A game of chance

16 06 2019

Readers may have noticed that some 10 days ago, Thaksin Shinawatra was sentenced to two years in prison “over his handling of a state lottery scheme he launched while in office more than a decade ago.”

It was in 2008 that a body of post-2006 coup, army-appointed “graftbusters filed … charges against Thaksin, accusing him and 46 cabinet ministers and other top officials of illegal use of funds from a state lottery, wrongly approving and operating the lottery from 2003 to 2006.”

In sentencing Thaksin, the court stated:

government lotteries were aimed at generating income for the country and the digit lotteries put the country at risk.

Despite opposition, Thaksin ordered a then deputy finance minister and director of the Government Lottery Office to launch the two- and three-digit lotteries without a law supporting it or measure to prevent financial risks of the state as the GLO [Government Lottery Office] usually did.

While the lottery scheme brought 123.34 billion baht to state coffers, not all draws were profitable, with seven incurring losses totalling 1.67 billion baht, according to the ruling….

Despite the large flow of funds to the state, Patanapong Chanpetpul, director of the NACC’s Bureau of Legal Affairs, said [that]… by law the Finance Ministry, which supervised the GLO, could demand compensation for the damage.” Work that one out.

Fast forward to the 2014 coup. When Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha used Article 44 to put now Army commander Apirat Kongsompong in charge of the GLO. His task was “to solve chronic problems of overpriced tickets.”This move was seen as a quick-win move that would “return happiness to the people”, as the junta had promised. A Bangkok Post report continues:

The board fixed the price of lottery ticket pairs at 80 baht apiece, revised quotas for vendor groups, banned bundled sales by popular numbers and increased printing of tickets to 90 million each fortnight from 37 million in 2014.

Five years on, lottery tickets are still selling at 90-100 baht, just as they did before the coup, and tickets are still bundled to fetch higher prices.

So Gen Apirat failed on that, with no return of happiness to the people, and overpricing remains a problem.He left the GLO to become an appointed member of the Senate.

Gen Apirat, now the army chief, stepped down from the GLO last month to join the Senate.

In his term, he probably kept the junta happy for it is reported that “the GLO has emerged as the largest contributor to state coffers, bringing in 40.8 billion baht in fiscal 2018, up from 15.3 billion in fiscal 2014.” We think “largest contributor” means from state organizations. After all, VAT brings in far, far more. Even so, you see that Gen Apirat has done a job for the junta. Thaksin got two years in jail for raising that kind of revenue for the state.





Prem dead III

29 05 2019

Sick of the buffalo manure about Gen Prem Tinsulanonda? If so, read today’s opinion in The Nation. In the junta’s Thailand, it is a remarkable piece of journalism. In case heads roll and censors get to work, we reproduce it all:

Prem was no friend of the people
opinion May 29, 2019 01:00

Hailed as the great statesmen of our era, Prem Tinsulanonda exploited unmatched connections to halt democratic progress

General Prem Tinsulanonda will be remembered for many things – but advancing Thai democracy will not be among them.

Soldiers-turned-politicians like General Prayut Chan-o-cha and Prawit Wongsuwan might admire Prem for his rise to the post of prime minister after a lifetime of military service.  He managed to hold the position for eight years without ever running for election. Neither did he need his own political party.

Prem exploited military power to climb the political ladder in the late 1970s, when a golden era of democracy ended with the massacre of students at Thammasat University on October 6, 1976. He was then a member of the coup led by Admiral Sangad Chaloryu that toppled the elected civilian government of the day.

Prem served General Kriangsak Chamanan’s government as deputy interior minister and later defence minister, while also holding his post as Army chief.

Kriangsak’s ideology was moderate compared with that of his predecessor, the ultra-rightist Thanin Kraivichien, but his Cabinet member and long-time close aide Prem differed from both. Prem was more conservative than Kriangsak, showing no faith in democracy whatsoever.

In February 1980, after losing public support over rising oil prices, Kriangsak resigned to, in his own words, save democracy.

Prem, in contrast, chose to punish politicians by dissolving Parliament whenever he faced difficulties in the administration or legislature. Neither did he have any faith in elections as a way of legitimising his premiership.

Instead he secured his rule via strong connections to the Palace, which he used to build his own charisma and influence over the military. Officers seeking career advancement needed Prem’s patronage. Only “louk pa” (Papa’s sons) would be recruited to the inner circle of the military elite. The resulting intrigues and tensions within the ranks led to military uprisings against his regime, but with the blessings of the Palace he was rescued from internal threats.

