The junta’s lock

20 07 2018

The military dictatorship has now had more than four years to lock-in its rule and its rules. In establishing control over the military, it has had longer.

Around the time of the 2006 military coup, royalist elements in the military, aligned with the palace directly or through privy councilors Gen Prem Tinsulanonda and Gen Surayud Chulanont, marked certain military officers as untrustworthy due to their perceived alliance with Thaksin Shinawatra. These officers were sidelined, stymied and seen out of the military, mostly through the efforts of four generals: Sonthi Boonyaratglin, Anupong Paojinda, Prayuth Chan-ocha and Prawit Wongsuwan. Sonthi was soon discarded as too weak but the others remain, ran the 2014 coup and now plot and plan for the continuation of military guided “democracy” into the future.

That planning for the future involves something that Gen Prem did for years on behalf of the palace: managing succession in the armed forces so that loyalists are on top. In this context. loyalty means to the palace and to the junta and its regime.

It has been known for quite some time that the chosen successor for Gen Chalermchai Sitthisart as Army chief is Gen Apirat Kongsompong. Apirat is a ruthless rightist who has vowed support to The Dictator and taken a leading role in suppressing red shirts and other political opponents.

Last year, when the new King Vajiralongkorn approved the military promotion list, it was widely assumed that Gen Apirat had the king’s approval as Vajiralongkorn takes a strong interest in what happens within the armed forces. However, in May this year, there was an unconfirmed report that Apirat may have fallen foul of the erratic king. Within a couple of months, however, an announcement in the Royal Gazette saw Gen Apirat granted special special status as a member of the king’s personal security unit. If Apirat had fallen foul of the king, he must have completed his penance and/or service with flying colors, at least in the king’s eyes.

This has been followed by Gen Apirat getting plenty of media attention as the Defense Council is scheduled to meet on 25 July to discuss promotions and appointments, with the meeting chaired by Gen Prawit. Interestingly, most of the media stories are almost exactly the same, suggesting that this is a strategic leak by the junta, paving the way for Apirat and acknowledging that the king’s approval has been given.

Apirat, a graduate from Class 20 of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School, and in the military’s feudal system, “belongs to the Wongthewan clique and not the powerful Burapa Phayak circles of elite commanders — of which Gen Prayut and his deputy Gen Prawit are members — [yet] he is one of the regime’s most trusted lieutenants.” He has pledged allegiance to The Dictator. His loyalty has been earlier tested in 2010 and his bosses appreciate Apirat’s willingness to shoot down civilian opponents.

If the junta does decide to hold its rigged election next year, Gen Apirat will be expected to use his 200,000 + soldiers, the Internal Security Operations Command and various other resources of the state to deliver the votes needed for the “election” to appear to have been won by the junta’s parties.





Recycling an imagined past

27 05 2018

The nationalist trilogy, put together by a king and used and misused ever since, most usually by fascist military dictatorships, and ground into people from school to shopping center, is in the news.

New king and a crackdown on unsound Buddhist bosses and the propaganda of the military dictatorship come together in a curious mix of police commando raids against monks, claimed to be corrupt  lawbreakers, and then apologies from The Dictator for the treatment of one fascist monk, assessments of state propaganda and the ill-timed royal launch of something called “Buddhism Promotion Week.”

The last report features mainly pictures of a jolly Princess Sirindhorn attending ceremonies with senior monks – presumably not the arrested lot – for Buddhism Promotion Week, coinciding with coincides with Visakha Bucha Day. It also shows Privy Councillor General Surayud Chulanont who was dispatched by King Vajiralongkorn to make merit on the absent king’s behalf for the deceased king and the now never seen queen from the last reign. The ceremony took place at the increasingly reclaimed area of the so-called Royal Plaza.

Bad timing when a bunch of senior monks are arrested, accused of all manner of crimes, but perhaps a part of the new reign’s “cleansing” of Buddhism. That “cleansing” has the possibility of assisting The Dictator’s electoral campaigning so long as the bad monks are not linked to him.

The Nation’s special report (linked above) on the military dictatorship’s throwback nationalist propaganda is worth reading. It covers Thai Niyom (Thai-ism) – an effort to promote the rightist concept of “Thainess,” the junta’s “patriotic” histories, the archaic costume party royalism, also promoted by the king, and crappy soaps that, as one academic says, are escapism:

“It shows the mental illness of our society…. Today we’re living in conflict, especially on the political front. Watching comical shows and fantasy soaps can temporarily heal people’s hearts. In reality we remain divided, and the fantasy is that we are united.”

