Stealing an “election” V

24 04 2018

A reader pointed out a recent op-ed at East Asia Forum on rigging the “election” in Thailand.

Academic Kevin Hewison points to the many “delays” to an “election” and writes that these:

delays are one element of a set of processes devised by the junta to prevent the election to government of any party associated with exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. For the junta and its supporters, ‘reform’ means neutering the Shinawatra clan’s Pheu Thai Party. The junta’s determination to crush Pheu Thai and the related red-shirt movement draws lessons from the military’s failure to defeat its opponents following the 2006 coup.

Another element of the strategy is the military boot:

Repression has been an important instrument. Immediately after the 2014 coup, the military showed that it had been assiduously acquiring intelligence on the vast red-shirt network by arresting and intimidating its leaders across the country. Several hundred red-shirts went into exile while local networks were penetrated and disrupted. The regime gave particular attention to anti-monarchists and lodged dozens of lese majeste charges. In one case, a red shirt leader was pursued internationally and ‘disappeared’…. At the same time, the regime prosecuted and incarcerated Pheu Thai leaders.

The junta has also:

plagiarised several Thaksin-era policies and launched concerted efforts to win the allegiance of those who voted for pro-Shinawatra parties. Like its yellow-shirted supporters, the junta believes that the provincial citizens who repeatedly voted these parties into government were duped or bought, or are simply ignorant. It assumes that these voters were insincere in their support for Thaksin parties and can be made ‘less stupid’ and weaned from Pheu Thai.

Hewison notes that the “regime and military intelligence is encouraging the establishment of small parties that, while nationally insignificant, may diminish Pheu Thai support in local constituencies” and has restructured the electoral, oversight and political system “to prevent any elected government from actually governing.”

He sees this as a kind of throwback to the 1980s when Gen Prem Tinsulanonda was an “outsider” prime minister, never elected. Prem “mostly ignored parliament” as it was “an unimportant place” where politicians argued and Prem ruled, with the “locus of political power was in the bureaucracy and the military.”

He views the rise of new and self-proclaimed “progressive” parties, as well as the junta-loving parties as “a measure of junta success.” Why?:

Small parties and a fragmented party system mean the military can maintain its political dominance in a Prem-style quasi-democracy that is better thought of as a stifling, semi-authoritarian political system.

This actually leads beyond “elections.” The arrangements put in place will indeed be stifling until, somehow, some way, the military is depoliticized and its repressive ménage à trois with monarchy and super-rich is unpicked.





We can, you can’t

21 04 2018

The term “populism” has a curious meaning these days, often used to mean any political leader or politician who seeks to curry favor with “the people.” In Thailand, this has been, at least since the word was first translated into Thai, just prior to Thaksin Shinawatra’s first election victory, a term of political abuse.

Indeed, the military junta that seized power in 2014 was heard to attack “populism” as evil and a scourge to be eliminated. Be that as it may, this has not prevented The Dictator, in his campaigning efforts to make him and his regime more popular, from  promising and even allocating billions of baht to various groups. His doling out of promises and funds has particularly targeted those who his political strategists think are pro-Thakin.

As it promised it would do soon after the military coup, the junta has had its legislative puppets draft a law to make populism illegal.

The Nation reports that the new “law prohibits Cabinet members from attempting to boost their support with budget spending that may damage the economy.”

One section of the State Financial and Fiscal Discipline Act (2018) seeks to have it so that:

in preparing annual state budgets, managing the country’s monetary and fiscal affairs, and creating public debt, Cabinet members have to carefully take into consideration such factors as the benefit to the country and the people, worthiness, financial burden, risks and possible damage to state finances.

The section states: “The Cabinet shall not run the state’s affairs with a goal of creating political popularity that may cause damage to the country’s economy and people in the long run…”.

It requires that there be “conformity with national development plans.” It does not say that the junta has put a 20-year plan in place.

The effect of the new legislation, the junta’s strictures and the constitutional mechanisms for “independent” bodies, all put in place by the junta, mean that parties can’t do much at all or offer much in election campaigning for fear of being in violation of this law.

