2006 as royalist coup

19 09 2018

2006 coup

It is 12 years since the military, wearing yellow tags, rolled its tanks into Bangkok to oust Thaksin Shinawatra, the Thai Rak Thai Party government and to wind back the Thaksin revolution.

Thaksin had a lot of faults and made many mistakes. His War on Drugs was a murderous unleashing of the thugs in the police and military that should not be forgiven.

But his big mistake was being “too popular” among the “wrong people.” TRT’s huge election victory in February 2005 was an existential threat to the powers that be. Their final response, after destabilizing the elected government, was to arrange for the military to throw out the most popular post-war prime minister Thailand had known. And, the palace joined the coup party.

2006 coup

But getting rid of the so-called Thaksin regime and his popularity was too much for the somewhat dull guys at the top of the military and the palace’s man as prime minister was typically aloof and hopeless. He appointed a cabinet full of aged and lazy royalists who misjudged the extent of Thaksin’s popularity. The 2007 election proved how wrong the royalists were about the Thaksin regime being based on vote-buying and “policy corruption.”

So they ditched out another prime minister and then another elected government, this time relying on the judiciary. Then they killed red shirts.

But still Thaksin held electoral sway, this time via his sister Yingluck. And she had to go too, replaced by the knuckle-draggers of the current military dictatorship.

Meeting the junta

12 years on, PPT felt that our best way of observing the anniversary of the military-palace power grab is to re-link to the Wikileaks cables that reflect most directly on that coup. Here they are:

There are more cables. As a collection, they provide a useful insight as to how the royalist elite behaved and what they wanted the embassy to know.





2006 military coup remembered

19 09 2017

2006 seems a long time ago. So much has happened since the palace, led by General Prem Tinsulanonda, the military and a coterie of royalist anti-democrats (congealed as the People’s Alliance for Democracy) brought down Thaksin Shinawatra’s government on 19 September 2006.

Yet it is remembered as an important milestone in bringing down electoral democracy in Thailand and establishing the royalist-military authoritarianism that has deepened since the 2014 military coup that brought down Yingluck Shinawatra’s elected government.

Khaosod reports:

Pro-democracy activists are marking the 11th anniversary of the 2006 coup on Tuesday evening on the skywalk in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.

Representatives from the police and BTS Skytrain were ordering them to clear the area because it belongs to the rail operator.

The location, frequented by commuters and tourists in a highly visible location, has become a de facto location for protests since the 2014 coup.

“It’s unbelievable how far back we’ve gone for the past 11 years,” said Siriwit Seritiwat, the prominent activist known as Ja New. “The country doesn’t suck by itself, but it sucks because of the wicked cycle.”

The 2006 coup was no surprise given that Thaksin had faced determined opposition from PAD and from General Prem, who reflected palace and royal household dissatisfaction with Thaksin. The coup came after Thaksin had been re-elected in a landslide in February 2005 with about 60% of the vote.

Thaksin had many faults and made many mistakes often as a result of arrogance. The February 2005 election reflected Thaksin’s popularity and this posed a threat to the monstrous egos in the palace. Of course, they also worried about Thaksin’s combination of political and economic power and his efforts to control the military.

Thaksin’s reliance on votes and the fact that he accumulated them as never before was an existential threat to the powers that be. The elite feared for its control of political, economic and social power.

Behind the machinations to tame Thaksin lurked the real power holders in the military brass, the palace and the upper echelons of the bureaucracy who together comprised the royalist state. Some referred to this as the network monarchy and others identified a Deep State. They worried about their power and Thaksin’s efforts to transform Thailand. Others have said there were concerns about managing succession motivating coup masters.

We are sure that there were many motivations, fears and hallucinatory self-serving that led to the coup. Wikileaks has told part of the story of the machinations.

Coup soldiers wearing the king’s yellow, also PAD’s color

A way of observing the anniversary of the military-palace power grab on 19 September 2006 is to look again at Wikileaks cables that reflect most directly on that coup. Here they are:

There are more cables on the figures circling around the coup and the events immediately before and after the coup, giving a pretty good picture of how the royalist elite behaved and what they wanted the U.S. embassy to know.

The royalist elite came to believe that the 2006 coup failed as pro-Thaksin parties managed to continue to win elections. The result was the development of an anti-democracy ideology and movement that paved the way for the 2014 coup and the military dictatorship that is determined to uproot the “Thaksin regime” and to eventually make elections events that have no meaning for governing Thailand.