Military backing also boosted Prem’s bargaining power with political parties in Parliament. Until the Chart Thai Party’s election victory in 1988, no politician dared to challenge Prem for the premiership. The task of forming the government after elections was always left to military commanders. Top brass like General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh were keen to take on the job, mustering political parties to support Prem as government leader.

Those parties unwilling to make deals would be consigned to the opposition benches – though not for their political platforms or ideology, but because Prem did not want them on board.

In stark contrast to elite establishment opinion, Prem’s regime did not address the needs of all citizens and stakeholders. By the late 1980s, as Prem propagandised via a bureaucracy network fanning out from the Interior Ministry, intellectuals, scholars, students and civil society were calling loudly for democracy.

The end of the Cold War, emerging liberalisation and domestic demands for change finally brought Prem’s regime to an end in 1988. The forward-looking Chart Thai Party leader Chatichai Choonhavan showed that Prem’s “military-guided democracy” no longer fitted the new circumstances.

An inside deal to kick Prem upstairs as an adviser to HM King Rama IX was offered, paving the way for Chatichai to take the national helm.

Belying his declaration of, “Enough, you can resume your democracy”, Prem retained his influence over the military and close links to the Palace. He was subsequently blamed for exploiting those links to engineer political setbacks, coups and political division over the past decade, as the establishment elite battled against the influence of Thaksin Shinawatra and democratic movements.

Prem’s legacy will be to inspire military top brass to maintain their strong influence in politics, to the diminishment of democracy in Thailand.





Fascists and their opponents

22 05 2019

On the fifth anniversary of the military’s coup where it through out yet another elected government, we at PPT want to point to a couple of stories that do a great job of remembering and noting the impacts of the military’s illegal action in 2014.

The first is a story at Khaosod, where five activists provide brief comments on their experiences. All have been arrested and some have been jailed under the military dictatorship and its junta. Some clips:

1. No Coup 2. Liberty 3. Democracy

Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, recently released from prison on a manufactured lese majeste case, and facing more charges:

I saw. I fought. I lost. I was hurt. After five years fighting the junta and spending time in jail, I lost. Well, I didn’t lose. It’s just that we haven’t won yet. Some people are discouraged and disappointed. Others continue fighting.

Political activist Nutta Mahattana:

I underestimated the Thai people. Thais are more tolerant of military dictatorship than I expected.

Iconoclast activist Sombat Boonngamanong:

The most visible change in the past five years was how some people who fought for a certain strand of democracy were turned into mindless supporters of the military junta…. They saw the failure of the junta over the past five years, yet they are okay with it. It’s scary meeting these people….

Yaowalak Anuphan from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights:

Freedom of expression keeps sinking and more people censor themselves. The military has fully invaded civil society and injected its autocratic thinking into civilians.

Student activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal:

[W]e took democracy for granted. We thought it was something that could be restored quickly after it was gone. We thought military dictatorship wouldn’t last long. But people have become better at adapting to life under dictatorship…. At symposiums, people are now more wary when they speak. This change was rapid….

The second is an article by retired diplomat and Puea Thai Party member Pithaya Pookaman. We disagree with him that the “election” result shows that the junta and its puppet party are “popular.” But he identifies those who are junta supporters as a “new right.” While this is catchy, it is also misleading in that much of the “new right” is pretty much the same opposition that’s worked against electoral democracy for decades. Pithaya knows this, saying:

Broadly speaking, the New Right consists of an odd mix of ultra-conservatives, reactionaries, semi-fascists, pseudo-intellectuals, and even former leftists. It is the product of more than 80 years of political evolution and has been shaped by technological and economic advances, as well as social and demographic changes, and populism in modern Thai society…. This tug of war between the so-called liberals and conservatives dates back to 1932…. The conservative Thai oligarchy, which saw their traditional grip on power being eroded, have strongly resisted democratic developments up until today.

Thailand’s urban middle class has a unique tolerance of authoritarian rule, wholeheartedly embracing military coups with few moral scruples. Meanwhile, the reactionary and semi-fascist groups seem to have a romantic infatuation with anachronistic medieval political and social systems….

Their common hatred of Thaksin and his political machine has allowed the fate of these diverse groups to intertwine. It has also made them vulnerable to “Thaksin Derangement Syndrome”, which has spread among a conglomeration of former leftists, the urban middle class, pseudo-intellectuals, ultraconservatives, semi-fascists, militarists, and the elitist establishment, all of which can collectively be called the New Right.

