Royalist fibbing

5 12 2019

Someone at the Bangkok Post came up with a completely nonsensical online introduction to a typical laudatory Bhumibol story.

As shown in the clip from the Post online page, it claims:

 All Thais attended the activities held to mark the birthday of late King Bhumibol on his birthday that was designated as Father’s Day for the country.

The story itself does not claim that every single Thai attended a state-organized ceremony, but is full of royalist blarney.

For example, it is reported:

A highlight of the day was at Sanam Luang, where Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha led cabinet members and their spouses to hold religious ceremonies. He later presided over an exhibition to promote Father’s Day and the work of the monarch.

We can’t imagine that The Dictator, his wife and a bunch of second-rate and some corrupt ministers was a “highlight” for any sensible person. It is just another waste of taxpayer money for the aggrandizing of a wealthy monarchy and state-military ideology.

It goes on to say that:

Gen Prayut praised the late king for his tireless efforts to solve people’s problems — from inadequate health care to poverty.

This is rubbish, but a part of royalist hagiography. The monarchy’s attention to health was ineffective for the nation as a whole. It was Thaksin Shinawatra’s introduction of universal health care that made a difference. As for poverty, the dead king was keen that the poor be “happy” with their lot. He repeatedly opposed all notions of social welfare.

Still working against universal health care

19 06 2017

Since its coup, the military dictatorship has continually tried to convince people that the Thaksin Shinawatra-inspired universal health care program should be ditched or modified. We have we have posted on some of these royalist-inspired efforts to roll back the universal health care program. We have also mentioned independent assessments of the success of that program.

The junta ha, each time it floated the idea, backed off when it was clear that the program has wide public support. That hasn’t stopped it sniping at he program as a part of the Thaksin regime that has to be uprooted. The regime has also ensured that the program suffers budget problems.

Along with the big hospital owners and the doctors who make a fortune from private clinics, the junta would prefer a privatized system (think America’s Republicans).

Its latest efforts to gut the program are being pushed with more determination this time, seemingly going ahead despite opposition. As The Nation puts it, “the National Health Security Bill is set to sail ahead despite its four public hearings utterly failing to appease opponents.”

Not only will the puppet National Legislative Assembly vote almost unanimously for whatever its bosses want, but it is made up of anti-democrats who consider universal health care a Thaksin plot to win votes. They call it policy corruption and grumble about populism.

The measure of the dictatorship’s renewed determination is shown by the efforts now being made to intimidate opponents of this dismantling.

The saving of the program will only be if the junta believes that changing the program will be “electorally” damaging when they decide it is time they win an election.

Updated: Health care still a junta “problem”

6 06 2017

Readers may remember that PPT posted on plans for the end to the 30 baht health scheme as part of an uprooting of the Thaksin regime. Back then, the Public health permanent secretary Narong Sahametapat said this was a beat up and that “denied it planned to ask the coup-makers to approve part payments under the scheme…”. No plans, he said.

Yet the junta keeps coming back to it, causing considerable concern and even the odd rally.

The Ministry of Public Health has a leadership that has long wanted to raise “co-payments” by exorbitant amounts.

Most recently, the People’s Health Systems Movement has rallied, arguing that the the draft National Health Security Bill “would affect the right of 48 million people to free healthcare.”

The Dictator has had to come out – we have lost count of how many times – to provide “an assurance that the government will not be cancelling the 30 baht health insurance scheme…”.

Then he said the junta “is considering ways to address funding and personnel problems, reminding citizens that reform of public health is on the national agenda.”

General Prayuth Chan-o-cha “confirmed the intention that all members of the public have ready access to public health services,” at least for the moment, and called for “the country [to] be immunized against foreign epidemics with strong controls along its borders.”

When he “called for an improvement to health systems for all Thais,” critics detect an intention to change the system.

He dismissed “claims that the government is cancelling its universal health scheme,” and said that the 30 baht scheme had to be “improved.”

“Improved” might mean “reformed.” So far, junta reform has been regressive.