Rubbing out universal health care

27 07 2015

PPT has had several posts over a number of years on royalist-inspired efforts to roll back the Thaksin Shinawatra universal health care program. We have mentioned independent assessments of the success of that program and a short paper at East Asia Forum that assesses some of the recent politicking over the scheme.

More recently, we posted on General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s view that the universal health care program is a “costly populist” policy which “helped deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra win the 2001 election.”

The royalist and military junta campaign against universal health care continues. The Nation reports that the puppet “National Reform Council (NRC) committee on public health” is seeking to “reforms” that may see “[m]illions of Thais will lose their right to many kinds of free medical treatment under the universal healthcare scheme…”.

The proposal seeks to unmake the universality of the program by “setting up of the National Health Insurance Council will require a large number of people now covered by the universal health scheme to pay extra for medical services that are beyond the basic range.”

Royalist ideologues believe that “nearly 30 million people covered by the universal healthcare scheme can afford healthcare insurance…”.

The opponents of “populist” health care talk about the scheme being costly – it is – but do not look at its broad benefits. Yet this is a ruse. What they are proposing is an effort to destroy the “Thaksin revolution” and undermine the political support that still adheres from his time in power.





Killing people

3 07 2015

As most PPT readers know, General Prayuth Chan-ocha bears considerable responsibility for the murder of protesters by his soldiers in April and May 2010. Because of elite agreements and the impunity long enjoyed by murderous soldiers, he is unlikely to ever face a court for his crimes.

There are other ways to kill people that do not involve the direct use of military weapons. At the Bangkok Post Prayuth states that the “universal healthcare scheme” is nothing more than a “costly populist” policy which “helped deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra win the 2001 election.”

Prayuth is correct that the the scheme was popular with electors. At the same time, Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party had widespread support in that election campaign, including from the royalist elite, largely due to the failures of the Democrat Party-led government that was reviled, not least for its implementation of IMF programs that destroyed swathes of Thai businesses and failed to provide meaningful safety nets for average people.

The went further, stating that “Thailand is not financially ready for such a multi-billion-baht health insurance project.” He added that the scheme will “bankrupt a lot of hospitals in the next few years…”. And he then declared: “The universal healthcare scheme is a populist project. Though people are benefiting from it, is Thailand ready for it? Why aren’t 190 other countries doing it? Only a few countries have done it…”.

Prayuth reportedly stated that “he would not abolish the scheme, but would seek ways of increasing funding.” This is code for winding back the universalism of the scheme. As Sureerat Trimakka, coordinator for the People’s Health System Movement stated: “This government [he means the junta] is making the national health system a scapegoat.”

We have no doubt that Prayuth hates the program as it is representative of the Thaksin revolution and is still a basis of political support for Thaksin and his parties. Prayuth’s royalist supporters loathe the scheme and want to be rid of it as a way of wiping out the memory of Thaksin.

This is not the first time the royalists have attacked the scheme since the military coup. Within weeks of that coup, the first thrust was made. The MOPH leadership, dominated by anti-Thaksin royalists, is wanting to raise “co-payments.” Steep co-payments will chase patients back to private clinics where MOPH doctors moonlight and make enough money to keep their Mercedes cars on the road. Uprooting the Thaksin regime-cum-revolution will be profitable for them.

PPT has previously mentioned independent assessments of the success of the program. And we have posted on a short paper at East Asia Forum that assesses some of the post-coup  politicking over the scheme.

Prior to 30 Baht scheme, the first linked report states that in “poorer provinces had significantly higher infant mortality rates than richer provinces. After 30 Baht, this correlation evaporates to zero. The results suggest that increased access to healthcare among the poor can significantly reduce their infant mortality rates.”

If Prayuth changes the scheme, he will be personally responsible for the deaths of infants as that mortality rate climbs again. He will also be responsible for the deaths of the aged and poor patients who will no longer be able to afford health care.

This responsibility for increased deaths will be far in excess of the deaths caused by military weapons in 2010.





The measure of the regime

7 06 2015

One of the hallmarks of the “Thaksin revolution” was the way Thaksin Shinawatra and, later, Yingluck did politics was to emphasize not just policies that impacted particular constituencies, but to promote policies that were essentially universal. The 30 baht health care program was iconic.

Under Yingluck, the most significant of these policies was to essentially raise the minimum wage nationwide to 300 baht a day. This was a politically popular innovation, and one that recognized that real wages in Thailand had been stagnant for years, despite productivity increases.

In this context, a report at Khaosod English on the minimum wage is potentially defining of the military dictatorship.

