Elections, populism and campaigning

12 07 2018

Current Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak was an important member of Thaksin Shinawatra’s economic team, responsible for the policies labelled “populist” by opponents and “policy corruption” by the People’s Alliance for Democracy. Others considered the policies as examples of vote-buying by using state funds.

As the military junta embedded its rule following the 2014 military coup it looked to extend its time in power, Somkid was brought in as an “economic czar” to engage in policy plagiarism and improve the junta’s economic performance with doses of Thaksin’s policies.

From the Bangkok Post: Somkid and his master

Somkid adapted himself well to the military dictatorship and has now become one of the critical ministers in the junta’s efforts to “win” its rigged election. Somkid may tell himself that he’s just a technocrat but he’s become a willing tool of military dictatorship. This pattern of technocrats supporting authoritarian regimes is not unusual. In Thailand, it was a defining feature of Gen Sarit Thanarat’s regime, put in place in 1958 and extending to 1973 and the long Gen Prem Tinsulanonda regime.

Somkid has now become a junta politician, dealing with two other Thaksin traitors, organizing a political party that intends to have The Dictator continue in power for years to come.

In preparing for the “election,” Somkid’s attention is not just on organizing the Palang Pracharath Party but to ensuring that huge transport infrastructure projects (valued at almost 1 trillion baht) are in place for the Sino-Thai conglomerates to continue using state budgets for enrichment and pouring funds into the poorer parts of the population who make up the majority of voters. (As the poor spend most of the money they receive, this consumption spurs businesses, as Thaksin proved.)

As Somkid showed when he worked for Thaksin, such policies are powerful vote winners.





When the military is on top XXII

2 07 2018

When the military is on top it sets the rules for politics and seeks to ensure it wins its “election” whenever it decides to hold them.

Of course, that decision on elections means having all of its political repression and political pieces in place. Those processes have taken more than four years (and counting). The main tasks of the military dictatorship have been to concoct a legal and constitutional structure that disadvantages notions of popular sovereignty and keeps the military on top. A related and critical task has been to crush and atomize the red shirts and its leaders and to undermine the Puea Thai Party and most of its leadership.

A recent report in the Bangkok Post, while highly influenced by the junta’s perspective, suggests that the dictatorship feels it is finally successful, or nearly so.

The Pheu Thai Party has been thrown into disarray as it wrestles with a political group seeking to poach the party’s members to join a pro-regime party and support the return of Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to power.

A gathering of dozens of political bigwigs last Wednesday at the Pinehurst Golf & Country Club hosted by the so-called Sam Mitr group, or Three Allies, has confirmed the speculation. This grouping is run by former transport minister Suriya Jungrungreangkij, former industry minister Somsak Thepsuthin and and the other one believed to be Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak.

The Pinehurst event, which was brought forward from June 30, was attended by about 50 former MPs many of whom were formally with the Thai Rak Thai Party and the People’s Power Party. Those parties were dissolved by the Constitutional Court for electoral fraud. Others were from the Pheu Thai and Bhumjaithai parties.

However, political insiders claim the group led by Mr Suriya has a major announcement to make later this week. The announcement is believed to involve the inclusion of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), aka the red shirts, a staunch opponent of the regime, into the bloc.

Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan has been coordinating these campaigns. That’s why little things like a luxury watch scandal is ignored by the puppet National Anti-Corruption Commission.

The dictatorship’s Palang Pracharath Party, ignored by the puppet Electoral Commission, has been hoovering up former Thaksin Shinawatra associated politicians and its associated groups have been holding “campaign rallies” with The Dictator in attendance and him splashing about state funds as MP buying and “policy corruption” takes hold of the junta and its party.

The latest political meeting – also ignored by the puppet EC – brought dozens of former MPs together at the Pinehurst Golf Club.

More interesting is that the defector’s group leaders Suriya Juangroongruangkit, Somsak Thepsuthin, Chalong Krudkhunthod, Anucha Nakasai and Pirom Polwiset have worked with military commanders locally in co-opting former red shirts.