A third story is important. “All They Could Do To Us: Courage in Dark Times from a Fighter (Not a Victim)” is an article by Metta Wongwat, translated by Tyrell Haberkorn. It is about Pornthip Munkhong, who was jailed on lese majeste for her role in a political play, The Wolf Bride (เจ้าสาวหมาป่า), about a fictional monarch and kingdom. Her new book, All They Could Do To Us (Aan Press, 2019) “is an account of imprisonment under Article 112 during the NCPO regime written in the voice of an artist. She tells her story and the stories of her fellow prisoners from every walk of life, and in so doing, leads readers into her life during her two years of imprisonment.”

She includes a message for those who hold politics close: “(Political struggle) is like boxing. The ring is theirs. The rules are theirs. The referees are theirs. You must be prepared.





The monarchy, military two-step

16 05 2019

Since the Cold War era, the relationship between the military and monarchy has been close, with predominance see-sawing between the two pillars of Thai authoritarianism. Several times, the military has murdered and massacred in the name of the monarchy. The monarch appreciated their work. The monarchy has long danced with dictators.

The current military dictatorship seized power to eject yet another pro-Thaksin Shinawatra party, in part to eradicate what it considered an unacceptable rise in republicanism. That republicanism was bred of the royal family’s support for royalist political movements and against the pro-Thaksin/pro-democracy forces.

At times it has been felt that King Vajiralongkorn is not particularly close to the ruling junta. We have no idea if that is true. What has been demonstrated is the junta’s loyalty to the king, publicly accepting demands made by the king and lauding him to the public. As far as we can discern, the king has gone along with the junta’s plans, even (effectively) campaigning for the junta’s party in the recent election.

That support from the king will be even more important in what might be a shaky politics after a new government is in place.

The-Dictator-hoping-to-be-reaffirmed-premier Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha demonstrated how the monarchy can be used politically to benefit the post-junta military-backed regime when he used the king’s name to reject criticism of the puppet Senate he selected and the king approved (we do not know if any were the king’s selection.)

Rejecting all (valid) criticism, Gen Prayuth thundered at journalists: “Remember this…. Anything that has been endorsed and considered by His Majesty has always already gone under scrutiny. That’s the most important thing.”

In other words, only the king can scrutinize the work of the junta and if he approves no mortal can criticize this.

While we do not expect that this threat will silence criticism of the completely compromised Senate, the use of the king’s name is suggestive of some very dark times ahead under a military-backed regime and a military-trained and aligned king who is building his own control of the Army.

That the king is used to silence critics of a Senate that is packed out with junta relatives, junta ministers, military officers and other junta flunkies suggests The Dictator and king are locked in goose-step.





Crony senate

14 05 2019

As simply everyone expected, a Senate has been unveiled by the military junta that is packed full of junta supporters, backers and lackeys:

Khaosod reports: “Military top brass and the junta’s inner circle dominate the full list of 250 appointed senators unveiled to the public on Monday, ending months of secrecy.”

The Nation states: “Many of the newly appointed senators are from the ruling junta and people close to its key figures.”

The Bangkok Post: “The Royal Gazette on Tuesday published an announcement on the royally-approved list of 250 senators, including 66 army generals…. The Senate list includes the names of 105 people with ranks in the military or police….

None of this is a surprise. Perhaps some hoped that the members of the junta might demonstrate at least a pinch of political decorum, but that is misplaced as the military junta has repeatedly demonstrated that is has no shame at all.

Some other quotes from the reporting linked above are worth preserving here, demonstrating that the junta is a chip off the 1991 coup group and operates as a representative of yellow-shirt interests. (Those who imagined that the red-yellow divide was gone should look more carefully at the manner of the junta’s operations.):

The list – mostly handpicked by junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha – includes generals, loyal government technocrats, 15 ex-ministers who served under Prayuth until their resignation last week, and even a younger brother of the junta leader.

Hardline critics of ex-leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who remains a popular figure among opposition voters, also made it to the final cut. They include poet and activist Nawarat Pongpaiboon, former anti-corruption chief Klanarong Chanthik, and royalist law scholar Kamnoon Sitthisamarn….

The announcement dated on Saturday included Gen Preecha Chan-o-cha, younger brother of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Adm Sitthawat Wongsuwon, younger brother of Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, Klanarong Chantik, former secretary-general of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), former deputy prime minister Chatchai Sarikulya, former national reform member Khamnoon Sitthisaman, former foreign trade director-general Duangporn Rodphaya, and former national security council secretary-general Thawil Pliensri.

