Defeating and defending the young

12 10 2021

With the mainstream media becoming increasingly quiescent under the current regime, for English readers, Prachatai and Thai Enquirer are critical sources of reliable information on Thailand’s politics. In this post, PPT looks at two recent Thai Enquirer pieces. Each reflects on the current political crisis.

In the first article, Erich Parpart and Cod Satrusayang observe that:

General Prayut Chan-ocha and his military-backed government are jailing the country’s future leaders for their own benefit. There is no use denying it anymore. But in doing so they are jeopardizing our country’s future while protecting themselves from criticism.

The government has now detained at least 20 pro-democracy protest leaders and activists. Most have been charged with lese-majeste and denied bail or have had their bail revoked while waiting for trial.

In fact, we’d argue that while there is clearly benefit to the regime, the real benefit is to the monarchy and the monarch. It is the military scratching the king’s back for the protection his position provides to a broad ruling elite. So when the regime claims attacks on the monarchy are a threat to national security, they mean to their security and that of the business-monarchy-military ruling elite.

That’s what they imply when they say: “Keep in mind, these jail sentences and arrests aren’t done to protect the public good…”, but protect a rotten regime, populated by those who should be in jail and some who have.

The article notes that many of those jailed are among Thailand’s best and brightest; indeed the country’s future. But now it is they who are rotting in jail.

The authors yell: “Free them, free the shackles that bind our thinking, it’s the only option.”

If Erich and Cod look at the leaders of the future, Caleb Quinley looks at the Thalugas protests, emphasizing the economic interests that drive them.

Firecrackers and ping pong bombs versus armed police, “dressed head to toe in black body armor carrying nonlethal firearms…. The sound of their boots echoed through the narrow halls of Din Daeng’s slum community…”.

Violence escalating: “It’s dangerous now…. But how else are they [the government] going to hear us?”

The young demonstrators have set fires to glittering massive portraits of the Thai King scattered throughout the city,  targeted police bunkers, and fired large fireworks into the dark.  In response, police have implemented a zero tolerance policy for unrest, unleashing rubber bullets, water cannons, and tear gas, detaining hundreds since September.

Caleb states: “The economic fallout from Covid is at the heart of the anger.” It is Thalugas “doing whatever it takes for the government to hear them.” Some want “respect” from the regime; to be heeded. They feel “they have been neglected for far too long.”

There are “increasing arrests and police brutality,” but this “group of young men are still raging on.” Many of them are “facing extreme economic difficulty [and] say they have nowhere else to turn. It’s ultimately all about raising the pressure to help their communities.”

Communities are always split, but for many locals, “these young men are white knights taking on an unfathomably powerful enemy.”





Artist faces another 112 charge

10 10 2021

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, “Chiang Mai University student and performance artist Withaya Khlangnin is facing another royal defamation charge [they mean lese majeste] for staging a performance in front of the university on 1 May 2021 to demand the release of detained activists.”

At this rally, Withaya poured red paint over himself, and climbed onto a Chiang Mai University sign that featured the near compulsory photo of King Vajiralongkorn.

Clipped from Prachatai

TLHR reports that police have decided that Withaya’s performance contravenes Article 112. This is because it allegedly:

involved climbing onto the university sign, above which was a portrait of the King and a sign saying “Long live the King.” Withaya also poured red paint all over himself, which the police said was unsightly, and spilled paint over the university sign and the image of the King. The police also said that the gestures Withaya used during the performance, such as standing with a paint bucket over his head, and lying down with one foot pointing up at the portrait of the king, was disrespectful.

Withaya heard the charge at Phuping Rajanivej Police Station on 5 October 2021, “dressed as Luffy from the Japanese manga One Piece, and staged a short performance before going to meet the inquiry officer.”

He “was released after his meeting with the inquiry officer. He has to report to the police again in 12 days, and has to submit further testimony in 20 days.”

According to Prachatai, Withaya is already facing two Article 112 charges.





Patsaravalee charged under Article 112

2 10 2021

Mind

Prachatai reports, via Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), that student activist “Patsaravalee Tanakitvibulpon has been indicted on a royal defamation charge [Prachatai means lese majeste] related to a speech she gave at a protest on 24 March 2021, in which she said that the monarchy must reform itself in order to survive.”

TLHR says that on 30 September 2021, the “public prosecutor at the Southern Bangkok Department of Criminal Litigation … decided to indict Patsaravalee … under Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code … and a violation of the Emergency Decree charge resulting from her participation in the 24 March 2021 protest at the Ratchaprasong Intersection.”

