conserve elitist privileges, prolong the military’s role in politics, obstruct democratization and cope with the technological revolution in cyberspace also play a significant role.” Further: “In many ways, these charges seem to confirm the existence of the so-called anti-monarchy movement in Thailand.” More: “They also justify the coup…”. And he makes the important point: “Application of the law highlights a sense of desperation — not authority — on the part of the Thai state.” The whole article is worth a read.





The China model

26 12 2014

Thailand’s military dictatorship has been seen as moving closer to China. Obviously there are several motivations for this including changing patterns in regional power, trade and investment. However, of great significance for the junta’s leadership is the model of political authoritarianism.

The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, has expressed considerable admiration for China’s political authoritarianism, seeing it as a model for Thailand.

Like many of Thailand’s Sino-Thai tycoons, Prayuth looks at China’s economic success and sees this as resulting from “orderly politics.” The tycoons have repeatedly given up on electoral politics and repeatedly throw their money and support behind military dictatorships and royalist anti-democrats.

It is noticeable that this admiration for authoritarianism gets little criticism in Thailand’s media. Naturally, some of this has to do with The Dictator’s control of the media. Yet it also has to do with the ownership and control of the media by state organizations, tycoons and anti-democrats.

When then premier Thaksin Shinawatra expressed admiration for elected authoritarians in Malaysia and Singapore, he was roundly criticized by these media. That criticism now appears as little more than a bit of political opportunism.

When The Dictator rejects electoral politics, represses, censors and embraces China, the media is, at best, silent and at worst, supportive.








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