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.”





Updated: “It is completely rigged”

20 12 2018

There’s been a lot of commentary on the junta’s “election.”

Reuters has an interesting commentary on the junta’s election. It begins with a rather weak claim that “many hope the vote will return Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy to democracy.” The rest of the story appears to demolish the idea that there is any reason for hope.

It notes that “critics say the junta has taken several steps to remain in power after the vote, casting doubt on how credible the poll will be.”

The usually conservative commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak, not often seen as an overly critical observer states:

We have seen a systematic manipulation and distortion of the electoral process, of the will of the people, starting from the constitution…. The reason this (election) has a crooked feel more than others is because it pretends to be democratic, clean and fair when it is completely rigged….

He’s right.

Other critics add that the “regime has tried to influence everything from electoral boundaries in favor of pro-junta parties and hand-picking the entire upper house of parliament, down to plans to re-design ballot papers to remove party names and symbols attached to candidates – which will be likely to confuse voters.” [It seems the junta may have backed down on the latter.]

Reuters is clear about Palang Pracharath: “Prime Minister [Gen] Prayuth Chan-ocha has made his long-term political ambitions clear, even going so far as to set up a party with four cabinet ministers, the Palang Pracharat Party (PPRP).”

Khaosod reports that the junta is getting worried about Reuter-like observations that show the “election” is meant to be a sham. There’s a bit of backwards and forwarding on “observers, although the Deputy Dictator, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan seems to have knocked that notion back again. He prefers to emphasize that the military and police will monitor “security” for the election. Will they also engage in electoral fraud for the junta?

Veteran election observer Pongsak Chanon ridiculed Foreign Minister and junta slitherer Don Pramudwinai and his “suggestion” that “foreign diplomats and embassy staff” can “monitor” the election. Pongsak pointed out the obvious: they can’t; they aren’t trained; and its not their job.

Worried about its election being seen as a fraud, the Election Commission is reported at Khaosod as being permitted to “kill … a proposal to strip them [ballots] of party logos and names following widespread opposition and ridicule.” The notion that the EC is “independent” was done damage in even “making” this “decision.” An official said the EC “voted unanimously to drop the plan…”. Makes no sense, really. It was the EC that claimed the “idea” as theirs. Now every single one of them dumps their bright idea. How on earth can anyone believe anything from this bunch of dolts.

Meanwhile, as the National News Bureau reports the junta’s Pracharath schemes for farmers continue to expand. Pracharat = Palang Pracharath = using the state’s agencies to rig the election.

Update: The EC continues to struggle under the junta’s yoke. One reader suggests that there is a struggle going on, with the EC president Ittiporn Boonpracong trying to have his agency be allowed to do something of its job without the continual interference by the junta. We have no idea. All we see is a junta that is lame, cowed and dutiful and which operates with zero transparency. The most recent kerfuffle is the ongoing election observer stuff. Now Ittiporn says, ” international observers were welcome to monitor the upcoming election, provided they follow procedures and respect the law.” He says “that this practice has been common since 2003, when the EC allowed foreigners to observe the voting.” We are not at all sure which election was observed in 2003…. There was one in 2001 and another in 2004. Maybe the conversion from Thai dates to Western dates has stumped the EC or reporters. Better hope they can count accurately when the election comes around. Anyway, Prawit would seem to be the boss in this, and he says the junta can do without international observers.





Rapping the military junta

5 11 2018

The mammoth number of views received by the ประเทศกูมี video – more than 28 million – has caused more international attention to the nature of the military dictatorship and its rigged election.

IHS Jane’s Country Risk Daily Report states that there is an “increased likelihood of NCPO [junta] intervention in Thailand’s political parties…”. Perhaps Jane’s has missed the fact that the junta has been doing this since 14 May 2014. Oddly, the report also believes that “civil activities raises protest risks.” We don’t see any greater “risk” – we might say “hope” – of this than at any time over the past couple of years. The report sees the rap video as evidence of considerable dissatisfaction with the military’s rule. That is true.

