Updated: Masters of repression II

16 07 2021

Lawfare is a tool authoritarian regimes use for political repression. Thailand’s military-backed/monarchist regime has become particularly adept at this means of silencing criticism. There’s been a blizzard of cases of late, even excluding the obvious and odious lese majeste cases.

Just in the past days or so, there have been several cases that warrant attention.

One case involves the Government Pharmaceutical Organization, reported by Reuters to have “initiated a defamation suit against the prominent chairman of a private hospital operator over his criticism of its procurement of Moderna (MRNA.O) COVID-19 vaccines.” He’s been a critic so he’s targeted. Interestingly, after this criticism, the GPO seemed to suddenly get moving on procurement. All vaccine procurement – and not just in Thailand – remains incredibly opaque.

A second case is reported by The Nation and involves the Royal Thai Army. Army chief General Narongpan Jittkaewtae has bellowed that “eight Facebook users and one Twitter user will be arrested over defamation charges” and can expect jail time, fines or both. His anger is because they shared information suggesting that “Thai soldiers were being flown to the United States for Covid-19 booster shots.”

censorship-1

The army claims that the soldiers were not heading off for the “Strategic Airborne Operation at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.” The army didn’t help its case by initially declaring that the soldiers were involved in Cobra Gold, which has nothing to do with travel to the USA.

A third case is reported in two related stories at Thai Enquirer and Prachatai. The toady National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission has ordered Voice TV “to take its programs off the Video To Home 9 TV (V2H9TV) channel…”. The NBTC claims the channel infringed “regulations when it aired … programs on April 27 which covered the protests Standing Still to Stop Incarceration (ยืนหยุดขัง), the White Ribbons (ผูกโบว์ขาว) and the Let Our Friends Go (ปล่อยเพื่อนเรา)…”. Other live protest broadcasts are reportedly being “investigated.”

In other words, the regime is using the NBTC to prevent Voice TV from providing live coverage of protests.

The NBTC has fined the MVTV company 50,000 baht for airing Voice TV’s “Voice Go” programme, “claiming that the content of the programme affects national security.”

The broadcast on the PSI satellite network on 27 April “was a report on the protest in front of the Supreme Court, in which a group of student activists from Thammasat University occupied an area on the footpath to demand the release of student activists then under detention. The programme also featured interviews with protesters on the reasons for their activities.”

The NBTC “stated that the content of the programme affected national security, peace, and public morals.” In fact, the reason for these moves is to remove opposition criticism.

A fourth case involves more defamation and sedition charges as the regime seeks to shutdown critical commentary on its botched vaccine rollout.

In this case, the regime has gone after veteran politician Sudarat Keyuraphan, with red shirt traitor and now regime flunky Seksakol [Suporn] Atthawong and spineless regime doormat, Sonthiya Sawasdee, adviser to the House committee on law, justice and human rights filing charges.

Sudarat’s Sang Thai Party has been campaigning to sue the “murderous government” for “mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis.”

She’s accused sedition and defamation.

The regime’s mouthpiece Seksakol claims that Sudarat has been “wrongly accusing the government of poorly managing the Covid-19 crisis. This was defamatory, according to Mr Seksakol.” He’s an idiot working for a ridiculous regime, making ridiculous claims while botching the crisis. Only diehard regime supporters would think that the regime’s recent virus work has been anything other than a deadly farce.

The execrable Seksakol made it clear that the charges were to prevent “disharmony in society.” In other words, support the regime or else.

Update: On the attack on Sudarat, consider the commentary by Thitinan Pongsudhirak, which is highly recommended as a full read:

Thailand’s vaccine rollout is evidently a complete shambles due to questionable procurement, supply shortage, and misallocation amid a deadly surge of the Covid-19 “Delta” variant. The situation has been going from bad to worse with no end in sight as a poorly conceived strategy unfolds into a national calamity. As public anger mounts with fast-spreading calls for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s ouster, the Covid-19 pandemic is becoming Thailand’s political game-changer more than anyone could have anticipated.

