Further updated: Sparks beginning to fly

28 01 2018

Quite some time ago we said that, as in the past, the spark that lights a fire under Thailand’s military dictatorship might come from something quite unexpected.

We think we might have seen that spark and it may be two events that have begun to tip the political balance. One is Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan’s luxury timepieces. It isn’t so much that he’s seemingly corrupt. After all the timid middle classes and the wealthy capitalist class “understand” corruption and it is a price they are ever willing to pay so long as they can continue to prosper. And, if the corrupt are “good” people, then it’s okay. What has led to a beginning of an unraveling of this political relationship is Prawit’s arrogance about his massive watch collection and the demonstration (so far) of cover-up and impunity. This taints the junta as self-serving, grasping and certainly not “good” people.

The second spark is the continual delay in the holding of an election that is neither free nor fair. The middle and capitalist classes were fully prepared to accept the junta’s manipulated constitution, its forcing of the constitutional referendum, the tinkering with the details, a senate that maintains military political dominance and human rights restrictions. However, as well as the political repression of the lower classes, they wanted something of a say in politics via that unfair election. By delaying numerous times, the junta is displaying arrogance and a craving for power “unsuited” to the middle and capitalist classes.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

The peeling away of support even sees diehard yellow shirts, the boosters for the coups of 2006 and 2014, criticizing the military junta it bet on for turning back the lower class political tide. It also sees cracks appearing in the junta’s domination and control both in events and institutions. We have posted on the “We Walk” march and its court victory. Some of the NGOs involved in that event were those that were present at the birth of the People’s Alliance for Democracy in 2006. For some of those yellow shirts, there is disappointment in the regime for not doing sufficient political cleansing. More disappointment comes from the decisions by the junta to allow legal pursuit of PAD and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee. Such legal cases are not just a disappointment but construed as a betrayal.

In this context, the re-emergence of political protest is telling. First We Walk and now the student activists. It isn’t that these students haven’t pushed the junta before. In fact, they have been regular opponents, but they have faced numerous legal cases, arrests, abductions and so on. The Bangkok Post reports their most recent event this way:

The Democracy Restoration Group, led by Sirawich “Ja New” Seritiwat and Rangsiman Rome, posted on Facebook on Friday asking people who share the same views to join them at 5.30pm at the BTS skywalk near the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre.

Pathumwan police said they did not try to stop the campaign so long as it did not block traffic.

Around 100 people came to the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre at 5.15pm while police stood by and took photos of the participants. Many of them showed the sign “Election 2018” or show its photo on their mobile phones.

Core leaders of the group took turns giving speeches.

Interestingly, the demonstrators emphasized not just elections but watches.

Update 1: A reader emailed us saying that we missed one of the most important bits of the linked Bangkok Post story. That reader is right that we should have specifically noted that the rally brought together stalwarts of both red and yellow shirts, with ultra-nationalist yellow shirt Veera Somkwamkid and red shirt iconoclast Sombat Boonngamanong. That is an unexpected alliance. Yet it is just this kind of unusual alliance that has underpinned anti-military movements in the past.

Update 2: An updated Bangkok Post report has more from Veera. He declared: “There are no colours right now…. It’s all about joining hands and removing corruption from the country.” He added: “The problem is we cannot rely on the government because they are in fact the ones who are not transparent.” The principal organizers, the New Democracy Movement declared “it will continue to pressure the government and Gen Prayut to dismiss Gen Prawit and to keep his promise to holding the election this year. They will gather again in the same spot on Feb 10.” Meanwhile, in Songkhla, “members of 19 civic organisations walked from Hat Yai municipality to Sena Narong army camp in Hat Yai to voice their grievances over several state projects in the South and to support the [People Go Network/We Walk group].”





All about the law I

29 03 2017

The media is awash with stories about law. How the rich use it for their benefit or avoid it. How the junta uses it. How the police and military manipulate it. We will just link with some of these, grab some quotes and make some comments.

Law for the rich: It is all about Red Bull heir and cop killer Vorayudh “Boss” Yoovidhya. This story and his “hiding in plain sight” avoidance of responsibility for his drug and booze addled killing of a cop has been around since 2012. In the time since, he’s ignored the cops, probably paid some of them off, paid off the cop’s family with meager “compensation” (also known as blood money) and lived what AP called “the high life” in the resorts of the world. He’s partied with the same crowd he has always been with, the rich, the “good” and the famous. His 400+ photos of his good and expensive life are at Facebook.

We can only wonder why it took AP to do the work of finding him. Not the cops (who lost one of their own). Not the prosecutors. Not even Thailand’s media. Why is that? Money, huge influence and power are, like a military regime, threatening. Hired thugs often do the dirty work for Thailand’s Sino-Thai tycoons, so few are prepared to challenge any of them.

