Further updated: The meaning of (Thai-style) democracy

23 10 2014

A reader who sends us a pile of material has sent us two video links over the past 3-4 days, and we felt that, even though they are separated in space and time, they tell a story of the cognative dissonance that envelopes contemporary Thailand.

The first is a remarkably revealing portrait of anti-democrat Phetchompoo Kijburana being introduced at one of those crass celebrations of the potentially great. She is introduced by President Nicolas Ardito Barletta of Panama someone who has, how shall we put it, a patchy career record, having served military dictators. He has been laundered by his elite friends.

He introduces her as having fought for “democracy,” with the result being a military government. As we said, cognitive dissonance. But then the elites and their friends and supporters can mangle even the reality of military dictatorship and repression as “democracy.” Only a servant of military dictatorships could understand a coup as being a way of strengthening democracy. The overthrow of the elected government is because of the “corruption and democracy they were having.” Oh boy…. The anti-democrat who wrote Barletta’s speech has created a lie that only a servant of military dictatorships could understand.

Phetchompoo is in the same category, except that she and her family would have servants. She and the elite regained “their” country by getting the military-monarchy alliance to overthrow electoral democracy and return the country to the non-democracy that is Thai-style democracy.

SnipersThe second clip is of soldiers, as snipers, shooting red shirts in 2010.

We don’t think PPT has seen this particular clip previously. Lest it is forgotten, the soldiers that conducted the coup and who have been promoted since, one to the dizzy heights of being The Dictator. The men who now control and repress Thailand are murderous criminals, who came to power, not just by their own efforts, but by those of the anti-democrats who claim to have protested (and killed) for democracy.

View the video by clicking here.

Update 1: By the way, create havoc at the child of advertising gurus One Young World sham by registering as an “ambassador.” If you are filthy rich, mummy and daddy can pay for you to be one, or maybe one of the corporates seeking an image upgrade will support you.

Update 2: A reader points out we missed a very important link on the buy me an ambassador site. It is: Thank you Dublin, rock on Bangkok! Apart from questioning who says “rock on” in the 21st century, the fact is that, yes, Bangkok’s Democrat Party has purchased the event for 2015:

The Closing Ceremony of the One Young World Summit 2014 saw the passing of the baton from Dublin’s host Lord Mayor Christy Burke, to Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra who will welcome the Summit to Bangkok next year.

Bangkok’s portly prince-cum-governor apparently declared:

…  his excitement and pride at holding the Summit which ‘provides unrivaled opportunities’ for delegates from around the world to ‘move the world in the right direction.’

Much to Governor Paribatra’s delight, Bangkok will be Asia’s first city to host the One Young World Summit, a responsibility which is not being taken lightly. He went on to assure the crowd that Bangkok is ready to ‘emulate the success of the 2014 Summit’ and to do their bit to ‘make the world a safer and better place to live.’

‘Bangkok is ready to do what is does best, welcome all of you in the best Thai tradition.’

It should be great. Maybe bring out the snipers again for a Hunger Games bit of fun for the delegates and self-promoting ambassadors. The delegates will be able to marvel at military repression, extensive censorship, a military-backed and installed government, dozens of political prisoners and a North Korea-like cult of personality. The One Young World sham will be in a place that is a sham.

Updated: Prayuth mangles democracy

9 10 2014

On of the things that infects dictators is that they are unable to judge what is reasonable in the world. Surrounded by fawning underlings, they lose touch with the real world and are prone to pronouncements that range from the banal to the bizarre. This infection is particularly pronounced in military dictators as they are socialized in a hierarchical organization.

Thailand’s latest military dictator General Prayuth Chan-ocha exhibits these failures. When he is reported in The Nation as having “vowed … to make progress in combating social inequality,” most reasonable people might consider that a very reasonable statement, addressing a serious social (and political) issue in contemporary Thailand. He’s right when he says that economic “disparity is a big challenge to the government.” He means the military dictatorship.

Then he becomes increasingly Orwellian and odd: “He said reducing inequality did not mean making everybody equal, because that is not democracy.” Maybe…, perhaps, but then this: “Today we are following democracy.” Certainly not. He express such nonsense because no one tells him he’s ignorant.

The Dictator inhabits an alternative reality. He seems unaware that he came to power via a military coup, was not elected to anything, ever, rules by decree and through martial law, throws people in jail, censors and threatens all his political opponents, and appoints all those who serve him in puppet assemblies.

He then confuses political democracy with Thaksinomics: “You can only invest as much as you can afford. If you have no capital you need access to a source of finance. We can help you with this and, by doing so, reduce inequality.” That was one of Thaksin Shinawatra’s call to the poor. But where Thaksin proclaimed that no one need be poor, Prayuth warns he won’t be “handing out money to all people equally…”.

