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.

The military-monarchy state is corrupt

21 12 2014

Yesterday we posted on the statements on corruption by the master of double standards, General Prem Tinsulanonda, the president of the Privy Council. In Thailand, there is always a double standard on corruption based on political alignment. Vast corruption is quite okay if the corrupt person is a royalist and/or a member of the system’s praetorian guard. Those attacked as corrupt are the ones who have fallen foul of a powerful royal or royalist boss or have somehow come to be seen as dangerous for the existing system of power.

Think of the vast corruption of General Sarit Thanarat, which had the implicit approval of the young, son-like figure of king and the old princes who were working for the political and economic rehabilitation of the monarchy. When Sarit died, his estate was estimated at about $140 million, a massive fortune at the time. As researcher Thak Chaloemtiarana points out in his famous book on Sarit, this wealth came from several sources:

Sarit's wealth

Clicking on the snips included here produces a larger version.

Nothing much changed for his successors. Generals Thanom Kittikachorn and Prapas Charusathianrana were briefly investigated after their fall in 1976 and were found to have been massively corrupt. One Bangkok Post report dated 15 October 1974 is reproduced below, and is a partial accounting of their wealth:

TPN Wealth

It is well-known that the king got on famously with Thanom and less well with Prapas. Even so, the palace supported these corrupt bastards almost to the bitter end because the state and the economic, political and social power that underpinned it was crucial for the monarchy during the Cold War period. It is no secret that the generals and palace grew wealthy together in this period.

One of the interesting aspects of the wealth of these military despots and many of their underlings, including some of those who replaced them, was their close links with Sino-Thai businesses, as shown in an incomplete accounting in the Bangkok Post from 1 November 1973.

DirectorshipsPPT is not just reproducing this data to show that the military was and is corrupt. In fact, following an email from a reader, we are reminded to indicate that the generals are both guardians and beneficiaries of a political and economic system that was corrupt in its genesis in the absolute monarchy’s conversion of personalized state wealth into capitalist enterprise, and which remains corrupt to the core.

As well as our reader reminding us of this basic point, we are motivated by a report at Prachatai stating that “12 civil society organisations” (CSOs) in the Northeast have condemned the junta’s suppression of freedom of expression, stating that national reform is only a pretence to enable the junta to maintain power for investors and the elite.” They deride the “reform” process as designed to “increase the power of the capitalists and the elite.”

As usual, the dependent Bangkok middle class is complicit in this fake reform, along with palace power brokers like Prem.

The CSOs call on the puppet “National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to stop passing bills as they are not the people’s representatives.” They demanded that “the junta to lift the interim charter and martial law, then organise local and national elections within three months and, in the meantime, impose the 1997 Constitution, which was dubbed the People’s Constitution’.”

As we are sure our reader would urge, perhaps there should be a move for a real people’s constitution.

Several of the group making this statement have previously denounced the military junta. The result was that some “were forced to report to the military at local military bases on 7 November. This included one activist who was captured by fully armed soldiers. Some were also forced to post statements on Facebook that they were treated well under detention.”

In the current statement “the group comprehensively denounced the legitimacy of the coup d’état and junta’s national reform agenda.” The group declared:

National reform and the process of constitution drafting under the imposition of martial law, which silences people from expressing ideas different from those of the junta, are unacceptable to the people; we believe that genuine reform must open space for people’s freedom to express opinions in a democratic environment….

Undoing the corruption that is at the core of the current regime – where the military junta is just the latest example – cannot be delivered by those who have suckled at its disreputable breast and now wallow in its trough of corrupt wealth and power.

Pots and kettles on graft

20 12 2014

Former General and unelected Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda is old yet still prepared to babble on about political issues in repeated displays of double standards.

He does this as the head of the Privy Council, an ostensibly apolitical organization that advises the king, but which has been highly politicized by Prem, to the extent that its members, and notably Prem himself, have taken high profile positions that have led to military putsches.

In a report at the Bangkok Post, Prem is at it again.

Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda

Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda

Prem has suggested that “[q]uick and decisive legal action that makes people afraid to cheat is the only solution to Thailand’s corruption problem…”. He identified two major problems for Thailand: “poverty and corruption.”

As might be expected from a man who has spent his retirement in the employ of Sino-Thai tycoons in the palace and banks while living in taxpayer-funded housing and rarely shaking the dust of his own wallet, Prem doesn’t think that poverty needs the same “strong and urgent attention as corruption…”.

Let’s not argue with him on this except to observe that he might have considered inequality as being as much a problem as poverty and that he might have considered the links between poverty, inequality and corruption. In fact, corruption underpins that system of political, economic and social power that has the monarchy as its keystone.

Prem is right to say that “corruption [has] long has existed in the country…”.

He states that people don’t fight corruption “because most people think … it is better for them to stay indifferent instead of making enemies…”.

We think he speaks from ample personal experience. When army commander, the military controlled all of Thailand’s borders and managed and profited from human, arms and drug smuggling. The military under Prem was also known to engage in illegal logging and gems trading.

