A sham democracy

4 09 2017

It wasn’t that long ago that the anti-democrats were loud in their criticism of electoral democracy as no democracy at all.

Those rants neglected the fact that the rules for elections in 2007 and 2011 that brought pro-Thaksin Shinawatra parties to power via the ballot box were conducted under rules set by military-backed governments packed by royalists.

Now it is PPT’s turn to complain about empty elections. There’s a ridiculous trend in some media suggesting that any election the military junta decides to allow will herald a return to “democracy” for Thailand.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

According to a report at the Bangkok Post, the latest to fall into this trap is Yves Leterme, the secretary-general of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA).

IDEA’s aims include this:

We develop, share and enable the use of comparative knowledge in our key areas of expertise: electoral processes, constitution-building, political participation and representation, and democracy and development.

So you’d think that its secretary-general would be able to distinguish real electoral democracy and sham democracy. But, no.

He says that “[a]s Thailand transitions towards a democracy, it is critical to keep in mind that not only the elections but the government itself must meet citizens’ expectations for leadership, security and socioeconomic development…”.

Leterme appears to praise Thailand, saying “that demonstrating a clear intention to reinstall democracy through electoral processes is a positive step for the country.”

How could a “democracy engineer” get it so wrong? After all, the military dictatorship has fixed any upcoming election to ensure that only its approved “politicians” can gain seats in government. It also seems highly likely that a general will be prime minister and may not even be an elected member of parliament.

Perhaps the reason for Leterme’s democracy clanger has to do with his Board of Advisers, where the chair is none other than the (anti)Democrat Party’s Surin Pitsuwan, who joined campaigns to bring down elected governments.

Make no mistake, no “election” under the junta’s 2017 constitution and the junta’s electoral rules can be free or fair.





Updated: Thailand rejected at the UN

29 06 2016

Kazakstan does not look very much like a democratic polity. Yet it is not a military dictatorship. As the Bangkok Post has it, Kazakstan “easily defeated Thailand’s bid for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, with just 55 countries backing Thailand against 138 for Kazakhstan.”

Junta supporters have pointed to the 55 and drawn some cockeyed notion about support for the regime, but that glass isn’t even half full.

Earlier, some of Thailand’s diplomats were quoted as declaring that “[m]ilitary-ruled Thailand stands a ‘good chance’ over oil-rich Kazakhstan…”. We couldn’t help wondering if these were the same shoppers diplomats who lied to the UN Human Rights Council. That these diplomats reckoned it was “a 50:50 draw, but we stand a good chance as we have secured support from Washington among others…” is another example of how the junta’s Thailand is Bizarro World, where its inhabitants are in some kind of delusional state or parallel political universe.

We also wondered if The Dictator’s self-described diatribe to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon might have sunk a very leaky Thai ship in the UN.

In the end, the “second-round voting wasn’t close.”

For more background on this event, see Kavi Chongkittavorn’s propaganda-like piece in support if the junta’s bid for the UNSC seat and the opposition of Human Rights Watch and FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights) opposition.

Update: Despite all of the junta hype before the devastating defeat, and in the face of statements that the “Thai bid delegation, comprising former Asean secretary-general [and Democrat Party stalwart] Surin Pitsuwan and other retired ambassadors, had been optimistic about winning the race,…” Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan has commented that: “We had anticipated that…. Never mind. Next time.” Prawit sounds as if he will still be around “next time” in 2017-18. Meanwhile, according to the same Bangkok Post report states that the “Pheu Thai Party claimed Wednesday the country spent more than 600 million baht in a campaign leading up to Thailand’s defeat in the race for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).”





In campaign mode

14 07 2015

Whenever Surin Pitsuwan gets into the public spotlight it is a pretty good bet that he is in campaign mode. Last time he surfaced in domestic politics, he was campaigning for leadership in the (anti)Democrat Party and for prime minister, hoping that the anti-democrat street protests would propel him upward.