The junta just craves devotion and adulation they imagine for earlier ages, located somewhere in the 1910s or late 1950s. As poorly educated, unthinking automaton royalists, the best they can do in this sphere is recycling.





Weekend reads

1 04 2018

We are still kind of catching up from our downtime a weeks or so ago, and want to recommend some interesting material for our readers. Hopefully our military censors/blockers will also learn something from these stories.

At the Bangkok Post: The Cambridge Analytica/SCL Group story is belatedly addressed for Thailand – we commented about 10 days ago – but adds little to the story, although there seems an attempt to diminish the possible role of the Democrat Party even though the only Thai cited is Chuan Leekpai. If there were links between the Democrat Party and/or its government and SCL, look to the party’s Anglophiles for the connecting points.

On the extrajudicial killings at Prachatai: Yiamyut Sutthichaya writes that  “March 17th marked the first anniversary of the death of the young Lahu activist, Chaiyaphum ‘Cha-ou’ Pasae. He was shot dead by a soldier…”. As far as we can tell, nothing sensible has happened on this case since day 1. It has been a cover-up. Read the account, weep for Chaiyapoom and weep for Thailand under the junta’s boot. This is a case of official corruption far more egregious than the Deputy Dictator’s watch saga. The latter interests the middle class who seem to care little for rural kids murdered by military thugs.

“No conspiracy”: The Dictator says he’s stuck to the “roadmap” and there’s no conspiracy to further delay the junta’s promised election. Everyone knows this is a mountain of buffalo manure, but The Dictator keeps saying it. No one believes him – no one – and Alan Dawson at the Bangkok Post calls him out. While at the Post, go and read the stir caused for the junta when Thaksin suggests that Puea Thai will do well when an election comes along. That’s also what the polls say, including the junta’s own polling. That’s also why the junta is splashing taxpayer funds about, seeking to buy supporters.

Insidious Internal Security Act: In talking with political scientist Puangthong Pawakapan, Kritsada Subpawanthanakun reminds us that the the Internal Security Act has now been around for 10 years. A tool wielded mainly through ISOC, it is used to undermine political opponents of Thailand’s establishment. This is highlighted by the fact that the current law was implemented by Gen Surayud Chulanont’s government, put in place by a military junta and borrowing Surayud from the Privy Council. The links between ISOC and the palace are long, deep and nasty.

For more on ISOC: Nutcha Tantivitayapitak writes of “ISOC’s cultural mission” in “the ideological promotion process of ‘nation-religion-monarchy’ by the security agencies…, especially after the enforcement of the 2008 Internal Security Act. Security agencies such as ISOC, which has power over civilian agencies, moved forward in ideological indoctrination through cultural tools.”





More on Sulak’s case

22 01 2018

A couple of readers mention information they think we should have made clearer in our post on Sulak Sivaraksa again foiling a lese majeste charge.

In our post, we observed:

Sulak is also a self-declared conservative and monarchist. Perhaps that’s why he chose to have this reported: “Sulak said he credited the mercy of King Rama X for the case being dropped.”

One reader points out that an AP report said more:

Sulak, a veteran academic and proclaimed royalist, said he had petitioned Thailand’s new king, Vajiralongkorn, for help in dropping the charges against him.

“I contacted many people for help but no one dared to. So I petitioned the king. If it weren’t for His Majesty’s grace, this case would not have been dropped,” he said.

That is an important addition.

Another reader says we should have been more forthcoming on Sulak’s royalism:

Sulak Sivaraksa has a dilemma in the contradictions between his continuing platitudes on the ills of Western capitalism, neo-liberalism and consumerism on the one hand, and on the other hand his inability to come to terms with supporting (whenever this appeared in recent history) a people’s elected government and endogenous grassroots democracy. He fails to perceive of how society can develop, and in his lay preaching offers his followers only nostalgic platitudes on an “ideal Dhammic society”; one that seemingly cannot coexist with the amoral power of today’s global market forces. He recalls the time of Siam’s founding royal father King Ramkhamhaeng: “a perfect [*though in fact unequal and exploitative] society guided by Dhamma”. He unashamedly went on stage supporting the right-wing yellow shirts against an elected government and in praising the “positive elements” of the core leaders of PAD which successfully twice sabotaged an elected government. He explained in a talk on “How to Achieve Our Democracy” a couple of months after 2006 coup: “I will not offer any view on the recent coup d’etat. I will not criticize those who are in power now and will not discuss about the government of the present prime minister (General Surayud Chulanont) and his ‘parliament’. I think many individuals in power now are good. At least, they have good intentions and want to make changes to benefit the people as a whole…” (Sulak 2008).