Naturally, his corrupt generals know this. They spend most of their time accumulating wealth by exploiting the poor. That is Thai-style democracy.

In another report at The Nation, the notion of “democracy” is again part of The Dictator’s bent rhetoric.

Prayuth, on his way to Myanmar, reckoned that Thailand’s military government is a plus in dealing with his neighbors. He babbled  about the previous use of “military communication to clear the way and now is the best time for relations [with the military having taken over running of the country].”

He recognizes that Myanmar’s military remains critical, but does the current leadership there need a military dictatorship saying it “will support democracy in Myanmar…”? While The Nation may refer to “[q]uasi-democratic Myanmar,” there is far more political freedom in Myanmar than in Prayuth’s Thailand.

Prayuth talks democracy but sees like a military dictator. Quite clearly he has no conception of the meaning of democracy.

His Orwellian world doesn’t just infect his (mis)use of democracy. When The Dictator, who heads the junta that illegally seized power in May, decides it is appropriate that he “expressed satisfaction with the NCPO’s [the junta’s] performance over the past four months” he is congratulating himself and being self-satisfied. That suggests delusional disorder.

Update: Interestingly, on his visit to Yangon, The Nation reports that The Dictator was greeted by protesters! They want the junta boss to ensure that Myanmar migrant workers accused of murder by the Thai police get treated fairly.

Rewarding the anti-democrats II

9 10 2014

Yesterday we posted on the rewards dished out to anti-democrats by placing them in the military dictatorship’s puppet National Reform Council.

A report at The Nation stresses just how much rewarding has gone on. Two of the major ideologues of anti-democratic movements from the People’s Alliance for Democracy to the Democrat Party-led anti-democrats of 2014, have been Chai-Anan Samudavanija and Chirmsak Pinthong.

Chai-AnanChai-Anan, who has long been funded by Sondhi Limthongkul, considered a palace insider and a staunch monarchist, is reportedly “among the leading candidates for the NRC presidency.” Back in May, Chai-Anan was amongst a group of elite conspirators who wanted the king’s intervention to “solve” the political crisis in their interests. They ran to aged General and Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda to seek his intervention with the aged monarch. This was another manifestation of the old man country. You get a flavor for their perspective from earlier, very popular posts at PPT: Dangerous old men or just silly old men? and A country for old men? (also available as ประเทศนี้สำหรับคนรุ่นเก่าหรือไง).

Back in 2009, PPT commented on Chai-Anan:

Chai-Anan Samudavanija, formerly a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, is a long-time ally of Sondhi Limthongkul. He was also a supporter of Thaksin Shinawatra for a considerable time, and seemed to stay longer than Sondhi. Chai-Anan jumped ship when the People’s Alliance for Democracy was in Sondhi’s hands. Chai-Anan is also close to the palace, as director of Vajiravudh College and a member of the Royal Institute.

Chai-Anan has been a regular commentator at ASTV and his columns have been rather incendiary whenever the political temperature has risen over the last couple of years.

In another post, we pointed out that Chai-Anan was one of those who promoted the infamous PAD propaganda claim of a “Finland Plot” that linked Thaksin Shinawatra to a republican plot involving former communist activists. This pre-2006 coup device was meant to further establish the palace-Thaksin battle lines. As chairman of his own Institute of Public Policy Studies, long funded by PAD leader Sonthi, Chai-Anan has engaged in some some dubious name-calling and attacked representative politics. He has stated that electoral politics need to be re-considered and has been a supporter of the “Thai-style democracy” notions of non-democratic legitimacy.

ChirmsakChirmsak, a former senator once collected some valid criticisms of Thaksin Shinawatra in government but was soon captivated by the People’s Alliance for Democracy and dominated by a deep personal hatred of Thaksin. Back in 2010, he was howling about “civil war” and suggesting that Thaksin supporters are either paid by the tycoon or are traitors to the royal Thai state. As for those who were duped into voting for pro-Thaksin parties or into becoming red shirts, Chirmsak couples “the poor” with the “ignorant.” Like other right-wing intellectuals, Chirmsak remains so resolutely dismissive of many millions of his fellow citizens. Hence, he dismisses elections by talking of “a political party owned by an individual …[where the] party founders had no ideology and relied on their financiers to sustain the party.”  For Chirmsak – and he is absolutely logical and consistent in this –  the solution is appointed “independent MPs.”

