Political violence and official impunity

2 07 2019

Gen Prawit Wongsuwan is administratively in charge – still – of all security units. He has finally spoken of the attack(s) on activist Sirawith Seritiwat. He wasn’t very convincing when he “denied being behind a recent attack that left a pro-democracy activist in a critical condition.”

He went on in junta-speak: ““I don’t condone violence. Whoever causes unrest in the country must be punished…. The case is still unclear. It is under investigation.”

Gen Prawit managed to maneuver into to ultra-rightist narrative when he added that he did not know if the attack was politically motivated or a “personal issue.” This plays into the “fake news” (that Prawit claims to want to end) from ultra-yellows and the junta’s own, including the reprehensible Pareena Kraikupt of the Palang Pracharath Party and police “leaks” to a rightist newspaper that claim “Sirawith might have been attacked by loan sharks due to a family debt…”, which Sirawith’s mother has vehemently denied.

Meanwhile, national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda “aired his suspicions that both attacks on Sirawith were orchestrated by the same group.” Brilliant! No wonder he is police chief! But then he managed to support the rightists thugs and their aim, warning “that it wasn’t safe to get political in public, saying that activists should avoid campaigning publicly…”. That’s what the thugs (and the junta) want. He also mentioned that police “couldn’t guarantee their [activists’] safety.”

Some of the reporting/op-eds on the cowardly attack is worth considering.

Veera Prateepchaikul at the Bangkok Post observes the brazen attack, claims of state connivance and the attackers’ apparent nonchalance, “convinced they would never get caught.” He is right to say that the “unprovoked violence deserves condemnation in the strongest terms.”

He’s also correct to observe that “there has not been a word from any other incumbent ministers except …[Gen] Prawit Wongsuwon…”. He notes their silence on previous attacks on Sirawith and other anti-coup activists. And, he’s has little doubt that the “attack on Mr Sirawith was politically motivated.”

But, then, as ever, Veera wants to compare this violence with that under Thaksin Shinawatra. While political violence occurs under all regimes, the culprits and motivators of political assassination, beatings and enforced disappearance are almost always believed to be police and military. In recent cases, He also mentions the murder of former ministers in the 1940s, by police. It isn’t clear why Veera does not look at the rise of royalist-rightist violence sponsored by the military in the early 1970s.

(He might also get his facts right. He states that “whistle-blower Ekkayuth Anchanbutr went missing without trace in 2013 during the government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.” In fact, according to Wikipedia and The Nation reported Ekkayuth’s “body was found in the southern province of Phatthalung…”.)

Then there’s Paritta Wangkiat who is a columnist for the Bangkok Post. She observes the rightist cheering of the political thugs. That’s the “He deserves it”response, “with apparent satisfaction…”. Some on social media “referred to the activist as a ‘saboteur’ against the nation who deserves to suffer from even more attacks.”

She’s right to observe that these “recent attacks reflect the current state of polarisation in Thai politics with a dangerous rise in incidences of violence.” Her comment that the rightist “acceptance and encouragement of the use of violence against someone with a different political ideology speak volumes about our sick and rotten society” is worth considering.

But she looks to the past decade when, again, her view should be more historical. This kind of violence, conducted with impunity, is a defining characteristic of Thailand’s military and its efforts over several decades to “protect” monarchy and promote anti-democracy.

While Veera neglects it, Paritta does mention the impunity with which the military under Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and Gen Anupong Paojinda shooting down dozens of protesters and injuring hundreds more or the cheering associated with that, including from the Bangkok Post.

Sadly, she gets amnesic when she refers to “unidentified killers.” Letting the murderous military off the hook for their dirty deeds contributes to its impunity.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

On another point, however, she offers insight by observing the class nature of political violence. She notes that:

Thais are expected to know “their place”, be submissive and accept oppression…. This attitude of submissiveness and obedience has been embedded in society making it a perfect match for an authoritarian regime.

Such attitudes are the bread-and-butter/rice-and-fish sauce of the military and royalist rightists.

Where she gets it wrong is to argue that there is apathy towards political violence. There’s no apathy, on any side. Rather, the problems is that the military and other authorities operate this barbaric way with legal impunity.