Ministy of Labour permanent secretary Nakhon Silpa-archa told a seminar that his ministry is “proposing a plan to abandon the country’s daily minimum wage in 2016.” He reckons the “wage is not in line with current labour market situation or inflation rate…”. Of course, this proposed change is in the context of the very rich are getting a lot richer.

The wage increase granted by Yingluck was not welcomed by business because it was seen as upsetting the balance in favor of its class.

The military dictatorship, like its predecessors, will be defined by its subordination to the interests of the rich and powerful. At a minimum, PPT would expect that the regime will attempt to have lower wages in provincial areas, meaning yet another return to the past.

Politically, the most powerful elements of organized labor have sided with the anti-democrats and the military dictatorship and have long been unrepresentative of the broader labor movement.





Thailand’s political blues

16 05 2015

Stanley Weiss, a global mining executive and the founder of  Business Executives for National Security. This is one of those quintessentially American combines of security, big business and former well-linked government officials brought together in a Washington-based “think” tank and policy lobby group. Weiss has an op-ed on Thailand at the Huffington Post. It is interesting for its reflection of thinking amongst these groups in Washington and for the comments on the elite in Bangkok and its considerations on politics.

He begins his musings, apparently from Bangkok, with the cliched image of the king’s first trip to the U.S., as General Sarit Thanarat enlisted the young king in a Cold War PR exercise for the military dictatorship. The king “and his family visited Disneyland and rubbed elbows with Elvis, Bob Hope, and Lucille Ball.” Then they went to Washington for the Cold War allies stuff.

But Weiss reckons the best bit was the kings “jam” with jazz musicians “Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson, and other jazz greats.” We have previously mentioned some assessments of the king’s alleged talents, with the most critical being from Buddy Rich.

So Weiss’s claim that the king’s “knack for improvisation has served him well — on stage and on the throne” might be suspect, but it is something of a rhetorical device for the op-ed that looks at politics and succession: “When the music stops and the world’s longest-serving monarch is gone, what — or who — will fill the void?”

The obvious response and it has been made for years since at least the late 1970s,  is that “Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, whom the king declared, in 1972, to be his successor. But the prince — an infamous playboy — is as scorned…”. The alternative, also spoken of for years, is Sirindhorn. Weiss reveals that some members of the Thai elite believe that “now that the law of succession has been amended to allow the king to choose any of his children.”

We are not sure that this is factually correct. Perhaps he means the constitution? But then, back in late 2014, there was discussion of the law being altered. There was also a fake succession announcement. Can any reader enlighten us as to whether the puppet National Legislative Assembly passed a revised law to parliament and had it promulgated? Have we missed something as significant as this? Or is it PPT’s aged memory suffering loss?

Weiss then claims to have spoken with “a Thailand expert” about succession. The response was about how to keep the prince off the throne:  “There are many ways around it,” while adding: “It’s very important who is the prime minister at the time of the succession.” That is the essentially the argument put by Andrew Marshall, and it is said that “who sits on the throne is merely a proxy for a larger fight.”

That larger fight is the well-known struggle between voters “who support the populist policies of the self-made billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted prime minister” and the “revolution” he unleashed by providing some Thais a view that saw “a rural sense of exclusion from government.”

A “banker and member of the Bangkok elite” is then cited: “Thaksin, despite his faults, is one of the few that progressed democracy in Thailand…. Thaksin brought awareness of the value of the vote.” Few of the royalist elite would agree, yet Thaksin did create a demand for some voice via the ballot box.

The usual claims that Thaksin represented vote buying via “policy corruption” is repeated from a “Thai journalist.” Yet Weiss seems to agree that when Yingluck Shinawatra was impeached by “legislators in the military-stacked assembly later voted to impeach Yingluck for ‘dereliction of duty’ over the rice subsidy,” it was the end of democracy and rule of law. He cites analyst David Merkel who “dryly notes” that this move was “akin to impeaching a U.S. president over an ethanol subsidy, pork barrel spending, or a dairy program…”.

He says the 2014 coup was “a power play by Bangkok’s elite” to ensure that “traditional royalists, and the military, are running the country when the king dies…”. That seems reasonable, although we think there were plenty of other reasons why the brass intervened.

Weiss cites “a Thai investment banker” asking if “the change in the monarchy … [will] force the country to grow up?” PPT thinks this is a good question. However, a better question is whether the military will ever allow Thailand to maturer politically? To do that, it has to relinquish its desire to intervene. Yet it is such a corrupt and murderous clique that it fears letting anyone else engage in “reform.”

The king claimed to play jazz. Thailand sings the political blues.