Among other senators were Pornpetch Wichitcholchai, former president of the National Legislative Assembly, former NACC chairman Panthep Klanarongran, forensic expert Khunying Porntip Rojanasunan, former deputy agriculture minister Luck Wajananawat, and former tourism and sports minister Weerasak Kowsurat.

More than a third of  the newly appointed senators have military or police backgrounds….

But one surprise is this for the conflict of interest and nepotism it involves:

Some of the new Senate’s members sat in the committee tasked with nominating senatorial candidates to be selected by the National Council for Peace and Order.

More than 100 of them are retired or active high-ranking officers from the armed forces and the police, including 70 from the Army, 12 from the Navy, eight from the Air Force and 12 from the Royal Thai Police.

Many new senators are family members of people in power.

These include General Preecha Chan-o-cha, who is the younger brother of Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha; Air Vice Marshal Chalermchai Krea-ngam, who is the younger brother of Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam; Admiral Sitsawat Wongsuwan, who is the younger brother of Deputy Premier and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan; and Som Jatusripitak, who is the elder brother of Deputy PM Somkid Jatusripitak.

Nothing more or less can be expected from the military junta. Be prepared for this kind of cronyism to breed deeper corruption. After all, that’s the pattern of past military-dominated regimes.





On stealing the election XIV

10 05 2019

It is not just PPT saying that the junta has stolen the 2019 election, aided and abetted by the Election Commission and other no-longer-independent agencies. Here the Bangkok Post and The Economist:

The Bangkok Post has an editorial that calls the EC’s party-list allocation a “hijacking”:

Whether it is driven by a political agenda or incompetence, the Election Commission’s (EC) decision on Wednesday to award one party-list MP seat to 11 pro-junta, small parties, whose popular vote total should not have made them eligible for one, seems like a hijacking of the seats which should have gone to other parties.

The EC, whose commissioners are appointed by the military regime’s lawmakers, based its decision on a bizarre and widely criticised calculation formula.

The move, however, has political implications as it could change the face of the new government from an anti-junta alliance to the pro-regime camp. This decision is legally, politically and ethically wrong.

Thailand adopted the new mixed member proportional representation system for the March 24 general election.

Under this system, 350 MPs are elected from so-called “first past the post” voting. They only need to obtain more votes in their constituency than anyone else to win.

Then, another batch of 150 party-list seats is distributed to parties based on the proportion of their popular vote total.

The constitution’s Section 91 and the election law for MPs’ Section 128 clearly outline the way to set a minimum threshold of popular votes that a party should have for a listed candidate to earn a party-list seat.

Based on the popular vote results of the last polls, the threshold should be set at roughly 71,000 votes.

Under this rule, the parties from the anti-junta alliance should have won a small majority in the Lower House if they were granted all the party-list seats they were entitled to. They should be able to claim the right to form a coalition government.

But the EC has discarded such a possibility. It has opted for a different formula by simply granting one party-list seat to each of the 11 small parties even though their nationwide popular vote failed to reach the threshold of 71,000 votes.

Some of them gained even less than half of the threshold. Early reports suggest the parties are likely to align themselves with the pro-regime bloc.

The EC has failed to incorporate proportionality and fairness in the party-list seat distribution.

It has instead taken a risky step which could constitute malfeasance on its part. Many affected parties have lambasted its decision and have vowed to take legal action against it.

The EC’s announcement took place on the same day that the Constitutional Court delivered a verdict which ruled that Section 128 of the election law does not contradict Section 91 of the constitution.

Some interpreted the ruling as giving the EC the green light for its controversial calculation formula. This interpretation is wrong. The ruling does not specify anything about the calculation.

The laws stipulate the threshold for a good reason. That is to prevent party fragmentation and small splinter parties from gaining representation they don’t deserve. It is a universal principle adopted by other countries whose election systems are similar to Thailand’s.

For example, Germany’s election law stipulates that a party either needs to reach a 5% electoral threshold in party-list voting or they must have three constituency members elected if it is to enter parliament.

The EC’s decision may help the pro-junta political camp gain more seats and win the right to form a government, potentially led by its prime ministerial candidate, incumbent Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha. But it has distorted the principle of the law.

And The Economist:

THAIS DO NOT see that much of their king, who spends most of his time in Germany. But for three days starting on May 4th he was on near-constant display for a long and lavish series of ceremonies surrounding his coronation….

