Taunting the regime II

11 08 2020

As King Vajiralongkorn prepares for his third flying visit to Bangkok, courtesy of the taxpayer and Thai Airways, pressure on the regime and the monarchy is rising.

Taxpayers fleeced

The Nation reports on Sunday’s rally in Chiang Mai. It refers to Arnon Nampa’s speech, noting that he “continues speaking out about the role of the monarchy despite facing the risk of being thrown behind bars again and getting his bail cancelled.”

Arnon maintains that “he was exercising his basic constitutional right to join a peaceful demonstration and make comments about the monarchy.”

In Chiang Mai, Arnon is reported to have:

reiterated that the junta-sponsored charter gave excessive power to the King, which is not in line with the principles of a democratic and constitutional monarchy as it allows the King to directly supervise some military units and control the Crown Property Bureau.

Anon also pointed out that His Majesty spends most of his time in Germany at the expense of Thai taxpayers, and urged MPs to raise the issue in Parliament as part of moves to amend the charter.

Interestingly, Arnon was given support by historian Nidhi Eowsriwong. He said “the public has every right to debate the monarchy’s role, as the institution belongs to the country and its people under a democracy.” He added:

military dictatorships, both in the past and present, have tried to separate the monarchy from democracy and use the institution* for their own benefit, which actually puts the monarchy in danger. He also said that military dictators also often use the institution as a tool to destroy other political groups.

Other protest rallies have been held in various places, including in Phitsanulok, where several reports say that student leaders were detained. Khaosod states that officials “detained six anti-government protest leaders…”.

Five leaders “were seized at a protest site close to a temple, and taken to a bizarre ‘attitude adjustment lecture’ deep inside a jungle.” They were taken “to a house inside a forest, where officials questioned them on who funded or supported the protests…”.

The group, who were all released without charge, said they “were given a lecture on history and supernatural forces in the province.”

“They talked about many Thai kings and how they were related to Phitsanulok, what good deeds they did for the country, as well as the sacredness of various supernatural spirits in the province,” the group wrote in an online post.

“They told many other illogical, unprovable myths about the place that we were going to hold the protest at as well.”

Police denied everything, saying: “It’s all fabricated news. It’s all false news…”.

Meanwhile, on Monday, protesters rallied in front of parliament, while at Thammasat University students “launched an anti-government rally under the theme ‘Thammasat will not tolerate’ at their Rangsit campus.”

The regime is also responding, threatening protesters and seeking to promote pro-government/pro-monarchy counter-rallies.

The Bangkok Post reports that Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta protesters that “they must not violate the rights of others nor offend the highest institution* in the country.” He said that “[p]rotecting the monarchy was not only the duty of the government but of the people too…”.

The Post neglects to mention that Buddhipongse is a former leader of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee. As Thai PBS notes, the PDRC “engineered the mass protests against the administration of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra about six years ago” and promoted the 2014 military coup.

Buddhipongse reportedly “dismissed allegations that the PDRC is linked to the royalist protesters.” He did not say anything about his links to the group “led by retired Lieutenant General and a former PDRC core leader Nanthadet Meksawat, [who have] vowed to protect the [m]onarchy.”

Other rightists and ultra-royalists have been busy warning and rallying with regime support. Suwat Liptapanlop sponsored an “event” supposedly “marking Kamnan and Village Heads Day, which was attended by more than 700 kamnan and village heads…”.

The president of the military-backed Association of Kamnan and Village Heads, Sakchai Chartphudsa,  also called on protesters to stop “insulting” the monarchy. He said: “We don’t want them to speak in a way that offends the institution.”*

*”Institution” is a royalist terminology for the monarchy, meant to imply it has a status above law and constitution.





Patrolling boundaries III

12 07 2020

In late April, PPT posted on efforts by rightists and royalists in Nakorn Ratchasima tp protect the “honor” of the legend and monument to Thao Suranari, a statue created by an Italian sculptor and put in place in January 1934 and known as Ya Mo in Korat.

What we said then was that the statue had become a part of a royalist “protection” racket and the royalist legend has been widely consumed in the province.

So it is that officials jump into action whenever a transgression is imagined. This past week there was another paroxysm.

The Bangkok Post reports that the “Real Ghosts television programme is facing scrutiny over its controversial depiction of local historical figures in one of its episodes.” Channel 8 took the show off-air “following criticism.”