And, oh yes, he is due to “appear” before prosecutors. As the Bangkok Post states, this spoiled rich untouchable “has been repeatedly summoned to face authorities but he avoided it each time, claiming [that should read “lying”] through his lawyer that he was sick or out of the country on business.”

Law and the junta I: Thaksin Shinawatra is not short of a baht. In fact, a previous court decision extracted about $1.4 billion from him in 2010, representing more than half of the assets the state had frozen. No matter what one thinks of that decision, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this decision made sure that the state got back what it thought necessary.

It seems not, for the junta has decided to suck back more of Thaksin’s money. In fact, another $510 million in “tax.” Of course, this is a part of the junta’s paranoia about Thaksin and political opposition. It is also meant to scratch the junta’s anti-election itch about voting being about money paid for each vote received.

Law and the junta II: While on Thaksin and hobbling the Shinawatra clan, the junta’s minions have closed Voice TV for a few days for daring to report on things that make the military dictatorship uncomfortable. The Thai Journalists Association and the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association have generally been dominated by yellow-shirted journalists and media entrepreneurs, but even they feel the threat from the junta.

Two media associations have “called on the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission … to review its committee’s order to black out Voice TV’s broadcasts for seven days, saying it harms media freedom.” They also determined that the NBTC’s decision “conflicts with both the 1997 and 2006 constitutions, which safeguard those in the media who deliver news or opinions in compliance with their career ethics.”

Such calls have no impact on the military dictatorship because it has “law” in its holster.

Law for the politically connected: Anti-democrat and military junta-supporting Suthep Thaugsuban leads a charmed legal life, at least under the junta. He’s broken more laws than anyone could keep count of and gotten off  every  charge he’s faced (that we can recall) under the military junta he worked with and helped bring to power (or never even been charged). Having something in common with the Red Bull fugitive, he even got away with murder. But that’s not unusual in Thailand…

This time, in a case where he was accused of defaming leading members of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship who were standing for election, accusing them of arson and other crimes, a politicized court ruled “Suthep had not made false accusations against the three UDD leaders as alleged, and dismissed the case against him.” Thailand’s judiciary simply fails to dispense anything resembling justice when it comes to the politically-connected and powerful.

Then there’s the case of ultra-nationalist and anti-democrat Veera Somkwamkid who toddled off to the Thailand-Cambodia birder to check on casino graft. Locals blocked his visit yet PPT couldn’t help but recall that it was only about two weeks ago that The Nation reported that “[p]olice are launching a manhunt for well-known political activist Veera … after he published an opinion survey’s result on his Facebook wall, saying the majority people lack confidence in the Prayut administration.” So there he was, ath the border, surrounded by cops and troops and … well, nothing.

Law, police and military: We saved the grossest and nastiest stories. These are the reports surrounding the extrajudicial killing of Chaiyapoom Pasae, struck down with a single shot by the Army. The stories from the authorities on this case have been banal. Accused of drug dealing, being armed with a knife and a grenade, the dead boy is now accused of somehow having a gun because the police chief says Chaiyapoom could have shot officers.

A slip of the tongue perhaps, but this is what happens when the authorities manufacture excuses for their own crimes.

From Ji Ungpakorn’s blog

Convinced that the lad was a drug dealer and claiming that the CCTV footage backs up the official story, the cops refuse to release the footage because … wait for it … “the controversial evidence does not ‘answer all problems’.” In addition, “[r]eleasing the footage might lead to a mess to the investigation process and arguments among the society.”

What next?

The law has never been particularly impartial and judges have never been much good in Thailand. However, under the influence of the monarchy and under this military dictatorship the law has been ransacked, killed and buried.





The Buddhism stand-off

24 02 2017

As we have said several times, PPT has no particular insights on the confrontation that has involved thousands of police and soldiers intent on raiding and searching Wat Dhammakaya. We have posted a couple of times on why this case and is apparently so central for the junta and the broad yellow shirt movement (here, here, here and here).

As we write, it is reported that the temple remains surrounded by several thousand police and soldiers operating under The Dictator’s use of Article 44.

These troops, behind barricades, are supplied with shields, helmets and batons. No one may enter the temple. Those who wish to leave are let out. Data communications to the temple have been cut to prevent those in the temple using social media. This was meant to be a “secret.”