In 2012, Chirmsak supported the ultra-royalist Siam Samakkhi group. At one of its rallies, he joined with a range of royalists including Tul Sitthisomwong and Kaewsan Atibhodhi when they cheered two thugs who had beaten up Nitirat’s Worachet Pakeerut. Worachet had once written in books edited by Chirmsak, criticizing Thaksin, but that counted for nothing when Chirmsak went after him as a political turncoat.

These are the political types who will chart “reform” for Thailand.

Military, the rich and control

4 10 2014

Banyan at The Economist has another useful account of Thailand’s military dictatorship. PPT reproduces bits of it here, with a few comments.

Thailand’s political future is still up in the air…. Thailand’s new rulers have been candid: they intend to prevent the reinstatement of the winner-takes-it-all system that allowed the party of Thaksin Shinawatra, a telecoms tycoon who became a populist prime minister, to win every election held since 2001.

This is the aim of everything that the military and elite are currently doing. The aim is to “fix” the system for the elite. Part of this is to demobilize politics and restore attention to hierarchy.the-economist-logo

The Thai military and business elites have traditionally scorned the elected politicians as a venal lot, the sort who promote their own personal status with little regard for the welfare of the kingdom. It is typical of Thai elites to cast populist policies as corrupt.

Of course, having recently posted on this, PPT agrees. At the same time, we think that the royalist ideology of venal politicians needs to be considered in the context of the rampant corruption in the military and the grasping corruption that drives Thailand’s big businesses (think of the widespread use of disposal slave-like labor as just one instance of venality).

As is the case throughout much of South-East Asia, the power elite in Thailand does not accept the fundamental nature of democracy. They believe that the rule of an “accomplished” few is preferable to the judgments of the people.

So what might their new rules look like? There is a strong expectation that the junta may put restrictions on voting. The idea is popular among some circles in Bangkok, where people have long grumbled that their votes do not count more than those of poor and uneducated farmers. But junking universal suffrage outright would probably be hard to get away with. A more likely path is a partly appointed parliament. That would leave those with the power to appoint—the monarch, the army and the bureaucracy—to retain control over the balance of power. At the same time, power might be shifted further away from parliament, into the hands of appointed regulatory groups. All such “reforms” would be likely to meet the scorn of Thailand’s silenced majority, as well as that of university professors and intellectuals, and some foreign governments.

PPT generally agrees with this perspective on what the royalist elite’s military is doing. After all, it is a reflection of the decades-long royalist discourse on “Thai-style democracy” that is no democracy at all.

At the same time, we feel that the royalists are unlikely to be concerned about international opinion on their restructuring of the system to suit themselves. Their interest is in control. We do think the current demonstrations in Hong Kong has suggested that functional constituencies, long on the royalist agenda, will be reconsidered. The Economist also comments:

The streets of Bangkok are calm these days.  The only reminder that anyone is resentful about being governed by unelected leaders is the image of the protests in Hong Kong, which has been splashed across the front page of Thai newspapers.

The Economist joins others in advising the military dictatorship on how it should do things:

The only way the army can get away with its dictatorship is if it embarks urgently on the only reliable path to political stability in Thailand: a policy to redistribute wealth in ways that stimulate growth and draw the whole population into the modernisation process. This is the path that will make most Thais happy. It also happens to be the only way in which the junta can justify an extended period of acting as the sole caretaker of a broken system.

We doubt that the military junta has sufficient intellectual capacity or political will required to make such a change. It is not just an economic change, but a vast cultural change amongst Thailand’s ruling class.

The view that the junta’s rule is about succession is made:

The junta’s rule is likely to go on for a while, if for no other reason than that its members cannot bear even the thought of the politicians being in charge when the king dies.

We agree that this is now on the agenda for the military. If succession wasn’t an issue, it is now. The problem for the military and the palace is that the king could linger for many years if he doesn’t pass tomorrow. Military-backed government for several more years is a miserable political thought, although the elite is on board, seeking to bolster its control:

It helps that the bureaucracy and most of the wealthiest Thai families back the military government. These rich Chinese-Thai families, along with the Thai elites, control much of the country’s assets. In the course of the 20th century a small group courtiers and businessmen have played their cards right with the monarchy and managed to join them. The result is that 0.1% of Thais own half the nation’s assets, a concentration of wealth that makes America’s mind-bogglingly unequal wealth distribution (where 0.1% of citizens own 22%) look like a socialist dream come true.

These very wealthy families crave control and stability above all, not the sort of rapid economic growth that raises living standards for all. So it has always been in their rational interest to support conservative governments. Badly burned in the economic collapse of 1996 and 1997, they fear permanent shifts in government policy, competition and a rising price of access to capital, labour and land. Many saw the rise of the Shinawatras as an immediate threat to their own status, if not their wealth.