Defending the Constitutional Court as farce

11 03 2019

Little things sometimes matter. For example, we noticed that the state’s propaganda arm did not officially report the king’s objection to (Princess) Ubolratana’s nomination by the Thai Raksa Chart Party until 9 March. Our quick search of its English-language website turned up a report of her nomination but no reporting of the king’s response (at least not as a headlined story). A quick search of the Thai-language part of the site produced nothing about the king’s response.

We may be over-reading this, but it seems to us that this lack of reporting until after the Constitutional Court’s decision is a remarkable piece of self-censorship and the now-required deference born of fear.

Meanwhile, in an effort to limit the damage of the whole affair to the monarchy, and especially for an international audience, hoary royalist and anti-Thaksin Shinawatra campaigner, Veera Prateepchaikul has been wheeled out.

Veera is a former editor of the Bangkok Post. His task in his most recent op-ed is to “explain” why the Court was right and “foreigners” are wrong to criticize the verdict.

He views it as no “surprise that most foreign media and human rights advocacy organisations” got the decision all wrong. He particularly ticked off by Amnesty International. He’s miffed that these “foreigners” see the Court’s decision as politicized.

He reckons the “foreigners” got it “wrong.” As “evidence” for getting it “wrong,” failing to consider “the role of the monarchy in society dating back to 1932 and its status of being above politics and being the symbolic soul of the nation…”. Of course, this is the usual blarney that royalists spew out when considering their beloved monarchy, ignoring the facts of history.

Veera relies on a written statement from one of the nine Constitutional Court judges who just happens to be his yellow-shirted buddy Nakarin Mektrairat. Now, Nakarin should know better as he wrote a history of 1932. But he sold his historian’s soul to the anti-democrats quite some time ago. A yellow-shirted historian, a 2014 coup supporter and constitution drafter and supporter of the lese majeste law, there seems little to assure “foreigners” that Nakarin is anything other than a junta quisling.

Still, Veera reckons Nakarin’s “enlightened explanation about how the court viewed the TRC’s nomination of Princess Ubolratana as its prime ministerial candidate and the possible repercussions towards the monarchy if this ‘highly inappropriate’ act was not nipped in the bud.”

Oddly, Nakarin apparently recognizes that Ubonratana was unencumbered by being a member of the monarchy but was still “undermin[ing] the basis and value of the constitution,” by her status as a member of the royal family and that it is the royal family that is “above politics” and this was “mandated in the first constitution of Thailand and enshrined in following charters.”

Indeed, Article 11 of the 1932 constitution did declare members of the royal family with status of Serene Highness and above were not to be involved in politics. However, by the time of most recent constitutions, this provision is not evident, having first been revised in 1946.

It is unclear which article of the constitution she was undermining or which law she was bending. In fact, even the Court relied on a half-baked notion of “culturalism” rather than law aand, of course, the king’s own pronouncement.

The real problem for Veera is that the person “dragging” this “member of the royal family into politics” is Thaksin, and therefore the move ” is simply unimaginable.”

It is not “electoral fraud,” that the “real motive” was to win the election. Indeed, this constituted a “wicked idea.”

We agree that the whole idea was daft and evidenced a kind of desperation, but to conclude that the “Constitutional Court’s verdict …has set a precedent … that the institution is politically impartial and above politics” is farcical. Just look at the repeated demonstrations of partiality by monarchs since 1932.





Further updated: Media reprimands Gen Apirat

20 02 2019

Army commander Gen Apirat Kongsompong has been hammered by the media today. For example, the Bangkok Post had an editorial, two op-eds and a story all highly critical of his attack on campaigning politicians as “scum.”

In the story, it was reported that “[p]oliticians demanded … the army chief remain neutral in the lead-up to the … election after he rebuked them for calling for defence budget cuts and revived an anti-communist song…”.

Actually, it is a song that belongs to extreme rightists and ultra-royalists, most recently used by the yellow-shirted royalists People’s Alliance for Democracy and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee to attack pro-Thaksin Shinawatra groups and politicians.

In other words, Gen Apirat was reaffirming his ultra-royalism as an anti-democratic rightist. The notion that he will be “neutral” is farcical. The military is never politically neutral.