Update: Prachatai reports that police and soldiers have prevented people “from joining a march in Bangkok protesting amendment to the National Health Security Act.” The People’s Health Systems Movement (PHSM) “staged a protest at the office of the United Nations in Bangkok demanding the junta cease efforts to amend the National Health Security Act….”. On 4 June plainclothes police visited PHSM member Rattana Thongngam at her home in Surin. She and friends went to Bangkok but others from “Surin and Buriram chose not to travel to Bangkok due to fears of further intimidation, after being visited by soldiers prohibiting them from joining the protest.” No protesters have been arrested to date.

Is universal health care too expensive?

7 01 2016

The military junta has, several times, floated the idea of changing the universal health care system in Thailand, introduced by Thaksin Shinawatra’s government from 2001. Each time they have, the regime has then retreated. Most recently, the “promise” to keep the scheme has sounded far less certain, with The Dictator stating, “that it was impossible for the programme to cover all the 70 million population as that would require a huge amount of budget that the government could not afford.”

As a result, doctors reportedly continue to worry about funding for the scheme. Some doctors prefer a privatized health system as this increases their incomes.

So how much does the coverage of all Thais and quite a few migrant workers cost? In a recent Prachatai report, some figures were provided.

Working on a population of 65 million and breaking down costs for bureaucrats (who continue to have a gilt-edged scheme), social security fund members and the general public, it is estimated that the total cost of health care for all Thais is between 18 and 30 billion baht a year.

Disclaimer: We can’t vouch for their accuracy, but as their are ranges used, we guess that the figures are good enough to make some comparisons. When we checked, the Budget Bureau figures for health care in 2015 seemed reasonably close to the top estimates in the Prachatai report. We welcome corrections.

Is 30 billion baht huge? Khaosod, reporting on the military budget states: “The budget to solve the problem in the south in fiscal 2016 consists of 30.176 billion baht…”.

If the military budget for operations just in the south, consider the funds allocated to maintaining the royals and their various projects in 2015: this was about 107 billion baht. The amount allocated to the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary and the Royal Household Bureau alone was almost 4.2 billion baht.

On this basis, the amount spent on the health of 65 million Thais seems quite reasonable.


Platitudes on the military dictatorship II

25 09 2015

One of the striking aspects of the formation of the People’s Alliance for Democracy a decade and more ago was the involvement of “civil society,” and particularly the leadership of several NGOs. The link between anti-democratic movements and those who were then leading NGOs and managing the national NGO bureaucracy has not been seriously challenged.

Of course, civil society everywhere is reflective of the society in which it exists, meaning that the calls to develop civil society or to listen to civil society are rather blunt and politically naive as civil society includes some very nasty groups indeed. In Thailand, some of the space of civil society has been filled by noxious rightists and fascists.

Over the past 20-30 years, there has been a kind of competition for control of NGOs, with royalists like Prawase Wasi seeking to domesticate NGOs after the elite feared that many of the early NGOs were falling under the control of returnees from the jungle after the defeat of the Communist Party of Thailand.

More recently, as Sanitsuda Ekachai at the Bangkok Post points out, when Thaksin Shinawatra “was looking for innovative policies to launch his Thai Rak Thai Party, he looked for inspiration from activists leading social movements…”.

As is well known, he “was not disappointed.” He was delivered ideas on universal health care and community funds that “became his landmark policy successes…”.

Sanitsuda points out that, now, self-appointed premier and the country’s dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha is moving down this path. It is no accident that The Dictator has turned to “civil society movements” for an “innovative policy product to win the hearts and minds of people on the ground,” and that this coincides with his hiring of former Thaksin minister Somkid Jatusripitak.

She says that The Dictator has “apparent support from many civic groups” as he grabbed Prawase’s idea for his “Pracharath (citizens and state) policy drive…”.

In campaign mode, The Dictator declared that he would “strengthen the grassroots economy to bridge inequality while civil society leader Dr Prawase Wasi, the owner of the Pracharath development concept, lectured on what it takes to rescue the nation from the ‘black hole’ well beyond a massive one-time financial injection.”

Sanitsuda points out that The Dictator’s event saw “[h]igh-minded phrases such as holistic development, livelihood rights, people’s participation, bottom-up planning, environmental conservation, green farming and community banks fill… the air.”