Prompted by the rap, Hawaii Public Radio has a short report on the junta and its repression.

CNN has a longer look at the rap’s impact, quoting Dechathorn Bumrungmuang, one the group’s co-founders: “Our main goal to set up this group is just like our name, Rap Against Dictatorship. We want to use rap songs to fight against dictators…”. CNN notes:

Under [Gen] Prayuth [Chan-ocha]’s watch, hundreds of activists have been arrested and prosecuted, political activity has been banned, and the sphere for robust public discourse has all but disappeared thanks to draconian laws that restrict online expression and increase surveillance and censorship.

Even the usually politically timid commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak sees that the “song taps into collective and pent-up anxiety and frustration. Its lyrics are a litany of political ills and social injustice Thailand is afflicted with.”

Al Jazeera has a video report that takes up many of the same issues and is well worth viewing. Interestingly, it also shows anti-democrat Suthep Thaugsuban campaigning in Bangkok. The junta continues with its double standards.





Commentary on the junta’s rigged election II

21 10 2018

This post is a bit of a catch-up.

According to a VOA report a couple of days ago, the Future Forward Party was “on the verge of announcing it would defy any order from the junta that bans direct fundraising.”

It challenges the junta: “We are fully aware that the NCPO can do anything, actually, to us. But if we don’t push for normality in politics and doing political campaigns — it is four months before elections — if you still ban political activities except [to] recruit new members, that is nonsense…”.

Interestingly, “Election Commission Secretary-General Jarungvith Phumma has not responded to inquiries from VOA.” He seems to be awaiting his orders from the military junta.

Commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak said the “junta’s treatment of the Future Forward party is consequential. If the Future Forward party is suppressed, manipulated, marginalized in a fashion that is not acceptable to the public, then the election will lose legitimacy…”.

Funny that, we hadn’t thought of the military dictatorship having “legitimacy.” He often claims the junta’s legitimacy has something to do with “most Thais” – he means the Bangkok middle class – “accepted” the coup because they worried about succession.

We can believe he worried about it.

At least he is able to say that the “pro-military parties have substantial latitude to raise money, accept donations, organize activities, whereas the anti-military parties have had a much harder time.”

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post reports that the junta’s Palang Pracharath Party “plans to establish a think tank so people from all sectors can brainstorm the future trajectory of Thailand’s economic, social and political development.”

We were thrown by this. We thought the junta has done the brain (sic.) storming by establishing its 20-year plan.

Of course, Science and Technology Minister Suvit Maesincee as a would-be deputy leader of the party “explained” the scheme. How does anyone distinguish between the minister and his party and the junta’s party and the minister? It simply can’t be done. This is corruption at work.

The minister-party-executive-cabinet-member-junta-minion tried to say that the “Institute” would have something to do with “principles are demand-based policies, adopting a bottoms-up approach, and participatory politics…”. Impossible, but worth throwing out there to scramble the fact that this is the junta’s preferred party and answers to The Dictator.

The minister-party-executive-cabinet-member-junta-minion seemed to indicate a fear that the Future Forward Party is grabbing the attention of younger voters when he said the “Institute” was “intended mainly for young people who want to play a role in shaping Thailand’s future…”.

Again, it is the junta that considers it has “shaped” the future f a royalist and anti-democratic Thailand. The minister-party-executive-cabinet-member-junta-minion sees the need to camouflage this fact.





Quotes on an “election”

4 10 2018

PPT has seldom agreed with former Democrat Party foreign minister Kasit Piromya. However, in a piece at Asia Times, he provides a useful perspective:

“Thaksin and his legacies, his party, personality cult and populist policy measures,” are Prayut’s biggest threat, said Kasit Piromya, a former foreign minister under a Democrat Party-led government and prominent critic of Thaksin and Yingluck’s rule.

“Prayut and his allies have to be certain that they will have the majority before the holding of the election. They will not go to the election in order to lose…they could keep on postponing the election date,” Kasit said in an interview.