The current lot of generals must have noticed that as the only guarantors to the moneyed establishment they find themselves in a good bargaining position. They might as well raise their price for having re-established peace and order—and so they are considering a tax on land and inherited wealth….

The filthy rich don’t think they own Thailand, they think they are Thailand.

A servant of dictators

13 09 2014

Our header is based on one used in a sycophantic About Politics story in the Bangkok Post regarding the recently selected deputy prime minister and legal prostitute servicing the military, Wissanu Krea-ngam. As we point out, we use “prostitute” as a description of Wissanu’s work behavior rather than as a criticism of far more honest sex workers.

Wissanu (L): Serving the military junta

The lickspittle article refers to Wissanu as “[a] servant of the law.” As we suggest, he is a servant of dictators. His interpretations and twisting of the law for authoritarian regimes is in a long tradition of lawyers who have willingly sold themselves to fascists. Wissanu has served several governments, including Thaksin Shinawatra, and has been known as a neti borikon or “lawyer-in-service to power.”

In fact, the Post does get one thing right, saying that Wissanu’s “services are proving to be very welcome among the coup generals.” He’s important to them because he can manipulate law for them in ways that make the illegal legal and allow for impunity and repression. He’s a thug armed with law books.

Academic Craig Reynolds has a very bland review of one of Wissanu’s self-justifying memoirs, politely criticized by David Streckfuss who points to Wissanu’s “service”:

From the review, it appears that the book’s foremost quality is that its author is honest and straight forward, and the author is one to know, given his position. That alone makes it Oscar worthy…. Wisanu was at the heart of things as a very different constitution comes into being, the rise of the Assembly of the Poor (and NGOs), the rise of Thaksin, the War on Drugs, Tak Bai, not to mention the passing of controversial laws such as the Emergency law. And of course, the initial rise in lese majeste cases. Perhaps I’m asking too much of a reviewer to go into more detail of the book …, but I would have liked to hear more about why he doesn’t like military governments or his explanation of just how he (or Dr. Borwornsak?) were not involved with providing the legal paperwork to legalize the coup. Or maybe the book lacked this sort of breadth that places the work within the period? Briefly said, am I going to find any of these goodies in this book?

Streckfuss is right; Wissanu has a pretty solid reputation for manipulating the law in some pretty nasty situations. Our guess is that he has also been critical in organizing university councils for the royalists.

Today, Wissanu is one of the deputy prime ministers serving The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Wissanu is considered a bureaucratic and legal helmsman by Prayuth, tasked with “helping the military administration to navigate through the labyrinth of affairs of state and with tackling legal complexities which could hinder that administration.”

Wissanu links with other royalist legal ideologues like Meechai Ruchupan and Bowornsak Uwanno. The latter also sells himself and has headed the royalist King Prajadhipok Institute, which is a royalist propaganda organization for Thai-style democracy. These three were responsible for the military-directed 2007 constitution and will likely be the key drafters of the next military-directed basic law. They will be charges with correcting the errors they made last time that allowed pro-Thaksin parties to win elections; that cannot be permitted in the future.

Thai-style repression

11 09 2014

Authoritarian regimes are pretty easy to identify. Usually they spend a lot of time trying to repress political opponents. They usually do this for several stated reasons: protecting the nation, national security, racial purity, ideological conformity, and so on.

The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, has decided that “Thai-style democracy” demands a peculiarly Thai-style of political repression.

Prayuth has long believed that there is a republican plot to overthrow the monarchy and, hence, the system that maintains the social, political and economic power of the royalist elite. In this context he is determined that his dictatorship must give its top priority to “dealing with” the “suspected anti-monarchy network.”

Prayuth’s speech to “his puppet parliament, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) on Friday” and will outline “a strategy to ‘defend’ the monarchy…”.

Not unexpectedly, The Dictator will describe” the monarchy as an important element of Thai-style democracy and an institution that the Royal Thai Government is obliged to uphold ‘with loyalty and defence of His Majestic Authority’.”

To be sure, this is ridiculously slimy posterior polishing, but it is representative of a broader desire for the reinforcement of the existing social order. The fear that drives the increasingly fascistic Prayuth and his ilk is seen in his speech:

We will use legal measures, social-psychological measures, and telecommunications and information technology to deal with those who are not mindful of their words, are arrogant at heart, or harbour ill intentions to undermine the important Institution of the nation….

