Crumbling under the post-junta regime

11 07 2020

It may seem somewhat surprising that all major political parties appear to be in some turmoil.

Recent articles tell of the governing Palang Pracharath Party in turmoil with the consolidation of power by the army wing of the ruling party, with the exodus of four “technocratic officials sidelined by the party that is increasingly dominated by members with military ties.”

Then there are repeated reports of rifts in the hopeless Democrat Party and that it is losing electoral credibility in the south and has several breakaway parties led by former disgruntled senior members, all of whom strike us as hopeless and merely trying to ride the small party wagon to collect the dregs of the junta’s party system.

And, there are reports of the decline of the Puea Thai Party is in deep trouble, with all of its main leaders left out of parliament thanks to the junta’s constitution and the Election Commission, acting for the regime. Of course, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan keeps trying to entice Puea Thai MPs across to the dark side.

We may also recall that opposition Future Forward was gutted by the Constitutional Court, acting for the regime and that the remaining MPs remain rudderless.

In our view, with the military types consolidating its grip, Palang Pracharath looks more like a party of factions that are kept under control with money, cabinet positions and constant shepherding. This doesn’t necessarily make it stronger, but if the opposition is crumbling and unable to capitalize on these schisms, rifts and associated corruption, then unelected dolts like the current generals are likely to be able to hold together their rule.

As an aside, this “technocrats” versus green men is a narrative seen in several stories and we’d say it is an odd claim. A technocrat is usually defined as a person “appointed on the basis of their expertise in a given area of responsibility, particularly with regard to scientific or technical knowledge.” When we look at the “technocrats” leaving government, this definition applies only vaguely to one of them. Kobsak Pootrakool has a PhD in Economics from MIT and worked at the Bank of Thailand and the Stock Exchange of Thailand before becoming a banker. But the other three are political hacks rather than technocrats. Sontirat Sontijirawong with an MBA, has worked in packaging for business and for most of his career has spent his time as an “adviser” or committee member in relatively minor posts. Uttama Savanayana was trained as an engineer and also has a PhD in management but has spent the last 20-25 years administering and advising. Suvit Maesincee also has a PhD in management, having trained as a pharmacist, and has spent most his career sitting on boards.

In other words, journalists and commentators might want to look more carefully at the reasons why such men are referred to as “technocrats.” Does it have something to do with the regime having so few technically qualified persons in a cabinet dominated by army figures, politically-acceptable royalists, local mafioso and a convicted heroin smuggler?





Updated: “New” government

11 07 2019

King Vajiralongkorn has endorsed The Dictator’s cabinet list.

One of the “stories” is how, as expected, many of the junta’s henchman have transitioned into the “new” government:

Prayut will also double as Defence Minister, a key position currently held by General Prawit Wongsuwan, his deputy in the outgoing government.

Prawit will retain his position as a deputy prime minister and is expected to also be in charge of security affairs.

The new Cabinet also has eight other ministers who have worked with Prayut and Prawit in the current post-coup government: Somkid Jatusripitak, Wissanu Krea-ngam, General Chaichan Changmongkol, Uttama Savanayana, Don Pramudwinai, Suvit Maesincee, Sontirat Sontijirawong and General Anupong Paojinda.

But the biggest story is undoubtedly going to be about an army man and mafia figure, reported by AFP, 9 Sep 1998, and now being circulated in Thailand:

BANGKOK, Sept 9 (AFP) – Eighteen middle-ranking Thai military officers are being investigated for links to an international heroin trafficking operation, the supreme commander of Thailand’s armed forces said Wednesday.

General Mongkol Ampornpisit said the officers had been re-admitted into the military in the past two years and the scandal, the latest in a series to rock the Thai military, had prompted him to order that all recently re-admitted officers have their backgrounds checked.

“I have submitted the names of all re-admitted officers for the last two years to have their criminal backgrounds checked with the police,” General Mongkol told reporters, without elaborating on the heroin trafficking allegations.

