Another believe it or not story

13 02 2018

Skepticism alert! Whenever we see a report from the military dictatorship claiming it has busted political opponents with bombs, we are necessarily skeptical.

The most recent report in the Bangkok Post demands skepticism.

For one thing, the sudden “discovery” of a cache of bombs comes at a time when the junta is under great pressure, with the Deputy Dictator’s watch scandal, protesters appearing on several fronts and delays to (rigged) elections. Finding a “threat” just now is ever so convenient.

Then there’s a whole bunch of “coincidences” that seem just too lucky by half.

Pol Capt Somphot Suebwongsakon, duty investigator at Pak Kret police station said that the discovery of explosives was reported about 8.30pm on Monday evening by a condo cleaner who just happened to be working late.

This woman was cleaning the room for a new tenant. It was getting a new tenant because the existing tenant Kritchapol Poolsil, 53, a former soldier from Yala, who had rented the room for at least five years, “had not paid the rent,  electricity or water bills for so long the owner found a new tenant to replace him.

Police “found an untidy room with items scattered around it, including a bag sitting in one corner. The room appeared to have been unused for a long time.”

Inside that bag the police found an M26 grenade. They also located “four homemade ping-pong bombs, two small pipe bombs and more than 20 giant firecrackers.” More incriminating “evidence,” seen in television coverage, was a bunch of red shirts.

Then a remarkable bit of luck: “Around 10pm, police spotted a man walking in the direction of the room being searched suddenly turn back and walked away. When police followed him he began to run away.” After a very long time, Kritchapol suddenly showed up at his apartment!

Kritchapol was immediately “confessed” that the bombs were his and that he was “working for fugitive Wuthipong ‘Kotee’ Kochathamakun, a leader of a group of hard-line members of the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) who is wanted for lese majeste.”

We had long believed that Thai commandos had abducted Ko Tee in Laos and “disappeared” him.

All in all this was a huge coincidence of luck for the regime!

It could all be true, but it just seems so unbelievable. An d the coincidences seem too convenient, just as The Dictator fumes about Thaksin and Yingluck and activists he identifies operating with “impure purposes,” seeking “to create conflicts, mistrust or unrest…”.

The junta has regularly  come up with arms and bomb finds, all linked to “red shirts.” Usually these finds just melt away after political advantage has been made.

Finding allegedly red shirt bombs associated with a (missing) republican opponent just seems really very convenient for the military dictatorship.





Populism or politics?

10 02 2018

As The Dictator continues his “election”-cum-extended-delays campaigning, he’s decided that he will mobilize thousands of officials to campaign for him.

The Nation reports that “all provincial governors of the 76 provinces, chiefs of 878 districts, and high ranking officers of related agencies across the country gathered at the policy briefing conference at the Impact Exhibition and Convention Centre.” They were there on the orders of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and Gen Anupong Paojunda, the former military boss made Minister of Interior.

They were told that so-called the Thai Niyom Yangyeun (Sustainable “Thainess”) program would pour up to 2 billion baht into communities all over the country. Unashamedly, it also “encourage[s] people to abandon their polarised opinions and work together” meaning that they must not vote for the Puea Thai Party and should “elect” a military-backed party.

Critics label this a “populist policy.” PPT doesn’t see anything particularly wrong with popular policies – this is usually what critics meant when criticizing elected governments – if they assist the poor. However, this is much closer to policy corruption and a promotion of anti-democracy.

Most of the initial efforts in this junta scam involve sending “teams to talk with … local people to learn about their problems in all aspects and encourage them to be aware of their duties as good citizens of the country, and to work with the government to further develop our nation…”.

In other words, pro-junta propaganda and state officials involved are essentially acting a vote brokers.

Gen Prayuth denied his was in any way populist or that the “scheme is aimed at helping the administration cling to power…”.

The Dictator also decided to engage in some political theory, saying that “[i]n a liberal democracy, investors are high-income people and those without capital serve as employees or workers, and it is important to make sure these people can work together efficiently and productively…”.