Instead of the youth-led political movement or the parliamentary opposition’s demands for reform, fundamental political change in this country will likely cascade from the Prayut government’s gross mishandling that is claiming lives, inflicting daily hardships, and causing unhappiness nationwide. When the time comes to pick up the pieces with more abundant and efficacious vaccines with virus control under way, a national inquiry for public accountability will be imperative….

What sets Thailand apart are what appears to be inherent nepotism and vested interests where people suspect there is more than meets the eye behind the country’s vaccination procurement. For inhabitants of this country, it matters less that other countries are suffering the same conditions, but that the country they live in can and should be doing much better. What’s worse, the Prayut government keeps repeating the same mistakes and making matters worse by the day.

Is he up for a state defamation action too?

 





Promoting The Dictator

6 06 2021

Trump supporters used to chant “Four more years!” In Thailand, the state’s PR arms are chanting “Seven more years!” or something similar for Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has been hopeless on the economy, has botched recent virus policy, and has pandered to palace and royalists, while promoting criminals like Thammanat Prompao. He’s been adept at shuffling loot to the military and the big conglomerates, and he’s been especially good at political repression.

The Prime Minister Operations Centre (PMOC) “has launched a campaign, derided by critics, to end attacks on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha for holding on to power for so long.”

For us, one day was already too long.

According to reports, the state is wasting money on infographics “featuring Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and projects developed during his seven-year tenure are posted on the Facebook page of the … PMOC … in its campaign to counter criticism spreading on social media of his lengthy stay in power.”

The PMOC has come up with slogans that don’t roll off the tongue: “Uncle Tu, 7 years. So, what’s wrong?” Lots!

The PMOC has the difficult task of making a silk purse from a water buffalo ear, “highlighting the government’s achievements.” Of course, its main “achievement” has been staying in power for seven years, and the regime hopes for another 13 years.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak’s op ed this week lists just some of the regime’s “successes”:

  • a subpar economic performance
  • persistent controversies from his cabinet’s incomplete oath of office
  • a cabinet minister’s past drug conviction and imprisonment in Australia
  • Prayuth’s house on army premises after retirement
  • leading the military coup in May 2014
  • jacked up public debt to nearly the legal ceiling of 60% of GDP
  • hopeless coalition government
  • neutering’s and cooption of supposedly independent agencies and judiciary

Thitinan points out that “the main implication from Thailand being stuck with Gen Prayut indefinitely is that the country’s near-term political future is likely to be tumultuous and turbulent due to pent-up and mounting grievances that are being systematically suppressed.”

As he says, there’s “no available means to change government at this time.” This means more of the same and maybe Gen Prayuth for another six years. If that happens, this dolt will have become Thailand’s longest-ever premier.

The opposition, primarily Pheu Thai, Move Forward, and Seri Ruam Thai parties, perform accountability and checks-and-balance functions as much as they can but they can only go so far due to a lack of parliamentary numbers. Unless a coalition partner pulls out, the Prayut government can stay on until the four-year clock runs out.

Thing were different in the past. In contemporary Thai politics, coalition withdrawals in the 1980s and more recently in 1995 and 1996 led to new polls, returning the mandate to the people. In 1997, the sitting premier resigned, enabling the then-opposition to form a government. Government coalition dynamics have changed in the past two decades.

The coups of 2006 and 2014, the new constitutions and the shift of power towards the military have made the playing field less even and more lopsided. It meant that when the military took over in 2014 and took matters into its own hands, the generals would be in charge for good. Elected politicians had to fall in line. If they wanted to partake in the spoils of government in a country with a weak society and even weaker checks and accountability mechanisms, then there is no other way than to stay and stick with the ruling coalition.

Backed by the incumbent centres of power with enough elected politicians in the government’s stable, while oppositional ranks that recently included the youth-led student movement lack momentum, Gen Prayut is likely able to muddle day by day to the last syllable of his four-year term. At issue will be when the time comes for potential change in early 2023. The piled-up public unhappiness will be immense in view of a slow economic recovery and accumulated government incompetence and mismanagement. Although cathartic change can happen in the interim, the time around the next election is likely to see Thailand either perk up or sink inexorably downwards.