Junta and health “populism”

1 05 2015

Over the years, PPT hasn’t said much about health in Thailand unless it has had to do with royal health as the king and queen have aged and the Royal Household has obscured and fabricated. At times we have posted on royalist-inspired efforts to roll back the Thaksin Shinawatra universal health care program. We have mentioned independent assessments of the success of that program.

A reader has now pointed us to a short paper at East Asia Forum that assesses some of the recent politicking over the scheme. Published two weeks ago, the report is authored by Bo Kyeong Seo, a postdoctoral fellow at the Free University of Berlin. It begins:

Thailand’s current democratic crisis sits in stark contrast with its greatest achievement this century: universal health coverage. This achievement is also a prime example of the ideological disagreements on the value of populism in Thai politics.

The author notes that, by “2014, 99 per cent of the total population was covered by three public insurance schemes. Universal health coverage has ensured increased access to healthcare for the poor and a significant decrease in infant and child mortality. Advanced medical treatments such as basic chemotherapy, open heart surgery and dialysis treatment are also widely available.”

But as Bo Kyeong Seo notes, the response to this successful program has been as polarized as Thailand’s politics: “It has been praised as an ideal policy for the poor and dismissed as a populist charade.” The attacks on “populism” – apparently any program that delivers social goods to the poor or that is redistributional – have been vicious under the military dictatorship. The aim has been to reverse the Thaksin revolution. Even so, after some debate, The Dictator stated that the “30 baht health program” would be maintained.

However, Prayuth Chan-ocha has made other suggestions that show he doesn’t understand universal programs: “He proposed that the rich should give up their membership in the universal health coverage scheme, so that a bigger health budget could be given to the poor.” As the author notes, this “distorts the very meaning of universal access that is deeply attached to democratic values.” The author states:

The basic philosophy of ‘universal access’ is to entitle all citizens to healthcare regardless of their income level, social status or residency. It is true that the poor are the largest beneficiaries of this public policy, but — in principle — it is for everyone. The reason that this policy has been so appealing for the majority of Thais is because it does not segregate and target the poor but incorporates them into the realm of public good.

The author asks: “Is universal health coverage ‘populist’?” The answer is: “No. Branding universal health coverage with the derogatory label ‘populist’ allows a group to benefit from anti-populism discourse.” The author astutely observes:

As ideological battles around populism continue in Thai politics, universal health coverage offers a different political horizon. While this ‘populist’ plan sounds dangerous, unsustainable, or wasteful, it indeed has proved a fundamental value. All citizens have the right to access public healthcare and the state is obliged to ensure these rights.

The very idea of universal access has a constructive function in the formations of democratic values. As ordinary Thais have already experienced such social force and feasibility of making claims of their rights to health as a universal value, then why not their political rights? The anti-populist stance is hindering access to basic democratic procedures.





Health malpractice

17 07 2014

Readers may remember that PPT posted on plans for the end to the 30 baht health scheme as part of an uprooting of the Thaksin regime. Back then, the Public health permanent secretary Narong Sahametapat said this was a beat up and that “denied it planned to ask the coup-makers to approve part payments under the scheme…”. No plans, he said.

If he was really a doctor, he’d be up on a malpractice charge. Quite simply, he is fabricating a discussion initiated in the Ministry of Public Health. The Bangkok Post reports that it was Dr. Tawatchai Kamoltham, the director-general of the MOPH’s Department for Development of Thai Traditional Medicine and Alternative Medicine, who raised the plan with the junta.dr_nick

Sounding like a product of the privatized, costly and inefficient U.S. medical system than someone promoting “traditional medicine,” Tawatchai apparently “believes co-payment will see patients take better care of their health and will reduce the possibility that people who urgently need care might not be able to receive the treatment they need because their doctors are busy.”

In other words, as previously leaked, the MOPH leadership is wanting to raise “co-payments” by exorbitant amounts, especially as Tawatchai estimates that the current state payments are covering only 40-50% of the actual cost.

Steep fee increases will probably chase patients back to private clinics where MOPH doctors moonlight and make enough money to keep their Mercedes cars on the road. Uprooting the Thaksin regime-cum-revolution may be profitable for some.





Updated: Rooting out the “Thaksin regime”

14 07 2014

One of the tasks that the anti-democratic elite has set for the military dictatorship is rooting out the “Thaksin regime.” The notion driving this task is that Thaksin Shinawatra and his associates have managed a revolution in politics that can only be undone by breaking the Thaksin clan’s economic power and their capacity for political organization.

The royalist elite considers that one of the main elements of the Thaksin revolution is the “populist policies” that made Thaksin and his parties hugely popular. Central to the very first policy innovations in 2001 and arguably the most popular of these was the 30 baht universal health scheme. This scheme has been independently shown to have major health impacts for the people.