“The constitution and related laws are not democratic, so an election in substance cannot be democratic,” Kasit said.

He’s right about the essential undemocratic nature of the proposed “election” – journalists take note.

While not directly on the “election” at some time next year, Thitinan Pongsudhirak’s account of the “new” military carries some interest for The Dictator’s plan. Like others, he seems to hope that splits between junta leaders and the new military leadership will destabilize the junta’s control. We think the tea leaves are dissected to much, but never discount the arrogance of military leaders. Look at the several challenges Gen Prem Tinsulanonda faced when he was premier with palace support.





Academic discussion of democracy

25 08 2018

Khaosod reports on an event at Chulalongkorn University that summarizes the outcomes as being:

China’s growing influence in Thailand, middle class support for the junta, a royalist ideology and the West’s declining interest in human rights abroad have led to the ruling junta’s long stay in power….

We were immediately somewhat dismayed. Some of these things may have had an impact but one of them – royalist ideology – disappeared from the report. All we get is the statement that the junta has been:

“manipulating” … “royal-military authority” as an alternative power structure. Prajak [Kongkirati] called the issue of the monarchy the elephant in the room, while Puangthong [Pawakapan] said she could not discuss the issue…. “You see it, but you cannot discuss it openly,” Puangthong said.

We were also dismayed that other “major factors” were simply missed (at least in the report): repression, the bringing down of the red shirt movement and the militarization of almost everything, not to mention the power of the military’s armed threat.

So this report is a bit ho hum, but we are still going to write on it because even the fact of having an academic meeting on the future of democracy is something of an achievement in the junta’s Thailand!

That China gets some of the blame for the resilience of the military junta seems rather overdone. After all, contrary to the daft comments of the American commentator Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at Hoover Institution, who miraculously appears in a range of places “advising” on how to be more democratic, Thailand has long experience with authoritarianism and authoritarianian principles are deeply embedded in many institutions.

Much of that was achieved when Thailand leaned heavily on the US. And as Thitinan Pongsudhirak of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University observed, “China said whatever government you have is okay with us…”.

It is true that, initially, China was important for Thailand because, as Prajak Kongkirati of Thammasat University, the junta had to “lean on China as it came under pressure from the United States, European Union and Australia in the immediate aftermath of the coup.”

But all that has since changed, and the junta has been enthusiastic on the nations of Europe and the US. Watch these countries accept the rigged election results when the junta decides it can “win” it.

Still on China, Puangthong Pawakapan of Chulalongkorn University, said “China has become the biggest investor-donor in Southeast Asia, provide uncritical support to oppressive regimes in Southeast Asia and has become a model for authoritarian rule in the region.”

Only some of that is true.It is true that China provides uncritical support of oppressive regimes. It is also uncritical of the governments that are not so repressive in the region. We also think that China’s successful marrying of authoritarianism and rampant capitalist development is seen as something of a model.

At the same time, a significant part of the rise of that “model” has to do with the failures of democracy in the West, where citizens have been economically disenfranchised and politically marginalized and the plutocrats and their states have moved sharply to the political right.

What isn’t right is the reported claim that China is the “biggest investor-donor in Southeast Asia.” More research is needed on this. But it isn’t true for Thailand, where the data do show China as the biggest trade partner, even before the junta, but the data up to a year or so ago show China a relative minnow in terms of investment.

As reported, Diamond’s commentary is uninformed on Thailand and rather too formulaic on electoral politics. The claim that: “It’s hard to imagine a long authoritarian rule being stable here,” seems too focused on recent years. Authoritarian rule has been remarkably stable in Thailand since WW2. And, as Prajak points out the junta is now “the longest-ruling regime since 1973…”. He means military regime, because Gen Prem’s regime was in place for a longer period (1980-88).

Prajak is right to observe that “support from the middle class and big capitalists would keep the military in power.” And Puangthong is probably right to say that “Thailand was the worst in Southeast Asia when in comes to the rise of support for authoritarianism among the middle class, though she did not cite any evidence of this.” She added that this support “is the strength of the military regime now…”.