According to Post source, “mid-level leaders of the UDD in several provinces [have been asked] to join the pro-regime party.” Revealing is the view that the “switching of allegiances is not a surprise because local red-shirt leaders have been ‘inactive’ since the 2014 coup and those who remain critical of the regime are hard-core UDD leaders such as Natthawut Saikuar and Worachai Hema.” Of course, Jatuporn Promphan remains jailed as the junta fears his appeal to red shirts and voters.

In this view, “the UDD is collapsing and those in power have been working to dismantle the Pheu Thai Party’s power base.” See above.

One aim is to siphon off some 80% of Puea Thai’s former MPs. The source at the Post states: “It’s every man for himself. The UDD is no longer here. The group failed to launch a political party so they came around to hook up with the Phalang Pracharat Party.” Why? Money and power and the promise of more: “One of the former Pheu Thai politicians who joined the Sam Mitr [Suriya, Somsak, et al.] group said he decided to defect because the group has a clear strategy and resources at its disposal.”

As we have long pointed out: “The regime and its allies are expected to go all-out to reduce competition including recruiting veteran politicians and using state mechanisms in their favour…”. The source added:

A lot of work has been going behind the scenes and several politicians have defected to the party. But Mr Suriya and Mr Somsak are the ones who show to the public that the UDD is disintegrating.

That the military leaders considered the red shirts an existential threat is clear. That’s one of the reasons why there was a coup in 2014.





“Elections” matter for the junta and its supporters

30 06 2018

Readers will be interested in a new op-ed by Pavin Chachavalpongpun. As the article is long and also likely to be able to be read in Thailand, we just highlight a couple of points.

Drawing on an observation by Italian Communist and Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci, Pavin observes that “[t]hese are the days when an old system refuses to die and a new system isn’t ready to be born.”

Reflecting on the current grim political situation, Pavin looks back to the rise of the People Alliance for Democracy (PAD) some 13 years ago. He argues that the “crux” of the political problem of the time was “apprehension among the royal political network concerning the rise of Thaksin [Shinawatra], who threatened to replace the old political order with his own.”

As the Shinawatras and their parties continued to triumph in elections after the 2006 coup, Pavin observes that this “coincided with the flagging power of the Thai monarchy.”

This characterization is a little off. The monarchy’s power wasn’t flagging but was being challenged by the rise of anti-monarchy sentiment associated with a political movement. That’s why the “royal political network sought to eliminate its enemies once more in a coup.”

Whether this had much to do with “manag[ing] the royal succession” remains debatable. But it is clear that crushing anti-monarchy sentiment and agitation was critical for both the military and palace as it was red shirts who constituted the existential challenge to monarchy and military. Pavin provides a neat potted history of the construction and maintenance of the military-monarchy nexus and its struggles with the rise of electoral politics.

Today, while it may appear that “the royal political network had won this political tussle,”Pavin isn’t so sure. He links this to the new reign and potential instability, where the “prospect of Thailand being ruled by a new unpopular king was daunting. While Bhumibol was able to safeguard the political benefits of the elitist class, his son, now King Vajiralongkorn, seemed unlikely to be able to guarantee the same” for that class.

We think that explaining the long political crisis by focusing on the succession has now been shown to have been overdone. In fact, there was no succession crisis. Rather, there was a crisis that emerged from the challenge to the military-monarchy nexus that came from the grassroots. It was that crisis that in part prompted the 2014 military coup.

Pavin is right that the new political system is not yet in place. That is why the junta wants 20-year “plans” and to control the election after putting new political rules in place. If the current junta succeeds and puts Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha in place following the election heading a coalition of unimportant military boot-licking pseudo-parties, then it will have given birth to the “new” system.

All the stuff about the “new monarch is lacking in moral authority” and so on is quickly being replaced by a “new” conservative royalism that is backward looking, nationalist and military sponsored, not unlike the monarchism invented under Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat.

Pavin concludes by asking”: “So, where does Thailand go from here? Will the upcoming elections mean anything for the country?” Remarkably, he can only say: “Elections, if they are to happen, may not deliver a genuine democratic regime.”

