When the military is on top XII

19 01 2018

It is some time since our last post with this title. There’s a general air in the press and on social media that the political tide may be turning.

For example, commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak says he can see “civil society noises, together with political parties, are now on rise and may build into a crescendo of opposition to the military government.” Others are pleased to see the detestable Abhisit Vejjaiva “damning” the military government with language that is advisory in tone on General Prawit Wongsuwan’s large collection of luxury watches. On social media, many have lauded the dropping of yet another lese majeste case against Sulak Sivaraksa.

While there is some cause for cheer, it might be noted that much of this criticism is coming from yellow shirts and anti-democrats, many of whom were strong supporters of the 2014 military coup. This suggests that that coalition of anti-democrats is unraveling as the junta seeks to embed its rule. The unanswered question is what they propose as an alternative to the junta. Do these critics propose using the junta’s rules and having a military-dominated administration post-“election” – a Thai-style democracy – but where that dominance is not as total as it is now. That is, a simple refusal to allow General Prayuth Chan-ocha to hang on as head of a selectorate regime? Nothing much that any of these “opponents” have proposed since 2005 has looked much like an open political system.

What we can also see, and this also deserves attention from those cheering these developments, is that the junta continues to crackdown on other opponents.  One case involves the National Anti-Corruption Commission, criticized on Prawit, but widely supported by anti-democrats in an action to “determine whether … 40 [elected and pro-Thaksin Shinawatra] politicians submitted the [amnesty] bill with ‘illegal’ intent” back in 2013. If found “guilty,” they would all be banned from the junta’s “election,” decimating the already weakened Puea Thai Party.

Even when criticizing Prawit’s horology obsession, some critics are tolerated and others not. For example, Abhisit and yellow-hued “activists” can criticize, but what about Akechai Hongkangwarn? He’s identified as an opponent, so when he was critical, “four police officers … turned up at [his]… home … to serve a summons.” The “charge” seems to be “posting obscene images online…”. An obscenely expensive watch perhaps?

Then there’s the warning to critics of the junta that there call for The Dictator’s use of Article 44 for to not be made into law. Maj Gen Piyapong Klinpan “who is also the commander of the 11th Military Circle, said the NCPO [junta] is monitoring the situation. He said the NCPO did not ban the gathering on Monday since it was held in an education institute where academics were present to share knowledge. The NCPO merely followed up the event and tried to make sure those present would not violate any laws.” In other words, watch out, you’re being watched. It’s a threat.

Amazingly, Maj Gen Piyapong then “explained” these political double standards:

Commenting about political activist Srisuwan Janya, who has criticised the regime, Maj Gen Piyapong said there is no need to invite the activist for talks as he still has done nothing wrong, but the junta will keep tabs on his movements. “Currently, there is still no movement which is a cause for concern,” Maj Gen Piyapong said.

And, finally, if you happen to be one of those unfortunates – a citizen in the way of military “progress” – you get threatened with guns. At the embattled Mahakan community, where a historical site is being demolished, Bangkok Metropolitan administrators called out the military to threaten the community. The deployment of troops was by the Internal Security Operations Command.





Who is taking advantage of the funeral?

20 10 2017

PPT has had several posts in recent days that compare The Dictator’s campaigning and his accusations that Puea Thai Party’s Sudarat Keyuraphan was “political campaigning” in the name of remembering the dead king.

Khaosod has a report that deserves some attention.

Anti-corruption activist Srisuwan Janya points to “two purchasing scandals” he says have surfaced in the past week, but claims he can “only fume … because of the period of national mourning for for … King Bhumibol…”.

Yet he was not too constrained to refrain from slamming the military junta: “this is a period of sorrow for the entire nation…. But the government has no decency to consider this at all.”

One case involves officials who are buying hundreds of “road speed guns for six times the normal price.” The second case involves “revelations the army spent upward of 15.9 million baht to build restrooms” at Corruption/Rajabhakti Park.