Commenting on this, Ploenpote Atthakor points out that one of the (false) justifications for the 2014 military coup was about eliminating political conflict. As she points out, Gen Apirat is promoting conflict. For PPT, it is clear that the military has been stirring conflict throughout recent decades. The military is the problem.

Even determined anti-Thaksinista, Veera Prateepchaikul points out:

Many people may love the song and call it patriotic. But for a person like me and many others who are old enough to have witnessed the horrors of the “October 6” massacre and heard it being blasted around the clock before that fateful day by the army-run Yankroh radio station alternating with the hateful phone-in comments against the students inside Thammasat University, this is unquestionably a far-right hate song for its association with this bloody history.

The Post’s editorial comes straight to the point:

The troubling response of the army commander to a rather benign political campaign promise has quickly escalated. Gen Apirat Kongsompong didn’t just try to refute the call to cut both the military budget and the number of general officers. He retaliated by reviving the most hateful song in Thai political history, and promised to flood military bases and the airwaves with it. It is a move with an ironclad guarantee of major political and national division.

It continues to condemn Gen Apirat, saying what was:

hugely disappointing and inappropriate was Gen Apirat’s instant and ill-formed leap into the political campaign. The decision of the highest ranking army officer to step into the election debate was questionable. What is indefensible is his order to revive and propagandise his soldiers with the noxious and odious 1970s song Nak Phandin.

Yet it is hardly out of the ordinary. Gen Apirat, like his predecessor Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha have made their careers by being palace loyalists, rightists, and murderous military bosses.

Perhaps the most interesting commentary, however, was at Thai Rath, which outlines Gen Apirat’s family story. His father, Gen Sunthorn Kongsompong, a diminutive rightist also known as “Big George,” was a corrupt leader of the 1991 coup. The paper points out that, following a dispute between Sunthorn’s wife and mistress in 2001, people were stunned to learn that the property under dispute was valued at over 3.9 billion baht.

Thai Rath goes through the whole story of this corrupt general, the father of the current military commander. Being a powerful military boss has been lucrative, but for the Kongsompong clan, the wealth siphoned was conspicuously huge. We have no evidence of who shared in that huge wealth.

Update 1: It is not just the media that has gone after Apirat. As Prachatai reportsAs Prachatai reports:

… student activist Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, along with other members of the Student Union of Thailand, also went to the Army Headquarters to read an open letter to the Army Commander in Chief protesting Gen Apirat’s comment on ‘Nuk Paen Din.’

Following that:

… political activists Ekkachai Hongkangwan and Chokchai Paibulratchata held a demonstration at the Royal Thai Army Headquarters in response to army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong’s order to broadcast the controversial Cold War anthem ‘Nuk Paen Din’ (‘Scum of the Earth’) on all army radio stations and over the intercom at military headquarters.

Update 2: As might be expected, the military and its rabid response to politicians has been defended by what the Bangkok Post describes as “Chulalongkorn University political scientist Panitan Wattanayagorn…”. Panitan is neither a “political scientist” nor an “academic” in the true senses of these words. Rather, he is a toady of the military and in its pay. He’s a propagandist for the military, lying that “army chief Gen Apirat spoke out in response to the proposed defence budget cuts because he intended to defend the interests of rank-and-file soldiers who would be affected by any spending cuts.” It is a ludicrous fabrication. Defending the murderous military is nit the work of serious academics.





Update: A case to watch

7 02 2018

Back in May 2017, there was some media attention to this story:

How does justice work for the poor? Here’s an example:

KALASIN — A middle-aged couple appealing harsh punishment for picking mushrooms from a protected forest had their sentences reduced by 10 years by the Supreme Court on Tuesday

Udom Sirisorn and Daeng Sirisorn, 54 and 51 respectively, were handed down reduced sentences of five years by a court in Kalasin province, seven years after they were first convicted of illegal logging there.

In July, 2010, the couple had gone into Kalasin’s Dong Radaeng Forest to collect wild mushrooms for cooking. They were arrested by police and quickly sentenced to 30 years in prison, which was reduced by half because they had confessed.

They first appealed in 2014 but a court upheld their original sentences, and the couple served 17 months in jail before being freed on bail. The controversial sentences for the couple spawned a campaign calling for their release online and complaints about the nation’s double-standard justice system.