May not? Seriously, this is a desperate grasping at straws. They not only cannot deliver a “genuine democratic regime” but are meant to deliver – and designed to deliver – military political dominance for years to come save the prospect of “political violence” that Pavin briefly considers.

Finally, Pavin returns to “palace politics” which he says is “complicated and unpredictable.” It has always been so because the palace remains the most opaque and secretive of institutions. Pavin is certainly right to observe: “Since the Thai monarchy cannot be separated from politics, developments within the walls of the palace matter greatly to Thais.” That is probably how the junta and palace prefers it. The alternative of the people mattering has been pretty much erased by the junta’s selective and targeted political repression.





All about The Dictator

29 06 2018

Last week the Deputy Dictator met with some political parties about the junta’s “election.”We understand that it is the first official meeting between the military junta and political parties since the day that it illegally seized power, ironically at the very same place it met the political parties back in 2014.

At the end of that meeting, a smiling Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, who seems to enjoy legal impunity for all of his deeds, declared that the next meeting would be chaired by The Dictator himself. Apparently Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha will find time for a sham meeting on the path to a rigged election.

Now, however, the Bangkok Post reports that the “next meeting between party politicians and the regime to discuss poll preparations will probably take place in September…”. “Preparations” seems to mean getting arrangements in place for the junta to have its party or parties to “win” the rigged election.

Gen Prayuth has said that not having another meeting for 2-3 months because the junta needs “time to study issues raised by the parties at the first meeting.” In fact, the junta needs more time and more work to ensure its preferred election outcome.

It seems Gen Prayuth also felt the need to again lie to the Thai people when he “gave his assurance the next election will be free, fair and proceed smoothly…”. A free and fair election is impossible under the rules concocted by the military dictatorship.

At the same time, Gen Prayuth warned of future delays to the highly elastic election “roadmap.” He said the junta is “monitoring the security situation and making the political climate conducive for organising the election,” adding: “We’re moving the country forward together. The situation must be stable…”.

He wasn’t explicit but he is saying that any “instability” would mean further delay. As we know, the military is the most likely source in creating political instability, usually using ISOC.

The military dictatorship appears ever more confident that it can get its preferred electoral outcome. So confident, in fact. that the Deputy Dictator has detailed that result.

Gen Prawit declared: “I have confidence Gen Prayut will be able to carry on [after the election]. I always support him…”. Even if Prayuth himself won’t confirm this, it has been the junta’s main objective in having The Dictator hit the campaign trail and in pumping funds into various constituencies.

Prawit let this cat out of the leaky bag as he “welcomed” defectors from the Puea Thai Party, from the so-called Three Allies. It remains unclear what promises were made to the defectors, but we can guess that it has cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of baht.

The defector’s group has “pledge[d] to join the Phalang Pracharat Party…”. That’s the junta’s party. Gen Prawit “said it was a good sign that the group was joining Phalang Pracharat and backing Gen Prayut.”

That’s a second euphoric statement of Prayuth’s future as outside PM following the rigged election.

Those named as defectors are “former transport minister, Suriya Jungrungreangkij, former industry minister, Somsak Thepsuthin, as well as former deputy education minister, Chalong Krudkhunthod, ex-MP for Chai Nat, Anucha Nakasai, and former Nakhon Ratchasima MP, Pirom Polwiset.” Others include “Suporn Atthawong, a former key figure of the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, and former Pheu Thai member Somchai Phetprasert.”

That Suporn is included among junta supporters is a clear indication of how the military dictatorship is prepared to go in bribing and gobbling up political partners. Back in 2011, then Army chief Gen Prayuth accused Suporn of lese majeste and laid a complaint with police.  Suporn had filed counter-charges against Prayuth. Now they are political allies. Opportunism and rigging the election? You bet. Opportunism and double standards are the rule.

It is revealing that the traitor’s group can hold a “group gathering at the Pinehurst Golf & Country Club on Wednesday,” reportedly “attended by about 50 former MPs.” It is also reported that the group included former members of the Thai Rak Thai and People’s Power parties, some from the Puea Thai Party and the doubly traitorous Bhum Jai Thai parties.