A royal shemozzle III

29 05 2021

In a report in the Bangkok Post, Nithi Mahanonda, the secretary-general of the so-called Chulabhorn Royal Academy, is reported as confirming that the latest royal intervention is to save the collective crown’s ass. He reportedly stated that “the CRA would procure ‘alternative vaccines’ until those produced in Thailand were sufficient to protect against the pandemic.” The king’s Siam Bioscience is not and was never up to the job the regime and palace handed it.

As an interesting footnote, Move Forward MP Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn has stated that it was the royally-controlled Siam Cement Group that “brokered Thailand’s acquisition of AstraZeneca vaccines…” and the technology for local production.

Nithi went on to say that “the CRA was required to comply with the laws governing the production and importation of vaccines, and the registration of medical supplies for emergency use.” More on registration below.Princess plaything

The announcement has been cloaked in a surreal “legal” argument that this procurement is “part of the CRA’s regular missions under the law governing its establishment.” That law does not appear to us to go that distance. But the legalities are manufactured faster than a vaccine approval. And, nowhere in its mission statements does the Academy claim to be in this area of work.

Despite the Academy’s claims to transparency, the website is mostly an ode to the ailing princess.

Nithi states the “emergency plan was approved by the CRA council to support the government through the academy’s research and academic capabilities and special contacts with foreign countries.” As a hospital, we guess that the Academy could have imported vaccines with state approval, but it is the state approval that the decree circumvented.

In our view, the announcement/decree has little legal or constitutional support. Yes, we know that slimy royalists and regime fixers like Wissanu Krea-ngam will have arguments for the legalities and he would probably have the royalist judiciary for support, but these are the same people who reckon heroin trafficking overseas doesn’t count under Thai law or constitution. When it comes to royals it seems there are no limits on their desires, whims, and fancies.

In general, the reporting and commentary on the royal intervention has been limited and misplaced. That’s not unexpected in royalist Thailand under the (semi-)military boot and the lese majeste law.

Much of the attention in the babble about royal intervention has been about the slap in the face this gives Genral Prayuth Chan-ocha and his government. Thitinan Pongsudhirak begins his commentary on an appropriate note:

Just as Thailand’s murky vaccine plan has gone from bad to worse, the plot keeps thickening. The latest development centres on the May 25 publication in the Royal Gazette of the Chulabhorn Royal Academy’s authority to procure Covid-19 vaccines within the country and from abroad as needed for public health benefits. As has been promptly noted elsewhere, this vaccine bombshell could be perceived as a snub to the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, particularly Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul. Thailand’s effectively dual-track vaccine strategy is now likely to engender major repercussions.

Appropriately, Thitinan observes:

…the Chulabhorn Royal Academy and Siam Bioscience — a pharmaceutical company owned by the Crown Property Bureau are connected. On Wednesday, the director-general of the academy made a five-point statement to explain how his team will proceed. Yet, we have not heard much from Siam Bioscience.

He seems to believe that:

The Chulabhorn Royal Academy’s assertion at this time that it will find and obtain all available vaccines for Thai people suggests that its role is paramount. Its complete freedom above and beyond the Prayut government and its related laws and rules may be a power play to say that public health supersedes government longevity.

That may be true. But, the commentary skirts difficult issues associated with Chulabhorn’s royal decree. We think that the short-termism of commentary and in the responses of opposition political parties that focus on damage to Gen Prayuth and his hopeless lot dangerously myopic on yet another grab for power by the palace.

Worse, some of that commentary considers the Academy “another government agency,” which fudges on many levels. If it is a government agency, it would fall under law and constitution, but it doesn’t – or so it seems and so it acts. And which government agency can produce the miraculous vaccine approval that followed less than 24 hours after the royal decree announcing it would import the Sinopham vaccine! The reports were of the documentation only landing with the Thai authorities earlier this week. Miracles do happen, if you are a royally-constructed, taxpayer funded outfit that is a plaything for a princess, established to burnish her reputation and contribute to the monarchy’s propaganda.