Yes,in a case that went back to 2010, two very poor farmers were sentenced to 30 years! They served almost a year and a half before being freed on bail.

As we know from bitter experience, rich people get away with much in Thailand. And the poor get jailed. The Red Bull case is just one of many that shows that wealth can buy much and that connections to the powerful and the paying off of officials begets impunity.

This makes the poaching case of construction tycoon Premchai Karnasuta so interesting and a test for the junta’s (in)justice system.

Boss of of Italian-Thai is a big deal in the business world, with impeccable connections (read his CV). For a while he was listed in the Forbes richest 50 for Thailand.

He’s used to getting his way and when he was caught red-handed poaching wildlife in the World Heritage Thungyai Naresuan sanctuary, it was a surprise. It was certainly a surprise for him as he’d have thought all his connections would have prevented any authorities getting too interested in his illegal hunting. Perhaps he’s annoyed someone.

The press says he “could face a maximum of 28 years in jail if he is found guilty…”. Let’s see. Like many of these big shots who get caught up, the initial risk is that the case will be delayed and then go quiet. That’s the cover-up even if he was caught with gun in hand and animal corpses all around him.

Remarkably, he and his three employees have denied the charges.

Premchai then lied to reporters saying he went to the wildlife sanctuary “for leisure.” His lawyer said “he was not worried about the case as Mr Premchai had nothing to do with the alleged hunting.”

That must mean the rare animals committed suicide. But this is all a part of getting off. A ridiculous story never seems to bother the rich or the authorities. Premchai probably reckons a “deal” can be done.

Plenty of officials seem to have been involved and he may have even had “permission,” and the denials that he was a VIP guest are so strident they sound fake. The impetus for a cover-up is thus even greater.

Thungyai Naresuan  has “been notorious for decades as an area where rich and powerful people enjoy poaching and game hunting.”

The case brings back memories of the hunting scandal in 1973 that led tothe then military regime losing its remaining credibility and fed into the uprising against it. Veera Prateepchaikul recalls this event.

We can only wonder if the rich will again laugh off and/or buy off the justice system.

Update: Is it a coincidence that a seemingly bogus website claiming to support Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan is also about protecting forests? It says: “General Prawit Wongsuwan loves, protects and takes care of forests. That’s why we love General Prawit Wongsuwan…”.





Further updated: Covering the corruption money trails

22 10 2017

Recall the claim that Interior Minister General Anupong Paojinda had approved the purchase of hundreds of “road speed guns for six times the normal price?”

Anupong said the “849 hand-held laser speed detectors – each costing 675,000 baht – was urgent to replace outdated equipment.” That’s more than 573 million baht. The project did not go to open bidding. And, oddly, the speed cameras were said to be for the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation.

The Bangkok Post’s Umesh Pandey states that General Anupong is one of The Dictator’s “closest associates …[and] has hit the headlines once again and this time, again, it is for the carelessness of his decision making.”

According to Umesh, “Gen Anupong defended himself, saying that he was unaware of the pricing of the equipment and it was only his role to pass on the requests of the agencies to the cabinet. The cabinet did not ask too many questions and approved the procurement plan presented by Gen Anupong.”

Sound familiar? It should. General Anupong made similar noises when he approved the Red Bull plant in Khon Kaen that has now been cancelled. Don’t blame me, he said, I just processed the approval.

Yeah, right. Then there was the deflated zeppelin. And the GT200 magic wands, both purchased in the past with Anupong and General Prayuth Chan-ocha working on the very bad deals that were both likely to be corrupt.

On the speed guns, there’s a belated attempt to construct a story that is so riddled with nonsense that the story is designed to befuddle while hoping the story goes silent – the junta’s trusted strategy. (Think of Rolls Royce corruption, the murder of Chaiyapoom Pasae and the “stealing” of the 1932 commemoration plaque, to name just three silences.)

The new story is that The Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department planned to buy laser-equipped speed detectors to enforce speed limits and would lend them to the police every so often. We looked at the Department’s website and couldn’t see how it might use speed guns….

Department Director-general Chayapol Thitisak “said the detectors were necessary for officials to effectively enforce the law against speeders and inculcate traffic discipline. The devices would mainly be used on secondary roads connecting districts, tambons and villages.” The department’s plan was claimed to be “in response to requests from organisations running campaigns to reduce road accidents…”.