After criticism, Interior Minister General Anupong Paojinda said “849 hand-held laser speed detectors – each costing 675,000 baht – was urgent to replace outdated equipment.” That’s more than 573 million baht.

We, like others, can’t see why Anupong needed to buy more than 800 speed guns right now. Given that “[c]ritics said similar devices can be found for about 100,000 baht…”, it seem reasonable to think that there’s “commissions” in the wind.

The main issue is that “[n]either of the projects went to open bidding, meaning the contracts were awarded to contractors solely at the discretion of those officials in charge.”

Yellow-shirted ultra-nationalist Veera Somkwamkid thundered that the speed gun “purchase was intentionally slipped through under the cover of mourning…”.

Veera observed that the junta had criticized Sudarat but questioned its own actions: “those bastards are engaging in corruption! It damages the public!… It is both inappropriate and damaging to the country.”





Red Bull and the privilege of great wealth

12 09 2017

Both the Bangkok Post and Prachatai have stories on demands for Interior Minister General Anupong Paojinda to be “investigated” after he signed an order that allowed a private company to make use of a 31-rai community forest in Khon Kaen’s Ubonrat district.

General Anupong issued a land use permit to KTD Property Development, allowing it to construct a water storage facility for an adjacent beverage production plant it owns.

KTD Property Development is said to have connections to the giant Red Bull corporation. Red Bull’s Yoovidhya family are reported to be shareholders of KTD.

We wonder if one of those shareholders is Vorayuth Yoovidhya. He’s the Yoovidhya who is a “suspect” in a brutal hit-and-run case in which a police officer was killed, and who has been allowed to miss court appearances time and again as the various charges he faces time out.

His case is an example of the double standards where the rich get benefits from the support they provide to officials and to the royalist ruling class.

Protecting one Yoovidhya is just another aspect of the work of tycoons and the best “justice” and officials that money can buy. These are the tycoons who treat justice as a business tool to keep the profits flowing. The benefits they enjoy through their wealth and extensive corporate control are counted in baht and dollars.

That seems to be what’s happening in Khon Kaen.

KTD has been buying land in the area for five years and requested that it be allowed to use Huay Mek community forest land in 2015. It is reported that the “local community had repeatedly rejected the request.”

The local level officials reckon that KTD will pay. How much? It is stated that the local administration will “collect an annual fee of 1,000 baht per rai, or about 31,000 baht per year.”

What a deal! For KTD and its Red Bull investors.

That said, we assume the company has invested heavily in local, provincial and national officials.

The ever activist Srisuwan Janya has “filed a petition with the National Anti-Corruption Commission to initiate an investigation against Gen Anupong and other high-rank officials of the Interior Ministry.”

Srisuwan and many others reckon General Anupong and his underlings have abused power in favor of a private company.

That support for big business has been a part of the military dictatorship’s “reform” agenda.





Prawit targeted

28 08 2017

General Prawit Wongsuwan, the Deputy Dictator, is being targeted by serial complaint lodger Srisuwan Janya for “dereliction of duty.” Included in the complaint lodged with the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) is Police General Chakthip Chaijinda, the Commissioner-General of the Royal Thai Police.

Their dereliction of duty is in allowing Yingluck Shinawatra to skip out on the final day of her trial for – and here is the irony in the complaint – dereliction of duty on her government’s rice scheme.

Srisuwan states:

It was previously generally known that Yingluck’s movements were always monitored by all branches of the security forces, soldiers and police and all her activities shadowed. But when it came to the time she had to travel to hear the verdict, no one in the security forces, police and soldiers knew that she had fled Thailand or when….

 





Criticism is not contempt

24 08 2017

Don’t criticize the monarchy, their pets or dead kings (and any other body the royalists get exited about). They are protected by the lese majeste and computer crimes laws.

Don’t criticize The Dictator or the military junta. They are protected by defamation, sedition and computer crimes laws.

Don’t criticize the judiciary. It is protected by contempt and computer crimes laws.

