Trouble for dissidents

30 11 2017

The military dictatorship has been particularly challenged by having to deal with dissidents who decamped following the 2014 military coup for Laos and Cambodia.

We know that the group located in Laos has been troubling for the junta and it has repeatedly sought to convince the Lao government to send Thai dissidents back. Frustrated, the junta is the likely culprit in the still “unexplained” enforced disappearance/murder of red shirt Ko Tee in Vientiane.

However, it is Cambodia that has been a safe haven for many red shirts and has challenged the junta, who have been suspicious of Hun Sen as pro-Thaksin Shinawatra.

Now it seems that the junta may have an opening. The Phnom Penh Post reports that

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday raised the spectre of Thailand deporting members of the now-dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party who have fled the country….

Hun Sen declared that “Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha should … ‘chase’ those people ‘staying in Bangkok’, in an apparent reference to ex-CNRP members who have fled.”

As Hun Sen destroys his opponents he will be keen to see those in Thailand deported. He is likely to be willing to make deals with Thailand’s military junta.





Censoring opposition

28 11 2017

The military dictatorship allows little criticism of its operations. The Dictator is short-tempered when it comes to critics and has locked up several people who have made rather tame criticism.

We sometimes think he’d prefer that critics undergo harsh “military discipline.”

When it comes to the media, General Prayuth Chan-ocha can go off like a large firework. It wasn’t that long ago that he demanded that the Computer Crimes Act be even more rigorously enforced and especially against online media.

At about that time, the military regime again went after satellite station TV 24, which it considers oppositional. The puppet National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission said the station’s “Sharp News” and “Green Light Thinking” programs “had violated agreements made with the regime despite prior warnings.”

The NBTC put the station off the air for 30 days. The NBTC provided no information on how the programs offended the junta. However, it has previously ordered Spring News, Peace TV and Voice TV off the air for programs deemed “critical of the ruling junta.” Each outlet is considered by the junta to be pro-Thaksin Shinawatra, like TV 24.

Political repression is deepening.





It is still about Thaksin

22 11 2017

Yingluck Shinawatra has completely disappeared from public view. She was targeted by the military junta as one important Shinawatra clan member as the junta has sought to dismantle something it and other anti-democrats identify as the “Thaksin regime.” Of course, they have also gone after other members of the Shinawatra clan and their supporters, attempting to expunge their political pull. For the junta, an important target is the Shinawatra wealth, which the junta mistakenly considers the basis of their political attractiveness for voters. Another aim is to “demonstrate” that the Shinawatras have been criminals, with the “thinking” being that this shows voters that they are not “good people.”

So with Yingluck gone, the targeting has moved back to Thaksin. Armed with new laws passed by the puppet National Legislative Assembly, the junta has directed public prosecutors to “pursue two corruption cases against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra despite the fact that he’s outside the country.” This (again) means that new laws are applied retrospectively.

The puppet Office of the Attorney General claims, against all logic and belief, that the retrospective application of the new law “was not meant to target the 67-year-old tycoon…”. He lied: “This is in accordance with the law. It is the duty of the Office of the Attorney General…. There was no discrimination.” Of course, the truth is that the new law was passed expressly to target Thaksin.

The cases go back to the first term of the elected Thaksin government.

The junta is desperate to destroy Thaksin and his clan and almost everything the junta does is in the shadow of Thaksin and his influence and popularity.





Buddhism, military regimes and new reigns

24 10 2017

There have been a couple of recent stories that deserve some attention. Both relate to the nature of Buddhism.

A first story at the Bangkok Post is classic dictatorship double-speak. High-ranking government mouthpiece Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd, who is usually wheeled out to babble about the things the dictatorship thinks is important stuff, denied that his string-pullers had issued “an instruction to Buddhist temples to destroy non-Buddhist sacred objects, including statues or images of Hindu gods…”.

Pious Prayuth

He said The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, “was aware [of] the actions occurring at several temples across the country but had not issued any instructions regarding the matter.”

“It isn’t true” he opined, declaring that the destruction was “being carried out by the monastic community which has thoroughly examined what items are and are not appropriate…”.