Tewan Liptapanlop, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, has crowed that “Channel 8 will face legal action for ‘distorting history’.”

Tewan, who “oversees the National Office of Buddhism … said the show’s depiction of Thao Suranari … and her adopted daughter was offensive.” He ordered the NOB to make a case against the program and have the “provincial administration, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission and the Fine Arts Department” investigate.

The head of the Chart Pattana Party, Tewan transformed the monument into something Buddhist. That probably has something to do with the show being about the supernatural – ghosts. Of course, no Thai Buddhist could possibly have any interest in ghosts.

Tewan claimed many were “angry.” He declared: “The authorities will take legal action against it.” He seemed to poke Korat’s people into action: “The Korat people and I want to file lawsuits against the [channel].”

More ominously, Tewan called for more patrolling of the political and ideological boundaries: “This case is a lesson for other programmes that make historical references…”. He reportedly ordered “provincial Buddhism offices across the kingdom … to take part in monitoring the production of supernatural TV shows in their respective areas in the future.”

As a bit of background, this politically and ideologically correct Tewan is the younger brother of Suwat, one of the gravel haulers and dumpers who made a fortune from military contacts back in the 1970s and 1980s, becoming locally “influential.” Suwat’s father was an associate of Gen Arthit Kamlang-ek, who “provided the Liptapanlops’ company with military construction contracts. Most of the projects were in the province of Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat), so the company and family that were responsible for building infrastructure and hospitals won considerable influence there…”.

It is somewhat ironic that the provincial influential persons are patrolling the state’s ideological boundaries.





After an “election”

14 07 2018

The Klong Dan convictions provide a timely reminder of what politics under the junta’s constitutional arrangements might look like following the junta’s rigged election.

In the linked story, readers are reminded that the saga began in 1995 under a Democrat Party-led coalition:

Suwat Liptapanlop, who served as science minister in the Democrat government headed by Chuan Leekpai, first proposed the wastewater treatment project in 1995. Prayoonvisavat Karnchang, one of the companies convicted in the case, was founded by Mr Suwat’s father Visava.

One of the other companies convicted, Seesaeng Karn Yotha, was founded by Banharn Silpa-archa, whose party at the time was a coalition partner with the Democrats.

Other cabinet-level supporters of the project were Vatana, who was then the deputy interior minister, and Yingphan Manasikarn, then minister of natural resources and environment, who died in 2003.

Like other rich persons who feel they are unable to negotiate a comfortable legal outcome, Vatana fled the country and has been “gone” for a decade, although we guess he arranges long periods at home.

The saga was so long that some readers may not have been born when it began. For background and for a reminder of how weak coalition governments worked under rules introduced by the military following the 1991 military coup, we provide a Bangkok Post investigative report from 2000 and a link to a Focus on the Global South Report from 2002.





Sport and dictators

4 10 2015

Sports stars often claim they are ignorant of “politics.” They may be, although we doubt the claim when it comes to highly-ranked players who travel the world with entourages of managers, coaches, advisers and other minions. Some are outspoken, like Novak Djokovic who has proclaimed that he is a Serbian nationalist, while others like Rafael Nadal claim no politics.

We mention these two because they have landed themselves in the middle of the world’s only military dictatorship and have actively promoted that horrid regime and the symbols that underpin royalist politics. One report states that the two players “came to Bangkok to earn a few million dollars for an exhibition match. But there were a few strings attached.” The report stated that the two earned “a total of 150 million baht ($4.1 million) for coming to Thailand.” They were on court for about an hour. As another report has it, they “spent longer in official engagements than on the court.”Tennis2

More important, however, was the before propaganda. Djokovic and Nadal put on the junta uniform of silk jackets in the royal colors of blue and yellow. The reports state that the “dress code was part of a tightly scripted trip meant to boost military-ruled Thailand’s image, which included a meeting with the junta leader.” They met with The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha. They also “signed a book of well wishing for the … Thai [k]ing…” and visited the “Erawan Shrine, the site of a deadly bombing in August, where the players laid wreaths and posed for pictures under tight security…”.

Obviously money talks very loudly for the players, but the investment by the regime’s supporters must have been considered useful in propping up repression and authoritarianism.

Back on 2 September, it was reported that the “Lawn Tennis Association of Thailand is joining hands with True Corporation to hold a special tennis match featuring World’s Number One tennis player Novak Djokovic and former World’s Number One player Rafael Nadal at Hua Mark In-door stadium on October 2.”