But what of the law and constitution? We are not lawyers but we wonder about the royal decree, signed by a princess.

We searched the junta’s constitution and there are several relevant sections, including 172 and 175. They are worth considering.

Section 172 is about emergency decrees and might be relevant:

For the purpose of maintaining national or public safety or national economic
security, or averting public calamity, the King may issue an Emergency Decree which
shall have force as an Act.

The issuance of an Emergency Decree under paragraph one shall be made only when
the Council of Ministers is of the opinion that it is an emergency of necessity and
urgency which is unavoidable.

But this would seem to be the decree already in place for many months, so we do not think it applies to the latest royal decree, except as context (noted in the decree).

Section 175 states:

The King has the Royal Prerogative to issue a Royal Decree which is not contrary to
the law.

We guess this is why Thitinan says that “Royal Gazette publications [proclamations/announcements/decrees] take immediate effect with complete legality…”. But this decree is not issued by the king. And is circumventing the state legal or is it that any royal is sovereign? If there are any legal eagles reading this, let us know what you think.

For us, the ability of the king to proclaim anything he wants if not contrary to the law is worrying enough. Having any royal do this is even more concerning. Thailand is yet another step closer to the king’s desire for an absolutist regime.





Further updated: Heroin smuggling approved

5 05 2021

In one of its more deranged and highly politicized decisions, the Constitutional Court has ruled that Deputy Agriculture Minister and soon to be boss secretary-general of the ruling Palang Prachart Party Thammanat Prompao who “pleaded guilty to conspiring to import heroin into Australia” can retain his cabinet post.

Like the regime’s leadership, the court decided that spending four years in a “Sydney jail is not a breach of the constitution.”

Convicted heroin smuggler

Section 98 of the constitution states, in part, that one is prohibited from exercising the right to stand for election in an election as a member of the House of Representatives if they have been sentenced by a judgement to imprisonment and imprisoned by a warrant of the Court.

But, the hopelessly biased Constitutional Court on Wednesday ruled that while Thammanat “had admitted to his Australian conviction … the … court could not recognise the authority of another state.”

The court stated:

We cannot implement the verdict of foreign courts, and we cannot interpret the verdict of foreign courts as having the same power as our courts…. The verdict of any state only has effect in that state.

The report quotes political commentator Voranai Vanijaka who says the verdict was more “proof there’s no rule of law in Thailand, only the rule of power”. He added:

Over the past year and a half, Deputy Minister Thammanat has become a key power player and deal maker for the [Prime Minister] Prayut [Chan-o-cha] regime…. He’s too valuable. He knows it. The regime knows it. The Thai people know it. The decision is to no one’s surprise.

Sadly, he’s right.

Human Rights Watch researcher Sunai Phasuk said:

This outrageous ruling nonetheless confirmed that he was sentenced [to prison] in Australia, which means his parliamentary testimony denying it is a lie.

With this shocking ruling by the Constitutional Court, now all sorts of criminals convicted in foreign courts could run for a public office in Thailand without a worry. Crimes committed outside of the motherland, no matter how serious they are, don’t count in the Thai realm of justice.

Sadly, he’s right.

Thammanat is now fabulously wealthy. No one has questioned that. It could reasonably be described as unusual wealth.

No wonder so many young Thais are despondent about a country run by military thugs, criminals and mafia figures.

Update 1: Thammanat seems to lead some kind of exalted existence. Prachatai has a story of Samart Jenchaijitwanich, Assistant to the Minister of Justice, who “has submitted his resignation letter to the Minister after Phalang Pracharat Party voted to remove him from all positions in the government and the party.” He was “Director of the Complaint Centre of Phalang Pracharat Party, a government whip, president of an anti-ponzi scheme committee, and member of other Phalang Pracharat Party committees.”