In addition to this extreme repression, Prayuth’s speech says his regime will:

also strengthen Thais loyalty towards the monarchy by publicising “correct understanding about the monarchy and His Royal Works for the people” and by supporting “projects that have been derived from His Royal Ideas, encourag[ing] officials, educational institutions, and other state agencies to study and understand His Royal Working Principles so that they can apply the aforementioned Principles in bureaucratic function and development.”

Oddly, Prayuth seems to acknowledge previous failures of the heavily subsidized royal projects that are often rat holes for huge amounts of taxpayer funding, suggesting that wads of baht will continue down the same rat holes:

Furthermore, we will urgently expand the projects to which His Majesty has laid foundation in order to demonstrate [their effectiveness] to the public, and develop benefits in a wider circle, which will eventually help create prosperity and happiness for the people….

Whatever way one looks at it, the world’s richest monarchy, which already consumes massive amounts of taxpayer funds, is going to consume even more. Protecting the military-monarchy social order is so significant for The Dictator that he is willing to wind back the political clock several decades while opening the state pipeline even further in a flood of funding for fanatical ultra-royalism.


Business as usual?

8 09 2014

Andrew Stevens is a CNN journalist who is said to have been “a specialist business correspondent and has extensively covered news and business stories across the region.” He is said to have “interviewed many of the world’s political and business leaders and has reported on Asia-Pacific for more than two decades.” He is also said to have “covered elections across many countries and reported on many of the most significant events across the region in the last 20 years.”

Readers will recall that we posted on another foreign propagandist for the military who is some kind of property salesman. That person had some kind of personal interest in propagandizing for the junta. What is in it for Stevens when, at the China Post, this business journalist turns his attention to Thailand and writes as if he is doing a paid promotion for the military dictatorship?

Remarkably, as a business journalist used to praising “Bangkok’s free-wheeling capitalist system,” he seems on a job for the military dictatorship when he writes of  “a public crackdown on illegal businesses, corruption and organized crime.” Given that about 60% of Thailand’s working population is in the “informal sector,” we wonder if such crackdowns are winning “hearts and minds.” Stevens continues on his advert for the junta:

It’s been a little more than three months since a bloodless military coup ousted the government of Yingluck Shinawatra and in that time Thailand has slipped from the front pages and is returning to business as usual [well, not quite, he just told us that]. Not the business that was constantly under the threat of disruption from endless and sometimes deadly street protests or political deadlock in the capital, but business operating in conditions of relative stability and certainty.

Tell the filthy rich, who have gotten richer during the period of political crisis, that they can now reap more profits!

Stevens has been out talking to every single person in Bangkok:

Talk to Thai people in Bangkok and there is an overwhelming view that the coup was a positive development to break nearly a decade of political paralysis. Admittedly Bangkok has always been an anti-Thaksin stronghold and public dissent has been closed down by the military but there is still a sense of calm, even of optimism that the suspension of democracy may reap longer term benefits.

Perhaps if you are an anti-democrat, you would be over the moon at the junta’s decisions to repress, take power into the hands of a tiny military cabal, ban elections, and demand happiness.

When The Dictator takes over national television is a propaganda harangue each Friday, in Orwellian doublespeak, Stevens sees this as a “type of transparency” that he says is “a key policy of the new leadership…”. Stevens “source” for this remarkably stupid claim is “advisers close to the General.” Of course!

Stevens continues on this propaganda line: “Senior leaders of the new administration regularly meet with so-called ‘stakeholders’ — politicians of all affiliations, and business and civic leaders — to talk about the key issues they face.” Focus groups? We suspect they might have told Stevens that these “meetings” were what was really happening in the military detention centers.

After promoting the junta’s “business plans,” with not a single mention of their plagiarism of the Yingluck Shinawatra government policies or the adoption of the “populist” they want to “ban,” Stevens turns to politics:

The leadership talks of a “Thai-style” democracy which is essentially putting the interests of the country before the interests of the individual. It’s about a more inclusive and more equitable society. Advisers say it reflects the moral compass of the man now leading the country.

Of course, this is propaganda with piles of buffalo manure. Thai-style democracy is no democracy at all. Whichever way one spins it, Thai-style democracy is about the military-palace political alliance dominating in a paternalistic system known as “despotic paternalism.”

Finally, Stevens gets down to the main point, where the junta’s “advisers” tell him to propagandize for longer term dictatorship:

But the biggest problem facing this new leadership is one of time. There is a roadmap for elections to be held as early as next year to return Thailand to the democratic process but that will only happen if the leadership deems the country sufficiently recovered from its recent traumas.

We suspect the military junta is just beginning to work the international propaganda circuit and that there will be a lot more of this buffalo dung strewn about.


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