He said he hoped the move to vet officers would help contain one of the biggest scandals to hit the Thai military establishment in many years.

The revelation of the heroin investigation follows another scandal involving an army captain at the centre of a murder probe, who had previously served a jail term in Australia for drug trafficking.

Mongkol conceded the military had been lax when re-admitting Captain Patchara Prompao into the armed forces after he was fired twice and convicted of narcotics trafficking.

Patchara is now in detention awaiting trial in a civilian court after he surrendered to police on Monday to face charges that he raped and then beat a male academic to death.

In June, amid a drive was to make the armed forces more accountable, the government demanded the military disclose the contents of secret bank accounts they had been allowed to keep.

Earlier this year the armed forces were accused by opposition politicians of involvement in vast illegal logging operations in northern Thailand.

It is also Thammanat who was reported in 2016 as being among more than 6,000 “influential criminal figures” being targeted by the junta in a nationwide crackdown. Back then it was Gen Prawit who stated that “[s]tate officials, police and military officers found to be involved with ‘dark influences’ must also be dealt with…”. Gen Prawit was reportedly in charge of “suppressing influential criminal figures.”

At the time it was considered that the regime’s political opponents were being targeted, a claim Prawit denied. When asked about specific individuals on the list – “former army specialist Gen Trairong Intaratat, better known as Seh Ice, and Capt Thammanat Prompao, a former close aide to Gen Trairong…” – Gen Prawit said “police will explain the offences they have allegedly committed.” He added that the two “might have done nothing wrong, but their aides might have…”. The report continued:

Gen Trairong, said to have close ties to ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was among four people mentioned in a leaked document from the 1st Division, King’s Guard.

The three others named in the document are Karun Hosakul, a former Pheu Thai Party MP for Bangkok’s Don Muang district; Capt Thammanat Prompao, said to be involved in several enterprises including lottery ticket distribution; and Chaisit Ngamsap, alleged to be connected to illegal activities in the Mor Chit area of Bangkok.

Gen Trairong and Capt Thammarat have denied the allegations.

In the same report, Gen Prayudh is reported as saying:

… those who break the law must be punished…. In the future, these people may support politicians. They must not be allowed to break the law and use weapons against people. Today, we must help to clear up the mess to make our country safe….

It seems that the once pro-Thaksin Thammanat has metamorphosed into a pro-junta man and the politicians he’s supporting are Prayuth’s and he’s now so trusted that he’s a deputy minister!





Updated: Cynical recycling

16 03 2019

We are sure readers recall when Thaksin Shinawatra was damned as a “populist.” And then there was Yingluck Shinawatra. When she campaigned in Thailand’s last completed election in 2011, she was also labeled a populist and was prosecuted for one of the policies she took to the electorate. Anti-populism has been a pillar of anti-Thaksinism.

When the military junta seized power, there is a plan to outlaw “populist” policies. That anti-populism soon became an embrace of the policies that the junta had previously damned. This turn to economic policies previously damned was an effort to claw back political ground from the Shinawatra clan, led by Thaksin turncoat Somkid Jatusripitak.

Not surprisingly, it was Somkid who was behind the manufacture of the Palang Pracharat Party as the junta’s devil party.

Now, desperate to gain the electoral traction it has been lacking, Palang Pracharath has released a range of so-called populist policies, apparently hurriedly concocted in recent days.

Increasing the minimum wage by a third, cutting income tax (including for the wealthiest), raising the graduate minimum wage 10% and waving their income tax for 5 years, loans and exemptions for businesses, and promised guaranteed minimum prices for six crops.

Remember Yingluck’s travails for her rice pledging policy?

Palang Pracharath deputy party leader Suvit Maesincee said “Pracha Rath state welfare cards would be given to more people, from 14.5 million low-income earners currently.” He added that “[d]ebt suspension will be allowed for village funds and more funds will be added.” And he promised a welfare state to “take care of children from womb to old age…”.

