Thirayudh among the chickens

12 12 2018

In his annual musing about Thailand’s politics, usually delivered in a seasonal scruffy cardigan, one-time student activist, former communist, former critic of the monarchy, anti-democrat and “academic” Thirayudh Boonmee has delivered another of those waffling pronouncements that can be interpreted in several ways.

When he “likened Thai people to chickens in farms where they were under control from birth to death” it seemed that he took this as a state of affairs to be accepted.

He seemed pessimistic about “politics”, arguing that “Thais are too obsessed with political problems to realise they face other, more fundamental, issues — inequality, poor education, widespread corruption, and economic monopoly by large groups of capitalists.”

It seems quite strange to think of inequality, poor education, corruption, and capitalist oligarchy as being apolitical. We would consider such outcomes to be a result of Thailand’s anti-democratic politics, long periods of authoritarianism, the impunity of military murderers and the triad of military-monarchy-tycoon capitalists.

He seems to suffer a dementia moment when he falsely claims that it has been “[o]ver the past decade, [that] about 10 large groups of capitalists had been formed and they controlled most key economic sectors and politics…”. Most of the giant capitalists group have been around for decades and almost all align with the biggest capitalist conglomerate, the monarchy.

He’s on stronger ground when he observes that the military junta:

had long planned to prolong its hold on power by allowing political parties to nominate outsiders as prime ministerial candidates, having 250 military-appointed senators with the right to vote for the prime minister, and by gathering political factions into the Palang Pracharath Party. All without caring about any criticism.

PPT has been saying that for a very long time. For most of that time, Thirayudh has been a junta supporter.

He’s certainly not alone in seeing that The Dictator has “a very big chance of … remaining the prime minister after the general election…”. The question is whether one supports that rigged outcome or not, and we think Thirayudh is comfortable with more military domination of politics even if he notes the problems politics “under the influence of the military, government officials, the intellectual elite and large groups of capitalists” brings.

He reckons that if the junta doesn’t engage in outright electoral fraud, “people would accept the next government of Gen Prayut[h Chan-ocha]…”.

Thirayudh’s claim that the junta’s government and its returned regime after an election is/will be little different from the Thaksin Shinawatra regime is amusing but inaccurate.

At the Bangkok Post, The Dictator himself is dismissive of Thirayudh as an aged dope in this comparison. Prayuth then babbled that Thaksin did wrong.

Overall, Thirayudh is boring, deceptive and deliberately forgetful. It’s time he stopped relying on his reputation of more than 40 years ago and gave way to a younger generation of real democrats.





The other Vichai story

31 10 2018

With all the eulogies for Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha being wholly laudatory, BBC Sport Editor Dan Roan is in a spot of bother after being caught “talking about Vichai[‘s]… personal assistant Nusara Suknamai.” He said: “As opposed to the mistress who died in the crash, otherwise known as member of staff, i.e. mistress… family man…”.

Nusara has been described as a “[f]ormer beauty queen who was runner-up in Thailand’s Miss Universe.”

Fans of Leicester City attacked Roan, variously describing him as despicable and an enemy of the club. He was told by some that he was no longer welcome at the club. These fans lauded Vichai and hated the fact that the BBC editor had, well, told the truth.

The claims by others were uncritical and blur truth. It was Britain’s Prince William who stated:

My thoughts today are with the family and friends of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and all the victims of the terrible crash at Leicester City Football Club…. I was lucky to have known Vichai for several years. He was a businessman of strong values who was dedicated to his family and who supported a number of important charitable causes.

Vichai is next to the tall lad in red

There’s no evidence that Prince William’s claims are anything other than a repetition of the spin that has been associated with Vichai and King Power in recent years. The BBC mistress slip is just one aspect of this.

Lauding Vichai as something of a hero in the context of Leicester and Leicester City is understandable. Spin from a royal polo partner are also no surprise.

But the failure of the media to investigate more is disappointing.