Suwat Lipatawallop, president of the Lawn Tennis Association of Thailand, stated that “the organizing committee had been working out the programme of activities for the two players to promote tourism in Thailand.” In fact, the “program” was one of supporting the monarchy and military regime. Not that many tourists show up in Thailand to play tennis, but we imagine that the event was about branding, especially in Europe. where the coup and the rule of military dictators means Thailand has declined in the estimation of European tourists.

It was added that “the match will be an inspiration for Thai youths to turn to sports.”

Given that tickets were priced from 1,000-5,000 baht each, we guess that Suwat means the kids of the elite. Even if poor kids and the disable were to be invited, to be polite, tennis is not widely played by the poor. Tennis

This event was the military dictatorship’s propaganda exercise. With Suwat Liptapanlop (สุวัจน์ ลิปตพัลลภ) as president, the administration of the LTAT is dominated by the military and funded by the Sino-Thai tycoons of the royalist elite.

When the “special tennis match was disclosed at a press conference held at the Grand Hyatt Erawan,” Suwat was joined by Supachai Chearavanont, a vice chairman of the giant Charoen Pokphand group and CEO of the True Corporation. The generals were gleeful when it was announced that the military-tycoon elite had captured two big name sportsmen.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand claimed the tennis players had “helped to promote Thailand’s tourist credentials,” and saying that they had shown that “it’s business as usual” under the military junta.

That’s the point. Money invested by the tycoons and state for propagandizing for the military and its monarchy.





Prem, military and monarchy

3 01 2011

In the annual year-end round of events, it is reported that the military top brass made their annual pilgrimage-like visit to see the old war horse and President of the king’s politically powerful Privy Council General Prem Tinsulanonda. For an early comment on Prem and the monarchy, see this PDF.

Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda

Led by Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan armed forces commanders went “to convey well-wishes” to Prem at his Sisao Theves residence.

Adding the political spice to the mix, the military brass was joined by the “co-founders of Ruam Chat Pattana Party, Suwat Liptapanlop and Pinij Jarusombut, and Pheu Pandin Party executive Pairoj Suwanchawee…”. The two parties are said to be about to merge to “create a new stronger group capable of resolving the country’s problems.” Hence this meeting suggests Prem’s support for the move.

Prawit complimented Prem “his strong allegiance to the Monarchy and pledged that the military will work for the overall good of Thailand.” Prem, of course, thanked his loyal troops and “urged them to protect public interest and the Monarchy.” For Prem, the two are indivisible. Hence he also urges “plac[ing] priority on tasks of maintaining the country’s peace and protecting the nation’s sovereignty.”

The puppet master can’t keep his hands off the strings.

Military top brass today carry out their year end tradition in wishing the Privy Council president a happy New Year. 

Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan led armed forces commanders to convey well-wishes to Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda at his Si Sao Thewes residence.

Prawit paid a compliment to the Privy Council chief for his strong allegiance to the Monarchy and pledged that the military will work for the overall good of Thailand.

In his reply, Prem thanked the military top brass for their well wishes and urged them to protect public interest and the Monarchy.

The Privy Council chief also asked the military to place priority on tasks of maintaining the country’s peace and protecting the nation’s sovereignty.

Together with armed forces leaders, co-founders of Ruam Chat Pattana Party, Suwat Liptapanlop and Pinij Jarusombut, and Pheu Pandin Party executive Pairoj Suwanchawee also joined in the well-wishing.

Paijoj told Prem he will serve the country at his best and help rebuild national unity.

Pairoj also said it is still not the appropriate time for his party to merge with Ruam Chat Pattana, saying the two parties need more talks about the issue.

He sad a merger of political parties is possible if the move can create a new stronger group capable of resolving the country’s problems.

 

Military top brass today carry out their year end tradition in wishing the Privy Council president a happy New Year. 

Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan led armed forces commanders to convey well-wishes to Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda at his Si Sao Thewes residence.

Prawit paid a compliment to the Privy Council chief for his strong allegiance to the Monarchy and pledged that the military will work for the overall good of Thailand.

In his reply, Prem thanked the military top brass for their well wishes and urged them to protect public interest and the Monarchy.

The Privy Council chief also asked the military to place priority on tasks of maintaining the country’s peace and protecting the nation’s sovereignty.