That seems a most unlikely story to us.

Trying to save the boss, director-general Chayapol said the “procurement process had not begun…” and that “no sale had been concluded…”.

Maybe. Let’s see, when The Dictator gets his boot out of his mouth over Facebook, how he defends his former boss and co-conspirator.

Update 1: Interestingly, Veera Prateepchaikul, in an op-ed at the Bangkok Post has almost the same points about this deal as our post.

Update 2: General Anupong is under continued attack from yellow-shirted ultra-nationalist Veera Somkwamkid who says that Anupong’s proposal to “the cabinet on Oct 10” was approved at “a budget of 957.6 million baht for the procurement of 1,064 hand-]held speed guns, each worth around 900,000 baht.”

Meanwhile, Anupong went all Sgt Schultz: “I have no idea how many speed detectors the government approved for the procurement because it’s beyond my authority. You have to ask the DDPM…”.





Updated: Absurd defenses of feudalism

16 10 2017

Update: A reader rightly points out that our headline is potentially misleading. Let us be clear: the absurdities are all on the side of those implementing, using and defending the feudal lese majeste law.

PPT has had several posts regarding the efforts of a couple of retired generals, public prosecutors and a military court’s decision to go ahead with investigations of a lese majeste charge 85 year-old Sulak Sivaraksa. He dared to raise doubts about a purported historical event from centuries ago. (In fact, the prosecutors have until 7 December to activate the charge or let it lie.)

We have been interested to observe how parts of the media seem to far braver in pointing out the absurdities of this case than when it is workers, farmers, labor activists or average people who are charged in equally absurd cases. If these people are red shirts or fraudsters, there’s often barely a peep from the media.

Conservative, middle class, aged, royalist and intellectual Sulak, who has also been anti-Thaksin Shinawatra, is far easier to defend than those in more uncomfortable political and social locations for some reporters and writers.

His case also generates more international attention, as his cases have always done since 1984, when international academics supported him (and an alleged communist) under the administration led by General Prem Tinsulanonda.

Just in the Bangkok Post, there have been three op-eds and one editorial that each point out the ridiculousness of the case against Sulak. These include:

Yellow-hued, anti-Thaksinist Veera Prateepchaikul writes that the latest case is “unique in its absurdity.” He says he sees two troubling issues with the case:

First, … why did it take police three years to decide to send this case to the prosecutor — a military prosecutor in this case because we are now under the junta regime?

The second issue concerns the police interpretation of the lese majeste law or Section 112 of the Criminal Code in a way which makes the law look like it has an infinitely long hand which can delve into an event which took place some 400 years ago. The land on which the elephant duel was said to take place was not even called Siam.

Kong Rithdee, who has been pretty good and brave in calling out the lese majeste fascists, points out the absurdities of the case:

Another day, another lese majeste story. This time the interpretation of the contentious law goes back much further, to 1593 to be precise, to a dusty battlefield somewhere before “Thailand” existed.

The use of a military court to possibly sentence an 85 year-old to 15 years in jail is also mentioned as absurd.

Kong makes some connections that warrant more attention:

The scope of interpretation of Section 112 has been one of the central bristles of modern Thai politics, and while there have been cases that raised your eyebrows and body temperature (that of Jatupat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpattararaksa, to name just one), this wild reading of the law to cover an event from 400 years ago borders on dark comedy.

He asks if the absurdity of Sulak’s case tells Thais that they must not discuss or adopt a critical perspective on history. It seems Thais are expected to accept schoolbook nationalism and the jingoism of royalist film-makers.

Ploenpote Atthakor takes up the blind royalist nationalism. She observes that, in Thailand, there is no “dialogue” about historical events, “especially the parts concerning historical heroes or heroines, or even villains, hardly exists. Anyone who dares to question particular historical episodes may face trouble.” She notes how the history that got Sulak into trouble has changed several times and is disputed by historians.

Ultra-nationalism blinds Thais. The red hot pokers have been wielded by feudal-minded royalists and military dictators.

The Bangkok Post editorial extends the discussion to law and injustice:

In what appears to be an attempt at law enforcement, authorities in the past two weeks have taken legal action against two prominent public figures by resorting to what appears to be a misuse of both the law and its principles.