At that rally, Patsaravalee, or Mind, “gave a speech calling for the King to conduct himself in a manner that befits the head of the state.” She argued that the king’s “expansion of power will endanger the … monarchy, and that even though an absolute monarchy can be created, it can also fall in the next reign.”

In her speech, she issued three demands: “having a single, inseparable armed force, ending intervention in any political groups by the monarchy, and quickly returning public assets which have been transferred to the King’s personal ownership.”

The public prosecutor “claims that Patsaravalee’s speech falsely accused the King of trying to expand his power and creating an absolute monarchy, that he transferred the army to himself, used his power to interfere with politics, and took national treasures for his own, accusations which damage his reputation and cause hate against him.”

All her accusations seem entirely reasonable based on the reported actions of King Vajiralongkorn.

Patsaravalee was granted bail by the South Bangkok Criminal Court with a surety of 200,000 baht, “with the conditions that she must not participate in activities which damage the monarchy and must not leave the country.”

She was the only speaker at the rally charged with lese majeste. As is now usual, the complaint against her was made by ultra-royalists. She now faces three lese majeste charges.

According to TLHR’s numbers, since November 2020, “144 people are currently facing charges under Section 112 for their participation in the pro-democracy movement, 12 of whom are under 18 years of age. Several activists are also facing numerous counts, such as Parit Chiwarak, who is facing 20 counts, Anon Nampa, who is facing 14 counts, Panupong Jadnok, who is facing 9 counts, and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, who is facing 8 counts.”





Corrected: Musing on monarch

28 09 2021

Those among our readers who are devoted followers of the official royal news will know that King Vajiralongkorn and his queen and major concubine finally showed up after months of invisibility.

Having been missing in inaction, the king and his retinue came out for Prince Mahidol Day on 24 September. If nothing else, Vajiralongkorn pays attention to his Chakkri Dynasty forebears. In this case, his grandfather Mahidol Adulyadej.

Officially, this was his first outing in two months.

Being invisible during Thailand’s peak virus outbreak can be read several ways. One would be to congratulate him for leaving the pandemic to the political leaders. Another would be to condemn him for doing nothing to promote vaccination and to “help” his “subjects” through the dark days of lockdown and deaths.

Who knows?

What we do know is that the king’s AstraZeneca vaccine factory still seems to be having trouble. We can say this because of a report that says the country is having to buy small batches of AstraZeneca vaccine from elsewhere:

A Foreign Affairs Ministry proposal to purchase AstraZeneca and Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines from Spain and Hungary was approved by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) yesterday, according to its spokesman.

Under the plan, Thailand would purchase 165,000 AstraZeneca doses at 2.9 euros (114 baht) each and 2.78 million Pfizer doses at 15.5 euros each from Spain, according to Dr Taweesilp Visanuyothin, spokesman for the CCSA.

The kingdom would also purchase 400,000 AstraZeneca doses from Hungary at 1.78 euros per dose, he said.

After all these months is seems to us that Siam Bioscience can still not meet demand.





Royal land, royal power

25 09 2021

PPT was intrigued by two recent stories about the king and about royal land. In case readers missed them, we link to them and summarize some points.

At The Nation, it is reported that the “Treasury Department announced on Wednesday that it has taken back more than 100,000 rai of land owned by the Royal Property Bureau and will redistribute it among prisons and low-income people.” This is somewhat vague, and even the short story is contradictory. Director-general Yutthana Yimkarun is reported as saying that “most of the 100,000-rai taken back from state agencies was either left unused or was being misused. The land will now be used for temporary prisons, inmate training sites and housing for low-income people.”

Usually, the Treasury Department looks after the business interests of the property it holds for others, including the Army, and ensures a reasonable return to the owner. So we assume the property remains owned by the monarch.

Self-crowned

The really interesting point is that the “Treasury Department currently oversees some 500,000 rai of royally owned land.” We would guess that, with other royal land, this confirms that the monarch is one of the country’s largest landowners, exceeding the earlier guestimates.

The second story comes from Prachatai. It states, perhaps playing on numbers, that:

Since 2017, King Rama X has issued at least 112 royal edicts appointing and demoting royal officials and the royal consort, bestowing royal decorations, appointing monks to the Sangha Supreme Council and expressing political views….

This comes about due to:

The Royal Service Administration Act enacted in March 2017 transferred 5 agencies that were formerly part of the government structure into royal agencies to be organized “at the royal pleasure”.

After the Act came into force royal edicts were issued appointing and demoting officials in the royal agencies with no countersignature from anyone in the government.

Prachatai goes on to list the categories of edicts issued.

We understand that it also relates to the changes the king demanded in the junta’s 2017 constitution. As Prachatai points out, “no one in a democratic system should be able to exercise political power without accountability.”