When Prem was prime minister, nothing much was done other than to consolidate the corruption of the military into corporation-like arrangements.

One of the biggest deals for the military was its control of the Cambodian border when the West and China collaborated to oppose the Vietnamese-backed regime that ousted the Khmer Rouge. Many military leaders did very well through this control.

Pots calling kettles black.

News we missed

29 11 2014

PPT thought it time to catch up on some of the stories we’d seen but didn’t have time to post on. They are all making important points and worth reading in full. No particular order is used in presenting them here:

Asia Sentinel: “Thailand Junta Not Wearing Well

Six months into Thailand’s latest experiment with military rule, cracks are starting to show, with irritation rising at the lack of widespread reform and the growing realization that the military won’t give up power any time soon….

“Whatever hopes originally arose for reform are now being abandoned,” a banker with many years of experience in Thailand told Asia Sentinel. “There is lots of tension as people see that this junta is simply going to try to enforce the status quo ante, allowing the establishment to run the country more tightly than before.”…

“As discontent builds, will the military crack down more?” asked the longtime banker. “If so, will people put their heads down or become rebellious? If so, will there bloodshed in big way? These are the things that people are beginning to contemplate here.

IPI Global Observatory: “Understanding Thailand’s Monarchy Problem

One of the more telling decisions of the Royal Thai Army, which seized power in Thailand in a coup on May 22 this year, is to erect a new “Great Kings Monument,” comprising nine giant statues representing Thailand’s greatest kings, to honor Thailand’s monarchy and its aging king, the ninth in the current dynasty.

The monarchy also figures prominently in the military regime’s Orwellian “12 core values,” which it has ordered all Thai students to recite daily: “to uphold the nation, the religions and the Monarchy, which is the key institution”; “to understand and learn the true essence of democratic ideals with His Majesty the King as the Head of State”; “to be conscious and mindful of one’s actions in line with His Majesty’s the King’s statements”; and “to practice the philosophy of Sufficiency Economy of His Majesty the King.”…

Since Thailand’s political crisis began in 2005, the monarchy has become intensely politicized. The lèse majesté law has been used liberally. There are possibly hundreds of prisoners in Thai jails convicted under the law. Lèse majesté cases are so sensitive that trials are held in private; relatives, human rights organizations, and the media are usually forbidden from attending, so the exact number of convictions is unknown….

The military, bureaucracy, and the now powerful Thai-Chinese business sector, have all exploited this ideology of monarchy to stifle dissent from the rural and urban poor–those who have least benefitted from Thailand’s industrial transformation.

Prachatai: “3-fingered salute Khon Kaen students: we’re not red shirts

Q: Now that the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order proposed the reform agendas and suggested that the participations of the youth and students might be on the table, if you are invited to participate in this, would you join?

A: In principle they don’t go together. They have guns, but we only have empty hands. How can we cooperate for reform. If they really want the reform then they should remove the martial law first.

National News Bureau & Public Relations: “Khunying Pornthip examines locals affected by gold mine toxic waste in Phijit

The Forensic Science Institute Director has revealed a shocking discovery that more than half of the group of locals randomly selected around a gold mine in Phijit Province have a high level of heavy metal in their bodies.

Forensic Science Institute Director Khunying Pornthip Rojanasunand has conducted a toxic contamination examination on the locals around a gold mine in Thupklor District of Phijit Province.

The examination was triggered after numerous complaints had been lodged against a private company illegally disposing of its toxic waste from its gold mining operation, in the surrounding community.

The Director reported to the provincial administration and the truth finding committee that 329 out of 600 randomly selected locals have Manganese in their blood and arsenic acid in 70% of their body systems. Khunying Pornthip, however, could not identify the origin of the toxic waste, prompting environment-related agencies to launch a further probe into the case….

Prachatai: “Thongchai Winichakul on anxiety over the succession

… I would like to ask is this: if it is certain that the monarchy and the king himself is undoubtedly revered and respected by people throughout the country, genuinely respected, and if loyalty is assured, then I don’t see what the problem should be. It would be a normal change, wouldn’t it? Although there will naturally be grief and sorrow, it is normal and very understandable but it should not become a problem of politics or economics or anything else….

… I think that the people who are worried about this and those who are concerned that there will be a threat to national security and a crisis are in fact not really certain of the people’s loyalty. Aren’t you certain that people are incessantly loyal towards the monarchy? If they were certain, there would be nothing to worry about at all. This is my first answer. If they are sure then when it happens, the new king will take the throne, which is normal, so those who express concern are just those who are unsure….

If they really succeed in creating sincere loyalism, then there is nothing to be afraid of at all, but the reason why they are afraid is because they are not so sure that they can. This is because the honjao [โหนเจ้า. To cling to the monarchy] and ultra-royalist environment is illogical. It is like a doctrine or faith that when it reaches certain point, people will see that it’s just too illogical. If people are sincerely loyal, there is no need to coerce such a illogical [honjao environment]. This is why the law [lèse majesté] needs to be enforced, which destroys itself day by day.


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