One is Sulak’s case and the other person is Thaksin, one of his lese majeste cases and the retroactive application of a law. The Post states that the cases “not only put the Thai justice system under the global spotlight but will also jeopardise law enforcement in the country.”

The editorial questions the police’s interpretation of the law, saying it:

is worrisome and has prompted questions about how far such a law should be applied. If Mr Sulak is indicted, it would create a chilling climate of fear and hurt the credibility of Thailand’s justice system….

In proceeding legal actions against the two men, the authorities must realise any abuses of the law can set bad precedents with a far-reaching impact on Thai citizens.

All these perspectives are right. We applaud these journalists for daring to defend Sulak and, in one instance, even Thaksin. At the same time, it would be brave and right to point out the absurdities that face many others charged with lese majeste. The military dictatorship has gotten away with being absurd for too long.





Evil and threatening

20 02 2017

The anti-coal protest has been seen off by the junta. In the end, it became a kind of political bonding exercise. Double standards proliferated throughout.

The other confrontation has been the 4,000 police and soldiers raiding Wat Dhammakaya. PPT has posted a bit on this case previously and why it has been so central for the junta and for the broad yellow shirt movement.

For the junta and its supporters, the perceived connection to the Shinawatra political clan seems to have been the underlying motivation.

What is not at all clear to PPT is why a wealthy temple, supported mainly by Bangkok’s middle class is politically associated with red shirts and Thaksinites, but the wealth of the temple certainly worries the junta, which continues to operate on the assumption that money motivates all political positions other than those of the great, the good and the royalists.

We do understand that Thaksin and his elected regimes were considered a threat to monarchy and thus nation, so perhaps throwing in the third element of the royalist and nationalist trilogy – religion – is a way of further conveying the royalist notion that Thaksin was an evil threat to the very core of the royalist nation.

In this context, we thought that readers might be interested in the views of a dedicated anti-Thaksinista on the evil threat posed by the temple, its monks and its followers.

Veera Prateepchaikul declares:

The real objective of the operation, I believe, is to clamp down on the temple, to strangle the Dhammakaya cult until it is no longer active and does not pose a threat to Buddhism for its distorted Buddhist teachings.

We can’t imagine what “real Buddhism” constitutes for Veera. Not the almost daily scandals of monks drinking alcohol, drug taking, engaging in sexual predation, gambling, high living and so on of official and hierarchical Buddhism. Perhaps he is thinking of that other “cult,” Santi Asoke so close to the yellow shirt movement? He goes on:

More importantly, the trial of Phra Dhammajayo — if there is one — is not the trial of the monk as an individual. It can also be seen as a trial of our own monastic order for its failure to rein in the monk and for its complacency that allowed the monk and his sect to grow so strong they can defy the state and the monastic order with impunity. This does not mean there are no other rogue monks who have misbehaved, but they were deemed a lesser threat than Phra Dhammajayo and the Dhammakaya cult….

Wat Phra Dhammakaya is more than a temple. It qualifies as an empire. Besides the main headquarters in Pathum Thani … [i]t has spread its wings to reach out to the world with meditation centres overseas and across the country, most of which encroach on forest reserves or parks.

Wat Phra Dhammakaya branched out in a similar fashion that a business branches out to get a bigger share of the market.

For the cult, its goal is to attract a bigger following and spread its adulterated Buddhist gospel to encourage its followers to make donations under the slogan that the bigger the amount of the donations, the higher the plane to heaven for the donors.

What the preachers didn’t tell their gullible followers is that some of them may find hell in this life before they may or may not go to heaven in the after-life….

Phra Dhammajayo and the Dhammakaya cult are just one major problem that poses a threat to Buddhism in this country.

We get the feeling that nation, religion and monarchy are under threat. But it isn’t a threat from the Thaksinites as much as from the forces that surround military dictatorship. Conservative forces that seek to maintain feudal and hierarchical institutions of (let’s say) the mid-20th century in a society that has changed.

Winding back the clock to some perceived “simpler”, “purer” and “better” time for the old heads and old men doesn’t mean that their clock isn’t broken. That their “model” (and clock) is broken is their biggest worry and their problem. Thaksin and his supporters heralded the royalist problem, they didn’t create it.