Seeing red

21 03 2017

As the junta approaches the anniversary of its third year of military dictatorship, it is going through another phase of red shirt repression. The regime is again seeing reds under its beds and it doesn’t like it.

There are frantic junta imaginations of fantastical red shirt assassination plots, reds infiltrating Wat Dhammakaya, separatist rebellion and more.

This reaction appears to derive from two closely related perceptions: first, a view that any opposition is an immediate threat to the junta’s stability; and second, a desire for regime longevity, where “regime” is the broader elite military-monarchy-business alliance.

At least an element of this perception derives from yellow-shirted and anti-democratic grumbling about the junta having lost its zeal for “reform” – defined as rooting out the Thaksin Shinawatra regime. That grumbling has also been associated with some southern protests over ports and cola-fired power stations. It seems the junta felt its right wing was weakening in its support.

The result has been an intensification of both anti-Thaksinism and anti-red shirt repression.

The targeting of Thaksin has involved an effort to levy Thaksin for past taxes due (although we had somehow thought that the assets stripping case was part of the “tax’) and going after loyalists in a series of legal cases.

The anti-red shirt effort has been frenzied of late, with the Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee weapons and assassination stories and the earlier (and probably related in the minds of the junta) plots said to be originating in Laos.

At the same time, the courts have been at work, dealing with red shirt cases. The most recent of those sees the Appeals Court upholding a “lower court’s sentence of a four-year jail term each, without suspension, for singer Arisman Pongruangrong and 12 other red-shirts for leading protesters who forced their way into the Royal Cliff Beach Resort Hotel in Pattaya, where the 2009 Asean Summit was being held.”

(What has happened with the yellow shirt occupation of airports in 2008?)

They were prosecuted “for defying an order prohibiting a rally of more than 10 people and causing unrest.”

(What has happened to all the yellow shirts who broke similar laws?)

In early 2015, they were sentenced to four years each in jail, without suspension, and a fine of 200 baht. Those sentenced were:

Arisman Pongruangrong, Nisit Sinthuprai, Payap Panket, Worachai Hema, Wanchana Kerddee, Pichet Sukjindathong, Sakda Noppasit, Pol Lt Col Waipot Aparat, Nopporn Namchiangtai, Samrerng Prachamrua, Somyot Promma, Wallop Yangtrong and Singthong Buachum.

The Appeals Court upheld the lower court’s ruling, which sentences the 13 to four years each in jail without suspension. Bail may follow, but the threat is clear.

This is a pattern seen previously, although the junta does appear more frantic in its efforts at present.





King, junta and politics

21 03 2017

We are not sure if we have ever quoted from StrategyPage previously, but a recent article on their webpage caught some attention.

Their story, titled “Thailand: Actions Have Long Term Consequences,” is the one we mention here. We have no way of judging the veracity of some of its claims when it comes to palace and king, but felt some of them worth quoting.

As is the custom in Thailand, compromise is in the works between the new king, the military government and the democratic majority. Once the new king took the throne at the end of 2016 he apparently made a deal with the military government that would, in theory, benefit both of them in the long run. First, the king wants to be freed from constitutional and parliamentary restrictions that were part of the 1930s deal that turned the absolute monarchy into a constitutional one. The military government is in the process of changing the constitution and that presents a rare opportunity to give the king more power. The generals need the backing of the king because they justified their 2014 coup by insisting they were doing it to protect the monarchy. Last year the military got their new constitution approved in a referendum and the king must approve it by May and apparently will do so as long as his requests are agreed to.

Where’s the “democratic majority in that you might ask. This is the StrategyPage answer:

Meanwhile the king is apparently also trying to negotiate a peace deal with the pro-democracy groups which have demonstrated that they still have the majority of voters with them. In late 2015 pro-democracy leader (and former prime minister) Thaksin Shinawatra called on his followers (the “red shirts”) to “play dead” for the moment and wait for the military government to allow elections. The military has agreed to elections in 2018 but only if some fundamental changes were made in the constitution. The king’s representatives have apparently been seeking a compromise deal that would allow Thaksin Shinawatra and other exiled democracy leaders to come home and abide by the new rules.