Who will decide which policy is populist and which isn’t? Of course, junta minions and anti-democrats placed in “independent” agencies lie the Constitutional Court will use the legislation to limit elected governments and control the. If this fails, the aw can be used to rid themselves of “populist” regimes.

Initially, The Dictator will control a committee that “will decide what economic policy would be defined as ‘populist policy’ that could have a serious negative impact on government finances.”

In other words, it is another rigging of the system. If his “party” gains an “election” victory, he’ll do as he pleases. If an opponent wins, they’ll be hog-tied.





Elbowing Abhisit

15 04 2018

The Democrat Party has been in trouble for years. We could go back to its founding as a royalist party founded by an alliance of disgruntled, restorationist princes determined to undo the political reforms of the People’s Party. But let’s just look at its time under current leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Abhisit, a scion of an elite royalist family, became leader of the party in 2005, following two crushing losses to Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai Party. The party hierarchy believed the ambitious Abhisit could bring the party some better election results. There were elections in 2006, 2011 and 2014, with Abhisit losing badly in 2011 and boycotting elections in the other two years. In both boycotts, Abhisit aligned his party with radically royalist street movements. Despite never winning an election, Abhisit became prime minister in late 2008. He managed this with the help of the military and judiciary, which engineered the ouster of an elected government and its replacement by a hastily cobbled together Democrat Party-led coalition. In addition, Abhisit supported two coups against elected governments in 2006 and 2014.

If that record isn’t bad enough, while resisting calls for elections in 2009 and 2010, Abhisit was premier when the military fired on demonstrators from the red shirts, killing dozens and injuring thousands. Because he was the military’s loyal ally in this murderous politics, he has not been held responsible.

That record makes Abhisit politically toxic for many Thais who prefer to vote in elections for the government they prefer.

The Nation reports that aged former party leader and former prime minister Chuan Leekpai has revealed that “there is an attempt within the party to replace current leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and that he and Supachai Panichpakdi were being considered” as replacements.

Chuan, who is about to turn 80, has led two governments. The first followed the 13 September 1992 election where the Democrat Party won 79 of the 360 seats and led a coalition. The second time in power came from an election defeat but the fall of a government beset by  economic crisis. Backroom deals saw Chuan becomes premier leading a hastily cobbled together Democrat Party-led coalition.

Supachai Panitchpakdi is almost 72. He has limited political experience, having been appointed as Deputy Minister of Finance in 1986-88, before becoming president of the Thai Military Bank. He briefly returned to politics in 1992 and became Deputy Prime Minister until 1995. In November 1997 he became Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce, implementing IMF policies that were widely despised. He then went off to become head of the WTO and the of UNCTAD. In both positions, despite his claims to the contrary, he was more or less inactive and invisible.

So the Democrat Party looks to has-beens for a new leader in an upcoming (?) “election” where the big issue is how to get The Dictator back in the premier’s chair. We do not doubt that any of these three quislings can cooperate with the military. However, Abhisit is seen as both an electoral liability and too ambitious for the premier’s seat.

Chuan says the party needs “to pave the way for new people.” The problem for the party in “election” terms is that the “new blood” is anti-democratic and military supporting. Such an electoral profile is also likely to further stain the party.

Once the military junta’s ban on the activities of established political parties is lifted, “Chuan said that the party had to vote for a new leader following the new rules imposed by the [junta’s] new organic laws.”

As usual, the Democrat Party is in a political mess and will be as opportunistic as ever. An alliance with the military seems most likely (again).





February election unlikely

14 04 2018

We don’t often report on Thaksin Shinawatra’s musings and travels. However, PPT’s collective attention was caught by a short report at The Nation.

In it, Thaksin is reported to have “posted on Facebook on Friday” that he gave “moral support for everyone to get through any obstacle and let’s hope that in the next Songkran, we will finally have a government elected by the people.” That is, by April 2019.

However, later in the report it is stated (not quoting Thaksin): “The Constitution Court on Wednesday accepted the petition to review the constitutionality of the MP election organic bill. It is expected that the election currently planned for February next year will be postponed again.”

As we a while ago, it looks like May is the new February as far as “elections” are concerned.