Noting that so-called grassroots and civic groups “have been pushing every government” for many years to address what they have determined are the “people’s real needs,” Sanitsuda says that the groups are dealing with the military dictatorship and hoping it will deliver.

Elmer and DaffyIn most parts of the world, and in Thailand for most of its modern period, only a looney would think that the military would deliver for the “grassroots.” But in the Thailand where elections are “undemocratic” and where universal health care is “populist,” these self-proclaimed representatives of the people, none of them ever elected to anything, say that “[w]ith strong military blessing, many activists hope it might be possible to make community groups part and parcel of community fund management to strengthen the local economy, transparency and grassroots democracy.”

Yes, these NGO and civil society leaders think that a military dictatorship can deliver “transparency and grassroots democracy.” They can only think this by ignoring the real world and the people at the grassroots.

Sanitsuda notes that these “leaders” “risk of being attacked as coup cheerleaders.” That’s true, but many of them did cheer the coups in 2006 and 2014, so they’d hardly be worried about supporting the military dictatorship.

We agree with her that “having Dr Prawase, the respected [sic.] development guru and reformer [sic.], on its side is the best legitimacy it [the junta] could ever have hoped for.” However, it is also a fact that Prawase has joined each of the anti-democratic cabals in recent years. His views are royalist to the core.

None of these self-proclaimed representatives seems to worry too much about working with a military junta that is, every day, working against the grassroots, kicking people off their land, throwing them out of forests, supporting cowboy capitalists doing mining and timber deals, proclaiming the rights of elites, using double standards in courts and repressing every person who wants to vote.


Rubbing out universal health care

27 07 2015

PPT has had several posts over a number of years on royalist-inspired efforts to roll back the Thaksin Shinawatra universal health care program. We have mentioned independent assessments of the success of that program and a short paper at East Asia Forum that assesses some of the recent politicking over the scheme.

More recently, we posted on General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s view that the universal health care program is a “costly populist” policy which “helped deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra win the 2001 election.”

The royalist and military junta campaign against universal health care continues. The Nation reports that the puppet “National Reform Council (NRC) committee on public health” is seeking to “reforms” that may see “[m]illions of Thais will lose their right to many kinds of free medical treatment under the universal healthcare scheme…”.

The proposal seeks to unmake the universality of the program by “setting up of the National Health Insurance Council will require a large number of people now covered by the universal health scheme to pay extra for medical services that are beyond the basic range.”

Royalist ideologues believe that “nearly 30 million people covered by the universal healthcare scheme can afford healthcare insurance…”.

The opponents of “populist” health care talk about the scheme being costly – it is – but do not look at its broad benefits. Yet this is a ruse. What they are proposing is an effort to destroy the “Thaksin revolution” and undermine the political support that still adheres from his time in power.

Killing people

3 07 2015

As most PPT readers know, General Prayuth Chan-ocha bears considerable responsibility for the murder of protesters by his soldiers in April and May 2010. Because of elite agreements and the impunity long enjoyed by murderous soldiers, he is unlikely to ever face a court for his crimes.

There are other ways to kill people that do not involve the direct use of military weapons. At the Bangkok Post Prayuth states that the “universal healthcare scheme” is nothing more than a “costly populist” policy which “helped deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra win the 2001 election.”

Prayuth is correct that the the scheme was popular with electors. At the same time, Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party had widespread support in that election campaign, including from the royalist elite, largely due to the failures of the Democrat Party-led government that was reviled, not least for its implementation of IMF programs that destroyed swathes of Thai businesses and failed to provide meaningful safety nets for average people.

The went further, stating that “Thailand is not financially ready for such a multi-billion-baht health insurance project.” He added that the scheme will “bankrupt a lot of hospitals in the next few years…”. And he then declared: “The universal healthcare scheme is a populist project. Though people are benefiting from it, is Thailand ready for it? Why aren’t 190 other countries doing it? Only a few countries have done it…”.

Prayuth reportedly stated that “he would not abolish the scheme, but would seek ways of increasing funding.” This is code for winding back the universalism of the scheme. As Sureerat Trimakka, coordinator for the People’s Health System Movement stated: “This government [he means the junta] is making the national health system a scapegoat.”