Thailand is nothing like a “liberal democracy” and won’t be following any “election” the junta decides to hold. Nor is the capital-labor relation definitional of a liberal democracy, but it does sound like The Dictator is promoting Thaksin-like conceptions of Thailand’s capitalism.

Neither Thaksin nor Yingluck were permitted to implement such programs for very long but a military-backed regime can presumably do what it likes so long as it sidelines the Shinawatra clan.





Drunken sailors and soldiers

2 02 2018

In seeking to bolster its “popularity” and electoral appeal, the military dictatorship is spending like a ship full of drunken sailors (well, a massage parlor full of soldiers).

The Nation reports that the Agriculture, Interior and other ministries will shortly begin spending 47 billion baht on The Dictator’s “Thai Niyom” development program That’s about 670,000 baht for every village and community in the country. We are always pleased to see funds flow to the poor but this looks more like a hastily cobbled together vote buying program seemingly developed just in the past few weeks (or the time of the Deputy Dictator’s luxury watch problems). If Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra parties could be accused of populism for programs that were taken to the electorate, what’s this large bucket of money?

Another program has had longer term planning. It also involves a heck of a lot more taxpayer loot: almost 1 trillion baht. The Bangkok Post reports that the junta’s cabinet “has approved 168 infrastructure development projects worth a combined 989 billion baht for its flagship Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) scheme.”

Interestingly, the military is in for its cut. The report observes: “government spending will account for 30%, with public-private partnerships making up 59%, state-owned enterprises 10% and the Royal Thai Army 1%.” The junta has stuffed state enterprises with its cronies. The navy isn’t listed, but it has a project in this scheme as well. Almost all of this investment (minus commissions and cuts) will be shoveled into formerly pro-Puea Thai Party electoral districts.

Such spending is calculated to bring electoral and popularity gains for soldiers who will fill their pockets along the way. More luxury watches?





“New,” “good” and “bad” politicians

24 01 2018

General Prayuth Chan-ocha, The Dictator since May 2014, recently announced that he is a “politician.” This announcement that he had joined the ranks of those he despises was his formal announcement of what has been known for a very long time: he wants to continue as premier for years and years.

Politicians are not renowned for their judgement of political mood. Many make awful decisions in the face of public opinion that demands something else. They usually pay a price for this poor judgement.

The Dictator-cum-politician will likely pay a steep political price for his failure to deal with General Prawit Wongsuwan’s poor judgement in the ongoing luxury timepiece scandal. Prawit, who is Prayuth’s mentor, former boss and elder military brother, is politically a dead man walking.

But Prayuth closes his eyes and ears and exhibits military “Thai-ness” remaining “loyal” and doing his “duty” to his boss/brother. But, by toughing out the political storm, the regime’s political capital is being rapidly depleted, and especially among its faithful anti-democratic supporters. The latter seem to consider the junta as crossing the line between “good” and “bad” in their middle class definitions of “Thai-ness.”

The military junta adds to that perception by allowing the judiciary to activate a case against Suthep Thaugsuban’s anti-democrats. While this may be as much about political bargaining for an “election” arrangement, many yellow shirts consider Prayuth’s electoral wheeling and dealing as having too much to do with previous Thaksin Shinawatra supporters and the legal case confirms the junta’s moves to the “bad” – downright evil – side of political “Thai-ness.”

“Thai-ness” and “good” and “bad” are slippery concepts but they are also political notions that can be redefined. The military junta is precipitously falling from an anti-democrat “good” to “bad.”

As Prayuth, Prawit and the third of the three stooges, General Anupong Paojinda, cross that line, days their political days are numbered.





When the military is on top XII

19 01 2018

It is some time since our last post with this title. There’s a general air in the press and on social media that the political tide may be turning.

For example, commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak says he can see “civil society noises, together with political parties, are now on rise and may build into a crescendo of opposition to the military government.” Others are pleased to see the detestable Abhisit Vejjaiva “damning” the military government with language that is advisory in tone on General Prawit Wongsuwan’s large collection of luxury watches. On social media, many have lauded the dropping of yet another lese majeste case against Sulak Sivaraksa.