Those in charge of the temple have made an “announcement for followers inside to be prepared” for action by the authorities.

monks

In fact, in the lead-up to the current (renewed) stand-off, there have been several clashes. Even so, while the idea of troops clashing with monks and their supporters seems have caused some concern among the junta, it remains firm on pressing forward. Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan vowed that the search for the temple’s former abbot at the temple compound “will continue no matter how many more weeks or even if a year passes. Authorities are trying to avoid violent confrontations. But it is necessary to continue to enforce the law…”.

Odd alliances are claimed and seen. A Wat Dhammakaya supporter called Aye Phetthong “called on the government to revoke the order which he said has an adverse impact on the country’s image.” He’s also reported as saying that “key figures” from the “yellow-shirt and red-shirt groups” had “entered the grounds of [the] Wat … to ‘protect Buddhism’.” Meanwhile, a fascist and ultra-nationalist monk in Myanmar has offered support to the besieged temple.

Another report, by Reuters, offers some analysis – if that is possible of this situation – and seems to agree with one of PPT’s earlier suggestions, that the military regime and its supporters are intent on protecting the “religion” part of the nationalist-royalist trilogy of Nation, Religion and Monarchy.

The report quotes another with fascist leanings who is close to the junta, Paiboon Nititawan, who declares: “It [the sect] is trying to create unrest and subverting state power…”. That does seem far-fetched, but the political heat is now turned to full and yellow shirts like Paiboon have a history of political fanaticism.

Reuters reminds us of the timeline on these events:

The showdown for control began last year when the Sangha recommended a candidate for Supreme Patriarch with links to Dhammakaya and was under investigation over taxes on a vintage car.

The junta rejected that candidate. Then, when the new king took the throne in December, the law was changed to let him choose a patriarch and ignore the Sangha’s wishes.

Four days after a new patriarch, chosen from Thai Buddhism’s more austere fraternity, was installed the junta declared emergency powers over Dhammakaya.

The junta risks an unraveling of its rule not just on a Buddhist sect, but on several front, mostly because it is treading on the toes of the middle class, its natural (for Thailand) support base. Environmentalists, Buddhists who see themselves as devout, anti-corruption campaigners and similar types are getting the junta runaround and are seeing the hard edge of the regime directed at them. That signals a rising but reluctant opposition to the military’s authoritarianism.





Party like it’s 1991

26 10 2016

Back in August there was a report of a pro-military party being established by anti-democrat Paiboon Nititawan. He called on former military officers to join his “party.”

Because Paiboon had links to the junta, there were concerns that the “party” was to be the junta’s party for the next “election.” Things went quiet.

As the new rules for politics will likely mean a return to a pre-1997 pattern of coalition parties it seems that the military might see a need for more than one pro-military party.

The Bangkok Post reports that another anti-democrat party has been formed with military support. The party, Athippatai Puangchon Chao Thai (Thai people’s sovereignty) has been formed by Saman Singam and Praphat Ngoksungnoen, said to be associated with ultra-nationalist causes.

They claim that “Lt Gen Tharakrit Thapthongsit, deputy chief of the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) Region 2, was behind the move, and was acting on behalf of Gen Prawit [Wongsuwan].”

Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit immediately denied any involvement.

An earlier report stated that Lt Gen Tharakit was “invited to preside over a foundation-stone laying ceremony of King Rama V statue at a learning centre of sufficiency economy philosophy in Sung Noen district on Sunday on behalf of Gen Prawit.” Praphat was reported to have arranged the royalist ceremony.

The two “announced the establishment of the People‘s Sovereignty Party after Lt Gen Tharakit left [the ceremony].”





Double standards are the military junta’s only standards

9 12 2015

In attacking UK Ambassador Mark Kent as “supporting law-breakers,” the military dictatorship is indicating its strict adherence to its standards, which are double standards.

As PPT briefly noted earlier, Kent seemed far more enlightened than his French salesman/ambassador counterpart when he observed the regime’s double standards. This observation was that the military junta allowed anti-US demonstrations in Bangkok but was cracking down on others the junta identified as opponents.

What Kent forgot to mention was that the military junta and the military was organizing and supporting the anti-US demonstrators. In other words, it is not just double standards on a matter of law, where the military supports “law-breakers.”  In fact, the military and the regime are developing and unleashing dangerous rightist groups.

As is well known, the military has deep and long connections with ultra-nationalist and ultra-royalist vigilantes. It also has strong connections to anti-democratic groups associated with the movement that brought down the Yingluck Shinawatra government.

Hence, the statement by Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai that “efforts were under way to link the students’ visit to Rajabhakti Park to the gathering at the US embassy” were wrong because “the two incidents were separate,” is not just an exercise in stupidity or double standards. Rather, it is a crude statement of threat to students and, in fact, and opponent of the military junta. At the same time it is a statement of support for rightist gangs. The foreign minister paves the way for rightist violence.