Surin

Surin

PPT has quite a lot of posts that mention Surin, and these indicate that he has been a dedicated royalist. In one of our Wikileaks posts, in a cable dated 9 March 2006, then Democrat Party Deputy Leader and former Foreign Minister Surin is headlined as having “voiced his hope that the Palace would convince Prime Minister Thaksin [Shinawatra] to step down.” As the cable had it:

… Surin said that he hoped that someone such as Privy Council Chairman General Prem Tinsulanonda would be able to weigh in with the Palace’s authority to persuade Thaksin to go for the sake of the country’s stability. He opined that otherwise Thaksin will not likely go without being pushed. If Article 7 comes into play, Surin said, the King could appoint a new Prime Minister and “fair and transparent” elections be scheduled…. The Ambassador asked if the DP had lines through to the Palace towards this eventuality. Surin said he thought not, but that the DP was “hopeful” that the Palace would decide “enough is enough” and tell Thaksin to go.

Then he was campaigning for a royal political intervention, mainly because his own party simply couldn’t get elected in a fit.

Later, still in royalist mode, he campaigned for royal recognition by heading the campaign to raise $6 million for a Thailand program at Harvard, characterized as a means of promoting Thailand’s monarchy and national interests.

Very much in that mode of international campaigning for the monarchy and its military dictatorship, Surin has been “speaking to audiences at UNCTAD Geneva and UNESCO Paris. He highlighted HM the King’s Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP) in the context of globalization and applying it to the principle of sustainable development’s cultures and values.”

All very ho hum and predictable we hear readers saying. True, but in looking at the tripe Surin has uttered on this sufficiency economy nonsense, we can only assume that this time he is campaigning for a seat at the privy council.

Take this one piece of horse manure as an example: “In Thailand we are following this Sufficiency Economy Philosophy in a very conscientious way.”

One doesn’t even need to consider the criticisms of the sufficiency economy as practice and ideology to know that this statement is a fabrication.

We hope it is a padded seat he gets for his craven work for the monarchy and the military regime.

 





Money for monarchy

5 03 2015

A local press report in Michigan has alerted PPT to another foray into U.S. academia by royalist interests. It is recalled that last August, it was reported that, as “human rights in Thailand deteriorate under a military junta, Harvard is collaborating with key supporters of the recent coup to create a permanent Thai Studies program at the university.”

The Daily Press reports that the “University of Michigan has received $2 million to establish the Thai Professorship of Theravada Buddhism.” Innocuous at first glance, especially when the university states that “the gift will enhance one of the largest Buddhist studies programs in North America” and that the “holder of the endowed chair will teach courses and conduct research to advance knowledge of Thai Buddhism.” The chair is to be in the “Department of Asian Languages and Cultures in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.”

Plenty to research given scandals involving fascist politics, sex, drugs and money in Thai Buddhism.

However, the report also notes that the “gift comes from Amnuay Viravan, the former deputy prime minister, finance minister and foreign minister of Thailand, with matching support provided by the Crown Property Bureau of the Ministry of Finance of Thailand.”

PPT’s only mention of Amnuay is in a post about the military junta’s cabinet, where the 1997 economic meltdown involved him and a current member of the the military dictatorship’s cabinet. Amnuay is an alumnus of Michigan and has previously donated. Yet in the context of the Harvard collaboration, the Ann Arbor gift is worthy of scrutiny.

One of the points made in the earlier srticle about Harvard was this:

At the Harvard fundraiser I attended in Bangkok last August, [coup supporter] Surin [Pitsuwan] used the word “beachhead” to describe the envisioned role of the Thai Studies program. His choice of a word with military and strategic connotations is significant. Having overthrown a series of elected governments and facing growing criticism from cold-war allies, the conservative establishment is working hard to rebuild its legitimacy abroad, and setting up a program at Harvard would be an important victory. Surin announced donations from several tycoons, and said he was seeking funding for the program from the King’s Crown Property Bureau, which manages the monarch’s wealth of more than $30 billion.

Given that the same Crown Property Bureau is involved and that the Ministry of Finance has splashed taxpayer funds into this, is Michigan a second “beachhead?

Finance is headed by the wealthiest military sycophant, the minor prince Pridiyathorn Devakula who must have taken this promotion of Buddhism with Thai taxpayer’s money to the military junta for approval. We have no doubt that such a splurge is a part of laundering the dictatorship’s image.

The Crown Property Bureau  is involved because it is burnishing royal credentials when the monarchy is seen as supportive of illegal putsches and is under pressure from the negative publicity of that, the disappearance of the aged king, presumably near death, and the succession of a crown prince demonstrated as grasping, vindictive and dangerous.