While there is some cause for cheer, it might be noted that much of this criticism is coming from yellow shirts and anti-democrats, many of whom were strong supporters of the 2014 military coup. This suggests that that coalition of anti-democrats is unraveling as the junta seeks to embed its rule. The unanswered question is what they propose as an alternative to the junta. Do these critics propose using the junta’s rules and having a military-dominated administration post-“election” – a Thai-style democracy – but where that dominance is not as total as it is now. That is, a simple refusal to allow General Prayuth Chan-ocha to hang on as head of a selectorate regime? Nothing much that any of these “opponents” have proposed since 2005 has looked much like an open political system.

What we can also see, and this also deserves attention from those cheering these developments, is that the junta continues to crackdown on other opponents.  One case involves the National Anti-Corruption Commission, criticized on Prawit, but widely supported by anti-democrats in an action to “determine whether … 40 [elected and pro-Thaksin Shinawatra] politicians submitted the [amnesty] bill with ‘illegal’ intent” back in 2013. If found “guilty,” they would all be banned from the junta’s “election,” decimating the already weakened Puea Thai Party.

Even when criticizing Prawit’s horology obsession, some critics are tolerated and others not. For example, Abhisit and yellow-hued “activists” can criticize, but what about Akechai Hongkangwarn? He’s identified as an opponent, so when he was critical, “four police officers … turned up at [his]… home … to serve a summons.” The “charge” seems to be “posting obscene images online…”. An obscenely expensive watch perhaps?

Then there’s the warning to critics of the junta that there call for The Dictator’s use of Article 44 for to not be made into law. Maj Gen Piyapong Klinpan “who is also the commander of the 11th Military Circle, said the NCPO [junta] is monitoring the situation. He said the NCPO did not ban the gathering on Monday since it was held in an education institute where academics were present to share knowledge. The NCPO merely followed up the event and tried to make sure those present would not violate any laws.” In other words, watch out, you’re being watched. It’s a threat.

Amazingly, Maj Gen Piyapong then “explained” these political double standards:

Commenting about political activist Srisuwan Janya, who has criticised the regime, Maj Gen Piyapong said there is no need to invite the activist for talks as he still has done nothing wrong, but the junta will keep tabs on his movements. “Currently, there is still no movement which is a cause for concern,” Maj Gen Piyapong said.

And, finally, if you happen to be one of those unfortunates – a citizen in the way of military “progress” – you get threatened with guns. At the embattled Mahakan community, where a historical site is being demolished, Bangkok Metropolitan administrators called out the military to threaten the community. The deployment of troops was by the Internal Security Operations Command.





The Yingluck extradition charade

13 01 2018

Before we forget, a couple of questions for the military dictators: how’s that extradition of Thaksin Shinawatra coming along? And what about Red Bull scion Vorayuth Yoovidhya coming along? Readers will recall that Vorayuth is on the lam following a brutal hit-and-run case in which a police officer was killed. Since then he’s been able to postpone court appearances, hide in plain sight and skip the country. All of that requires that officials and political bosses are complicit. His last “escape” was on 25 April 2017 and since then the authorities have been pretty much silent.

We ask about these two cases as mere examples to suggest that the sudden flap over Yingluck Shinawatra’s recent appearance in London after months of invisibility and all the high profile statements by the junta about extraditing her are simply a charade.

Officials who state that “Thailand cannot seek the extradition of fugitive former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra despite confirmation that at least one of two photos taken of her in London recently appear to be authentic…” are correct.

There are all kinds of reasons for this: there’s insufficient evidence of a criminal act by Yingluck that would also be a crime in Britain and plenty of evidence that her trial was a political act by the military regime; if she’s applied for asylum in the UK, then that case must be concluded before the Thai regime can seek extradition; there’s no Interpol arrest warrant; the Office of the Attorney-General has not requested she be extradited; and the regime doesn’t actually know exactly where she is. Then there’s the question of whether any real democracy would send Yingluck back to the military’s Thailand.

But this is a charade. Our instinct tells us the last thing The Dictator wants as he maneuvers for his ongoing premiership is a jailed Yingluck.