The first substantial moments of the new reign came just days later, when the Election Commission released the final results of an election that took place in March. Palang Pracharat, a party created to support the military junta that came to power in a coup in 2014, battled Pheu Thai, which is loyal to Thaskin Shinawatra, a former prime minister who has feuded with the generals since an earlier coup, in 2006. The junta rigged the system in its favour, banning all political activity until a few months before the election, disbanding a second party linked to Mr Thaksin and awarding itself the power to appoint all 250 members of the upper house. Nonetheless, shortly after the vote, a coalition of seven opposition parties, including Pheu Thai and Future Forward, which is popular with young voters, announced they had won a slim majority in the 500-seat lower house.

That is not what the results unveiled this week show. The … biggest blow to the opposition came in the form of tweaks to the formula whereby the commission allocates the 150 seats awarded on a proportional basis. The result was to reduce the tally of the big parties and hand seats to a plethora of tiny ones. This change appeared to breach the commission’s own rules and the election law, but a court found the new maths constitutionally permissible just hours before the party-list results appeared. Entirely coincidentally, the changes reduced the opposition alliance to a minority of 245 seats.

Chaos awaits, as 27 different parties now hold seats in the lower house. A weak, pro-military coalition looks the most likely outcome. The junta will soon present a list of senators to the king for approval. The two houses will then vote in a joint sitting to select a prime minister. The incumbent, Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the coup in 2014, had seemed determined to stay on. Bangkok is rife with rumours, however, that the king might promote the selection of a less divisive figure, perhaps from the Privy Council, which is packed with soldiers and technocrats. Either way, the notion that the government ushered into power by the election will have any democratic legitimacy—always a doubtful proposition—now looks entirely forlorn.

As if to underline the point, the authorities have set about persecuting Future Forward and its leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, with a gusto typically reserved for supporters of Mr Thaksin.

The Economist then tees off against the king:

The king has alienated his subjects not only by his absence, but also by his personal cruelty and insistence on sycophantic protocol. It was not just the elephants and courtiers who were forced to prostrate themselves: days before the coronation the palace released images of the king getting married for the fourth time, in which his new wife, a former stewardess, grovelled before the unsmiling groom. He has disowned children and locked up relatives of one of her predecessors. Only a small share of Thais bothered to wear yellow, the royal colour, as requested during the coronation ceremonies. Thousands of civil servants had to be bussed in to swell the attendant crowds, which were much sparser than at the cremation of his father, who was far more popular.

Yet King Vajiralongkorn apparently feels secure enough to meddle in political matters. Before the election he intervened, quite hypocritically, to prevent his older sister from getting involved in politics. The courts and the Election Commission followed his instructions slavishly, even though they lacked any clear legal underpinning. Just before polling day he told Thais to vote for “good people”; just after it he stripped Mr Thaksin of several military awards. The risk of royal displeasure seems to have deterred neutral parties from joining the opposition coalition in the lower house. That is no coincidence: a weak coalition would be in no position to stand up to the king. That an election that was supposed to restore Thailand to democracy will instead bolster its preening monarch is a crowning irony.





On the EC’s failures

18 04 2019

The Election Commission is a festering sore on the junta’s “election.” It has failed to convince no one that it is independent. Worse, it has not shown any capacity for administering a competent election process, even an election rigged by the junta.

There have been several actions taken to protest the EC’s failures. One of the most eye-catching has been that by “student activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, who arranged dozens of pairs of shoes outside the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, spelling out the Thai initials of the Election Commission.” The association of the EC with feet is damning of the agency.

Meanwhile, at New Mandala, legal scholar Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang of the Faculty of Law at Chulalongkorn University concludes that “Thailand’s 2019 general election is a spectacular disaster.” He adds that “the integrity of this election is irreparably damaged,” and heaps blame on the EC. In doing this, Khemthong looks at the EC’s history of anti-democratic behavior.

On the current EC, he observes:

The fifth and current Election Commission (2018–present) was installed by the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA). Its appointment history underpinned suspicions prior to the 2019 election that the body would collude with the NCPO. Those suspicions were confirmed when the Commission refused to investigate a campaign finance scandal involving the NCPO’s proxy, the Phalang Pracharath Party, but swiftly dissolved Thai Raksa Chart, one of Thaksin [Shinawatra]’s proxies.

Khemthong states that “there is broad consensus that the Election Commission is unfit to fulfil its assignment.” But for all of its failures, this EC remains largely unaccountable – except to its puppet masters in the junta.