Thus it would seem that, as the king does exercise political power without oversight or accountability, ipso facto, Thailand cannot be a democracy.





Anti-monarchy graffiti and arson

18 09 2021

Readers who are following social media will be aware that anti-monarchism has been more prominent over the past couple of weeks. This has worried the regime and ultra-royalists have been further spooked. The police and military have been chasing down those considered anti-monarchists.

Prachatai recently reported that “a protester who allegedly painted graffiti about monarchy reform at Din Daeng Intersection on 13 September [was]… arrested by the police on Wednesday night (15 September).” Wiraphap Wongsaman was arrested and detained at Phaholyothin Police Station, accused “of painting graffiti reading ‘The monarchy should be reformed to be under the constitution’.”

Clipped from Prachatai

Wiraphap was said to have “been the target of Information Operations and a pro-monarchy group which tried to label him as a radical protester…”.

Meanwhile, responding to the the burning of King Vajiralongkorn’s portrait on 13 September 2021 at Srinagarind Hospital in Khon Kaen, two “Khon Kaen University students were separately arrested on Monday morning by provincial police this morning (Friday) for allegedly torching the portrait of His Majesty the King in front of the Srinagarind Hospital in the early morning of Monday (September 13th ).”

From Isaan Record

With search warrants issued by the Khon Kaen provincial court two large “police teams searched the two houses in Muang district where the students have been staying.” Police “said that both [those arrested] are third-year students at the Faculty of Liberal Arts at Khon Kaen University.”

Prachatai says that “Panupong (last name withheld) and Ruangsak (last name withheld) were … taken to Muang Khon Kaen Police Station. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said that the police took them into separate rooms for questioning and provided Ruangsak with a lawyer  who has a police rank and did not inform the suspect of his rights.”

They were charged with arson of public property. Both denied the charge and were “later granted bail without security, on the condition that they will receive a fine of 35,000 baht each if they violate their bail. The court also appointed the Deputy Dean of their faculty … as their guarantor.”

Such arson sometimes results in lese majeste charges.





The rotten system I

31 08 2021

In a recent post we wrote about how a rotten system operates in Thailand, allowing corruption, disappearance, torture, and murder in the interest of the “good people,” the loyalists.

Strikingly, a report in the Bangkok Post further illustrates how this decayed system operates. The story is about Pol Maj Gen Phumin Pumpanmuang and the Special Operations Police he commands.

Our studied cynicism is on display below. We are not suggesting that Phumin is corrupt, but we observe that many of the posts he has held are coveted by the corrupt.

Somyos and his loot

If Pol Maj Gen Phumin’s family name is familiar, it is because former national police chief, Somyos Phumpanmuang, is his uncle. We have posted plenty on the uncle who was corrupt – unusually wealthy – and univestigated by the state’s anti-corruption bodies.

The report says that the SOP is “a new unit within the Royal Thai Police whose broad remit ranges from combatting drugs to protecting the Crown.” It is said to be “little known.”  We don’t think this is the Ratchawallop Police Retainers, King’s Guard 904 mentioned in previous posts, although readers might correct us.

In the report, Pol Maj Gen Phumin says the (in)famous surname “is both a blessing and a curse.” He said he has had “to prove that he is able to rise through the ranks on his own merit.” He seems to imply that there’s a meritocracy in the police. In fact, nepotism is common in the police and the military. At the senior level it is almost a rule.

The nepotism begins early. Phumin says “that as a young child, he would tag along with Pol Gen Somyot, then a mid-ranking investigator, on missions.” Later, when “his uncle became the deputy chief investigator at Phra Khanong station, Pol Maj Gen Phumin recalled, he was allowed to join the team on a gambling den raid.”

He was socialized with both the police gangs and the criminal gangs.

Like almost all of the top brass, he attended the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School before going on to the Royal Police Cadet Academy. These academies instill the necessary royalism, adherence to hierarchy, and establish “class” relations that allow for money-making, favors, and impunity.

After graduating, Phumin was assigned to the Narcotics Suppression Bureau, “where he learned the ropes for two years.” It is difficult to single out many straight coppers in that Bureau, where corruption and thuggery reign. He went on to the Marine Police Division, long in cahoots with smugglers.

Pol Maj Gen Phumin was also used as a decoy in a sting which went south when he was a young officer in Suphan Buri. After his cover was compromised, the suspect fired at him, but missed. It was there that he killed his first “suspect.”

He continued to the “Metropolitan Police Division 1, where he was involved in stamping out drugs.” The police are better known for managing the supply of drugs. He went on to the Crime Suppression Division, and was posted to Phuket, one of the most lucrative posts for police bosses, and one that requires lots of political support or a big bribe to get the post. He became “head of the island’s marine and tourist police branches.” Those positions are highly sought after for the wealth they create.

