Junta populism and promoting business

5 11 2015

The junta has spent a considerable amount of effort indoctrinating its children (of all ages). One of its several themes has been damning politicians as corrupt for implementing populist policies and programs.

Indeed, since 2001, the royalist elite has spent a lot of time, supported by tame “academics,” denigrating popular and even mild redistributive programs that were associated with the Thaksin Shinawatra-aligned political parties. These “populist” innovations were denounced as “corrupt” because they were electorally popular, leading to the ideological linking of “populism” and “evil, corrupt and self-serving” civilian politicians.

“Populism” has been made a dirty and denigrating word, with “policy corruption” was added to constitutional drafting considerations of something to be controlled or banned.

Fortunately for the military junta, it doesn’t have to play by any rules, and it claims to operate with a curious anti-politics agenda, so by its own definitions and rulings, it can’t possibly engage in either populism or policy corruption.

As reasonable observers know, this is smoke and mirrors. PPT has posted on the junta’s populist-inspired policies for some time. Back in October 2014, we posted on a considerable sum earmarked for programs labeled “not populism.” This included measures to increase consumption and employment: 40 billion baht in aid for farmers and 129 billion baht  to create jobs through investment projects. The “populist” attention to its anti-democrat support base in the south has also been noted.

With the military junta already having engaged in politically-inspired handouts and having appointed former Thaksin economic czar Somkid Jatusripitak to try to throttle some life into the junta-deadened economy, it is not surprising to to read in Khaosod that the military junta “has approved USD$1.3 billion (46.1 billion baht) in rural subsidies, akin to the populist policies of the government it ousted, to appease disgruntled and politically powerful farmers who are struggling with record low commodity prices and weak exports.” The political motive is clear:

The rural heartland of Thailand’s deposed leader Yingluck Shinawatra and her exiled billionaire brother Thaksin is hurting as a result of the military government’s economic policies, stirring discontent and the threat of protests.

But the military dictatorship had also “pledged to wean farmers off expensive subsidies used by the previous government…”. It is now doling out “around $1 billion (35.5 billion baht) to help rice farmers and … $365 million (12.9 billion baht) to help rubber farmers who had threatened to rally in defiance of a ban on political gatherings.” This comes on top of the earlier funding and soft loans to villages, a la Thaksin in 2001, where another 60 billion baht is allocated.

Yingluck’s government is alleged to have spent some $14-15 billion in such schemes. It seems the military junta, if it could be added up, is spending amounts that would match Yingluck’s on an annual basis. This is likely to increase.

There’s also a king of “populism for the rich” at work for the junta. Following several reports of villagers being dispossessed and jailed in acts of “primitive accumulation,” by the regime for various “projects.” Such work is conducted for the military junta’s business allies. This support is now reported at Prachatai to be extended to include legal manipulation in the interests of business.

The junta “has given a green light to the proposal to shorten the EIA [Environmental Impact Assessment] process by half to speed up mega construction projects.” The projects are the “PPP (Public and Private Partnership) mega projects.” The reduction means that the EIA can be reduced “from about 22 months currently to only nine months.”

Minister Somkid is reported as lauding the proposal as it will “will increase the speed and efficiency of the process to give out public concessions to private companies.” We can hear the Sino-Thai tycoons and favored investors – the junta likes the Chinese state companies and Somkid is close to Japanese corporates – smacking their lips now.

The current seven PPP Fast-Track projects are: the Bangkok Transit System (BTS) railway line extension, highway projects in the west and northeast, and “Garbage factories” in the central and northeastern regions.

The shortened EIA process will replace but more likely work in concert with the junta’s use of  the draconian Article 44 of the Interim Charter, that allows the junta to clear obstacles and people to make way for business.

Internal consumption I

4 11 2015

The still murky lese majeste case, which has so far seen three arrested, one dead and perhaps a dozen others mentioned as possibly implicated, has just gotten much bigger.

The first indications of deepening internal rivalry and regime consuming action was the removal of national police spokesman Prawuth Thawornsiri, who was on the Bike for Dad and Bike for Mum organizing committees. There was also the revelation that persons close to Sino-Thai royalist tycoon and CP boss Dhanin Chearavanont.

In a Bangkok Post report it seems that the network of disputation has been expanded significantly. Police have announced that “between 40 and 50 military major generals and colonels could be involved in the current high-profile lese majeste case…”.

Pol Lt Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, acting deputy national police chief in charge of the investigation, is the one who has made this claim.Saturno devorando a su hijo

There is, as yet, no “solid evidence to seek arrest warrants for any of them” and the “armed forces have also not lodged a complaint with police about the suspects…” yet lack of evidence seems off the mark for lese majeste cases.

The police boss stated: “I can say that more arrest warrants will be issued for sure…”.

Leaks say that Suriyan Sujaritpalawong has “admitted to making false claims involving the monarchy to solicit money from business operators.” It is also said that “Suriyan named one army major general and one army colonel as members of his criminal network.”

The junta mouthpiece Col Winthai Suvaree has said the “army does not have any clear information linking the army major general and the colonel to the allegations made by Mr Suriyan.”

The case is likely to get murkier still and raises questions about the stability of the junta, which trumpets its support for the monarchy and accuses only “politicians” of corruption. A finger is now gingerly pointing at police and the military, and these accusations of criminality are reaching ever higher into the ranks of self-proclaimed monarchy supporters.