After all, Vichai’s business history is of virtually inexplicable, very sudden and huge wealth. Yes, King Power is known, but the company and its founder are secretive. What is known suggests he may have grifted his way to great wealth, not least by polishing the right posteriors. Once he had great wealth, he selectively polished his own posterior by carefully managing his and the company’s limited media profile.

On the mistress claim, it is not at all odd to learn that a Sino-Thai mogul would hire an “assistant” who is a former beauty queen. That she might be a mistress is also pretty much “normal” in Thailand. Most Sino-Thai tycoons have a stable of mistresses.

And, of course, not just tycoons and not just Thailand.

But in Thailand, there’s a normalization of such relations. Politicians and military types are good examples. Gen Sarit Thanarat had a bevy of mistresses. Whispers about other leaders are only sometimes revealed, usually in squabbles over their ill-gotten gains. Examples included Gen Sunthorn Kongsompong, Chatichai Choonhavan and Chavalit Yongchaiyudh.

And, of course, there’s the massive official silence in Thailand about the current king’s “troubled relationships with a succession of wives and mistresses.”

It is about power. For the tycoons, wealth means power and having a mistress is “normalized.” But that link between wealth, power and mistress should not be ignored.





Vichai’s political location

30 10 2018

The Nation was quickly off the blocks with a eulogy for Vichai Raksriaksorn-cum-Srivaddhanaprabha. It lauds him as a “master of the big deal.” What, exactly, does this mean?

The articles observes that Vichai was “the key figure behind the huge success of King Power International, Thailand’s duty-free shopping giant,” adding that he “bagged many big deals … including their latest acquisition – the MahaNakorn development project, Thailand’s tallest mixed-use tower – at Bt14 billion.”

The Nation says that Vichai was “a son of Wiwat and Prapasorn Raksriaksorn. He graduated high school from Woodlawn High School, US, and did his bachelor’s from the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Ramkamhaeng University, and got a degree from Northrop University’s Business Administration Faculty in the US.”

There’s a couple of Woodlawn schools in the US. However, Northrop University is known for having been de-registered in early 1992 for an array of corrupt activities, poor administration and low standards.

The report claims “Vichai became a vastly experienced businessman, both from his own and jointly-managed companies,” but the companies pale into minuscule insignificance when compared with King Power, which was founded in 1989. He had some experience with Downtown DFS (Thailand), but King Power eclipsed and pushed aside Downtown/DFS and all other competitors for concessions at the airports.

Vichai’s move into duty free began with “the country’s first downtown duty-free shop as a joint venture with the Tourism Authority of Thailand, before expanding the business to Cambodia, Macau and China, as well as Thailand’s international airports.” The company’s own history is brief but worth a look while wondering how it all happened. It states that it received the airport monopoly concessions in 2006, whereas an AP report states: “The granting of King Power’s monopoly status at Thailand’s airports — set in motion in 2004 by the government of since-ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra — caused some controversy.” PPT looked through standard references and at our newspaper clippings, but could not confirm the AP account. (Readers can let us know.)

Exactly how King Power achieved its monopoly remains opaque for us. What we do know is that duty free shopping creates all kinds of advantages, one of which is huge cash flow, which has grown by leaps and bounds as tourism has expanded to enormous growth. The report states that “Vichai controls and chairs $3.3 billion (revenues)” from King Power in a private company with a board studded with children and other relatives.

The report notes Vichai’s close link with Newin Chidchob and also mentions a close connection to the Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan. It doesn’t mention his links with Bhum Jai Thai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul.

His “passion for sport, especially polo and football” is also listed.

Exactly how Vichai came to be “ranked by Forbes as the fifth richest person in Thailand in 2018 with US$4.9 billion” remains something of a mystery. His wealth is huge but he also pays 2 billion baht a year for the Suvarnabhumi airport concession.

But then there’s the fact that in 2012 “the family was bestowed the new family surname Srivaddhanaprabha by … the late King Bhumibol – the name means ‘light of progressive glory’.”

Like many Sino-Thai tycoons, Vichai was an extraordinary royalist and supported many royal causes. He has credits for the yellow wristband for the king.