When he became SOP commander, he was promoted “to the rank of police major general.” It was also a position that must have the support of the king as the “unit also provides security to the King and members of the royal family.” Think elephant ticket:

His rise to the SOP’s top seat triggered heated debate. In the previous no-confidence session in parliament, an MP from the Move Forward Party suggested his rapid career advancement was the result of a blessing from “the higher institution”.

Pol Maj Gen Phumin insists he “earned his promotions through hard work.” He adds:

I know I have what it takes to be where I am…. There are quite a few anti-monarchists around. The SOP’s roles also include instilling the right understanding [about the monarchy’s closeness to people]….

Although the SOP is a new unit in the RTP, it has more than 1,500 personnel already. Its officers undergo extensive training, including anti-terrorism courses, tactical parachuting and sharp shooting.

You see how the rotten system works, all the way to the top. Men like Phumin will do whatever the king orders, legal or not.





Silk purses from a festering sow’s ear

25 08 2021

The failures of the regime and the monarchy on Siam Bioscience and vaccination is not what the regime and palace had hoped for; they hoped for a propaganda victory. They wanted to role back growing anti-monarchism.

This means that regime tools have to go to work and concoct a victory for the monarchy and the royal family.

A recent example of this is from the royalist clique controlling the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Tana Weskosith, who is Deputy Permanent Secretary, has come up with “A Modern Monarch in Action: Mobilising Relief in a Pandemic.” This laudatory tale is posted at the MFA’s propaganda/PR site Thailand NOW, “operated by the Thailand NOW editorial team and is supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

It begins with the usual blarney: “Friends of Thailand might be familiar with anecdotes about the Thai monarchy that has stood fast alongside the Thai people through thick and thin — from combatting poverty throughout the ages to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic since last year.”

Anecdotes indeed, but “through the ages” is just hyperbolic buffalo manure.

Looking after his own. Royal Household Bureau via Khaosod

The virus reference is startling, but is the reason for the royalist drivel peddled by the MFA.

The level of false claims comes with the statement that “the King and Queen … have continued to take this mission on board in all types of situations, whether they be during a crisis or in times of peace.”

The king has only been on the throne since 2016, and he spent most of this time in Germany, only returning to Thailand when he felt his throne was under threat last year. For much of his reign and, indeed, in recent months, he’s been invisible.

Tana recycles the claim that the “Royal Family works [with]… a simple but practical rationale, that all Thai people should have access to basic public services even in the most remote areas of the country, so that they are able to earn a decent livelihood in good health and happiness.”

This is nonsensical. The royal family has, like most royals, been interested in maintaining its position and building its wealth. The dead king spoke out against notions of social welfare. Like all rightists, the monarchy and the current king have willingly backed the military’s political domination and its murder of political opponents.

Tana recognizes that Vajiralongkorn has been pretty much invisible, so he makes the claim that the royal family “has been continuously devoting their energy and personal funds behind the scenes…”. The compulsory royal news on radio and television that drearily promote the royals suggests that Tana is simply making this up. And he babbles about “centuries” of such concern, and goes on to repeat the propaganda associated with all the royals from early in the 20th century.

But he then gets going on the pandemic, proudly declaring:

The King’s Father, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great, through the Crown Property Bureau, funded the establishment of Siam Bioscience Co. Ltd. in 2009, to specialise in manufacturing biopharmaceuticals.

Perhaps Tana thinks that linking the dead king to Siam Bioscience will reduce the justified criticism of the company.

He makes a remarkable claim:

The company’s excellence has since been internationally recognized…. Subsequently, in 2020, the British-Swedish pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca, in its fast quest to set up a manufacturing base for its COVID-19 vaccines in Southeast Asia, found that Siam Bioscience was the only qualified choice as its local partner to produce AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines for Thailand and Southeast Asia.

As far as we know, there is no evidence for this claim. This information is simply unavailable, with the whole enterprise being remarkably opaque. Tana quotes James Teague, Country President of AstraZeneca (Thailand) Ltd. on the highlighted claim, but these comments do not shed any light on why the small and inexperienced company was chosen. The guess can only be that it was chosen due to its royal connection.

Siam Bioscience. From the linked article

Why, with all this claimed royal effort, has the AZ vaccine rollout been such a disaster? Tana “explains” that:

… [d]espite these efforts, Thailand, as with many other countries, is temporarily facing a shortage of vaccines. This can be attributed to inequitable distribution of vaccines around the world, as well as an overall shortage of vaccine supplies, caused by circumstances in the global vaccine industry and supply chains….