Money for Buddhist studies seems meant to wash away many sins and lends credibility to a fascist and royalist regime.





Questioning royalism at Harvard

18 08 2014

The Harvard Crimson is the Ivy-League institution’s news outlet. American universities have a long history of struggle that pits elites and elite interests against public good. Think of Yale’s role in the birth of the CIA. Or consider the roles played by U.S. academics in counterinsurgency operations, including in Thailand.

It is thus good to see a critical assessment of the position of Harvard on Thai Studies and accepting elite loot. The questioning of the “qualifications” of rather dull royals who are granted academic credentials is long overdue.

Reproduced in full from The Harvard Crimson, including links:

Troubles with Thai Studies
By Ilya Garger

As human rights in Thailand deteriorate under a military junta, Harvard is collaborating with key supporters of the recent coup to create a permanent Thai Studies program at the university. These individuals, most prominently former Foreign Ministers Surin Pitsuwan and Surakiart Satirathai, have spearheaded a campaign to raise $6 million for the program, which they have characterized as a means of promoting Thailand’s monarchy and national interests. Professor Michael Herzfeld, who is leading the initiative, wrote in an emailed statement to me that the program would not be tied to specific political interests and Harvard conducts due diligence on its donors. However, by lending credibility to allies of a totalitarian regime and allowing them to use Harvard as a platform, the university is doing Thailand and itself a disservice.

In a Bangkok Post editorial calling on Thailand’s “foreign friends” to support the coup, Surakiart characterized the military takeover—which saw a democratically elected government overthrown and hundreds of activists, academics, and journalists arbitrarily detained—as a benign “reform process.” At a fundraising event I attended in Bangkok last August, Surakiart declared that the Thai Studies at Harvard was intended as “a program to honor the King.” King Bhumibol was born in Cambridge in 1927 when his father was studying public health at Harvard, but he did not bring the city’s progressive values back to Thailand. During his reign, he has supported military dictatorships, endorsed successive coups, and presided over a cult of personality enforced with more than half a century of indoctrination, propaganda, censorship and occasional violence. Criticism of the monarchy is illegal in Thailand, and hundreds have been jailed or prosecuted in recent years for violating the country’s lèse-majesté laws, which are the world’s harshest.

In its eagerness to secure money for the permanent program, which would include a tenured professorship and expand on lectures and courses introduced in 2012 with Foreign Ministry funding, Harvard has played along with Thai royalists. The Harvard Asia Center in 2012 named Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, the daughter of King Bhumibol and his possible successor, as a Distinguished Non-Resident Fellow. It is difficult to assess her qualifications because information about the royal family is tightly controlled. Her achievements in academics, languages, music and art have been touted for decades by the monarchy’s PR apparatus, but are little-documented by independent sources. Her fellowship followed the announcement of a recurring annual donation to Harvard from Thailand’s Foreign Ministry, which promotes the monarchy overseas. Since the coup on May 22, neither the princess nor any other members of the royal family have publicly expressed concern over the suspension of Thai citizens’ political rights, or the military’s harassment of academics, the media and others who have criticized its abuses.

Most of the Harvard program’s Thai backers are members of a conservative elite—which includes the aristocracy, generals, and wealthy families—that has dominated the country since the 1950s and rolled back reforms enacted after the absolute monarchy was overthrown in 1932. This group views growing political participation as a threat to its privileges, and has undermined successive elected governments through its influence over courts, appointed bodies and the armed forces. Most recently, the conservative establishment supported militant street protests that provided a pretext for last month’s coup, and subsequently threw its weight behind the royally-endorsed junta now ruling Thailand. Surin was a prominent public voice rationalizing the actions of mobs (led by stalwarts of his ironically named Democrat Party) that stormed government offices, physically obstructed elections, and agitated for a coup. Surakiart and Surin have been mentioned as potential Prime Ministers in an upcoming military-appointed administration.

While the junta claims its goal is to restore order, its main agenda has been purging allies of elected former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and promoting the interests of the monarchy and its elite associates. The military government has suppressed critical discussion of the monarchy (even targeting people’s Facebook activity), intensified propaganda glorifying the king and his family, and initiated changes to the education system to further promote royalism and nationalism. The Foreign Ministry, a conservative and aristocratic stronghold, has even attempted to stifle criticism of the coup at foreign universities.

