Pawning bling?

31 12 2017

Fourth Army commander Lt Gen Piyawat Nakwanich has claimed “10 local politicians for allegedly being ‘partly’ responsible for the southern unrest…”. There’s no information on who they are or their party affiliation, but the Army has “talked with them…”.

But never fear for the junta is on top of things.

Deputy Dictator Prawit Wongsuwan, or General Bling, is reported to have “approved a proposal to set up more state-run pawnshops in southern border areas…”.

Lt Gen Piyawat reckons the “idea” for more pawnshops was hatched while he was watching Pawn Stars because “the government has information that some of the assailants carrying out attacks in the deep South critically needed money to pay for their children’s schooling at the start of a new school term.” He claimed “[m]ore pawnshops could provide short-term solutions for those who desperately need cash.”

We think Prawit needs more places to pawn his large collection of luxurious watches.

Going to the goats

29 11 2017

Prime Minister and junta boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha went south in what some say was a campaign trip and a publicity exercise.

It did not go well.

The Dictator’s mobile cabinet meeting took him to Pattani and Songkhla where many promises were made and billions of baht in infrastructure and other projects highlighted.

Listening but not hearing

With his jet black Chinese Politburo hair and Prem Tinsulanonda-style, “royally-bestowed,” but invented “traditional” suea phraratchathan looked suitably 1980s as he campaigned for his “election,” whenever he decides to bestow one on the Thai people.

The Dictator promised to do something about falling rubber prices. Interestingly, because of their political profile in supporting anti-democrats and The Dictator’s military coup, the rubber growers seem to have Prayuth on a string. Thailand’s rubber price follows market prices which were high earlier in the year. The Dictator wants to shore up his political support among growers.

After those efforts, things went south.

General Prayuth seemed to throw doubt on local elections, telling “local administrative organisations not to merely focus on elections…”.

The police and military lit into 500 protesters opposing a coal-fired power plant project in Songkhla’s Thepha district. With images of the authorities pushing people to the ground, “16 people, including four leaders, of the  were arrested Monday after their rally resulted in three injuries during a clash with police.”

Can that one vote?

Many of the protesters also fall into the groups that (previously) supported the junta and the coup. They are now finding out what it means to be considered oppositional. Predictably, The Dictator defended the authorities and their violence.

The Dictator was also short-tempered with potential voters and was accused of being deaf to locals. Worse, The Dictator and his “government” were “perceived as ‘unfriendly’ to residents.”

In another incident, The Dictator launched a pail of “vitriol at a fisherman during his visit in Pattana’s Nong Chik district on Monday when Paranyu Charoen, a 34-year-old fisherman, asked the prime minister to change fishing regulations to increase the number of days that fisherman can put to sea.”

Prayuth’s PR people soon apologized “for his foul temper.”

The Democrat Party sought to make political mileage, saying Prayuth did not understand “the problems of fishermen…”.

Chulalongkorn University political scientist and devout yellow shirt Chaiyan Chaiyaporn warned the junta “to abstain from being a political player.”

It is a bit late for that. What he means is that the junta should not get involved in political campaigning so that it may continue to dominate politics following any “election.”

Nothing changed III

8 04 2017

The Nation looks at the widespread bombing campaign in the south and states that the “super sleuths” in the military and police are probing a “link between multiple bombings and promulgation of the new constitution…”.

The Bangkok Post reports on how extensive the bombings were, targeting power poles and bridges.

These geniuses have detected that “people in the predominantly Muslim region rejected the charter during the referendum last year” and consider that makes them all suspects.

One of the junta’s men, Deputy National Police Commissioner Pol General Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, reckoned there was no link. This was just separatists going about their work: “In my opinion, the attacks were not related to national politics. With simultaneous attacks, it is quiet clear that the attackers must have been from a big gang…”. Brilliant!

And these separatists don’t think about symbolism and national events that the junta manufactures for its own political purposes. They could not possibly have thought about the junta’s decision to link the promulgation of its constitution and Chakri Day.

Meanwhile, the junta’s post-“election” regime is being negotiated. There’s no surprise that the party closest to the junta: Bhum Jai Thai Party.

If Wikileaks of several years ago is to be believed,and some of the relationships it meantions have dissolved, Bhum Jai Thai Party may also be the choice of the king.