That would seem laughable. But, like his bosses and other royalists, he knows that no criticism of the royals can be made. Nothing but buffalo poo for them.

Putting Siam Bioscience aside, Tana highlights other “contributions” ascribed to the mostly missing-in-action royals. He highlights and lists royal “donations.” As far as we can determine, such claims tend to be discounted when some research is done. Many of the “donations” are government-funded.

In short, Tana is weaving a royal silk purse from a festering sow’s ear.





More 112-Siam Bioscience madness

20 08 2021

As we have posted several times, as social media has discussed, and as even the mainstream media has reported, as far as can be determined, the Siam Bioscience contract to produce AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been something of a disaster. Recent reports of Thailand’s regime begging AZ does from other countries seem to confirm this.

With so much secrecy and opacity, like the activist from the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration in January, its seems that “Vaccine Monopoly is PR for the Royals.” Our guess is that handing a contract and state funds to a small and inexperienced company has been the root of the vaccine chaos.

Of course, that was the king’s company. Probably the reason for doling out the contract and the loot to this minor company was to eventually bring glory to the monarch and monarchy. That’s failed. But, “protecting” the monarchy, the company, the contract and the regime remains high on the agenda.

So it is that lese majeste lunacy deepens. It was Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit who was one of the first to express concern about the contract. Back in January 2021, the Progressive Movement leader “slammed the government for its tardiness in providing Covid-19 vaccines and pointed out that the company tasked with manufacturing the vaccine locally is owned by the King.”

Thanathorn

Thanathorn concluded that “the government has been careless in negotiations for the vaccine…”. He pointed out that Siam Bioscience “is tasked with producing 200 million doses per year. Of this, 176 million will be sold to other countries in the region, while the remainder will be sold locally.” He added that the regime “has announced it will give Siam Bioscience Bt1.44 billion for the project.”

He claimed Siam Bioscience was only “established in 2009 with an authorized capital of Bt48 billion, but over the past 11 years, the corporation has made losses worth Bt581 billion…”.

And, he “pointed out that Siam Bioscience was only added to the plan in the second quarter of 2020 – when anti-establishment protesters began holding their rallies.” This, he said, may make the “AstraZeneca-Siam Bioscience deal is politically motivated.”

Like Pavlov’s dogs, the regime immediately slapped Thanathorn with Article 112 and sedition charges. More followed. And now even more. The madness never ends.

The former leader of the now dissolved Future Forward Party has been a prime target for political harassment since that party did well in the junta’s 2019 election, but the lese majeste charges make it clear that harassment is insufficient and that the regime wants to erase him as a political leader.

Currently in France, it is now reported that Thanathorn “is facing two additional lese majeste charges over a statement he made earlier this year about the production of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine by the monarchy-owned Siam Bioscience Group.” He says he “will return to Thailand to hear the charges…”.

His lawyer, Kritsadang Nutcharas, said “his client is charged with lese majeste and entering data that harmed the kingdom’s security in relation to comments made during a Jan 18 livestream about the vaccine.” Apparently, he “was also summoned on Aug 10 by Phahon Yothin police over another lese majeste charge filed by Thossapol Pengsom, a legal adviser to the ruling Palang Pracharath Party…”.

In the midst of a virus crisis, the monarchy’s prestige and secrecy comes first, second and third. Fighting the virus lags. Madness.





Doubling down on failure

18 08 2021

Doubling down on dubious policy is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes. And so it is in Thailand as the poor choices made about vaccines, suppliers and rollout are made again.

A Bangkok Post editorial asks the obvious question: “Why more Sinovac?” The editorial states that “another 12 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine were included in its August-September Covid-19 jabs procurement plan.” It asks why a such a decision is made when “the ministry knows the efficacy of Sinovac vaccines remains in doubt against the Delta strain. ”

Meanwhile, with the king’s Siam Bioscience still as opaque as ever,  and the regime mum on what’s going on there, Reuters reports that Thailand, supposedly “a regional manufacturer of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus shots, is [now] seeking to borrow 150,000 doses of the same vaccine from the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan…”. Failure upon failure, but this is the word from “an official.”

The report states that the “request to tap vaccines from Bhutan, a country of less than 1 million people, reflects efforts to plug gaps in Thailand’s chaotic vaccine rollout, after AstraZeneca said it could supply the country with about five to six million monthly doses, about half of what the government had targeted.” It is not clear if this is coming fro Siam Bioscience or being imported, although AZ claims there’s production going on.

Mess, failure, repeat. That’s the authoritarians code.








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