When the military last took over in 2006, it dared not touch this scheme, and even made it a totally free health program.

This is no longer the case.  The Bangkok Post reports that the rabidly royalist and anti-Thaksin permanent secretary at the Ministry of Public Health Narong Sahametapat wants to introduce  “co-payment” of up to “30-50% of the cost of healthcare services, saying the programme is unsustainable.”

Narong gave “strong support for the People’s Democratic Reform Committee,” otherwise known as the anti-democrats.

Support for the scheme comes from the “National Health Security Office (NHSO), the scheme’s architect, argued the state budget spent on the project was a mere 7% while its benefits were overwhelming.”

Royalist ideology runs deep at the Ministry, and attacking the scheme is considered an important attack on the “Thaksin regime.” When the scheme was first introduced, it “drew strong resistance from the medical profession, partly because it took away most of the budget normally going to the ministry and state hospitals to the NHSO which in turn paid them by the number of patients they actually treated.” Some doctors referred to “socialized medicine.”

Narong seems to agree, and is ignoring the NHSO. Worse, he has reportedly “prohibited hospitals and officials from cooperating with the NHSO…”.

Ji Ungpakorn has a perspective on this too:

We are now seeing the anti-democratic neo-liberals crawling out of the woodwork to help the junta in its road map to “Guided Democracy Neo-liberal Style”.

First, the Permanent Secretary for Health is now suggesting that the 30 baht universal health scheme be scrapped and patients be made to pay up to half of their own health care costs. Dr Narong Sahametapat, the Permanent Secretary for Health, joined Sutep’s mob and called for the resignation of the elected government earlier this year. He is also delaying measures to provide essential drugs to people with hepatitis and cancer.

In my 2006 book “A Coup for the Rich” I warned that the first military junta back then was thinking of introducing “co-payments” for the health service to replace the 30 baht health care scheme.

Secondly, the Counter Corruption Commission is talking to the Election Commission about a plan to force all political parties to submit their manifestos to the Electoral Commission before an election campaign can start. This is so that these unelected anti-democratic neo-liberals can “weed out” any pro-poor policies which use state funds. The neo-liberals hate the use of state funds for the benefit of the majority of people. But they just love the military for vastly increasing its own budget!

Finally, the Thai Development Research Institute (TDRI) has proposed that the minimum wage should not be raised like it was during the Yingluk government because it resulted in raised prices and workers are still poor! Well, given that most workers are too poor, the minimum wage ought to be doubled to 600 baht per day! Most middle class Thais, including the academics at the TDRI enjoy salaries much higher than most workers. What is more, the wage costs in Thailand are very low and could not have resulted in raised prices, but if they did, a pro-poor government could bring in price controls.

The TDRI has a history of opposing the rice price protection scheme which benefitted small farmers. It also opposes the idea of a welfare state.

This only goes to show that neo-liberalism and dictatorship go hand in hand.

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that the Ministry of Public Health has denied that any changes are planned. PPT suggests reading the original report above and decide if this denial is believeable.





Updated: Universal health care’s impact

11 05 2014

We have been looking for a quiet day for an opportunity to post this….

With all the attention given to medical people demonstrating with the anti-democrats, supported by the public service head of the Ministry of Public Health, PPT thought this report of an article of some interest. It was sent by a regular reader:

The Great Equalizer: Health Care Access and Infant Mortality in Thailand
By Jonathan Gruber, Nathaniel Hendren, and Robert M. Townsend

American Economic Journal: Applied Economics: Vol. 6 No. 1 (January 2014)

Abstract: This paper analyzes Thailand’s 2001 healthcare reform, “30 Baht.” The program increased funding available to hospitals to care for the poor and reduced copays to 30 Baht (~$0.75). Our estimates suggest the supply-side funding of the program increased healthcare utilization, especially among the poor. Moreover, we find significant impacts on infant mortality. Prior to 30 Baht, poorer provinces had significantly higher infant mortality rates than richer provinces. After 30 Baht, this correlation evaporates to zero. The results suggest that increased access to healthcare among the poor can significantly reduce their infant mortality rates.

That’s pretty impressive. Introduced following the first election victory by Thaksin Shinawatra and is perhaps the most socially (and politically) important policy of any elected government in Thailand. Part of the current political struggle is about distribution, and the article helps explain in understanding this and the loyalty to Thaksin and his various parties over the past decade and more.

The article is behind a pay wall, but this media release explains the results.

Update: The article is available in pre-publication version.