Bhum Jai Thai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul said he was confident Thailand would now return to democratic rule with the King as head of state.

His party now has 12 to 18 months to prepare for the upcoming polls in line with the regulations laid out under the new charter, he said.

Mr Anutin said his party will work on fine-tuning the details of four key policies that will be of the most benefit to the general public in the lead-up to the poll.

It is necessary for Bhumjaithai to field its candidates in all constituencies because all votes carry weight under the new charter, he added.

Referring to his relationship with the other political parties, he said Bhumjaithai is not in conflict with any of them.

The election results will dictate whether or not the party decides to join a coalition government, he added.

“We are ready to serve in any role,” Mr Anutin said.

Royalist “liberals” are already supporting the junta’s “road map,” suggesting its better to have a junta constitution and civilianized and military-dominated “elected” regime than a military dictatorship. But even they note that the “ceremony” for the constitution, arranged by palace and junta, means that this constitution will be difficult to change:

… as the royal ceremony surrounding the promulgation was timed to usher in a new reign in an auspicious manner, this means it may be hard to come up with a completely new and more balanced charter. This charter, in other words, now has some staying power, although all of its 19 precursors were eventually upended.

Whatever changes that are needed to rebalance the lopsided appointments system and popular representation may have to be done through amendments because this charter now carries more weight. Democratic aspirations in the charter will have to be expressed by way of amendments rather than a complete rewrite for the foreseeable future.

In fact, changing the 2007 constitution was relatively easy in principle but impossible in practice. The military junta has sought to symbolically add to that impossibility. This military constitution is only likely to be changed by the military or if the military is deposed from its powerful pedestal.

Sounding familiar II

4 04 2017

With the top general in the Army claiming that “strict discipline” – inhumane beatings, torture and murder – are just “old habits” and that he wants the old habits gone, you have to wonder if he’s suggesting he can change a routinized and standard practice that exists to maintain hierarchy and is done with impunity.

Meanwhile, sounding all too familiar and also like standard practice protected by impunity, Prachatai reports that “[s]oldiers and paramilitary officers in Rueso District of Narathiwat on 29 March 2017 summarily killed Isma-ae Hama, 28, and Aseng Useng, 30.”

The police have again come out to protect soldiers. They say:

Region 4 Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), the two resisted arrest and exchanged gunfire with officers, adding that they were allegedly involved in the shooting on 2 March 2017, which killed four people, including an eight-year-old student.

Civil society groups say this is buffalo manure and “have urged an end to the culture of impunity…”.

There’s only one civilian witness, a 13 year-old sister of Isma-ae, who has stated that “the two were unarmed when they were shot. She said the car her brother was driving was halted by officers who shot them shortly after they stepped out of the car.”

No drugs, grenades or knives this time. At least the “authorities” have not made this claim as yet.

UN Human Rights Committee findings

29 03 2017

The UN Human Rights Committee has published its findings on the civil and political rights record of countries it examined during its latest session. These findings are officially known as “concluding observations.” They contain “positive aspects of the respective State’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and also main matters of concern and recommendations.”

All of the reports generated for Thailand’s review, including the Concluding Observations are available for download.

The Committee report begins by welcoming Thailand’s “submission of the second period report of Thailand, albeit 6 years late, and the information contained therein.”

There are 44 paragraphs of concerns and recommendations. There’s a lot in it: refugees, enforced disappearances, Article 44, freedom of expression, torture, constitutional issues, arbitrary detention, the National Human Rights Commission, military courts, problems in the south, repression during the constitutional referendum, defamation, computer crimes, sedition and much more.

We just cite the comments on lese majeste:

37. The Committee is concerned that criticism and dissention regarding the royal family is punishable with a sentence of three to fifteen years imprisonment; and about reports of a sharp increase in the number of people detained and prosecuted for this crime since the military coup and about extreme sentencing practices, which result in some cases in dozens of years of imprisonment (article 19).

38. The State party should review article 112 of the Criminal Code, on publicly offending the royal family, to bring it into line with article 19 of the Covenant. Pursuant to its general comment No. 34 (2011), the Committee reiterates that the imprisonment of persons for exercising their freedom of expression violates article 19.  

Coal back down or back on?

2 03 2017

The military junta appears to many as somewhat befuddled by the coal issue in Krabi. That said, it could be read as being duplicitous, which would be par for the military course.