Perhaps because these three groups and bodies have, by their own actions, been so politicized the invention, re-invention and application of these laws has been so crucial for Thailand’s turn to feudalism and authoritarian rule.

Khaosod has a long story on the judiciary’s use of contempt laws to protect its tarnished reputation.

We won’t do more than quote a couple of parts of the story.

On Monday, a court fined prominent transparency activist Srisuwan Janya 700,000 baht. He was found guilty of the same offense that in the past week alone has seen a former politician given a suspended jail term and a media agency cowed into self-censorship….

Contempt of court, a law once limited to maintaining order in court proceedings, is now being interpreted to cover a broad range of offenses in the kind of creeping legal expansion that have reshaped other draconian laws, such as the Computer Crime Act and lese majeste, into powerful weapons against dissent.

The trend has alarmed a number of lawyers who fear the integrity of the justice system is in jeopardy….

Thammasat University law professor Piyabutr Saengkanokkul warned that an unchecked power to punish alleged violators could lead to a completely unaccountable judiciary….

Now the law is being used for crowd control. The authorities are anxious about an outpouring of support for former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra when the verdict in her malfeasance trial is read Friday – a verdict many expect to not be in her favor.

On Sunday, police announced supporters – or gatherings of any kind – would not be allowed outside the court that day.

… Piyabutr said punishing criticism of any institution is contrary to the principle of accountability.

“Since the court exercises sovereign power that belongs to the people, the people are entitled to the right to scrutinize, criticize and disagree with the court,” he wrote.

The courts, with double standards and politicized rulings, has much to “protect.” In fact, criticism of courts is permitted in most non-authoritarian polities. Contempt is something different.





Fear and unintended consequences II

19 04 2017

Most of the breaking stories on the fate of the 1932 plaque are on social media, including the Facebook accounts of Andrew MacGregor Marshall and Somsak Jeamteerasakul. Another Facebook account worth following is that by Pravit Rojanaphruk, one of the bravest of local journalists.

The mainstream media is publishing material but because it is now widely assumed that the king had the plaque removed, that media is treading very carefully and fearfully.

Marshall claims that the plaque was removed on 5 April, the evening before the announcement of the military junta’s 2017 constitution. That, of course, would be symbolic vandalism.

When thinking about the king’s reason for moving against memories and symbols of 1932, it is important to recall that all he would know of that revolution would have been gained from his grandmother and father, both of whom were anti-People’s Party and anti-Pridi Phanomyong, or from disgruntled royals who mostly hated the events and people of what they consider a travesty of (their) history.

Reuters reported that The Dictator and the junta have been getting a plausible story together.

Self-appointed royalist premier General Prayuth Chan-ocha has “warned people not to protest against the mysterious disappearance of a plaque commemorating the end of absolute monarchy, a theft some activists see as a symbolic threat to democracy.” He’s also been working on “protecting” the replacement plaque “celebrating the monarchy.”

Prayuth babbled something about “police … investigating…”, but also diminished the significance of the theft, the plaque and the 1932 revolution. Essentially, Prayuth’s message was a mafia-like “forget about it.” He said that it was all in the past, history, and not worth the effort.

The idea that the junta doesn’t know what happened in an area that is usually crawling with police and military and is watched by dozens of cameras beggars belief. As Reuters says, the “square where the plaque went missing is close to parliament, to a royal throne hall and to an army barracks. The area is also surveyed by several police posts.”

Prayuth knows what happened. He is now worrying about the political fallout and the boot he may get up the backside if he says or does anything wrong.

Meanwhile, at The Nation, the police claim sudden attacks of brain death. Deputy police chief Srivara Rangsibrahmanakul “admitted yesterday that he had no idea how to proceed with the case involving the mysterious removal of a plaque marking a 1932 revolution that ended absolute monarchy.” He knows he can’t move on this without some kind of “insurance” that he won’t end up shaven headed in the Bhudha Monthon Temporary Prison.

