A catch-up I

27 03 2018

As readers will know, PPT has been a little quiet as we moved location. We have seen a few articles that we would have posted on, but didn’t have time and access, so here they are, in brief:

From Australia’s Green Left: After having taken a principled stand against the 2014 coup, Australia’s conservative government has capitulated to the military junta in a series of steps. The latest and most significant was the welcome by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha (and several other authoritarian leaders) at a Special Summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations in Sydney last week. This after Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had previously pledged, in writing, that Australia would “put in place a mechanism to prevent coup leaders from travelling to Australia.” Australia’s coalition government has been charging further to the political right and recognizing an illegal regime in Thailand is just one more example of this rightist frogmarch.

From The Nation: A report on a panel featuring politicians Anutin Charnvirakul, Sudarat Kayuraphan, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and Parit Wacharasindhu. All were reported to have “agreed that democracy, and not a coup d’etat, was the key answer to the problems facing the country.” They also reportedly agreed that the “Constitution must be undone to ensure that it does not paralyse future governments and prevent them from delivering meaningful policies…”. Hooray! Absolutely correct. But then they are reported to have said that “effective democracy would require participants to respect both rules and election results…”. Yes and no. We understand these points. However, because so many of the “rules” derive from the junta, some of these must be overturned too.

From Erich Parpart, Senior Reporter, Bangkok Post’s Asia Focus: He gets  basic facts are right. But some claims are warped. He says ” that the law in Thailand has long been abused for political purposes by those on both sides of the political spectrum.” In fact, by far the vast majority of lese majeste accusations have come from rightists and royalists damning their political opponents. (How many royalists are in exile escaping lese majeste charges? None.) Like others he says “[s]ince the coup of 2014, more than 90 people have been prosecuted for lese majeste and 43 have been sentenced.” This is wrong. As we have said several times, our data shows far higher numbers. He says the “most egregious application of the law in recent memory involved Sulak Sivaraksa.” This is completely wrong. Sulak got off. The cases of those who didn’t and were sentenced to jail for decades for saying “nothing,” for graffiti, for Facebook posts are far more egregious. When he writes of lese majeste in Cambodia he needs to read our recent post.

More catch-up soon.





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.”





Updated: Sanctioning and campaigning I

17 10 2017

While calling for “social sanctions” against Puea Thai Party’s Sudarat Keyuraphan for “political campaigning” in the name of remembering the dead king, The Dictator continues his own political campaigns.

Forget the floods. They are unimportant as the military regime prepares to reap political benefit from its ownership of the funeral.

The recent claim of a red shirt/republican plot to disrupt the funeral is now triumphantly waved away. There are now threats at all (thanks to the regime) but everyone has to help the regime watch for threats while mourning (appropriately).

Meanwhile, the campaign against what remains of opposition to the regime continues to be pushed and squeezed, with a military court in (flooded) Khon Kaen charging seven people for defiance of a junta ban on political gatherings dating back more than a year.

They and four others actually “took part in a discussion on the then draft constitution at Khon Kaen University on July 31 last year ahead of the Aug 7 referendum.”

This was before a referendum where the junta demanded a positive outcome, so obviously the junta did not want any serious discussion of the proposed basic law.

The court accepted the case for trial and sent the seven defendants to local prisons. They were later bailed.

One of the missing defendants is Jatuphat Bunpattararaksa, who is already serving a 2½-year jail term for having shared a BBC Thai article on the king on his Facebook page. He was one of thousands who did this and was singled out for jail because of his political activism.

Two others are a former Puea Thai MP and his wife “who confessed and agreed to an attitude-adjustment session” by the military dictatorship. The fourth is “anti-coup student activist Rangsiman Rome, who had not come to meet interrogators and faced an arrest warrant.”

Campaigning by the military dictatorship is in full tilt. The next big campaign event is the coronation.

Update: Khaosod now reports contradictory statements regarding the position of Rangsiman. He claims he was not charged in this case.





Cremation crackers

17 10 2017

PPT hasn’t been following all of the comings and goings associated with the very expensive funeral for the dead king. We have noticed remarkable propaganda for the dead king, giving him credit for almost everything other than the sun rising. Some of it is deliberately historically distorting. in order to rewrite that history in ways that make the dead king the hero of events.