Political backstopping, royalism, and opaque deals and bureaucratic linking seem to be a pattern for fabulous wealth for a well-connected few.





Updated: King Power helicopter down II

28 10 2018

Most international reports are now assuming that Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha is dead following the crash of his helicopter in the U.K.

What is somewhat odd about these reports is that they are based on little official information and continuing silence on important matters from the football club, Vichai’s family and King Power. Even police are silent as they say they are investigating. There’s no confirmation of who was on the helicopter, whether some were taken to hospital or if bodies were recovered.

Fans of Leicester City appear convinced that Vichai was on the helicopter and that he died in the crash.

In Thailand, it seems that Vichai’s business and political allies know what has happened. The Straits Times reports that the media :

… zeroed in on another football baron, Mr Newin Chidchob, who owns local league champion Buriram United football club and was at Pullman Bangkok King Power hotel next door. The motorcycle enthusiast looked grim as he left the hotel with his entourage of superbikes.

Meanwhile, Bhum Jai Thai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul, “who said he had just spoken to Mr Newin” stated: “We just lost someone who made big contributions to the public. I am sure his legacy will live on.”

Anutin added that Vichai was a “big brother,” stating: “He is a self-made man, worked hard and loved friends dearly…”. Reflecting the norms of Sino-Thai tycoons, Anutin recalled: “I told him that I loved riding horses and, the next day, a nice horse was sent to me… That’s the way he was.” He does not explain what “self-made” means in the murky world of King Power’s monopoly.

Update: Leicester City has now confirmed Vichai’s death. The club’s statement includes confirmation that “None of the five people on-board survived…”. The report states that “Leicestershire police have named them [the others on the helicopter] as Nursara Suknamai and Kaveporn Punpare, two members of Vichai’s staff, and pilot Eric Swaffer and passenger Izabela Roza Lechowicz.”





Business and The Dictator

22 09 2018

PPT has said some things about academics, who should know better, having international conferences in Thailand.

Business, of course, is different. For all the talk of stuff like “sustainability,” “corporate social responsibility” and “human rights,” most business people really couldn’t give a fig and just look to the bottom line.

Dealing with dictators is not difficult for them, so long as a profit can be turned. Naturally enough, in Thailand, domestic business has been supportive of individual generals, coups and military juntas over the decades, and support for the current regime has been enthusiastic, not least from those who funded the PAD and then the PDRC.

Even so, The Dictator must be ecstatic to see the Forbes announcement that, and we use its words: “His Excellency General Prayut Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister of Thailand, and some 40 prominent global business leaders and entrepreneurs are confirmed to speak at the 18th annual Forbes Global CEO Conference, which will take place in Bangkok from October 30-31, 2018.”

The general “deliver a keynote address in front of an audience of global business luminaries and thought leaders” about:

the theme of ‘The World Reboots’, this year’s conference will focus on how CEOs, companies and countries are confronting challenges and seizing opportunities arising from accelerating disruption. Some liken this era to the fourth global revolution, after mechanization, mass production and digitalization. The world in 4.0 mode will affect how companies are built and led, where money is made or lost, the role of governments, and how all of us live, work and play.

That a dullard like Prayuth even consider such a topic is testing the limits of credulity, but we guess someone else will write the stuff he says.

But then again, the list of “luminaries” is hardly stellar. It includes many of the junta-loving Thai elite:

Today, Forbes announced new speakers including, Chartsiri Sophonpanich, President of Bangkok Bank; Suthiphand Chirathivat, Executive Director, ASEAN Studies Center, Chulalongkorn University and Executive Director, Central Group; William E. Heinecke, Chairman and Group CEO of Minor International; Ho Kwon Ping, Executive Chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings; Peter Moore, Chief Executive Officer of Liverpool FC; JP Gan, Managing Partner at Qiming Venture Partners; Harald Link, Chairman of B. Grimm; Goh Choon Phong, Chief Executive Officer of Singapore Airlines; Carrie Jones-Barber, Chief Executive Officer of Dawn Foods; Tan Min-Liang, Chairman and CEO of Razer; Peter Sands, Executive Director at The Global Fund; Shobana Kamineni, Executive Vice Chairperson of Apollo Hospitals Enterprise Ltd; Gary White, Chief Executive Officer of Water.org and WaterEquity; Jim Walker, Chief Economist at Asianomics Group and Parag Khanna, Managing Partner at FutureMap.