When Don says Kent may be summoned for “talks,” he sounds like the military junta “calling in” opponents for “talks” and threats rather than a senior diplomat suggesting that Kent may be called to the Foreign Ministry.

Deputy government spokesman Werachon Sukondhapatipak complains that Kent should already understand the junta – “[t]his issue has been discussed with every envoy” – and suggests that Kent is somehow supporting those opposing a return to elections.

This is remarkable because it is the military and those demonstrating for it who have undermined elections and prevented them.

Double standards? You bet.

Werachon threatens: “”It is hoped that other ambassadors will be able to understand that as long as the confrontation between the two opposing sides cannot be prevented, then the referendum and general elections could end up in chaos…”.

In fact, the military regime can modulate “confrontation” as it feels fit because it has gangs of thugs under its command.

When Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan insists “that the government had no double standards in enforcing security measures to handle demonstrators” e is making a new claim.

He is suggesting that when there are demonstrations, they need to be “protected.” So his regime protects pro-government demonstrators. It also “protects” opposition demonstrators by arresting them, to keep them away from the regime’s thugs.

This regime is becoming adept – as the military was in 1973-76 – at threat, manipulation and lying and is becoming extreme and very dangerous.





Worrying foreigners

31 01 2015

As readers will know, the military dictatorship and its ultra-royalist and ultra-nationalist allies have been particularly agitated by the Americans. The military’s former chief funding agency seems to have caused uproar with its rather mild suggestions and limited criticisms of the military junta.

Now that some of the U.S. Embassy staff have tripped off to the northeast and met some red shirts, The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha has directed his minions to keep tabs on the Americans. He appears to think that talking with anyone but those he approves of is interfering in Thailand’s domestic affairs.

Keeping an eye on what foreign diplomats do is not unusual. Indeed, it is not unusual for embassies advise the Ministry of Foreign Affairs if any senior diplomat is traveling in-country. However, to announce that a government is watching what foreign diplomats do is creating an incident.

Trying to cool things down a little, another general, the minister for the Interior, Anupong Paojinda, has said that while he and the dictatorship “hopes they [the Americans] will not meddle in Thailand’s internal affairs,” he acknowledges that they are “free to meet Thai red-shirt leaders…”.

But we wondered if Anupong was pulling everyone’s collective leg when he stated:

Discussing relations with foreign countries, Gen Anupong that that those with different views should offer constructive comments. Thailand has no intention of intervening in the internal affairs of foreign countries, and they should behave similarly…

He must have been, for not has the military dictatorship been intervening in the affairs of New Zealand, but has been happy to denounce the UNHCR as well. Anupong is either joking with everyone or is himself a joke when it comes to foreign affairs.





Anti-democrat calls for absolute fascism

31 08 2014

It is clear how far Thailand has moved politically with the military coup and the establishment of a military dictatorship when the ultra-royalist, ultra-nationalist and ultra-anti-democrat Veera Somkwamkid is labeled an “anti-corruption activist” in The Nation.  PPT considers this is misleading advertising for the anti-democrats. There’s a lot that is misleading under the military boot.

Veera, who is said to be “secretary of the People’s Network against Corruption,” but who is associated with thugs like the armed extremists of the Network of Students and People for the Reform of Thailand (see the photo where Veera is joined by the fascist “student” leader Nittithon Lamlua and the right-wing Iceman and coup promoter General Boonlert Kaewprasit).Veera

Perhaps because he is a right-wing extremist, the propaganda arm of the monarchy known as the King Prajadhipok Institute had him speak at an anti-democrat-inspired seminar on “Reforming Thailand, Opposing Corruption.”

On cue, Veera praised The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha and “urged [Prayuth] to emulate the Chinese president’s policy of cracking down on corruption seriously and without exceptions, as part of his government’s fight against graft.” Veera barked that “to ensure success in reducing the problem of corruption, Prayuth needed to wield total power in the same way as China’s President Xi Jinping in the Chinese government’s policy against corruption.”

Showing his deep affection for totalitarianism, Veera claimed that China was “more advanced than some democratic countries, particularly Thailand, about sincerity in tackling corruption…”. Veera might have missed the coup, but his call is apparently for Chinese-style executions of those deemed corrupt by the politically-biased kangaroo courts in Thailand.

On China’s campaign, Professor Andrew Wedeman, a political science professor at Georgia State University notes that: “Every anti-corruption campaign is an exercise in public relations. They’re trying to build legitimacy.”That would be the Thai junta’s approach as well. If it has executions, we are betting that political opponents will be the first in line, with the reprehensible Veera shouting his support for absolute fascism.