Together with armed forces leaders, co-founders of Ruam Chat Pattana Party, Suwat Liptapanlop and Pinij Jarusombut, and Pheu Pandin Party executive Pairoj Suwanchawee also joined in the well-wishing.

Paijoj told Prem he will serve the country at his best and help rebuild national unity.

Pairoj also said it is still not the appropriate time for his party to merge with Ruam Chat Pattana, saying the two parties need more talks about the issue.

He sad a merger of political parties is possible if the move can create a new stronger group capable of resolving the country’s problems.





With 3 updates: Reaction to reds and talks

30 03 2010

Update 1: It seems that the Bangkok Post’s usually reasonably reliable military affairs reporter Wassana got it wrong in her article cited below on the location of the cabinet meeting. Channel 3 shows the cabinet meeting at the Ministry of Public Health, surrounded by soldiers and police.

Update 2: The Nation (31 March 2010) has a surprisigly fair account of the second round of talks. This is an interesting point:

Veera [Musikapong] tried to befriend the youthful premier by saying: ‘We are the same, we are all victims of the military coup’. ‘Not exactly,’ Abhisit should have said, before he began justifying the 2006 military coup, the junta-sponsored Constitution and his government that took the power in accordance with the Constitution. Instead, he implied: “If there was no Thaksin, there would have been no coup.”

PPT can confirm from our own meetings that most senior Democrat Party members have this same view, blaming Thaksin Shinawatra for everything and believe that the “fight to the death” is justified in keeping Thaksin at bay. See our earlier post about Kasit.

And this also: “As the Oxford-educated Abhisit continued lecturing about the philosophy of democracy, Jatuporn Promphan, another red-shirt leader, decided to fight back like a pit bull, breaking up the philosophical debate and dragging the negotiators back to the real issue. ‘We are here to talk about the dissolution of Parliament. If the government will not accept this, should we all stop now and go our different ways?’ he said.”

Another point seldom made: “People keep saying that Jatuporn is fighting for former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, but in actual fact, this red-shirt leader is no stranger to the fight for democracy. He started fighting for the principle from the uprising against the military in May 1992. Yet, as he says, he has nothing more than a Toyota Fortuner to show for his decades in the political field.”

Update 3: Wassana Nanuam explains the change of the location of the cabinet meeting on Monday. She reports in the Bangkok Post (31 March 2010) that “The cabinet also opted to relocate the cabinet’s meeting venue yesterday from the prayer room at the 11th Infantry Regiment to the Public Health Ministry.  A CAPO source said army chief Anupong Paojinda ordered the relocation late on Monday night.  The order was made after a number of cabinet members said they did not want to enter the barracks because the government had already been accused of being propped up by the military, the CAPO source said.

It was stated that “another important reason was the criticism of holding a meeting in a prayer room in the presence of a huge Buddha image, which is inappropriate…”. Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said “many cabinet members preferred to meet at the Public Health Ministry because they felt it was a more convenient location with several entrances and good services.”  And, the “number of soldiers guarding the venue of the cabinet meeting was reduced from about 5,000 troops to 1,200 to avoid panicking staff at the Public Health Ministry…”.

**

On the first day of the talks, red shirt co-leader Veera Musikapong said: “”Our request is simple and direct. We would like Parliament dissolved to return power to the people, so they can make their decision…”. This, however, is the stumbling point. The government believes that it cannot win an election, so its negotiating point is on “constitutional reform” and hence delaying an election for a further 9 months.

The government side and its supporters and backers are also firmly of the view that elections cannot solve the problems created by the political contestation that has continued for several years. Given the response of the military, palace, royalists and their yellow-shirted supporters to elections in 2005, 2006 and 2007, this position may well be correct for these forces can never accept a government that they cannot control or which they believe is linked to their hated enemy, Thaksin Shinawatra.

On Tuesday, The Nation (30 March 2010) reported that the talks between red shirts and a Democrat Party team led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had “reached an impasse yesterday as both sides failed to find a common stance to end the ongoing stand-off.” In fact, PPT’s taxi driver earlier on Monday had already said that the talks were dead because of the government’s unwillingness to consider a dissolution in the near term (on the news of this, see the Bangkok Post). At the same time, the taxi driver continued to listen to the live broadcast of the second round of talks.

The two sides initially appeared to agree on further talks after Abhisit returned from a trip to Bahrain. The Nation reports, however that the red shirts “suggested the talks be suspended indefinitely as the stances of both sides looks unlikely to change.” There’s no indication why this trip is more critical for Abhisit than the political negotiations with the red shirts.