Increasingly, it seems the royalist regime is consuming itself.

Of course, the exact reasons for this, related to succession, will likely remain opaque.

Sport and dictators

4 10 2015

Sports stars often claim they are ignorant of “politics.” They may be, although we doubt the claim when it comes to highly-ranked players who travel the world with entourages of managers, coaches, advisers and other minions. Some are outspoken, like Novak Djokovic who has proclaimed that he is a Serbian nationalist, while others like Rafael Nadal claim no politics.

We mention these two because they have landed themselves in the middle of the world’s only military dictatorship and have actively promoted that horrid regime and the symbols that underpin royalist politics. One report states that the two players “came to Bangkok to earn a few million dollars for an exhibition match. But there were a few strings attached.” The report stated that the two earned “a total of 150 million baht ($4.1 million) for coming to Thailand.” They were on court for about an hour. As another report has it, they “spent longer in official engagements than on the court.”Tennis2

More important, however, was the before propaganda. Djokovic and Nadal put on the junta uniform of silk jackets in the royal colors of blue and yellow. The reports state that the “dress code was part of a tightly scripted trip meant to boost military-ruled Thailand’s image, which included a meeting with the junta leader.” They met with The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha. They also “signed a book of well wishing for the … Thai [k]ing…” and visited the “Erawan Shrine, the site of a deadly bombing in August, where the players laid wreaths and posed for pictures under tight security…”.

Obviously money talks very loudly for the players, but the investment by the regime’s supporters must have been considered useful in propping up repression and authoritarianism.

Back on 2 September, it was reported that the “Lawn Tennis Association of Thailand is joining hands with True Corporation to hold a special tennis match featuring World’s Number One tennis player Novak Djokovic and former World’s Number One player Rafael Nadal at Hua Mark In-door stadium on October 2.”

Suwat Lipatawallop, president of the Lawn Tennis Association of Thailand, stated that “the organizing committee had been working out the programme of activities for the two players to promote tourism in Thailand.” In fact, the “program” was one of supporting the monarchy and military regime. Not that many tourists show up in Thailand to play tennis, but we imagine that the event was about branding, especially in Europe. where the coup and the rule of military dictators means Thailand has declined in the estimation of European tourists.

It was added that “the match will be an inspiration for Thai youths to turn to sports.”

Given that tickets were priced from 1,000-5,000 baht each, we guess that Suwat means the kids of the elite. Even if poor kids and the disable were to be invited, to be polite, tennis is not widely played by the poor. Tennis

This event was the military dictatorship’s propaganda exercise. With Suwat Liptapanlop (สุวัจน์ ลิปตพัลลภ) as president, the administration of the LTAT is dominated by the military and funded by the Sino-Thai tycoons of the royalist elite.

When the “special tennis match was disclosed at a press conference held at the Grand Hyatt Erawan,” Suwat was joined by Supachai Chearavanont, a vice chairman of the giant Charoen Pokphand group and CEO of the True Corporation. The generals were gleeful when it was announced that the military-tycoon elite had captured two big name sportsmen.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand claimed the tennis players had “helped to promote Thailand’s tourist credentials,” and saying that they had shown that “it’s business as usual” under the military junta.

That’s the point. Money invested by the tycoons and state for propagandizing for the military and its monarchy.

Selling the dictatorship

27 09 2015

Self-appointed Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, The Dictator, is not the best salesman for his military regime.

There were some protests about his visit, with a series of red shirt TV programs showing some of it. The YouTube video below is one of three:

One of the Prayuth’s speeches to the U.N., on poverty and sustainable development, was a rapid-fire reading of a script in Thai.  He appears uninterested and so do most of the delegates around him. We wonder if this is a preview of an equally execrable speech to the U.N. General Assembly.

According to a report at the Bangkok Post, The Dictator has made various undertakings in New York, including a promise of an election in 2017. Speaking to a bunch from the “US-Asean Business Council in New York on Friday night,” Prayuth said that the poll would be held “with no detour of the political roadmap.”

He did not explain that the roadmap is regularly redrawn.

Prayuth told the business group that the junta:

will spend time until the new polls to increase competitiveness, improve infrastructure, upgrade labour skills, and revise rules and regulations to be in tandem with international standards to facilitate investors…. Clamping down on corruption was also high on its to-do list….

He might have added that the military regime is going to spend time repressing opponents and ensuring that it gets its political way going forward.

The Dictator did his royalist duty, opening a propaganda exhibition on sufficiency economy hocus pocus.

Furthering his own bizarre understanding of democracy and sufficiency economy, Prayuth said “poverty was the root cause hampering democracy in Thailand as it put the poor on the sidelines and gave the middle class and the rich an opportunity to manage the country and resources.”

Of course, the sufficiency economy ideology does nothing to challenge inequality as it tells people to be satisfied with their lot in life.

The notion that Thailand’s democracy is hampered by poverty is military sleight of hand. In fact, it is the military that is the main obstacle to democracy, especially as it is allied to royalist elite and Sino-Thai tycoons.

Prayuth’s view of Thailand and democracy is about as accurate and real as a VW emissions test.

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.


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.


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