At hat political meeting, “Suriya told group members that he was throwing his support behind Gen Prayut to return as prime minister.” He also revealed that he had “contacted key government figures including Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong and Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana to say he was willing to help Gen Prayut, although he disliked the military coup.” The latter is errant nonsense. No one with an ounce of self-worth would proclaim himself a coup opponent and then join the coup makers.

Under the rules the Election Commission is applying to Puea Thai and Thaksin Shinawatra, Suriya named all of these ministers as “outsiders” influencing the Palang Pracharath. That Palang Pracharath is also the tool of Prayuth, Prawit and Somkid is also widely known. We don’t expect the puppet EC to enforce any law other than selectively and in the interests of Prayuth, Prawit and Somkid.

It is a rigged election with the election “umpire” being the junta’s puppet.





Monarchism in the new reign

29 06 2018

One of the things that critics and the international media says (repeatedly) about King Vajiralongkorn is that he does not command the same “respect” or “reverence” as his father did.

This is a shorthand for all of the eccentricities and worse associated with the king and rumored to be associated with him, ranging from odd dress to his violence and from his philandering to his use of his own prison, and so on.

It also seems to imply that, even with the palace’s formidable propaganda machine, the king will not follow in his father’s footsteps and be made out to be a popular and respected figure.

It seems to us that such beliefs and hopes are nonsense. Already, the same kinds of buffalo manure that were spread out for the dead king are also being used for the new one.

Remember all that stuff about the hysteria over the dead king’s dog Thong Daeng? Shirts and books selling out immediately, with the king’s puerile scribblings being proclaimed great works?

So it will be with the new king because maintaining monarchism is critical for the constitution of the ruling class.

So it is that Khaosod reports that shirts featuring stick figures claimed to be doodled by the king have sold out in minutes. It says many were disappointed they couldn’t get one of the shirts.

It reports that:

[h]undreds of people queued at dawn this morning in lines stretching out of the Government House to buy yellow and white polos in preparation for the [k]ing’s birthday next month. Half an hour after the shop opened at 9am, all shirts were sold out, even after they were capped at five shirts per customer.

Some royalist mouthpiece at the Prime Minister’s Office described the king’s doodling as a “cute pattern that anyone would want to keep for its auspiciousness and value, since there’s no other shirt like it in the world.”

Purchaser are reported as cooing about how wonderful the shirts are. Even Panthongtae Shinawatra, son of ousted former prime minister Thaksin, was chauffeured down to buy a shirt. Sucking up to royals is standard practice.

Meanwhile, it is said that “the palace would increase production to 3,000 shirts from 500 a day.”

Nothing seems to have changed as far as palace propaganda and the promotion of monarchism is concerned.

 





The beginning of the end of Puea Thai?

26 06 2018

The military dictatorship has worked determinedly to destroy the political base of the Shinawatra clan and the Puea Thai Party. Crushing support for them has been an important element of the dictatorship’s “election” plans.

The regime has been having some success. While the electorate in key areas seems to still favor Puea Thai over other parties, the junta has seemingly been more successful in undermining the party by luring politicians to support junta-associated parties.

Yet this may not be enough to guarantee an “election victory” for the junta and its supporters. The “nuclear option” has always been to dissolve Puea Thai. It seems that the junta may have pushed that button.

It was only late last week that former People’s Alliance for Democracy leader Suriyasai Katasila demanded an “investigation” into Thaksin Shinawatra’s recent conference call with some Puea Thai members.

Suriyasai demanded that “the Election Commission (EC) to set a precedent for political parties to follow by ruling on whether former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has violated the Political Party Act – something that could lead to the dissolution of the Pheu Thai Party.”

He alleged that Thaksin’s call and Yingluck’s recent birthday party in London both constituted violations of the 2017 Political Party Act.