Samart was outed by Sira Jenjaka, a Phalang Pracharat MP, who “revealed that he [Samart] cheated on an English exam by sending a proxy to take the test for him. The test was a part of the requirement for a PhD at Ramkhamhaeng University.”

It was a “Phalang Pracharat investigative committee led by Paiboon Nititawan [that] voted unanimously to remove Samart from all political positions in the government and the party.”

As far as we can determine, Samart has not been charged or convicted of anything.

In comparison, Thammanat, in addition to his conviction for heroin trafficking, has a fake degree and has repeatedly lied to parliament, the media and the people. He also managed to barely escape a murder charge a few years ago. We know that Gen Prawit Wongsuwan loves, promotes and protects Thammanat, but his ability to avoid political damage suggests even more powerful support.

Update 2: The fallout from the Constitutional Court’s bizarre decision continues. Social media is scathing, parodying the decision, damning the court, and slamming the regime. The commentary is equally scathing. As Thai PBS puts it, the decision “has sparked outrage and ridicule and has added to the feeling of hopelessness…”. It cites Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political science lecturer at Chulalongkorn University and an interpreter of Thailand for the English-speaking world: “This is arguably Thailand’s lowest point in its international life.” Titipol Phakdeewanich, a political scientist at Ubol University, said the verdict “continue[d] to undermine the legal system of the country …[and] is not based on facts.”





Further updated: Another 112 arrest

14 01 2021

Prachatai’s Facebook page has reported another arrest of a student, accused of lese majeste:

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that Sirichai, a first year student at Thammasat University and a member of the student activist group United Front of the Thammasat and Demonstration, was arrested by officers from the Khlong Luang Police Station under a Section 112 charge, and was being taken to the Border Police [BPP] Region 1 headquarters.

When activists and friends arrived at the BPP headquarters they were told Sirichai was not there. He was located about an hour later “at his dormitory, and that a number of plainclothes officers have brought him there while they search his room.” Those who located him “demand[ed] that the officers wait for a lawyer to arrive at the dormitory before taking Sirichai elsewhere.” After a lawyer arrived, the “officers then presented a warrant from the Thanyaburi Provincial Court and said that they will be taking Sirichai back to the Khlong Luang Police Station.”

Later, his friends were told “that Sirichai is being held at the Khlong Luang Police Station. However, a TLHR lawyer asked officers at the police station, and was told that Sirichai is not there.”

The case is murky at this stage. If more information becomes available, PPT will update this post.

Update 1: Prachatai has an updated report on this case. It states that Sirichai is “a 1st year student at the Puey Ungphakorn School of Development Studies, Thammasat University, and a member of the student activist group United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration…”. He was arrested in the middle of the night by Khlong Luang police and taken to the Khlong Luang Police Station. Sirichai reportedly “faces charges under Section 112 for spraying paint on a portrait of the King.”

It is added that “Sirichai was taken to the Thanyaburi Provincial Court on Thursday morning (14 January) for a temporary detention request. The court then ruled to allow him to be temporarily detained for 12 days. His lawyer is now requesting bail using a Thammasat University lecturer’s position as security.”

TLHR says that “Sirichai’s case is the first time since Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha’s announcement on 19 November 2020 that every law will be used against the pro-democracy protesters that a court issue[d] an arrest warrant for a Section 112 charge.”

Thai Enquirer has a powerful op-ed:

On Wednesday night, state security officials abducted New Sirichai from his dormitory. The officials were not in uniform, did not declare an arrest warrant, and took him to an undisclosed location.

Rights groups and politicians said that the arrest amounted to kidnapping because of the nature and timing of the abduction….

What made the situation worse was that police lied to lawyers and pro-democracy protesters about New’s whereabouts throughout the night….

[T]he arrest last night goes to show that we have become a nation where laws and the rights of the accused do not really matter.

No matter your position on the Lese Majeste law, the actions of the Thai police last night went beyond carrying out the enforcement of the law and was an act of intimidation and harassment by the state.

The ‘arrest,’ if you could call it that, was more reminiscent of a scene from the Sopranos than protocol accepted by the United Nations.