Rolling back 1932 one piece of property at a time II

7 04 2018

The palace and Crown Property Bureau have been active in recent months as they seeks, for the king, to consolidate what he considers the “royal precinct.” We have previously mentioned assertions of royal control over the Bangkok or Dusit Zoo, Suan Amphon and the Ananta Samakhom Hall. And who can forget the illegal (and still unexplained) removal of the 1932 plaque that the king and the junta must have thought sullied the “royal precinct.”

The most recent territory marking involves the Royal Turf Club and the Nang Loeng horse-racing track, also in Dusit district. It is reported that the CPB has demanded the Royal Turf Club vacate the property in 180 days.

Anant Waiwitaya, a CPB legal affairs officer recently wrote to the club “to demand the departure.”

For many years the very large property has been in the hands of aged military people who benefit from gambling and while having been in operation for more than 100 years, is most recently remembered as the home of anti-Thaksin/anti-Yingluck grey activists under General Boonlert Kaewprasit’s Pitak Siam. This group was supported by all kinds of old royalists and conservatives who began the initial agitation against Yingluck. Boonlert was – maybe still is – secretary-general of the Royal Turf Club.

The CPB’s Anant noted that the lease had expires and that the Royal Turf Club had to vacate the property and its “track, five-storey stand, two six-storey parking buildings, a five-storey management building, a one-storey structure and a swimming pool.”

The CPB stated that it “had to use the land and the buildings.”

The report says: “Initiatives to relocate it were discussed during the previous governments of Chuan Leekpai and Thaksin Shinawatra.” Nothing resulted.

We see the action as another effort to create the “royal precinct,” rumored to include plans for a massive palace. The map below shows that the king’s moves over the last six months have massively expanded his territory.





The Dictator’s double standards

4 04 2018

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has complained about the recent appearance of Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra in Japan and other places.

He slammed them: “I don’t have any feeling about them. They should have been ashamed. They broke the law and they still dare to go out…”.

Double standards? You bet. After all, if the military junta hadn’t exonerated itself with retrospective “law,” The Dictator himself would be in trouble. When it comes to breaking the law, overthrowing a legal government is seditious, treason and mutiny. Grinding a constitution under his boot is also illegal.

And then there’s the murder of dozens of civilians in 2010 by troops commanded by Gen Prayuth.

He should be ashamed and imprisoned.





The royal(ist) mess that is Thailand

3 04 2018

The success of palace propaganda, reinforced by decades of fascist-military domination, promoted by a royalist lapdog media, both state and private sector, and buttressed by draconian laws and belligerent royalist agencies like the military and ISOC, has been so sweeping that there’s little overt opposition these days (we note the linked article is no longer free to download). That which does exist has been firmly under the military boot in recent years.

Some wondered if the succession would temper there would be some cutting of the strings that tie Thais to the palace. Wonder no longer. Almost nothing has changed. As evidence, we cite two news stories from the last day or so.

The Nation reports that “Thai Heritage Conservation Week” is upon us. Like the recent noe-feudal celebration of the repression under pre-1932 absolute monarchy, this week royal posterior polishers get another chance to dress in feudal style – “traditional costumes.”

The useless Culture Ministry “kicked off the week with Thai Heritage Conservation Day on April 2…”. That day “has been celebrated annually since 1985, honouring … Princess … Sirindhorn, who was born on April 2, 1955, and her contributions to the conservation of the nation’s heritage.”

We can’t immediately recall her “contributions” but there must be plenty claimed for her by palace propagandists.

More worryingly, The Nation also reports on the kerfuffle in Chiang Mai over the mansions being built on forested – now deforested – hills that will be handed out to judges and others in the Ministry of Justice.

What do the people opposing this project do to protest? They “will petition … King … Vajiralongkorn for help.”

A network of those opposed to the project will gather signatures before petitioning the king.

Why? Get publicity? Look doltish? Look loyal? Who knows and who can blame them in the current ideological straitjacket of royalism.

Apparently they “would also lodge a complaint with the Administrative Court in early May,” which seems far more grown up.

Yellow shirts among the opponents blame Thaksin Shinawatra and his clan for the problem. Perhaps that says something about the feudal fawning.