Can the junta/Palang Pracharath afford these promises when it is already running a substantial “fiscal deficit of 450 billion baht…”? The Bangkok Post notes that the regime has abandoned “plans to balance the budget within the next few years…”.

Sounding Thaksinesque, Palang Pracharath’s Uttama Savanayana declared: “Thais shall be rich in peace, happiness and hope…”.

Even more Thaksin-like were the measures proposed to  fund “Thais being rich.” The measures for making administration more efficient are exactly those used by Thaksin and Thai Rak Thai back in 2001-06.

Policy plagiarism has been a hallmark of the junta. It continues. The only “original” contribution by Palang Pracharath/junta is to promise “order.”

The Palang Pracharath/junta twin is banking on voters being “uneducate” and that by offering Thaksinesque policies that they can lure pro-Thaksin voters to support a failing junta party.

Update: Less than a day after his devil party released the policies discussed above, The Dictator has “issued a statement saying all governments must abide by financial discipline and good governance.” Maybe he should have thought about that several years ago before his own government began its vote-buying splurges. Or maybe before his party promised to extend the splurge further.





Only 4 cheating ministers resign

29 01 2019

After months of unethically founding and holding positions in the pro-junta Palang Pracharath while being in the junta’s cabinet, allocating funds to projects and vote-enhancing programs, four of the cheating ministers have finally resigned from cabinet.

Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong, Science and Technology Minister Suvit Maesincee, Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana and PM’s Office Minister Kobsak Pootrakool finally resigned to take up political roles.

But what about their boss and political brain Somkid Jatusripitak? He’s still coming up with vote-winning schemes for taxpayer funds.

And how much will it matter when the rest of the cabinet is working for the devil parties and Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha for premier?





Updated: Junta as Palang Pracharath

26 01 2019

The distinctions between the junta, its cabinet and its Palang Pracharath Party have never been established. Ministers who are also party founders and bosses don’t even change hats as they move from cabinet meeting to corrupt party fundraisers and to campaigning for the party. In fact they often simply campaign for Palang Pracharath as ministers in the junta’s administration. Notions of a caretaker administration simply don’t exist for the military junta.

Recent reports show that the junta’s cabinet is simply becoming the Palang Pracharath Party. One report is of the launch of Palang Pracharath’s campaign policies. Almost all of them mirror junta policies. They were announced by Palang Pracharat leader Uttama Savanayana, who is also the junta’s cabinet minister for industry. He was supported by deputy party leader Suvit Maesincee, the junta’s serving science and technology minister.

A second report has party leader-junta member-cabinet minister Uttama announcing that party backer-silent-founder-junta member-Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak will be one of the party’s nominees for prime minister.

Of course, the devil party also wants The Dictator as one of its prime ministerial nominees.

The junta is now, for all intents and purposes, the Palang Pracharath Party.

Update: The Nation reports “a party source” at Palang Pracharath as saying that the junta party “will name Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha as its candidate for prime minister after the March general election…”. Uttama and Somkid would “be named in the list as his deputy and third in command, respectively.”





Ministers in tepid water

14 01 2019

We are slow in posting on this story, partly because there wasn’t much media attention to it.

However, Thai PBS and the Bangkok Post did mention it in a little more detail than other outlets.

It noted that the Election Commission sent cases involving three serving junta cabinet members and a former minister to the Constitutional Court. Going to the Court could mean very little as it is essentially a puppet agency, so that’s why instead of headlining ministers being in hot water, we think it is tepid water.

Following a complaint in February 2018 by Peua Thai Party’s legal advisor Ruangkrai Leekitwattana who petitioned the EC to look into the shareholdings of the four individuals following their assets declarations.

After 11 months, the EC found fault with the four “for holding shares in companies granted business concessions by state agencies in violation of the Constitution.” The four are former Prime Minister’s Office Minister M.L. Panadda Diskul, Science and Technology Minister Suvit Maesincee, Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin, and Deputy Transport Minister Pailin Chuchottaworn.