This government has shown time and time again that it is not above using the same tactics employed by dictators and despots. But this is hardly surprising given that this government was put in place by a military coup and has allied itself with international drug dealers and local mafiosos.

It concludes: “we are a nation of thugs being ruled by a government full of thugs.”

Update 2: Commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak isn’t writing about lese majeste, but his assessment of Thailand under the current regime fits with the assessment above:

… moral turpitude has set in while the sense of moral backstop has faded. As this trend intensifies, Thailand risks suffering political decay, social decadence and economic stagnation, while impunity and immorality reign without boundaries….

The corruption and graft among government officials and military and police officers are likely to add fuel to the fire of social discontent among youth-led anti-establishment protesters and activists. When Covid restrictions are loosened, they probably will return to campuses and the streets to demand more competent and accountable rulers. When this happens, those who will ask again and again about who is backing such protests need to look at Thailand’s decadence, decay, and stagnation as the real backers. This is why the student-led protesters will keep going for their country’s better future and for themselves.





Prem dead IV

31 05 2019

In our first post on Gen Prem Tinsulanonda’s death, we warned that there was likely to be plenty of buffalo manure, piled high by royalists and lazy commentators who recall Prem’s time as unelected premier as somehow better than anything else.

As it has turned out, while there has been some of this bleating, there’s also been some excellent assessments in the international media and in the local press.

That has seen some efforts to roll back the truth and to make a silk purse of a sow’s ear. A recent sycophantic effort is by commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak. As far as we can tell from his CV, Thitinan has never actually written much at all about Gen Prem. This would suggest that he’s working on that sow’s ear based on his impressions of a man he admired.

Thitinan seems miffed that some of the commentary on Prem has been negative. He puts this down to considering Prem’s 21st century and forgetting his 20th century work. And, he seems to think that other mistakenly use 21st century lenses to consider the earlier Prem. And/or, the youngsters of today just don’t get what their “elders” did for them back in the grim days of the Cold War military dictatorship.

He admits that “Gen Prem’s legacy is certainly mixed.” However, he wants to resurrect Prem’s 20th century when “[h]e served what he often called the “motherland”, astutely and with distinction when the heyday of Thailand’s military-authoritarian era needed him to thwart communism…”. Look at these interventions as “Gen Prem’s lasting legacies, which marked his illustrious political life and performance at the top…”.

Unfortunately, Thitinan really only begins his 20th century story when Gen Prem becomes army chief in the late 1970s, “when communist expansionism was an existential threat.” There’s stuff about Prem staring down Vietnamese tans across the border in 1979. Where does Thitinan expect the nation’s military commander to have been? At the same time, its was clear to all who were deeply involved  that the Vietnamese weren’t invading Thailand but defeating the Khmer Rouge. What this prancing at the border did was give Prem more ammunition for replacing Gen Kriangsak as prime minister.

When he succeeded in ousting Kriangsak, he relinquished control of Cambodia policy to hardliners:

… Prime Minister Prem … has delegated Cambodian policy primarily to three officials–Foreign Minister Siddhi Savetsila, Secretary-General Prasong Sunsiri of the National Security Council, and Army Deputy Chief of Staff Chavalit Yongchaiyudh. While Siddhi directs efforts on the diplomatic front, Prasong is in charge of Bangkok’s policy toward all Indochinese refugees. Lt. General Chavalit coordinates Chinese and ASEAN military aid to the resistance and is the principal architect of non-Communist resistance strategy.

Thitinan ignores the political turmoil of the early years of the Prem premiership and the opposition to him.

For him, the two big deals of the Prem period are “compromises.” One is the amnesty for “Communist Party of Thailand members and student activists who earlier fled to jungle hideouts and strongholds to return and restart their lives in society.” Chavalit had much to do with that too, but the fact is that there were other things happening within the CPT that saw it in decline and made amnesty good strategy. Prem did recognize this and deserves credit.