There were several stories about a rehearsal that got our attention. Princess Sirindhorn, who looked distinctly uncoordinated and uncomfortable trying to march. But then we noticed a quite long and breathless story about changes recommended by her and her big brother. So “important” were these “suggestions” that they had to be purveyed to The Dictator.

Sirindhorn wants a drum to be more easily heard so that marchers can keep to time.So significant was this royal utterance that the “Supreme Commander [of the armed forces] was assigned to take care of the issue and the next rehearsal on October 21 is expected to see the situation solved so that the rehearsal, the last, will be ‘more perfect’.”

Her brother wants a change to invitation cards for foreign guests at the funeral.” He noticed that The Dictator is only listed as premier. Of course, his far more significant role is “chairman of the Organising Committee” for the funeral.

The Dictator is wanting as much credit as possible from the funeral. Indeed, a “successful” funeral is a part of his political campaigning and no one can else bask in that bright light.

So an effort by Puea Thai Party’s Sudarat Keyuraphan to get a bit of the funeral light by backing a junta call for “people to grow yellow marigold flowers as yellow was the colour of the late king’s birthday…” got her in trouble. She was accused of political campaigning. and will be visited by junta thugs. She’s bad (by definition) but General Prayuth Chan-ocha is good (by definition).

Now who was it who politicized the funeral?





Depressing and familiar

17 01 2017

Reading the Bangkok Post this morning seemed like a trip back in time.

One story at the Post has the The Judge Advocate-General’s Department “seeking a further extension to a deadline to challenge a court ruling that revoked the dismissal of former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva from the army reserve.” He allegedly used “fake documents when applying to join the army as a lecturer at the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy in 1987. The job exempted him from military conscription and gave him the rank of acting sub-lieutenant.”

That story has been around for years now, and Abhisit has been cashiered once in 2012 and then the “Civil Court … ruled in 2015 that … Abhisit had used false documents when he applied for the job and that the Democrat [Party] leader had lacked the necessary qualifications.” An Appeals Court overturned the ruling last year and reinstated Abhisit.

It is a rather simple case that is important to Abhisit because it involves face and status. It is important to his opponents as an example of double standards.

Another Post story has General Prayuth Chan-ocha denying “a report stating the government will revamp the selection system of provincial governors by seeking experts, including those outside the Interior Ministry, to serve in the positions.”

This proposal was apparently recommended by Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak. Somkid reckoned he wanted “governors who have vision …, expertise, strength, … and initiative.”

As a former Thaksin Shinawatra minister, when CEO governors were promoted, it is easy to see why The Dictator has had to quickly respond to a wildfire of yellow-tinged alarm, denying any plan to change the time-honored, elite-supported manner for controlling local populations.  No “vision” or “initiative” required when repressing and managing the dangerous masses.

A third Bangkok Post story is of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) “investigation” of Thawatchai Anukul’s mysterious death in custody on 29 August 2016. This is the former official said to have worked with members of the elite to acquire land – an “normal” enough thing in Thailand. He somehow ended up being investigated and taken into jail. He then died. A first “investigation” concluded “Thawatchai strangled himself by wrapping his socks around his neck and attaching them to a door hinge.” The problem was that the police’s Institute of Forensic Medicine “reported in its initial autopsy result that Thawatchai died of abdominal haemorrhaging and a ruptured liver from being hit with a solid, blunt object together with asphyxiation from hanging…”.

Now the family says it can’t get an autopsy report because “the findings could not be revealed now as they might affect people involved in the case.” Perhaps results will be available for a court hearing in a month or so.

You get the picture. Impunity, cover-ups and complete incompetence are “normal.”

Yet another Post report is of “reconciliation.” General Prawit Wongsuwan has decided that “political parties and pressure groups will be asked to sign ‘a memorandum of understanding on national reconciliation’ as part of government efforts to heal the political divide…”. At the same time, he scotched discussion of an amnesty.

“Reconciliation” has been on the political agenda since the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime. The problem has been that “reconciliation” has not involved justice. This time around, Prawit wants ideas from “representatives from all political parties and groups will be invited to contribute ideas, including academics, legal experts, senior military soldiers, and police officers.” After this the junta will “establish a set of guidelines that will promote unity.”

That sounds like what might be expected for “reconciliation” run by a military junta. As Prawit “explained,” the military can play a role in “reconciliation” processes because the military is not viewed as a party to political conflict! Gen Prawit said: “The military never has enemies. It has no conflict with anyone.”