Sulak (“Non-violence is not simply the absence of physical violence,” The Nation, March 1, 2006), it seems, is stuck on a negative propagandized image of ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra, who he compared ignobly to “a dog” on the PAD stage . He was silent when the state massacred unarmed protesters in Bangkok, though in one recorded interview said that this incident was, quote, well, rather “unfortunate” (sic). Even today Sulak has refused to criticize the repression and violence against innocent pro-democracy protesters or activists– as he had earlier cheered the military and ultra-royalists when they came to power in the guise of conditional “peacemakers” on 19 September 2006.





Updated: Shuffling the same military deck

26 11 2017

Readers may recall the columns of speculation about The Dictator’s cabinet reshuffle. There were all kinds of motives attributed to The Dictator. Pundits claimed he was trying to increase the dictatorship’s popularity, he was trying to boost the economic ministries, and/or he was civilianizing his military dictatorship in preparation for “elections.”

As far as we can tell, this was all wasted energy. What The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, did was maintain the dominance of the military. As we have said many times before, this is looking like a regime that is settling in for the long term.

The interesting thing in all of this for us was the position of the monarchy. In the past, cabinet reshuffles were announced by prime ministers and the composition of proposed cabinets was widely reported, with the king merely signing off. Of course, there may have been discussions with the king beforehand, but it was the executive’s political ground.

In our memory – correct us if we are wrong – it was only recently that the names involved in the reshuffle were withheld until after the king had signed off. As far as we can tell, there was plenty of discussion and even official announcements of the reshuffle list before the king signed off even under General Surayud Chulanont (see Bangkok Post, 3 October 2007). Again, and given Surayud’s previous Privy Council position, discussions may well have taken place with the palace and General Prem Tinsulanonda. Even so, the executive maintained its position.

Even under Abhisit Vejjajiva, put in place by the military in 2008, saw huge public debate over his cabinet but seemed to retain executive dominance (see Bangkok Post, 21 December 2008).

We have a feeling-cum-memory of the capitulation of the executive to the palace came under the military dictatorship. This means that it was all secret until approved by the king, giving even more political and constitutional power to the palace. Are we wrong?

Update: On the cabinet reshuffle, Bangkok Post editor Umesh Pandey has a view that it “can be seen as a very positive step for the gradual transition of Thailand towards a more democratic society…”. Seriously? He gives plenty of reasons for not believing him.





Palace punishment

4 03 2017

PPT has posted on the travails of former top cop and top aide to King Vajiralongkorn, Police General Jumpol Manmai.

jumpol-shavedAs has been something of a pattern when the prince-cum-king tires of people or he believes they have done him down in some way, Jumpol was first rumored to be in trouble, then legal cases were mentioned, followed by his disappearance. When he reappeared, like others, his head was shaved and he refused to apply for bail and entered guilty pleas on the legal accusation.

The Nation has a series of photos of what is a public humiliation of the former confidante to the king. Accounts on social media and The Nation report speak of dozens of photographers and reporters fighting for a piece of the new public face of the now officially disgraced Jumpol.

SuriyanThose reporters know that Jumpol is lucky to reappear – others, like Suriyan Sujaritpalawong have died.

Oddly, a later report in The Nation manages to mangle events, actually writing that “Jumpol surrendered to the Crime Suppression Division to face the charges…”.

The reporters also know that land encroachment charges seem rather “light” if Jumpol is really to be disgraced as others usually face lese majeste charges.

After all, not that long ago, former appointed premier, coup plotter and Privy Councilor General Surayud Chulanont was seen to have engaged in forest encroachment and nothing legal seemed to happen to him. He was still able to remain on the Privy Council as he apparently retained the support of General Prem Tinsulanonda and the palace. At the time, Surayud was seen as a leading light in the anti-Thaksin-cum-yellow shirt machinations against Thaksin Shinawatra and his parties and supporters.