The Constitutional Court must now decide “whether they should be disqualified for conflict of interest for their share holdings in violation of sections 184 and 186 of the Constitution.”

Ruangkrai’s petition claimed:

… ML Panadda had 6,000 shares of Airports of Thailand Plc, operator of Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang and other airports. Although ML Panadda no longer was a minister, a guilty ruling means he will be banned from holding office for two years.

Mr Suvit had 90,000 shares of Global Power Synergy Plc (GPSC), a holding company of power-generation subsidiaries of PTT Plc, who holds state energy concessions.

Mr Pailin, a former CEO of PTT Plc, also had 5,000 shares in energy giant PTT Plc and more in its subsidiaries — GPSC (50,000 shares), IRPC Plc (240,000), PTT Global Chemical Plc (60,000) and Thai Oil (40,000). He also had shares in three other companies — Gulf Energy Development (300,000 shares), Banpu Power (10,000) and Intouch Holding (26,000).

Dr Teerakiat had 5,000 shares of Siam Cement Plc.

The case continues to confirm that cabinet ministers under the military junta consider they have impunity.

When they declared their assets, Panadda was the wealthiest cabinet member, with assets of 1.3 billion baht or almost US$40 million, Suvit had assets conservatively valued at 73.4 million, and Teerakiat has assets of 44 million baht. Pailin’s assets were reported at 179.1 million baht and his shares in the companies listed above are today worth more than 38 million.

Suvit’s case is somewhat more interesting than the others as he is Palang Pracharat’s deputy leader and simultaneously and unethically also a cabinet minister. If he is banned, the party also faces scrutiny. His response to the referral was to say “he was not worried with the Constitutional Court’s proceedings because they would not affect his work in the government or his political work with the Palang Pracharat party.” Such pomposity comes from knowing he is more or less untouchable. He did add that “his work in the Science and Technology Ministry was almost completed and he would quit the cabinet at the right time to spend full time in politics.”

Pailin’s response was a bit more to the point, claiming “that he had already transferred all his shares to a private fund before he assumed cabinet portfolio and that he had nothing to do with the management of the shares.”

We await the Constitutional Court’s timely decision, but will not hold our collective breath.





Doubling down on double standards VIII

14 12 2018

Like us, many readers will recall the hullabaloo and legal efforts that were associated with the undermining of Yingluck Shinawatra regime, much of it arguing that her government was illegitimate due to “populism.” For that matter, some may recall similar analysis, including by yellow-shirted academics, who howled about “policy corruption” as a form of vote-buying when Thaksin Shinawatra was elected.

We hear far less of that hullabaloo and howling associated with similar programs associated with the military junta and raining money into the electorate. Given that the junta is in total control and has banned (most) political parties from campaigning, its efforts are quite obviously meant to garner votes.

Clearly, double standards are at work.

The most recent splurge of taxpayer funds meant to shift political support to the devil parties has been so obvious that even the normally anti-democrat Democrat Party has been complaining. They see themselves as losing out to junta-backed parties when the junta, with its guns and access to state funds is so obviously vote buying.

The main devil party, Palang Pracharath, formed by the military junta, is the main beneficiary of the junta’s vote buying, even as it waddles through the unnecessarily prolonged and untheatrical charade of naming General Prayuth Chan-ocha as its prime ministerial nominee. Everyone in Thailand already knows this. (Go on General, surprise us. Do something else, like holidaying in Germany for a couple of years.)

The main defenders of the the junta’s all-too-obvious cheating have been … yep, the Palang Pracharath Party.

According to Khaosod, the Palang Pracharat’s deputy leader Suvit Maesincee, who is simultaneously and unethically also a cabinet minister, declared that “the poor are starving to death and should benefit from continued support for programs introduced by his government, such as its controversial welfare card program.”