Yet the order for the destruction has come from the Sangha Supreme Council, which has been tightly controlled by the military junta. They say this is a campaign “to prevent misunderstandings about Buddhism.”

Then, the propaganda chief blurted out that General Prayuth “stressed that each temple will use its own judgement when removing the statutes or banning the sale of sacred items…”.

This is a part of the junta’s ongoing cleansing of (official) Buddhism. One of its highest risk cleansings was the attempt to destroy the Dhammakaya sect with threats of violence and several arrests.

This followed the then new king’s agreement that the law on the selection of the Supreme Patriarch be changed so that those considered “too close” to Dhammakaya be bypassed. This meant that the king and the dictatorship got their man in the top (Buddhist) spot.

Pious king

For the junta, Dhammakaya was believed to be “too close” to Thaksin Shinawatra.

A second Bangkok Post story has The Dictator seeking to dictate to the country’s two Buddhist universities. He wants the universities to concentrate on Buddhist teaching, taught by monks.

The link in the two stories is the notion that The Dictator is cleansing the religion:

… Santisukh Sobhanasiri, a Buddhism expert, told the Bangkok Post that he has much respect for Gen Prayut over his “brave” role in supporting the Sangha body in its fight against over-commercialisation, such as the sale of amulets from temples.

Pious Sarit

“It’s extraordinary for the PM to dare to deal with this issue,” said Mr Santisukh, adding that amulets produced in ancient times were intended as keepsakes to remind people of the importance of practicing Buddhanusati.

Actually, we do not consider it extraordinary. We also have some doubt that it is just Prayuth at work here. In many new reigns, there is a cleansing of Buddhism as the new monarch establishes his control over the religious hierarchy. That said, other dictators have also cleansed for control. The prime example being General Sarit Thanarat.

We have the feeling that both king and dictatorship are “cleansing” Buddhism as a feudal right of settling in for the long term.





Updated: Absurd defenses of feudalism

16 10 2017

Update: A reader rightly points out that our headline is potentially misleading. Let us be clear: the absurdities are all on the side of those implementing, using and defending the feudal lese majeste law.

PPT has had several posts regarding the efforts of a couple of retired generals, public prosecutors and a military court’s decision to go ahead with investigations of a lese majeste charge 85 year-old Sulak Sivaraksa. He dared to raise doubts about a purported historical event from centuries ago. (In fact, the prosecutors have until 7 December to activate the charge or let it lie.)

We have been interested to observe how parts of the media seem to far braver in pointing out the absurdities of this case than when it is workers, farmers, labor activists or average people who are charged in equally absurd cases. If these people are red shirts or fraudsters, there’s often barely a peep from the media.

Conservative, middle class, aged, royalist and intellectual Sulak, who has also been anti-Thaksin Shinawatra, is far easier to defend than those in more uncomfortable political and social locations for some reporters and writers.

His case also generates more international attention, as his cases have always done since 1984, when international academics supported him (and an alleged communist) under the administration led by General Prem Tinsulanonda.

Just in the Bangkok Post, there have been three op-eds and one editorial that each point out the ridiculousness of the case against Sulak. These include:

Yellow-hued, anti-Thaksinist Veera Prateepchaikul writes that the latest case is “unique in its absurdity.” He says he sees two troubling issues with the case:

First, … why did it take police three years to decide to send this case to the prosecutor — a military prosecutor in this case because we are now under the junta regime?

The second issue concerns the police interpretation of the lese majeste law or Section 112 of the Criminal Code in a way which makes the law look like it has an infinitely long hand which can delve into an event which took place some 400 years ago. The land on which the elephant duel was said to take place was not even called Siam.

Kong Rithdee, who has been pretty good and brave in calling out the lese majeste fascists, points out the absurdities of the case:

Another day, another lese majeste story. This time the interpretation of the contentious law goes back much further, to 1593 to be precise, to a dusty battlefield somewhere before “Thailand” existed.

The use of a military court to possibly sentence an 85 year-old to 15 years in jail is also mentioned as absurd.