Another reason for huge interest in the Jumpol case is that he is widely considered to have provided a link between Thaksin and the prince-now-king. The evidence for this is seen in some Wikileaks speculation and because Jumpol was treated as a Thaksin man by the former Abhisit Vejjajiva regime, despite his links to the then prince.

The police state they “have yet to charge him with violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code, which involves lese majeste,” so it seems that this step is likely.

After his initial appearance, the military used one of their aircraft to take Jumpol to Nakorn Ratchasima for several legal matters associated with land encroachment.

One further step in the palace punishment process is to also charge family members as “accomplices.” These people may have committed real crimes, but their position close to a now “failed” royal relationship also places them at risk and they also get disgraced.

In this quite feudal and narcissistic approach to “relationships” has now seen Jumpol’s wife appear to be charged. Unusually, the police banned reporters from taking photographs of her.

She is described as having “turned herself in to police yesterday to face the same [forest encroachment] charges. She is reported to have “denied some of the charges against her, but allegedly made partial admissions during the police interrogation.” She was released on bail.

It is also reported that:

three other defendants had been released on bail after police investigators concluded that they were unlikely to flee. They were identified as Region 5 Police deputy commissioner Pol Maj-General Pongdej Prommijit, his wife Chanasit Pisitwanit, and her relative Manop Plodkhoksoong.

We suspect there’s a lot more to play out in this case.





Brotherly love

30 12 2016

The 2014 military coup was intended to make up for the failures of of the 2006 putsch. In many ways, that 2006 intervention was General Prem Tinsulanonda’s coup. He was deeply involved in planning it, ensured military “backbone” for the royalist coup and arranged for his Privy Council colleague, General Surayud Chulanont, to become prime minister in a royalist and military backed government.

Yet the 2006 coup was a failure because the coup masters misunderstood the nature of the electoral support for Thaksin Shinawatra. The old men who claimed Thailand as their realm and who opposed popular sovereignty mistakenly believed Thaksin was reviled throughout the land and not just in their royalist cabals and yellow shirted strongholds in Bangkok and parts of the south.

The lessons taken from the failure of Prem’s coup was that, in 2014, a far deeper and more extensive military repression was required in order to, as the yellow-shirted ideologues put it, uproot the Thaksin regime. General Prayuth Chan-ocha, General Pravit Wongsuwan and their junta-cum-government of military brass has been the ruthless military dictatorship that Prem and other palace-related monarchists wanted and needed.

This is why the grand old political meddler is so enthralled and enamored of General Prayuth. He sees a true “son” at work for the military brotherhood and for the palace. When the junta comes calling at Prem’s taxpaper-funded mansion, he’s so very happy.

As the Bangkok Post reports the most recent mutual posterior polish, General Prem was effusive in his praise.

prem-entralled

Prem told the well-wishers who came to pay their respects to the palace’s chief political player that “he was aware of the government’s hard work.” He praised the dictatorship: “The government [he means junta] is exhausted and the prime minister, even more so.” Prem expressed his full support for the junta.

General Prem showered praise on General Prayuth, saying the “more exhausted” Prayuth is, “the greater success there is because the prime minister is committed to bringing happiness back to the nation…”. Prem expressed his full support for The Dictator, declaring: “I’m glad the prime minister and everyone here is dedicated to the country’s cause. We may be tired but we are not despondent…”.

He seems to view his palace and the junta as a team, running the country as only they can, with vigor and determination translated as repression and political regression.

He also “urged Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and the armed forces leaders to do their best to help Gen Prayut,” and drew on palace propaganda for support, mythologizing the dead king: “If one feels on the verge of losing steam, he only needs to look up at the picture of the late King who had endured hard work for 70 years. That is far more than what any of us has gone through…”. Nonsense for sure, but it is the linking of monarchy and military that’s critical for the new reign and for wiping out the vestiges of popular electoralism.

Naturally enough, General Prayuth took to polishing Prem’s aged butt, praising Prem’s “experience, ability and loyalty to the royal institution [he means monarchy]…”. So happy are the two together that Prem took Prayuth off for a “private meeting … that lasted about 15 minutes.”

Later, Prayuth explained that the old general “inquired about his work plans for the next year.” We assume his plans for political regression, deepening surveillance and a sham election were all ticked off by the palace’s man.