We have no doubt that Prayuth hates the program as it is representative of the Thaksin revolution and is still a basis of political support for Thaksin and his parties. Prayuth’s royalist supporters loathe the scheme and want to be rid of it as a way of wiping out the memory of Thaksin.

This is not the first time the royalists have attacked the scheme since the military coup. Within weeks of that coup, the first thrust was made. The MOPH leadership, dominated by anti-Thaksin royalists, is wanting to raise “co-payments.” Steep co-payments will chase patients back to private clinics where MOPH doctors moonlight and make enough money to keep their Mercedes cars on the road. Uprooting the Thaksin regime-cum-revolution will be profitable for them.

PPT has previously mentioned independent assessments of the success of the program. And we have posted on a short paper at East Asia Forum that assesses some of the post-coup  politicking over the scheme.

Prior to 30 Baht scheme, the first linked report states that in “poorer provinces had significantly higher infant mortality rates than richer provinces. After 30 Baht, this correlation evaporates to zero. The results suggest that increased access to healthcare among the poor can significantly reduce their infant mortality rates.”

If Prayuth changes the scheme, he will be personally responsible for the deaths of infants as that mortality rate climbs again. He will also be responsible for the deaths of the aged and poor patients who will no longer be able to afford health care.

This responsibility for increased deaths will be far in excess of the deaths caused by military weapons in 2010.

Junta and health “populism”

1 05 2015

Over the years, PPT hasn’t said much about health in Thailand unless it has had to do with royal health as the king and queen have aged and the Royal Household has obscured and fabricated. At times we have posted on royalist-inspired efforts to roll back the Thaksin Shinawatra universal health care program. We have mentioned independent assessments of the success of that program.

A reader has now pointed us to a short paper at East Asia Forum that assesses some of the recent politicking over the scheme. Published two weeks ago, the report is authored by Bo Kyeong Seo, a postdoctoral fellow at the Free University of Berlin. It begins:

Thailand’s current democratic crisis sits in stark contrast with its greatest achievement this century: universal health coverage. This achievement is also a prime example of the ideological disagreements on the value of populism in Thai politics.

The author notes that, by “2014, 99 per cent of the total population was covered by three public insurance schemes. Universal health coverage has ensured increased access to healthcare for the poor and a significant decrease in infant and child mortality. Advanced medical treatments such as basic chemotherapy, open heart surgery and dialysis treatment are also widely available.”

But as Bo Kyeong Seo notes, the response to this successful program has been as polarized as Thailand’s politics: “It has been praised as an ideal policy for the poor and dismissed as a populist charade.” The attacks on “populism” – apparently any program that delivers social goods to the poor or that is redistributional – have been vicious under the military dictatorship. The aim has been to reverse the Thaksin revolution. Even so, after some debate, The Dictator stated that the “30 baht health program” would be maintained.

However, Prayuth Chan-ocha has made other suggestions that show he doesn’t understand universal programs: “He proposed that the rich should give up their membership in the universal health coverage scheme, so that a bigger health budget could be given to the poor.” As the author notes, this “distorts the very meaning of universal access that is deeply attached to democratic values.” The author states:

The basic philosophy of ‘universal access’ is to entitle all citizens to healthcare regardless of their income level, social status or residency. It is true that the poor are the largest beneficiaries of this public policy, but — in principle — it is for everyone. The reason that this policy has been so appealing for the majority of Thais is because it does not segregate and target the poor but incorporates them into the realm of public good.

The author asks: “Is universal health coverage ‘populist’?” The answer is: “No. Branding universal health coverage with the derogatory label ‘populist’ allows a group to benefit from anti-populism discourse.” The author astutely observes:

As ideological battles around populism continue in Thai politics, universal health coverage offers a different political horizon. While this ‘populist’ plan sounds dangerous, unsustainable, or wasteful, it indeed has proved a fundamental value. All citizens have the right to access public healthcare and the state is obliged to ensure these rights.

The very idea of universal access has a constructive function in the formations of democratic values. As ordinary Thais have already experienced such social force and feasibility of making claims of their rights to health as a universal value, then why not their political rights? The anti-populist stance is hindering access to basic democratic procedures.

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