Kong makes some connections that warrant more attention:

The scope of interpretation of Section 112 has been one of the central bristles of modern Thai politics, and while there have been cases that raised your eyebrows and body temperature (that of Jatupat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpattararaksa, to name just one), this wild reading of the law to cover an event from 400 years ago borders on dark comedy.

He asks if the absurdity of Sulak’s case tells Thais that they must not discuss or adopt a critical perspective on history. It seems Thais are expected to accept schoolbook nationalism and the jingoism of royalist film-makers.

Ploenpote Atthakor takes up the blind royalist nationalism. She observes that, in Thailand, there is no “dialogue” about historical events, “especially the parts concerning historical heroes or heroines, or even villains, hardly exists. Anyone who dares to question particular historical episodes may face trouble.” She notes how the history that got Sulak into trouble has changed several times and is disputed by historians.

Ultra-nationalism blinds Thais. The red hot pokers have been wielded by feudal-minded royalists and military dictators.

The Bangkok Post editorial extends the discussion to law and injustice:

In what appears to be an attempt at law enforcement, authorities in the past two weeks have taken legal action against two prominent public figures by resorting to what appears to be a misuse of both the law and its principles.

One is Sulak’s case and the other person is Thaksin, one of his lese majeste cases and the retroactive application of a law. The Post states that the cases “not only put the Thai justice system under the global spotlight but will also jeopardise law enforcement in the country.”

The editorial questions the police’s interpretation of the law, saying it:

is worrisome and has prompted questions about how far such a law should be applied. If Mr Sulak is indicted, it would create a chilling climate of fear and hurt the credibility of Thailand’s justice system….

In proceeding legal actions against the two men, the authorities must realise any abuses of the law can set bad precedents with a far-reaching impact on Thai citizens.

All these perspectives are right. We applaud these journalists for daring to defend Sulak and, in one instance, even Thaksin. At the same time, it would be brave and right to point out the absurdities that face many others charged with lese majeste. The military dictatorship has gotten away with being absurd for too long.





Measuring

14 10 2017

As long-time readers will know, PPT sometimes struggles with figures; none of us are mathematicians. That this post is about statistics may mean that we infringe on the data here and there, but we thought a recent story at the Bangkok Post carried a broader lesson.

The Office of Agricultural Economics is reported to have crunched some numbers and come up with a forecast that the junta’s “welfare cards for the poor scheme will generate more than 100 billion baht in value to the country’s economy.”

That the state’s dumping of a pot of money to the “poorest,”who tend to spend it, produces a boost to consumption and boosts the economy is well known to economists, and is sometimes called Keynesianism.

Thaksin Shinawatra’s government used the same kind of economic logic, so we might assume that the junta’s idea has something to do with Somkid Jatusripitak, who has worked for both Thaksin and junta.

The cost to the state is estimated to be 46 billion baht for the 2018 fiscal year. The aforementioned Office of Agricultural Economics reckons that this “return” is about “2.5 times higher than the government’s investment cost…”.

That is a useful calculation, not least for the military junta as it campaigns for its (now “promised”) “election.”

The report states that the Ministry of Finance calculates that “11.43 million people have registered as having income of less than 30,000 baht per year…”.

The surprising figure, however, is this: of this more than 11 million, “3.32 million are from the farming sector and 8.11 million from the non-farming sector.” This means that “13.37 billion baht is for the poor from the farming sector, while 32.63 billion baht goes to the poor from the non-farming sector.”

This is odd. Almost all the major agencies identify rural dwellers as the majority living below the poverty line.

For example, the World Bank states:

As of 2014, over 80% of the country’s 7.1 million poor live in rural areas. Moreover, an additional 6.7 million were living within 20% above the national poverty line and remained vulnerable to falling back into poverty.

The figures – 7.1 million vs. 11.5 million – are worth noting. The official poverty line was, in 2015, 2,644 baht per month, above the junta’s figure of 2,500 baht per month.

But even so, the junta’s registration for the poor appears to have only come up 3.3 million in the “farming sector,” when the data suggest this should be at least double that figure.