Even General Prayuth Chan-ocha has basically said forget about it: “He pointed to the case of Thaksin … ‘Has anyone sent him back? Please don’t make this an issue’…”.

But this approach seems politically unacceptable and the need for the charade was emphasized by none other than that model of probity – trips to Hawaii, Corruption Park, a score of luxury watches notwithstanding – General Prawit Wongsuwan. He has decried the lack of action on Yingluck’s extradition. We guess some yellow shirts still matter politically.

The Bangkok Post reports that the dumpy Deputy Dictator, weighed down by luxury watches, has declared that “[o]fficials risk facing malfeasance charges if they make no attempt to hunt down former prime minister Yingluck…”.

The political charade will continue.





Updated: Domination plans

6 01 2018

Seldom has PPT been able to fully agree with analysis in the mainstream media. Generally we rummage about in it and post bits and pieces drawn from it to highlight things about the monarchy, lese majeste and political repression. Nor have we always been fans of the Bangkok Post’s military affairs reporter Wassana Nanuam.

However, a recent piece by Wassana in the Bangkok Post is one we can recommend. “Regime lays plans for post-poll control” says much that PPT has been posting about for several years, and we are pleased that others are recognizing the junta’s plans and writing about them in Thailand. Wassana writes about how the junta “has been busy ensuring its success at the ballot box” and establishing its post-“election” regime. And she’s still unsure when the junta will be prepared and ready to “win” its “election.”

Being prepared translates as being sure no pro-Thaksin Shinawatra party has any chance of looking electorally powerful. The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha seems to believe that he is the only one who can prevent such a “catastrophe” for the military, the royalist elite and the anti-democrats. He may also need a military party. As Wassana comments: “Gen Prayut, Gen Prawit [Wongsuwan, the watchman] and Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda are united in wanting to prevent Pheu Thai from winning sufficient seats to form a government.”

As we have been pointing out, the polls are likely to be a stitch-up when they are permitted. Wassana explains some of the mechanisms:

As interior minister, Gen Anupong has assumed authority over the past few years for transferring provincial governors and chiefs of district offices, while Gen Prawit, who is believed to have good relations with several political parties, will likely be the one who convinces politicians to defect to the military party.

The armed forces and other security agencies will also be deployed to achieve this goal.

The burden of helping a military party become a key party in the formation of the next government will, however, fall on the armed forces. They are no longer politically neutral these days [they never have been], … with their leaders serving as members of the NCPO [junta].

Army chief Chalermchai Sitthisad serves as the secretary-general of the NCPO and head of the NCPO’s peace and order command that controls the entire military and police.

Assistant army commander Apirat Kongsompong, a close aide of Gen Prayut who serves also as a deputy chief of the NCPO’s command, meanwhile, is expected to emerge as the new army chief in the military reshuffle expected between September and October.

Gen Apirat will take up a key role in controlling the armed forces including during the election.

General Anupong has also been ensuring that local electoral authorities and “independent” agencies are in the junta’s pockets. And, PPT does not rule out military ballot box stuffing and corrupt counting to get the required electoral outcome.

Worryingly, Wassana reveals how the military and its ISOC will be used in provincial areas:

The armed forces will play a bigger role in attempts to bar Pheu Thai from winning the race. Military officials will act more or less as canvassers for the military party and assess the popularity and the overall situation of parties in each constituency.

With his special powers provided under the charter’s Section 44, Gen Prayut may deal by this means with canvassers from other parties in the name of suppressing mafia-style thugs and illegal weapons — ever-present threats during elections.

Of course, plans can be upset. We’d love to see a broad-based opposition to the military’s operations and planning. However, this particular regime has been far more repressive and nasty than any of its recent predecessors have been (in, say, 1991-2 and 2006-7). It has also shown itself to be prepared to murder and maim to maintain its preferred regime (as in 2009 and 2010). And, it has worked assiduously to dismantle opposition organizing. All of this suggests that a broad-based opposition to continuing military fascism is unlikely without some kind of special spark.

Update: On this topic we also recommend “Brave the third wave.”