Democrat Party leader Abhisit declared “there was a need to determine the truth behind political unrest” before reconciliation. He means a truth that suits him.

Perhaps surprisingly, Puea Thai Party and official red shirts were sounding enthusiastic. But, then, they desperately need an election as soon as possible.

Interestingly Puea Thai’s Sudarat Keyuraphan, observed that “success in fostering unity rests on the sincerity of those in power.” She added: “Those in power must show sincerity and maintain impartiality, and must avoid getting themselves involved in conflict themselves. They must listen to all sides equally, rather than invited parties involved in conflict only as a token gesture as before…”.

Related, and at the Bangkok Post, former Thaksin aide Suranand Vejjajiva observes that the military “regime will find it hard to achieve meaningful reconciliation if it is not committed to a return to full democracy and applying the rule of law.” He points out that the military’s “reconciliation” is embedded in the authoritarian “roadmap to democracy” and “its true authoritarian agenda to manipulate political outcomes after a new general election is held either this year or the next.”

Nothing will change the roadmap to authoritarian tutoring over a further 20 years. He says the junta “has to realise that only democracy can pave the way for political reconciliation.”

Suranand’s democracy is not one the military comprehends. It is establishing a 1950s version of Thai-style democracy.

He predicts that “[a]ny future meetings on national reconciliation that Gen Prawit expects to call will end up as a series of shows for the media, if representatives of political parties show up at all.”

That’s been the pattern: impunity, PR and repression. It is depressingly all too familiar.





Merchants of death

10 03 2012

Sudarat Keyuraphan and Robert Amsterdam have made related observations in recent media appearances. Amsterdam is well known as one of Thaksin Shinawatra’s legal representatives and Sudarat was a significant minister in Thaksin’s  Thai Rak Thai Party government.

Sudarat

Sudarat has long been close to Thaksin, having begun her political career in the Phalang Dharma party and being one of the first to jump to TRT when it formed. After TRT was thrown out in the 2006 military coup, she was banned when the party was dissolved. It is said that Sudarat has had a behind-the-scenes role in steering Yingluck Shinawatra and her government.

In a recent Bangkok Post interview, translated from Post Today, where Sudarat is reported on issues that may affect the current government’s stability. She refers to the

efforts of “merchants of death” to create divisiveness by using the lese majeste issue to whip up public frenzy. If all across the political divide agree not to touch this issue, the merchants of death will lose their opportunity.

I think the constitution rewrite is a scapegoat to create divisiveness. The merchants of death will try every means to stir up trouble and if the government is careless, it can fail.

Who does she mean? PPT assumes she essentially refers to the military command and the Democrat Party. After all, the former has a long history of killing political opponents (including during Thaksin’s time in government) and the latter sat atop the regime that three times ordered violent repression of red shirt demonstrators (April 2009, April 2010 and May 2010).

Amsterdam

Interestingly, Amsterdam has more to say on this in a piece he has authored at Foreign Policy Journal. He makes the all too obvious point that much of the media, both Thai and international, repeatedly refer to Thaksin as a “divisive figure,” when his parties are repeatedly elected and while – to borrow Sudarat’s apt term – the merchants of death in Abhisit Vejjajiva and General Prayuth Chan-ocha hold significant positions:

These men did not just escape legal accountability for their actions, which is the historical norm in Thailand, but got to keep their positions and titles. Few in the domestic and international press have seriously questioned their fitness to serve….

Writers at the Financial Times, Foreign Policy, the Wall Street Journal, or the Council on Foreign Relations have never so much as suggested that these people leave their posts, much less leave the country.

Amsterdam also correctly observes that “Thaksin’s enemies may have given up on elections altogether” as they seek to maintain elite control of Thailand’s politics and economy despite having had their “leadership” rejected several times. It seems the merchants of death are not defeated until their instruments of violent repression are wrenched from their hands.

PPT cannot conclude this post without a negative comment on Sudarat’s interview. She babbles about the monarchy in terms that would not be out of place for the elitists and royalists who hate Thaksin, Yingluck and red shirts.

When she is asked about challenges facing the Yingluck government, Sudarat nominates the amendment of the constitution and then quickly adds:

One must not touch Section 112 of the Criminal Code concerning lese majeste because this provision does not cause any trouble to the people. In fact, the monarchical institution is very beneficial in driving the country’s development and is a unifying force.