Academic Kampanat Pensupar, from Kasetsart University, notices this too, and is reported as saying that the small number of farmers “means the poor in rural areas might not be able to gain access to the scheme, or the poor in farming sectors have moved into the non-farming sector.” The latter seems unlikely, if the huge variation in the numbers are considered.

Our conclusion is that the junta is engaged in political campaigning. It is seeking to use the funds in areas where it will likely produce an “electoral” dividend.

Our second thought was about the difference between this program and the rice pledging project that resulted in a five year jail sentence for Yingluck Shinawatra.

On the one hand, the rice program was blunt in targeting, but did seek to have funds flow to farmers – recognized as those most likely to be relatively poor. The junta’s poverty program is not doing that.

On the other hand, we wonder if the Office of Agricultural Economics is crunched the numbers on the rice pledging project in the same way it has for the junta’s program? We can’t help thinking that the same multipliers would have applied to a program that better targeted the poor in rural areas.





A lawless and lying junta

11 10 2017

PPT has been busy posting about other things – the absurdity of lese majeste, junta political gymnastics – and so we neglected to mention an important op-ed by Umesh Pandey is Editor of the Bangkok Post. Earlier we posted on another commentary by Umesh on the basis of the junta’s rule in illegality and lies.

This op-ed may be seen as somewhat dated, given recent “changes” (see below), but we think his comments deserve consideration for the broader points made about what defines the military dictatorship, led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Umesh’s latest commentary begins thus: “Bending the law and going back on words seems to have become the norm ever since the coup that ousted the elected government in 2014.”

In other words, the regime is built on lies and the manipulation of law.

The Post’s editor is particularly upset that The Dictator told US President Trump that there would be “free and fair elections in 2018,” only to renege. (We actually think that General Prayuth and his team of flunkies simply didn’t comprehend the statement they signed. They are not all that intelligent.)

Umesh also worries that the puppet Constitution Drafting Committee, led by serial constitution buster and military minion Meechai Ruchupan, “is defending delays in polls is something that should go down in history books as being one of its kind in the world.” He comments that the CDC “is a body that supposedly comprises some of the smartest people, who are supposed to look at the country’s future and its long-term well-being, and they are protecting the never-ending delays that this military regime is trying to undertake.”

Smartest? Really? As far as we can tell from their record, the CDC is composed of puppets with no more intelligence than their wooden counterparts.

And, this is certainly not the first time that the CDC has supported the junta’s delays. In fact, we have lost count. But this is nothing other than a collection of puppets with the junta pulling all the strings.

Umesh observes that:

The regime’s initial promise to hold elections was within a year of the coup, so 2015, then it turned out to be 2016, then 2017 and finally Gen Prayut announced at the United Nations that it would be 2018.

Then it was 2019, although in recent days The Dictator has changed this back to 2018 (maybe). We still don’t know why Prayuth back-flipped.

Umesh continues:

While democracy is being kicked around a football, the players are gradually being red-carded one after another. The latest headlines in yesterday’s papers suggest that there is an all-out effort to go for the final kill.

After having prosecuted the Pheu Thai and its predecessor parties for the past decade, efforts are being made to charge its backer, Thaksin [Shinawatra], with the feared Section 112. Newly appointed Attorney-General Khemchai Chutiwongs said 112 can be applied for video footage in which Thaksin reportedly blamed members of the Privy Council for the May 22, 2014 coup that ousted Pheu Thai government.

Of course, no election held under the junta’s rules will be “free” or “fair” or “democratic.”

Bravely, Umesh ponders the lese majeste law: “As far as most of the population of this country is aware, the lese majeste law clearly states that it applies to only members of the royal family.”

Well, sort of, apart from the cases related to Princess Sirindhorn, royal pets, dead kings, historical figures and mythical queens. But we get the point.

He asks:

So, what is the section of the 112 law that the attorney-general is going to use to prosecute Thaksin? Or is it the case that this law was changed over the course of time and people are not aware of it?

In fact, lese majeste is used however the junta (and palace) wants it to be used. There’s no rule of law in Thailand, just rule by junta.