If there is any truth in this – it may just be an old story rehashed – then recent events have interesting potential meanings: think Jumpol Manmai as one once said to be close to Thaksin; think of Suthep Thaugsuban’s testy reappearance and emphasis on “democracy under the king”; and then think of the military’s manic obsession with red shirt and firebrand Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee. There’s more:

Since 2014 the troops have been ordered to arrest anyone who appeared to be leading resistance to the coup, but the anti-coup sentiments were so widespread that trying to decapitate the opposition by taking most leaders out of action did not work. The opposition had plenty of competent replacements for lost leaders and those leaders did not call for a civil war.

We do not get that sense of the red shirt opposition and certainly not from the Puea Thai Party. We actually think the military goons have succeeded in cowing much of the opposition, often through nasty but carefully planned example, i.e. capturing leaders and making their life a public misery so as to frighten others.

StrategyPage continues:

The king and the generals recognize that most Thais are fed up with the coups…. The royals have learned to keep their heads down, even though the military has always been staunchly royalist. The army and the king now seek to change this deadlock with “reforms” in the existing constitution.

We don’t think this is all true. The royals’ heads are always visible, scheming, wheedling, getting wealthy and allowing their status to be used against “threats.” Do they recognize that Thais are fed up with coups? Probably, but they can still pull them off whenever they feel the need to.

While the red shirts have lots of popular support, most Thais are more interested in economic issues and the army has not been able to deal with that because of widespread opposition to military rule in Thailand and abroad. The economic problems cannot be ignored…. So the army is paying attention to economic problems and is not doing so well at it.

That’s an understatement! The economy is looking awful and the junta is at a loss as to what to do. Its infrastructure projects are a mess of verbiage and little action. But StrategyPage has an upside (if you buy the “deal” notion):

The new 2017 compromise will restore elections with the king and armed forces believing they now have more power when the country is run by an elected government. The democrats note that long-term the kings and dictators lose. Most royalists recognize that if the king becomes too unpopular the monarchy could be abolished…. Actions have consequences.

Read in total, the article is highly contradictory, but the notion of the “deal” pops up often enough for this page to get a run.





Further updated: Another miracle of the law?

19 03 2017

Readers will certainly know that the supposed taxes now deemed by the military regime as due from Thaksin Shinawatra are to be collected by a secret measure officially described as a “miracle of law.”

Another miracle of law seems to have been seen. Immediately after the 2014 military coup, red shirt Wuthipong Kachathamakul also called Ko Tee took off, fleeing charges that included lese majeste. That latter charge originated from the period of the Yingluck Shinawatra government and under huge pressure from the military and royalists.

Prominent among those calling for Ko Tee’s arrest was General Prayuth Chan-ocha. He had been verbally sparring with Ko Tee for some time.

In the new “miracle,” the Bangkok Post reports that a military and police search of Ko Tee’s house resulted in a “large number of explosives, weapons, rounds of ammunition and other items were seized…”.

The media and the yellow-shirt anti-democrat social media lit up, expressing gratitude that the miracle provided further “evidence” of red shirt violence and skulduggery.

The Post “revealed” that “Wuthipong was not there when a combined team of police and soldiers searched the two-storey house, which also serves as the office of Thai Max Group Co, run by the red-shirt leading member in this central province…”. Well, yes, but….

Later the Post “reveals” that for “three years, Ko Tee, a hardcore red-shirt co-leader of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), has not been living in the Pathum Thani house where he reportedly ran a community radio station.”  Well, yes, but….

Finally: “He has been on the run since the May 22, 2014 coup and was wanted on a number of charges, including lese majeste.” Well, yes, that’s quite a long-winded way of getting to the point.

The police and military “detained a man who was a caretaker of the house for questioning.”

As can be seen in this photo, clipped from the Bangkok Post, it can be seen that the authorities, in displaying the weapons and explosives they claim to have discovered have a link to red shirts.

Why a miracle now? Why three years after Ko Tee fled?

Is it that the authorities got new “intelligence”? Nothing stated so far.

Is it, as has been the case in the past, the junta feels a little pressure, and feels the need to “remind” people of the reason for the coup?Almost certainly.

Is it because the junta has faced an excoriation for its human rights failure?Perhaps.

Is it because the anti-democrats have been complaining about the junta’s failures? Perhaps.

Men in black are back? Perhaps.

Do they want to show that red shirts are still threatening to the elite and anti-democrats? Almost certainly.

It really is a miracle.