With lightening speed, the EC launched a probe. Its secretary-general Jarungvith Phumma seemed to have the investigation finished as soon as it had begun. He was quoted in the linked story as saying he “expects it will take two weeks to establish whether a video call made by ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra to Pheu Thai Party members likely broke the law on political parties…”.

The outcome of the quick “investigation” – being reported to the EC today – is probably going to be a “larger probe,” which is the second step in dissolving the party.

That the “investigation” is politically biased is not in doubt. The EC has not even discussed the “case” with the Puea Thai Party.

Jarungvith said “the EC was reviewing what Thaksin discussed with the Pheu Thai members and was also keeping a close eye on whether the former premier’s words were being adopted as part of the party’s guidelines or policy.” He added that the EC “would check to see if the party was toeing Thaksin’s line.”

Official red shirt leader and former Puea Thai MP Nattawut Saikua made the obvious point that the EC should also monitor “other” parties as “a rival party urge … [Puea Thai] former MPs to defect.” He observed that the Palang Pracharath Party was under the influence of “outsiders.”

He’s right. Palang Pracharath is controlled by the junta. But he’s wrong to expect even-handedness  from any agency associated with the junta and its “election.” It is all rigged.

Whether the EC “investigation” leads to the dissolution of Puea Thai or not, in the junta’s warped view of the political world, this is a win-win case. If the party is dissolved, its parties do better in the “election.” If the case is dropped, Thaksin and Puea Thai will have been warned and are likely to have to campaign exceptionally carefully and quietly, while the junta’s parties will be unconstrained. It is all rigged.





TIME’s dictator of the year II

26 06 2018

Khaosod reports that the TIME edition featuring The Dictator will not be distributed or sold in Thailand.

As we stated earlier, we felt it was a story that Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha will like because it promotes him as a strong leader, now and into the future.

Indeed, “a top government spokesman held up Prayuth’s Time interview as a sign the world was warming to the retired general as he embarked on a tour of European capitals.”

However, there seems to be elements of the story that seem to be a problem. Some in the regime seem to say that the description of The Dictator as a “little Sarit” somehow inappropriate. But that seems an unlikely reason for a ban on the magazine.

That the article says Prayuth was seen talking to a frog has not come up as something causing a ban.

Based on the fear expressed by the magazine’s local distributors, it seems that very brief comments on coronation and the monarchy may be the issue.

One is reported as stating:

We were informed by the distributor from abroad … that it may contain inappropriate content. Some text may need to be censored, meaning we’d have to cover some parts, so we decided it’s better not to sell it.

Exactly which content was considered inappropriate was not disclosed.

Another distributor dded no more information, stating, “Please excuse us for not clarifying.”

Khaosod states that the article “contains one sentence describing King Rama X in general terms. It cannot be reproduced here [in Khaosod] for fear of violating the draconian lese majeste law…”.

In the article, there are references to the monarchy:

The royal family is treated with almost divine reverence in Thailand [PPT: not by all]. Prayuth strengthened ties with the royal household and earned himself the nickname Little Sarit, after Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, who seized power through a putsch in 1957 and helped raise the monarchy to its paramount role in Thai society. Today every [PPT: not all] Thai household displays a portrait of the monarch as the highest picture in the room. And the country boasts some of the world’s strictest royal defamation laws, which are increasingly being used to crush dissent.

Many believe Prayuth’s coup was meant to ensure that Thailand’s elites remained in control during a sensitive time of royal succession. Thailand’s new King, Maha Vajiralongkorn, leads an unconventional lifestyle and does not command the same respect that his father did.

The latter statement has become a media mantra, so hardly seems controversial. Another paragraph includes this:

For more than a decade, Thailand has been wracked with color-coded street protests between the typically rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother Thaksin–who served as Prime Minister from 2001 to 2006–and their mainly urban opponents, backed by the powerful royal palace, military and judiciary. The pro-Yingluck faction wear red. Their opponents wear yellow.

Perhaps the claim of palace support to the yellow shirts is the issue? Whatever the particular statement on the monarchy that has created fear and a ban, it is clear that any commentary on the monarchy that is not laudatory is now more or less banned.