On Monday evening, Abhisit had demanded that there be no dissolution until “late this year after a referendum on amendments to the Constitution. Abhisit also said the government needed time to pass the budget bill for the next fiscal year. His finance minister later appeared on television news programs opposing any dissolution and arguing  for keeping the economic recovery on track.

All the talk of constitutional reform and a referendum remains somewhat mute as the Bangkok Post reports that the coalition parties have agreed to dissolve parliament by the end of the year after the government amends the constitution but reject a referendum.

There was more spark in the discussions, with Abhisit repeatedly talking over the red shirt leaders and trying to rebut their statements. Red shirt negotiator Jatuporn Promphan stated that the “government and Prime Minister Abhisit had no legitimacy to stay in the power, because the government was set up undemocratically.” He added fuel to this fire by mentioning corruption, double standards and pointing to hypocrisy: “You used to call for the late prime minister Samak Sundaravej to dissolve Parliament when the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance’s for Democracy protested in 2008, so why don’t you apply the same principle today…. Just simply follow your own words, and you’d be a great leader.” A series of other allegations got Abhisit upset – these tend to be the more personalized attacks on him – and relate to violent actions last April during the Songkhran Uprising.

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post (30 March 2010) reports on an “historic first when it is held in a prayer room at the 11th Infantry Regiment compound surrounded by 5,000 troops.” The image of a cabinet meeting being held and guarded by 5,000 troops is astounding. It is reported that more than “1,500 [soldiers] have been assigned to undertake foot patrols. Armoured vehicles, personnel carriers and water trucks are also on alert.”

But it gets better. Apparently, the cabinet is to “discuss national affairs before a statue of Phra Phutthachaisirinimitpatima [also called Luang Phor Cherd]. A government spokesman said it was hoped the move would boost morale among MPs disheartened by the continuing political turmoil.” Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban “said it was the first time he would attend a cabinet meeting in the presence of a giant Buddha statue.”

Readers may notice that when the government resorts to ritual and religion, it is termed “historic,” but that when red shirts do the same thing, albeit far more spectacularly, they are rounded on as superstitious Neanderthals. Weak-kneed, middle-class academics wince and cry foul because the pouring of blood is “gruesome” and they consider it some kind of “violence” against people’s state of mind. Perhaps this government ritual is meant to show the difference between black and white magic.

Some of those weak-kneed academics are the core of NGOs. Today they also seem to be the main constituency of these organizations. The Bangkok Post reports that NGOs, academics and senators “have welcomed negotiations between the government and red shirt protest leaders but doubt they will solve any problems.”

The “Network of Non-governmental Organisations yesterday praised representatives of the government and the …UDD … for talking to each other…. The network called for a dissolution of the House in six months, public participation in constitutional amendments, a referendum on any amendment, public participation to work out solutions to social inequality and corruption and an end to unreasonable accusations and threats through the media.”

While Somchai Preechasilpakul of the online education forum Midnight University sounded reasonable when he, “criticised Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for trying to buy time by demanding the constitution be amended before he would dissolve the House,” others lined up to support the government with statements about dissolution not solving problems and needing to be delayed.

Senator Prasarn Marukhapitak saw dissolution as unlikely to “lead to any solution,” Senator Somchai Sawaengkarn “said a dissolution was not the only problem,” Senator Surasak Sri-arun “said red shirt protest leaders were always changing their demands. Initially they battled for constitutional amendments but later turned to demand a dissolution of the lower house.”

The real leaders of the minor coalition parties, none of them actually in parliament, want different things. Newin Chidchob favors constitutional change but no referendum. Banharn Silpa-archa election rules amended. Suwat Liptapanlop wants a dissolution but no constitutional change. There are also differences within the coalition parties on the sections of the constitution to be amended. The Democrat Party has no desire to “change the section regarding the election system from multi-representative to single-seat constituencies.”

It seems that the talks have been used more or less to reduce pressure on the government and to buy time, still hoping (what are seen as) the horrid peasants occupying Bangkok will tire and go home, leaving the government free to continue in office. Such a perspective draws on beliefs about who is born to rule and the perception that most of the red shirts are Thaksin proxies and duped or paid. These attitudes run very deep and have been reinforced – rather than shaken – by recent events and the language of class warfare. The elite understands that they are in a war that their class and allies must win.