He does not explain how his military junta has managed an economy that leaves people starving to death, all the 11 million and more who were recently handed 500 baht each as some kind of warped one-off “welfare” payment.

(A reader suggests that the electoral strategies being used by the junta have some resonances with Najib Razak’s money politics.)

But he did add:

“We want to create a pracharat society,” … using the slogan his party is named after, which the government uses to promote its policies as a form of public-state cooperation.

The minister-devil-party-deputy leader also mumbled that salaried workers in the private sector will soon get state-funded pensions. Now that should be big!

But then, some of the junta’s electoral splurges have failed to impact the poor. A report at the Bangkok Post states that a “meagre 360,000 of the 11.4 million recipients of the government’s welfare and subsidy scheme for the poor are entitled to value-added tax (VAT) payback in the first month after the tax incentive scheme…”, for an average of just over 12 baht each. That’s mainly because only Thong Fah Pracharat – yes, like the Party’s name – shops with card readers are involved. That’s less than 15% of these junta-sponsored shops.

Double standards are the junta’s standards.

 





Doubling down on double standards VI

22 10 2018

As is well-known, the Palang Pracharath Party, led by a bevy of ministers-party-executives-cabinet-members-junta-minions, is a vehicle that the current military dictatorship and The Dictator hope to use to transport them to political dominance after the rigged election.

The double standards implemented in an effort to ensure The Dictator’s political longevity are vast, deep and so very obvious.

The most recent campaigning by the junta’s party have taken place while other parties are forbidden to campaign.

Palang Pracharath Party’s ministers-party-executives-cabinet-members-junta-minions have “shrugged off claims of gaining an unfair advantage over other parties Sunday, saying that people are free to decide what they believe in.” We guess they mean “free” for those supporting the only party campaigning – their party and the junta’s party.

Even the Bangkok Post refers to “the party’s first campaign meeting, where party leader to-be [they mean leader awaiting “approval”] and Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana, along with secretary-general and Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong, and deputy party leader, Science and Technology Minister Suvit Maesincee, sat down to listen to a group of small business owners and farmers in Nakhon Pathom.”

No other party can do this. Just the ministers and the junta’s devil party. Even semi-devil parties are banned from campaigning.

The Post says that the ministers-party-executives-cabinet-members-junta-minions are “[u]nswayed by public concerns over conflicts of interest as they plan to run in the next election while still holding cabinet positions…”. Nor are they bothered by bans on campaigning. Minister Uttama said “he does not pay much attention to critics of the party, and stressed that they came not as ministers but as candidates with genuine concerns over the farmers’ problems.”

Huh? Oh, we get it. He thinks that the main problem with campaigning is not that other parties can’t campaign but that the campaigning ministers-party-executives-cabinet-members-junta-minions might be considered to have a conflict of interest.

The junta’s minister is so used to double standards that he doesn’t even recognize them.

Unlike all other parties, the ministers-party-executives-cabinet-members-junta-minions met with some “180 farmers from Nakhon Pathom, Kanchanaburi, Ratchaburi, and Suphan Buri …  held by the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives…”.

Another double standard. The ministers-party-executives-cabinet-members-junta-minions and their junta devil party can have the direct support of state agencies.

Among the farmers present, it was reported that few could distinguish between ministers, party and junta.





Commentary on the junta’s rigged election II

21 10 2018

This post is a bit of a catch-up.

According to a VOA report a couple of days ago, the Future Forward Party was “on the verge of announcing it would defy any order from the junta that bans direct fundraising.”

It challenges the junta: “We are fully aware that the NCPO can do anything, actually, to us. But if we don’t push for normality in politics and doing political campaigns — it is four months before elections — if you still ban political activities except [to] recruit new members, that is nonsense…”.

Interestingly, “Election Commission Secretary-General Jarungvith Phumma has not responded to inquiries from VOA.” He seems to be awaiting his orders from the military junta.

Commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak said the “junta’s treatment of the Future Forward party is consequential. If the Future Forward party is suppressed, manipulated, marginalized in a fashion that is not acceptable to the public, then the election will lose legitimacy…”.

Funny that, we hadn’t thought of the military dictatorship having “legitimacy.” He often claims the junta’s legitimacy has something to do with “most Thais” – he means the Bangkok middle class – “accepted” the coup because they worried about succession.

We can believe he worried about it.

At least he is able to say that the “pro-military parties have substantial latitude to raise money, accept donations, organize activities, whereas the anti-military parties have had a much harder time.”

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post reports that the junta’s Palang Pracharath Party “plans to establish a think tank so people from all sectors can brainstorm the future trajectory of Thailand’s economic, social and political development.”

We were thrown by this. We thought the junta has done the brain (sic.) storming by establishing its 20-year plan.

Of course, Science and Technology Minister Suvit Maesincee as a would-be deputy leader of the party “explained” the scheme. How does anyone distinguish between the minister and his party and the junta’s party and the minister? It simply can’t be done. This is corruption at work.

The minister-party-executive-cabinet-member-junta-minion tried to say that the “Institute” would have something to do with “principles are demand-based policies, adopting a bottoms-up approach, and participatory politics…”. Impossible, but worth throwing out there to scramble the fact that this is the junta’s preferred party and answers to The Dictator.

The minister-party-executive-cabinet-member-junta-minion seemed to indicate a fear that the Future Forward Party is grabbing the attention of younger voters when he said the “Institute” was “intended mainly for young people who want to play a role in shaping Thailand’s future…”.

Again, it is the junta that considers it has “shaped” the future f a royalist and anti-democratic Thailand. The minister-party-executive-cabinet-member-junta-minion sees the need to camouflage this fact.





Junta’s devil party launched

30 09 2018

The junta’s party, the devil party, known as Palang Pracharath, has been launched with all the faux trappings of a proper political party. Of course, it can never be a real political party because it belongs to the military and the junta.

The junta’s selected Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana has been chosen as the leader of the devil party, set to be “the core political party supporting Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha as prime minister” after the junta’s rigged election.

The junta’s selected Science and Technology Minister Suvit Maesincee and former Democrat Party MP Nuttapol Teepasuwan were selected as deputy leaders. The junta’s selected Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong was made secretary-general and the junta’s selected Prime Minister’s Office Minister Kobsak Pootralkool was named spokesman and a member of the party executive. The report states that “Uttama, … Sontirat and … Suvit are known as members of Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak’s economic team.”

In addition, “Puttipong Poonakan, a political adviser to the premier, and Sakontee Pattiyakul, a deputy Bangkok governor, were also chosen as party executives.” They were key leaders of the anti-democratic People’s Democratic Reform Committee that paved the way for the coup, working hand-in-glove with Prayuth and his henchmen.

In other words, this is the junta’s party. It is Gen Prayuth’s anti-democrat party. We all knew this but now it is official.

Questions of how several appointed ministers and others can simply flip into party executives while still serving is anyone’s guess. The conflict of interest is huge, not that the devils themselves will notice it or even care.

In fact, “Uttama told the media after the meeting he had no plan to resign as industry minister,” pledging to separate from his official duties. That’s about as likely as separating the devil from his cloven hoofs and tail off.

And just to demonstrate how the planning has been a junta/cabinet-level planning activity, another “member” is Itthipol Khunpluem, “assistant to the Tourism and Sports minister … [who] said he joined Palang Pracharat because he liked its ideology and was convinced it could help Chon Buri province grow through the Eastern Economic Corridor policy.”

Its ideology is military might, repression and anti-democracy. Of course, this is the brother of Sonthaya Khunpluem who The Dictator just appointed mayor of Pattaya. It seems his family party, Phalang Chon will simply be rolled into Palang Pracharath.

Now the junta has its own party, it can campaign openly and enthusiastically until about another 3-4 months while other parties remain suppressed.