At the Harvard fundraiser I attended in Bangkok last August, Surin used the word “beachhead” to describe the envisioned role of the Thai Studies program. His choice of a word with military and strategic connotations is significant. Having overthrown a series of elected governments and facing growing criticism from cold-war allies, the conservative establishment is working hard to rebuild its legitimacy abroad, and setting up a program at Harvard would be an important victory. Surin announced donations from several tycoons, and said he was seeking funding for the program from the King’s Crown Property Bureau, which manages the monarch’s wealth of more than $30 billion.

The Thai Studies program’s proponents at Harvard include well-intentioned and politically astute individuals who are aware that the some of the money being raised comes with an agenda. Michael Herzfeld in particular has a strong record of standing up for academic freedom. Harvard must ensure that the program is funded and run transparently, and that it is not co-opted by coup apologists or used to legitimize the monarchy. In the meantime, Harvard could burnish its credentials on Thailand by providing support for Thai academics forced into hiding or exile for criticizing the coup and its backers.

Ilya Garger GSAS ‘02 is the founder of Capital Profile, a Hong Kong-based business research service. He is a former reporter for Time magazine, and a member of the Harvard Club of Thailand’s executive committee.

 





Another plan

7 05 2014

Almost a week ago PPT posted on chatter about a backroom deal being done to end the current political crisis and move beyond the impasse. We have also posted on Abhisit Vejjajiva’s “plan” and the very similar “plan” proposed by another Democrat Party premiership hopeful, Surin Pitsuwan.

There’s a pattern in this: all “plans” and the chatter reflect the hopes, desires and fears of anti-democrats.

PPT almost never posts anything by the bright yellow conspiracy theorist Thanong Khanthong for fear that someone may think we are taking him seriously. However, his rant a few days ago, at The Nation, is interesting for making the chatter more obvious and detailing the sources for much of the chatter.

Thanong states:

An unelected government is now widely believed to be waiting in the wings to take the reigns of power. Yingluck Shinawatra is set to be removed from power either by the National Security Council transfer case or the rice pledging scandal…. Following her conviction, an unelected administration would be formed via special clauses in the Constitution. This mechanism is nothing if not controversial….

Why has it come to this? Thanong explains that it is because Suthep Thaugsuban’s street protests can’t bring down the Yingluck Shinawatra government and stall elections and because military boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha refuses to run a coup.

On Suthep, the ultra-yellows are bored with him:

In fact, there was a window of opportunity to remove Yingluck on March 27, one day before the Senate election. Suthep summoned a mass rally, marching at its head all the way … to Parliament, where hundreds of thousands of protesters roamed Government House and Parliament. On that day, he was supposed to stage a people’s revolution – without tearing up the Constitution. Expectations were that Suthep would resort to Article 3 of the Constitution, which states that sovereign power belongs to the people, and to Article 7, which allows the appointment of an interim prime minister under special circumstances…. In this scenario, the military would come out in support of the “people’s revolution”. But the political script fell apart. For some reason Suthep chose not to go through with it, and hence the crisis has continued.

In other words, Suthep has done his job.

On Prayuth and the anti-democrat calls for a coup, Thanong “explains”: “ASTV analysts suspect he has a strong and longstanding relationship with Yingluck and Thaksin. Or, in other words, that he belongs to the other side of the political divide.”

Quite apart from the fact that PPT hasn’t ever before seen the connection between ASTV and analysis previously, this speculation by a propaganda arm of the anti-democrats leads Thanong to conclude that: “The scenario is somewhat farcical, a political merry-go-round: Suthep would like to kick out Yingluck; Prayuth is friends with Yingluck and does not want to kick her out; Suthep is friends with Prayuth and supports his stance.” Hence, the political impasse.

Thanong says the final hope is that, with the red shirts “weakened dramatically and they now fail to muster broad public support,” it will be that “Yingluck will be ousted by the independent agencies – not by Suthep and all the efforts of his mass protests. This is so ironic.”

Note that many media outlets agree that Yingluck will be removed today, and that her cabinet may be turfed out as well. Bangkok Pundit has a post on these scenarios.

If this removal comes about today, Thanong and many others who glow yellow will cheer and again note the irony – although PPT and many others have described the creeping judicial coup for several months.