The second compromise “was between civilian leaders and military generals.” He says:

As prime minister, Gen Prem presided over three elections and five governments. He maintained control over security- and economy-related cabinet portfolios, especially interior, defence, finance, and foreign affairs, but allowed elected politicians to run line ministries, such as commerce, industry, agriculture, and transport and communications. This compromise led to a so-called “Premocracy”, that was semi-authoritarian and semi-democratic. Similar to the current Thai military regime’s situation, this kind of compromise requires fair and sufficient power-sharing, which may be lacking in the post-election political setup.

This is only part of the story. Prem was under constant pressure from civilians for real electoral democracy. He resisted and that’s why there were five governments. Prem resisted, again and again, and the palace was unwavering in its support of Prem-style authoritarianism. No politician ever challenged Prem for the premiership. They knew their place. Prem spent the rest of his life trying to prevent civilian politicians from ruling. He did his job and he was rewarded. Thailand lost elected governments time and time again.

For a different take, mostly 21st century Prem, the Council on Foreign Relations is good.





The unofficial premier, military and election cheating

15 03 2019

We apologize to readers that writing about the junta’s election has become peculiar, totally entangled in the ridiculousness manufactured by the junta’s puppet agencies.

Recently declared to not be a government official despite being self-appointed prime minister, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has taken his “official duties” (campaigning) to foreign investors.

Seeming to misunderstand how foreign investment works, The Dictator-in-a-business-suit “urged foreign investors … to invest and expand their businesses within the country, as Thailand has this year become the Asean chair.”

We can’t fathom why a year as ASEAN chair should encourage investment. But more easily understood was The Dictator’s call for support:

I need support from all stakeholders. I don’t want to see any protests. I am asking you [foreign investors] to refrain from considering comments on social media. The government needs peace so that we can facilitate foreign partners….

He is saying that only a junta-backed government can be trusted to repress the population.Some businesses seem unconvinced.

Of course, that also requires the military. Recent commentaries vary on the strength of the relationship between the Army and the junta. Read them here and here.

One of the things that comes from Thitinan Pongsudhirak’s account is his discussion of other agencies supporting the junta, its devil party and the rigged election. He refers to “politicised agencies, such as the Election Commission, Constitutional Court, and National Anti-Corruption Commission…”.

The level of collusion, corruption and rigging is unprecedented in the past six decades. The obviousness of the cheating is startling.





Fallout from Ubolratana move

11 02 2019

If Thaksin Shinawatra really did “mastermind” the nomination of former Princess Ubolratana as prime ministerial candidate for the Thai Raksa Chart Party, then it goes down as a major failure, equivalent, perhaps, to the great amnesty fiasco that Yingluck’s government briefly “masterminded.”

Why anyone in the Thaksin camp thought this was a good idea is anyone’s guess. Most guesses are that somehow Thaksin and crew thought the king was on board. They seemed to think that on amnesty too. But even if this was the case, having a member of the royal family as a prime minister in a neo-absolutist regime is crippled (anti)democratic thinking.

The fallout is beginning to be seen.

For one, the monarch’s word – “command” – is now considered law:

Citing the King’s royal command issued late on Friday, the Election Commission (EC) did not include Princess Ubolratana’s name among prime ministerial candidates announced yesterday

It is shameful that a legal body does not or could not cite law in making its decision.

Even if one considers royalist Thitinan Pongsudhirak’s lame defense of the monarch and his announcement as “a reminder and a reflection more than an instruction,” the impact and interpretation in Thailand marks his interpretation as hopelessly flawed.

The Bangkok Post reports that “EC secretary-general Pol Col Jarunvith Phumma said that the EC’s announcement of prime ministerial candidates was final and there are no legal channels for parties to appeal the decision.”

Announcement=command=law. The balance in Thailand’s politics has moved even more into the palace. If that’s Thailand’s “new balance,” it is royally lopsided. Recall that coronation trumps election.

Second, the EC is investigating Thai Raksa Chart. The party’s executive is resigning in order to try and avoid dissolution.