Update 1: We can now more or less express disbelief on this story. Thai Rath reports that the military is saying that the cache of “newly discovered” weapons were meant to be used against The Dictator. Forgive our incredulity, but if one was an assassin, such a cache of arms would hardly be required unless a rebellion was planned. If a rebellion was planned, the “rebels” must be as dumb as they come, hiding weapons in a red shirt’s house, which they might assume is under surveillance. If it wasn’t under surveillance then the cops and military are as dumb as they come. But, who would be planning rebellion? We could hope, but there’s been no obvious reason for hope.

Update 2: The junta has been forced to deny that this “discovery” of weapons was a set up. Junta flunkie Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd stated that “the operation followed a lengthy investigation and intelligence operation.” When reporters noted how new many of the weapons seemed, Sansern reckoned this was because they had been well protected and well hidden. Right….

Sansern declared that “the seized items would be  kept and used whenever the regime needed another set up as evidence for further investigations to nail the culprits because possessing such war materials was detrimental to national security.”

Then, somewhat compromising his “explanation,” Sansern “said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had instructed officials to look for those who were involved and take appropriate legal action.” So we should assume that the “lengthy investigation and intelligence operation” followed weapons but failed to finger those responsible for the weapons cache? Right….





Secrets and miracles

16 03 2017

The news media has been quite taken up with the scramble among junta people – and their accusations flying back and forth – on the failure to levy any tax on the Shin Corp sale deal back in early 2006.

Part of the problem for the tax authorities was that a later grab for Thaksin Shinawatra’s assets. The authorities wanted to his kids, but the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions had ruled that the assets really belonged to Thaksin, not his kids.

That seemed like a tax dead end, but no! At the last moment, before the statute of limitations expires, and amid recriminations within the bureaucracy, a way to tax Thaksin has been found!

Problem is, it is a secret. Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, who is involved in just about every news event of late, said the “Revenue Department will proceed with the tax collection process before the statute of limitations in the case expires on March 31.” He claims the junta has decided on a “miracle of law” that will allow to collect the taxes, which he says should “be worth a try.”

Secrets and miracles are hardly the stuff of rule of law, but this is a military dictatorship.

This secrecy reminded us of the secret changes to the draft junta constitution. As we understand it, the king has flitted off to Germany.

As far as we know from news reports, he has not signed off on the document that he received back in early February. That version, the junta says, only made changes to the (so far) secret things the king demanded. So why is he sitting on it? We know he has 90 days (although some reports did claim 30) to sign and only about 38  of those have so far been used.

We can only guess that the constitution is not considered urgent by either the king or the junta. It may be that a full 90 day “consideration” suits the junta which seeks every way it can to extend its military rule. There are no miracles in the constitution story, just secrets.





Corruption updates

13 03 2017

Two interesting reports, both suggesting how muddy the waters are around both cases, with the authorities being the ones throwing the mud.

First, and one of our favorites in recent times, the case of Pol. Lt. Gen. Sanit Mahathavorn. Sanit at first disclosed that he was receiving 50,000 baht a month from ThaiBev, owned by one of Thailand’s wealthiest Sino-Thai conglomerates. When questions were asked, he took some time to think up a story. Finally, a story was produced: Sanit claimed there was a “mistake” in his asset declaration. He claimed he had never been an adviser for the alcoholic drink giant, Thai Beverage Plc. And that story was relayed by the Office of the Ombudsman.

Khaosod reports that Sanit’s story doesn’t work for everyone. Now the Ombudsman says they don’t accept the lies claims. It says it has “obtained his original financial disclosure document and found it certified with his signature.” In other words, he was getting the payment.

The Ombudsman is only looking at “ethics rules.” Sanit, like many other top cops will be confused by this word “ethics.”

Given that both Sanit and ThaiBev have denied any financial relationship, some serious questions should be asked. We doubt anyone will ask any.

Second, the Rolls Royce saga continues with continuing confusing reporting. The Bangkok Post reports that “National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) plans this week to discuss the scope of an investigation into the alleged bribes paid to 26 former Thai cabinet ministers and executives of Thai Airways International (THAI) in the Rolls-Royce bribery scandal.”

The report adds that “the three NACC members and the NACC secretary-general will discuss the probe framework this week with the sub-committee tasked with finding facts in the alleged bribe payments.” They reckon they might need some more “evidence.”

And, oh yes, the “NACC will focus on the third phase of the bribery scandal that occurred between 2004 and 2005…”. That seems to mean they will only look at that period, when the government was with Thaksin Shinawatra. No politics here, of course, because the NACC says this is the only period not outside the statute of limitations on such alleged crimes.