Yet there is still a role for Suthep, although Thanong doesn’t see it. If red shirts protest, Suthep and his anti-democrats will be required to “protect” the court’s and “independent” agencies. And, if the decision today only removes Yingluck, many anti-democrats will want a final street push to remove the elected government. That removal will follow the Thanong-Surin scenario of manipulating the constitutional clauses related to the monarchy.

 





No elections for the “sensible”

6 05 2014

The anti-democrats are crowding out Suthep Thaugsuban. Abhisit Vejjajiva came up with a 9-point plan which essentially wanted “reform” before an election and an appointed premier – yep, the standard anti-democrat demands.

Abhisit’s proposals were not received all that well for their obvious lack of originality and lack of even a nod in the direction of democracy.

So another senior member of the Democrat Party has proposed an allegedly sensible reform plan in the Bangkok Post yesterday. Surin Pitsuwan swans about with a handful of monikers: former secretary-general of ASEAN, professor emeritus at Thammasat University, visiting professor at GRIPS in Tokyo, adjunct professor at the University of Malaya and the Tun Abdul Razak Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, and a distinguished fellow at the royalist King Prachathipok’s Institute.

Despite all of this attributed greatness, he begins with a bit of disingenuous whining:

For the past seven years, since the coup of 2006, Thailand has seen governments come and go with increasing frequency and the divisiveness in the country has deteriorated to the point of political paralysis.

Well, perhaps, but that frequency owes much to actions of his fellow anti-democrats. So does the “political paralysis.” If his lot followed the political rules, the popular vote and got over their elitist political laziness, perhaps there would be political development rather than paralysis.

Apart from this whining, Surin comes up with a 7-point reform plan. He claims that the “seven steps are being carefully considered within the prevailing political situation and existing constitutional and democratic framework and the collective sense of urgency that the Thai people have been articulating.”

Well, the anti-democrats are the ones who are clamoring for “reform” before elections.

So what are his main points?  One is that “Thailand’s reform process must proceed within the existing constitutional framework, in its letter and spirit.” What does this mean for Surin? First, that any political situation not covered by the constitution, then the king is free to use Section 7. That’s what the People’s Alliance for Democracy claimed first time around and the king rejected it.

Second, Surin argues that the senate “can serve as a Pillar of Legitimacy, acting as parliament in the absence of the elected House of Representatives (Section 132), to any agreed reform and its necessary legislative action.” Is this correct? No. This is what the constitution states:

Section 132. During the expiration of the term or the dissolution of the House of Representatives, the Senate shall not hold its sitting except in the following cases:

(1) a sitting at which the Senate shall act as the National Assembly under section 19, section 21, section 22, section 23 and section 189, and the votes taken shall be based on the number of senators;

(2) a sitting at which the Senator shall consider of a person for holding office under the provision of this Constitution;

(3) a sitting at which the Senate shall consider and pass a resolution removing a person from office.

None of this applies to the situation Surin is on about; he’s making it up.

And, yes, he wants “reform” before elections and some kind of appointed, “national government.” If this sounds like Abhisit, then that’s because the essential points are the same anti-democratic nonsense.

This “reform” would be “paving a way for a New Politics that everybody expressly desires.” That term is the PAD call from several years ago and implies anti-democracy.

Thankfully, several commentators have rejected Surin/Abhisit. At the Bangkok Post, a “small group of scholars has warned” against this anti-democratic push.

They argue that “caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra should remain the leader, unless the Constitutional Court says otherwise, until the July 20 election is held and the results finalised.”

Kasian Tejapira, a political scientist at Thammasat University, “said all the proposals were basically the same, … [and are] a violation of the letters and spirit of the constitution and democratic principles.” He adds:

The two versions, be it Abhisit’s or Surin’s, are based on a PDRC mob-engineered political crisis and power vacuum as a result of their illegal obstruction of the [Feb 2] general election….

In the end, they are similarly positing the crisis, vacuum, and unconstitutional measures as a fait accompli and necessity, so as to ride roughshod over the people’s will that should be respected and complied with as expressed in a general election….

Kasian warned that there is a growing coalition amongst the so-called independent institutions to smash constitutional and legal politics. He stated:

One can’t suspend electoral democracy for the sake of reform, for the only way to make reform stick and endure is to involve the people in the process through peaceful legal means such as an election….

He’s right.