If the party is dissolved, it is still unclear whether they can switch parties, but it could end up that all the pro-Thaksin parties, who many pundits considered the front runners in the election may be in a situation where they cannot compete in sufficient seats to garner the largest number of seats in the lower house.

The Post states that “the party may be dissolved and its executives could be banned from voting and running in elections for a minimum of 10 years, or even life…”.

If the party tries “to keep their MP candidates in the race with the party prepared to seek a royal pardon over its selection of the princess,” it is further consolidating royal control over politics.

Meanwhile, the move has unleashed the ultra-royalist and anti-Thaksin anti-democrats.

Third, with all the attention to Thai Raksa Chart, the junta’s devil party escapes the scrutiny it should be under.

There will be further fallout.





Academics, posterior polishing and freedom

11 01 2019

Readers might recall a brief flurry of posts about the lackadaisical discussion of academic freedom in Thailand from an Australian-based historian. We complained that the events that saw several people associated with a conference in Chiang Mai being tried (since dropped) and with the situation of academics in Thailand could not be viewed as just another example of the ordinariness of academic (non/un)freedom in Thailand or that surveillance of academics is something to be viewed as somehow normalized.

In a recent article at East Asia Forum, “The fate of academic freedom in Thailand,” academic Tyrell Haberkorn takes a more serious look at the case of those who were charged in Chiang Mai and the rule of law in Thailand. Well worth a look.

For examples of how unfreedom, repression and military dictatorship has cowed academics and commentators in Thailand, read just about anything written in the past couple of weeks about the now undated “election.” So intense has been the junta’s efforts to crush any semblance of criticism of the monarch and monarchy, that when it is obvious that the king is land-grabbing, including turfing out parliament and leaving it homeless, and that it is he who has caused the current “election” imbroglio, what is seen from commentators and academics? Nothing. Deafening silence. And when the silence is broken it is to posterior polish.

Take as an example a recent op-ed for the Bangkok Post. Thitinan Pongsudhirak complains about the election delay, but blames no one. He pussyfoots about, claiming that 24 February was not the day: “An election date that many thought would be Feb 24 has now gone into limbo without clarity.” He’s afraid to say that this was the day the junta chose and worked and cheated and rigged towards, but that it is now off the table because there’s no royal decree. Stating the facts might be dangerous. Perhaps, but his piece is royalist and new reignist, declaring the coronation and the junta’s rigged election as linked and glorious. Buffing posteriors is easier, safer and likely to be rewarding. Freedom, though, is crushed, aided and abetted by complicit royalist “academics.”





On the junta’s rigged election

30 12 2018

Even though the military dictatorship is getting skittish about its rigged election, The Guardian of a few days ago had some bits worth quoting. Here are some of them:

Many Thais remain sceptical that the long-awaited election – pushed back multiple times by the military junta … – will even happen, let alone do much to change the political structure of the country.

Commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak:

“This will not be a fair election…. But it is a necessary first step for Thailand to regain some balance. There is a long way to go yet.”

“I see the constitution as the biggest source of political ailments and social grievances in Thailand…. It is totally crooked and it was written to perpetuate military power in politics. The senate is a junta chamber and in the lower house they have obliterated the party system to make it entirely rigged for the military.”

…[M]any fear that the election system will be so manipulated by the junta that 24 February will simply see the military returned to power through proxy political parties such as the Palang Pracharat party, recently formed by NCPO [junta] members, or will end up with [Gen] Prayuth Chan-ocha, the incumbent prime minister under the military regime, selected to the role again.

Academic Duncan McCargo: “the rules of the game have been rigged…”.

Civil rights and environmental activist and leader of the Commoner Party, Lertsak Kamkongsak, still waiting to hear whether the military will allow it to register:

“The whole system is messed up and totally against parties…. Prayuth will be the next prime minister for sure and this election will lead to the military government, but it won’t be completely under their control. I think they will last one to two years, and then there will be another election again…. Personally, I think it’s going to be chaos. And [it will] probably lead to another coup.”