What of that “ethics” word? Unlike the Ombudsman, the NACC seems to have forgotten it or never seen it. What about the idea of naming and shaming those in earlier periods? That might be a bit difficult for the NACC because they’d be up against the “great and good” who are strong allies of anti-democrats and military junta.





Updated: An update on the RR case and its “reporting”

10 03 2017

A couple of days ago we posted on the floundering Rolls Royce corruption investigation. We noted that the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) was thinking that a subcommittee to investigate allegations of bribery was the way to go. Committees in Thailand usually mean that someone wants an investigation buried.

But, behold! In The Nation yesterday we read that a subcommittee had been formed and that it did something. The headline was: “Thaksin’s ex-ministers to be questioned over Rolls-Royce bribery scandal.” And there was a photo concocted by The Nation.

We read on as the “journalists” and “editors” came up with this:

The anti-graft agency will interrogate former transport minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit and his ex-deputy Vichet Kasemthongsri as part of its ongoing investigation into the Rolls-Royce bribery scandal.

Sansern Poljieak, secretary-general of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), said on Thursday that its nine commissioners have set up a subcommittee to probe individuals involved in the purchase of seven Rolls-Royce engines for Thai Airways International aircraft between 2004 and 2005.

Hold on, just those two years? Didn’t the allegations go back to the very early 1990s?

Well, yes, and The Nation unhelpfully states:

A total of 26 people were found to be involved with the purchase, including Suriya, Vichet, 15 board members of Thai Airways at the time, and nine members of the national airline’s long-term investment subcommittee….

But who? Not a word. What we are told is that the “NACC had found that Rolls-Royce was unfairly favoured in the bidding for THAI’s aircraft engines between 2004 and 2005.”

Again, just those two years? What is going on?

We guess a couple of things. First, if something must be done about this corruption, make sure that it is mainly about political enemies. Second, The Nation has been vigorously anti-Thaksin for many years, and this is just one way of using the (military) boot to further that. Two of 26 are singled out and named.

It may not be “false news,” but it is remarkably unprofessional.

When we turned to a story in the Bangkok Post, we learned more. The NACC did provide names and The Nation just decided to be politicized in its reporting.

The Post is a little more professional in its reporting, indicating that the 26 names are simply lists of all the “names of ministers, all board directors and all members of the long-term investment subcommittee of THAI at the time.” It is a shopping list and not a list of those investigated. One of those listed is already deceased!

The others listed by the NACC are:

…15 are former THAI directors led by Thanong Bidaya, former chairman; Srisook Chandrangsu, vice-chairman (deceased); and Somchainuek Engtrakul, vice-chairman.

The remaining board directors are ACM Kongsak Wanthana, Chai-Anan Samudavanija, Thirachai Vutthitham, Thatchai Sumit, Borwornsak Uwanno, Chartsiri Sophonpanich, Vichit Suraphongchai, Viroj Nualkhair, Pol Gen Sant Sarutanon, Prof Dr Suchai Charoen Rattanakul, Olarn Chaipravat and Kanok Abhiradee.

The others are former members of THAI’s subcommittee on long-term investments led by Mr Thanong as adviser, Srisook as chairman (deceased) and Mr Kanok as vice-chairman.

The other former members of the subcommittee are Kobchai Sriwilas, Tassani Suthas Na Ayutthaya, Suthep Suebsantiwong, Kaweephan Ruangpaka, Fg Off Veerachai Sripa, Wg Cdr Supachai Limpisawat, Fg Off Chinavut Naratesenee, Charnchai Singtoroj and Sangngern Pornpaibulsathit.

There’s some interesting names there, including a scion of one of Bangkok’s wealthiest families (Chartsri of the Bangkok Bank), yellow-shirt ideologue Chai-Anan, multiple charter drafter and dedicated royalist Bowornsak, and several others of the “great” and the “good.”

Now why didn’t The Nation think to mention them or include them in a Photoshopped photo?

But there’s more. The Post also reports:

Notably, the list is limited to those linked to the purchases of Rolls-Royce engines and spare engines during 2004-05. They do not include those involved in the two rounds of purchases made earlier in 1991-92 and 1992-97 identified by the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) report on the Rolls-Royce case.

The Nation seemed to miss that point. The question is why is that the NACC seems uninterested in the others? We don’t think one needs to have the intellect of Einstein to hazard a guess.