His babbling seemed like a man crazed or crazed by fear. In any case, while Prayuth declares the police are investigating, the police say they aren’t.

A group of activists filed a complaint, part of which explained to the police what they should be doing and why. We doubt the police, knowing the risks, will get of their ample posteriors.

What the police did do, according to several reports, was throw up a protective fence around the new royalist plaque, with a sign declaring it “royal ground.” You get the picture.

Reporters didn’t get the picture, however, as the police with some military support tried to prevent them from filming in the area.

They would not have done this without orders from The Dictator or from Tutzing.

Srisuwan Janya, arrested yesterday while trying to complain about the removal of the plaque, was released from military custody. He proclaimed that he would continue to complain, saying the new constitution gave him that right.

It remains to be seen what the full consequences of royal vandalism will be for the junta and the monarchy. It is certainly a damaging fiasco. Yet the junta knows it can manage fiascos – it has in the past. The question for the junta is whether they can manage the king.





Updated: Who took the plaque?

18 04 2017

Being on holidays and out of Bangkok for a few days, the social media frenzy surrounding the political vandalism of the People’s Party plaque has been a bit difficult to follow.

This post is quite a bit out of the ordinary for PPT as we are getting into very heavy speculation with little to go on other than joining some dots together. We are posting now because we think this is a very dangerous reactionary trend in Thailand, one that goes far beyond that of the military junta.

We think we know why it is difficult to follow, but more on that below.

The vandalism was not a minor bit of pilfering. This had to be a fair sized and well-planned operation.  After all, the historic plaque had to dug up and stolen on a day with light traffic and replaced with another plaque commemorating nothing significant, but displaying ridiculous monarchist graffiti.

That piece of royalist metal pap was set in cement, or so the pictures suggest, and that takes time to set, so this was not a snatch and grab raid.

This is all suggesting an operation that could only have been done by the authorities or with their connivance. (We will pretty much ignore the predictable ultra-royalist cheering that another step to re-establishing feudalism has been taken.)

The junta and its minions, including the police, are Sgt Shultzing this. They know nothing.

But, oops, someone complained. This brings one of those police responses which is the response you get when you just know that something is being hidden or that the cops have their private parts in an important vice.

Then some unexpected persons decide to protest, and the cops quickly get agitated and see off these more-or-less unknowns operating for reasons that are not entirely clear. It’s a small group and hardly threatening, but the cops feel differently. This is suggesting the motive behind the removal is somewhere reasonably high up.

This is followed by serial prodder of regimes, Srisuwan Janya of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution, showing up at the junta’s “public service centre” to “submit a letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha asking him to look for the 1932 Siamese Revolution memorial plaque…”.

So far The Dictator has been silent, suggesting that the normally talkative general is feeling unable to comment. It is as if he feels constrained, dumbfounded or fearful.

Odder than that, when Srisuwan shows up, soldiers are waiting and he is “whisked away in a military van … for talks at the 1st Cavalry Regiment…”.

That suggests there’s something to hide and that the regime is jittery as hell.

And then there’s the linking of the plaque and the earlier “order” about three overseas bloggers, seeking to criminalize and prevent contact with them.

We think there’s a story here of orders coming from the king. Of course, we have no evidence, but the fingerprints are there. There’s a fear that the banned bloggers are able to soak up leaks from close to the palace and that they will publicize them.

They already publicized the odd behavior of one of the king’s favorite concubines just meters from the plaque a month or so ago.

There’s a perspective emanating from the palace that suggests a desire to roll back 1932 as an aberration. In fact, the view is that the 17th century was a time when kings ruled with few constraints on their often aberrant behavior. Don’t be surprised to hear of suggestions that pre-Bangkok laws might still be useful in contemporary times.

We kind of hope our speculation is wrong.

Update: We think that Pavin Chachavalpongpun’s latest post at New Mandala, on the fear that infects palace circles and which infects much else, should be read with this post. He makes some excellent points about the reign after just a few months.