So perhaps the idea is that the Chirathivats, Heineckes, Links, Sophanpanichs are just getting their business buddies along and are paying for The Dictator’s propaganda and helping him with his election campaigning:





Keeping tycoons with the junta

6 08 2018

We have posted a lot on the military junta’s campaigning and not enough on how The Dictator maintains his relations with the Sino-Thai tycoons.

Fortunately, the Bangkok Post has provided some insights on this process.

Before getting to that, however, a reminder of how well the really rich have done under the junta. A while ago we compared 2014 wealth – the year of the coup – and 2016 wealth. The totals for the top 10 show that their combined wealth has increased by almost $16 billion over that period. The top two families have increased by more than $9billion. Not bad pickings.

More loot awaits: “Activists and workers’ unions have demanded land development plans be immediately excluded from the terms of reference of the high-speed railway set to link Don Mueang, Suvarnabhumi and U-Tapao airports, alleging it would monopolise involvement in the megaproject down to ‘a few large firms’.”

Activist Srisuwan Janya said granting land rights to the firm that wins the rights for the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) railway project is “unnecessary.”

What’s necessary is throwing out infrastructure projects that produce great wealth for the big conglomerate that wins – we would bet on a CP or a Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi being involved. Based on previous experience, we might also expect that some bureaucrats and political leaders will also benefit.

Those funds lubricate a whole 1980s-like political system, dripping corruption.

In this case, the winning firm gets “both operation and land development rights under a 50-year concession.” That’s after the 200 billion project is completed.

Srisuwan explains: “These firms will just be receiving the land around the railway as an added bonus at cheaper rates, compared to the actual, substantially higher value of such land.”

The reports adds that the State Railways “must hand over the land it owns around the Bangkok-Rayong route to the winning firm, including 150 rai in the Makkasan area.” That’s smack bang in central Bangkok and a prime piece of real estate worth billions of baht.

That’s ample lubrication.





Elections, populism and campaigning

12 07 2018

Current Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak was an important member of Thaksin Shinawatra’s economic team, responsible for the policies labelled “populist” by opponents and “policy corruption” by the People’s Alliance for Democracy. Others considered the policies as examples of vote-buying by using state funds.

As the military junta embedded its rule following the 2014 military coup it looked to extend its time in power, Somkid was brought in as an “economic czar” to engage in policy plagiarism and improve the junta’s economic performance with doses of Thaksin’s policies.

From the Bangkok Post: Somkid and his master

Somkid adapted himself well to the military dictatorship and has now become one of the critical ministers in the junta’s efforts to “win” its rigged election. Somkid may tell himself that he’s just a technocrat but he’s become a willing tool of military dictatorship. This pattern of technocrats supporting authoritarian regimes is not unusual. In Thailand, it was a defining feature of Gen Sarit Thanarat’s regime, put in place in 1958 and extending to 1973 and the long Gen Prem Tinsulanonda regime.

Somkid has now become a junta politician, dealing with two other Thaksin traitors, organizing a political party that intends to have The Dictator continue in power for years to come.

In preparing for the “election,” Somkid’s attention is not just on organizing the Palang Pracharath Party but to ensuring that huge transport infrastructure projects (valued at almost 1 trillion baht) are in place for the Sino-Thai conglomerates to continue using state budgets for enrichment and pouring funds into the poorer parts of the population who make up the majority of voters. (As the poor spend most of the money they receive, this consumption spurs businesses, as Thaksin proved.)

As Somkid showed when he worked for Thaksin, such policies are powerful vote winners.