Update: So maybe The Nation wasn’t so unprofessional…. We maybe owe them an apology, for a Khaosod story throws a third spin on the reporting. That report states:

Of the 31 ministerial officials who served during the years Rolls-Royce said it paid bribes to Thai officials, only two were implicated Friday following seven weeks of investigation by the national anti-graft agency.

And the two were, it says, the two former Thaksin era ministers.

The report states: “The graft agency said there’s not enough evidence linking the other 29 high-ranking officials to the graft, which spanned 13 years.”

That would be remarkable! As the report states: “Those two [the ministers implicated], as it turned out, served under former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the leader of a political dynasty the current military government has sought to dismantle.” Yep, remarkable!

But then the report backtracks and says more evidence is being sought on the others named (in the Bangkok Post report above).

And, by the way, the NACC claims to still have nothing from Britain’s SFO, so the “implications” seem drawn without the necessary evidence.

At this point it can’t be just PPT that is getting confused, but maybe that’s the point of the manner the NACC conducts its (political) work.





New military “hero” organizing “reconciliation”

6 03 2017

It has been recognized that Lt Gen Apirat Kongsompong is flying towards the top. When a military regime is seeking to embed authoritarianism, it often happens that the lure of running things, having lots of power and the chance to acquire great wealth causes aspiring green shirts to take a shot of becoming the next military political “hero.”

Most regimes see upstarts pushing the bigger bosses. For example, Field Marshal Phibun had to watch out for not only royalists but also for General Sarit Thanarat and Pol Gen Phao Sriyanon. General Prem Tinsulanonda had the palace on side, but had to see off “Young Turks” uppity generals like Arthit Kamlang-ek.

Now it is General Apirat’s chance.

apirat

The Bangkok Post has been reporting on Lt Gen Apirat rather too consistently than his bosses might like. The latest has him arranging for the “governors of 21 provinces in the Central Plain [to]… team up with officers from the 1st Army to gather views of people in their provinces on national reconciliation as the government expands its push for forging unity upcountry.”

“People” has an odd, junta-friendly, definition, generally meaning “groups” like bureaucrats, academics and business people. The lower rungs of society only rarely get defined as “people” worthy of having “views.”

To kick off the (real) people-free “reconciliation” PR exercise, “governors were invited to have a talk with 1st Army commander Apirat Kongsompong on Friday…”. Somewhat garbled, the report goes on to write of “their joint move” in a “meeting of the chiefs of all units under the 1st Army and representatives from the Internal Security Operations Command.”

It all sounds rather like something arranged in the 1970s about counterinsurgency. Back then, the governors were the key link between the military and civilian bureaucrats. The arrangement meant the military dominated civilian administration.

Lt Gen Apirat has a similar view today, saying “the governors will be the ‘key men’ in this initial stage to gather useful opinions from people from all walks of life.” As it was several decades ago, it is the “military chiefs [who] will serve as supporters and coordinators to invite target groups to air their views at the roundtable meetings…”. And they will have to listen and learn to junta propaganda.

Which groups? They will be “local politicians, scholars, state officials and business persons in the provinces and community leaders and non-governmental organisations.” The real people still can’t be trusted.

The report states that they “will be encouraged to talk on 10 topics, set by the panel appointed to work on a process to restore national unity, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon…”. That is, the selected “trainees” will “discuss” only junta-approved stuff.

In case readers wondered, “national unity” was destroyed by Thaksin Shinawatra being a “divisive” figure. The military is not “divisive” despite its penchant for gunning down protesters.

Lt Gen Apirat declared that he wanted “all participants to adopt impartial attitudes…”. We doubt he understands the meaning of “impartial.”

He also “revealed” that there was an extra topic: “referring to a question raised by [The Dictator] … who wants to know how all parties view the ongoing problems facing the country and how they can help solve them bringing back a peaceful atmosphere.”

Um. Ah. Huh? The other issues in a reconciliation meeting don’t to this? Yes, we get it, Apirat is posterior polishing. When making a run for the top, ensure that current incumbents don’t feel they are in trouble or being destabilized. Butter them up and appear “loyal.”

All this faux “opinion gathering” at the provincial level has “to be completed within this month.” We guess that the military already has the required “opinions” on its lists.

These “opinions” will be processed by – you guessed it – the military: “Once the governors finish their work, the opinions will be sent to a sub-panel led by permanent secretary for defence, [General] Chaicharn Changmongkol.”

This might be good PR for the junta. It is also keeping Apirat in the limelight, where he prefers to be.