A couple of days ago, the Bangkok Post reported that The Dictator “ordered the halted environmental and health impact assessment processes for the Krabi coal-fired power plant project to be scrapped…”. That’s what the protesters had demanded, threatening to again rally if the junta didn’t do this.

Indeed, one of the junta’s spokesmen stated that General Prayuth Chan-ocha dumped the process “out of concern that without the cancellation, there might be some issues with public participation in deciding which fuel source was best suited for the controversial project.” He means they feared having political allies protest.

The Bangkok Post also reported The Dictator as saying something quite remarkable: “the public must be allowed to have their say.” That’s potentially a first. But he does it for political allies and he probably expects to be able to control the process.

But then he declared that public “forums will not focus on issues relating to the controversial coal-fired power plant so as to avoid any conflicts.” So there will be forums but not discussing the issue at hand….

Yet another report in the Bangkok Post states that the junta has been working to “improve the public’s understanding about new environmental and health impact assessments needed for the Krabi coal-fired power plant project, saying they have to be completed within a month from now.”

That will be the quickest EHIA in history. So it will be crafted to meet the junta’s desires and political concerns.

This Post report also suggests that some locals have different perspectives from those “leading” the earlier protests in Bangkok and showing less “trust” in the junta.

More militarization

2 01 2017

The militarization of politics is a seemingly a worldwide trend. In Thailand, of course, it has been the norm for more than eight decades. Thailand’s military dictatorship has seen the military brass in charge of pretty much everything.

Military men in Thailand are not known for their intelligence. Rather, they are characterized by their dimwitted approach to anything challenging, their unbridled capacity for murderous action against opponents and their jellybacked contortions in the hierarchical society they have shaped.

With this in mind, PPT always gets wondering when a relatively new jellyback begins to get lippy on politics and the military. It might be just because it is new year, but PPT couldn’t help but notice a series of Bangkok Post reports all citing Army chief General Chalermchai Sitthisart. Why is he suddenly talking and considered newsworthy? What do his bosses in the junta think about this?

The first story is the most unlikely, but suggestive of the potential for conflict within the military. Yes, we know that the story is sold as the Army chief wanting to reduce conflict within the military brass, but the opposite seems more likely. Chalermchai states that he “adheres to the merit system, a mechanism employed to prevent problems associated with frustration over promotions seen as unfair by some.”

No Army commander has ever used a merit system, so this will upset the existing cliques, including the murderous “Burapha Phayak (Tigers of the East) … the faction of army officers who had served at the 2nd Infantry Division of the Queen’s Guard based in Prachin Buri” and the Wong Thewan faction that links to the “1st Division of the King’s Guard in Bangkok.”

Officers trained in quelling domestic political passions and ass-licking in palace circles will find the notion of “merit” threatening. Our guess is that Chalermchai may be seeking to limit the promotions of those officers considered close to the king.

The second story relates to “southern unrest.” He predicts a decline in violence over the next couple of years. However, his reasons for this claim are unclear. We wonder how he feels about the coordinating role of General Udomdej Sitabutr, a former Army boss, to run things in the south? Chalermchai’s position is likely undermined. Not unrelated, the conflict in the south is a huge money spinner for the Army, and this move involving Udomdej may siphon those funds elsewhere.

The third story is the most bizarre. General Chalermchai is reported to have “expressed confidence no coup would be staged to challenge the election results no matter who wins, saying the rules would be respected.” PPT had not heard any rumors of a potential coup, so we wonder why Chalermchai was motivated to speak?

In addition, the result of the junta’s “election,” now more likely in 2018 than 2017, is not in doubt. The junta will not allow a result it does not want and desire. So, who in the Army would be dissatisfied with the outcome? Who are the junta’s military opponents?

As it turns out, his response was to a question about what the Army would do if “the old political clique [a pro-Thaksin party] won a mandate to form a government.” That is simply not going to happen, so Chalermchai’s response is more than necessary. Why’s that?

He did go on to warn about political discontent: “It is useless to create trouble because it could give a reason to the NCPO [the junta] to extend the roadmap.”

It is always troubling when military types begin talking about coups and politics. Their heavy boots trample all and when more than one set of boots is dancing, many others risk being trodden on and being bumped aside.