It can be said that our country is stable and peaceful because we have a monarchy.

Of course, as PPT has pointed out many times, the latter statement is demonstrably inaccurate as the monarchy has been at the center of most of the most divisive and destabilizing events in Thailand’s modern history. The other notion, that people are not troubled by lese majeste, is equally fatuous.

Sudarat’s next comments are confused:

we must accept that there are some who have bad intentions, but most people don’t feel like that. In developed countries, their monarchs are not closely involved with the people as much as our King who has devoted himself to the people’s betterment over decades.

Her view of overseas monarchies is, as with most royalists, sadly shallow and her knowledge of her own monarchy seems to have come solely from the nightly royal news. Then her royalist feelings are set free: “Instead of amending Section 112, we must strengthen it as our King is not a politician and cannot defend himself.

The idea that the monarchy needs to be protected by others is infantile. The idea that people should be locked away for more than the up to 20 years of recent sentences is medieval.





Believing your own messages

10 12 2011

It is important to be able to distinguish between political fiction and fact. However, when political battles extend over several years and when the means of communication have expanded so massively, so protagonists actually come to believe their own propaganda. A case in point is the extreme yellow-shirted senator Rosana Tositrakul, who is the head of a Senate committee on graft and good governance.

Rosana’s views have become more extreme over the years that she has dedicated herself to hating and opposing Thaksin Shinawatra and all associated with him. Her most recent comments on the burglary at the house of transport permanent secretary Supoj Saplom. Rosana actually “expressed doubts that money seized from the arrested suspects really belonged to Mr Supoj.” Remarkably, the head of the Senate committee on graft and good governance “wondered if the money came from another source and whether the robbery was a frame-up. She also commented that the damaged party seemed to have become a suspect.”

Given that the National Anti-Corruption Commission and the Anti-Money Laundering Office are investigating the case, PPT began wondering why Rosana would defend Supoj. We were equally taken aback by the Bangkok Post’s decision to call the case a “mystery” that “deepened … when a Senate panel suggested the crime was politically motivated and a frame-up.”

PPT’s ruminations led us to a series of yellow-shirt emails that claim – with no evidence at all – that Supoj was holding the money for either Thaksin or banned Thai Rak Thai Party politician Sudarat Keyuraphan. These emails have been sent all over the place. It seems clear that this is where Rosana is getting her information and, despite the lack of any evidence, she trots this stuff out.

Of course, current Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung reckons that Supoj was in bed with the culprits at the Bhum Jai Thai Party. He hasn’t produced any evidence either.

Other stories doing the rounds of the electronic mail include a claim that Supoj was done down by his secretary, who was also a long-term mistress, spurned on the orders of the major wife. But that rumor doesn’t say why Supoj had so much loot at home.

A point Chalerm made that rings true is that “not only [corrupt] government officials but also many [corrupt] politicians like to keep cash at home.” At this point, PPT would not jump for political rumors, but would point out that transport and communications are amongst the plum jobs for senior bureaucrats because they offer such lucrative opportunities for “unusual wealth.”

As permanent secretary at the Ministry of Transport, chairman of the State Railways of Thailand and earlier Director of the Highways Department and also the Rural Roads Department, Supoj had several neat perch from which to seek extra income. These positions are widely known to be extremely lucrative.

It seems to us that Rosana has become a slave to her own propaganda and speculation (and perhaps Chalerm too). That slavish devotion to a political cause could cause political blindness. There might well be that there is a “normal” explanation for a bureaucrat having great and unexplained wealth.

Meanwhile, in another example of believing your own message, the Bangkok Post reports that former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban showed up at the Metropolitan Police Bureau to testify to a panel investigating the deaths of red shirt protesters in April and May 2010.

Suthep reportedly “insists security forces involved in containing red shirt protesters during last year’s political violence had performed their duties within the law.” PPT reckons that’s an easy claim to make as the emergency decree pretty much granted the authorities the right to anything they wanted.

His other claim is more controversial and has been his mantra throughout. He stated: “Security forces had performed their duties based on my orders. There was no violence while they were performing their duties.” Further, he stated categorically that “security forces had carried out their duties and their operation [on 10 April] had not caused any deaths…”. He has always claimed that security forces killed no one and that all deaths were a result of attacks by mysterious and never apprehended “men in black.”

If you say it enough it seems you come to believe it.