Thaksin finds his voice

22 02 2016

Thaksin Shinawatra has belatedly made comments on current politics and the path to permanent authoritarianism paved by the military and its royalist and anti-democratic allies.

He has spoken with the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, describing the constitution and the “road map” as “crazy.”

Readers may recall that, a couple of days ago, PPT commented on the Puea Thai Party, stating that some in the party are putting all their political eggs in the election basket. However, election or not, the military foxes are not about to let the chickens run the hen house. We added that this was dumb. We said that whatever Puea Thai and Thaksin Shinawatra think about an election, the junta isn’t going anywhere.

In another post, journalist Shawn Crispin told us of yet another “deal” meant to protect Thaksin’s wealth and that of his family. Like all the other alleged deals, this one also seems to have melted back into thin air.

In the story at the FT, Thaksin, said to be in Singapore, described the “crazy” draft constitution as part of a “wider strategy to avoid a fair election it [the junta] fears it would lose.” We are not at all sure that the junta worries about losing an election, but this is a strategy to fix a result and we can only wonder why it has taken Thaksin so long to work this out and say this.

Thaksin reckons that internal polling is telling the “military and its civilian establishment allies” that they will be “defeated in an election by a party aligned with him [Puea Thai].”

We think the polling matters little and that the “establishment” is happy to remain in power whatever happens in referendum and any election (which will be rigged).

Thaksin does seem to agree with us on some things, as he “ridiculed constitutional proposals that critics say will neuter elected politicians and entrench authoritarianism.” His idea that he can advise the junta to “scrap them and consult with the public instead” is nonsensical.

On the constitution, he observes:

I can’t imagine that this kind of constitution can be written in this manner in the 21st century. It’s as if we are in the 18th century…. Instead of trying to write a crazy constitution, you had better have some discussion on what [people] would like to see.

Why would they consult? Okay, we understand that Thaksin and others are making a political point, but it really is dopey to think that The Dictator is going to listen. Perhaps there’s a thought that the “liberals” among the “establishment” will chuck him out. We don’t see it at the moment.

Thaksin has a different view and says: “I don’t [say] that this junta will not last long…. But any regime that [does] not respect the people will not last long. No one respects North Korea, namely.”

Well, the North Korean regime has considerable longevity….

Thaksin did agree that he “had been ‘quiet for too long’ and was speaking out now to counter ‘negative rumours’ about him. Thaksin said “he was not in any direct or indirect talks with the generals, despite rumours the two sides might strike a bargain to end the official pursuit of him and his family.”

Thaksin rather lamely called for “talks.” What kind of talks? Thaksin said: “I don’t set any kind of conditions for myself. I just want to see the country moving forward, to return democracy to the people.”

At the WSJ, Thaksin said the constitution is a “charade to show the world that Thailand is returning to democracy…”. He says: “There would be a prime minister, but the real power would be in some politburo above him and the economy would suffer. No other government would want to touch Thailand.” Maybe he should talk more with his Chinese friends. And, all the US wants is a civilian or civilianized premier.

Predictably, anti-democrats are agitated by Thaksin having found his voice. The Nation has an editorial which, to say the least, is bizarre. If we were generous, we say it is logically flawed. The editorial states that Thaksin should not be able to speak on the draft charter because he did not respect the 1997 constitution. The Nation’s writer seems to have lost an eye. Wasn’t it the military that threw out both the 1997 and 2007 constitutions?

Thaksin might be confused at times and he may have been arrogant and authoritarian in inclination, but it is not he who has the record of constitutional trashing. It is the military that holds the record for throwing out constitutions.

Updated: Reacting to the coup

21 05 2014

The Wall Street Journal:

General Prayuth Chan-ocha, chief of the Thai army, is at pains to explain he did not stage a coup at 3 a.m. Tuesday morning. The imposition of martial law, he says, is merely an intervention to restore order and break the deadlock between the elected government and royalist protesters. Acting Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan remains officially in charge.

That’s laughable, as Gen. Prayuth showed when reporters asked about the status of the government. “And where is this government?” he joked.

Now the army has given itself unlimited powers for an indefinite period. Sure sounds like a coup.

Moreover, there is no public safety justification for the generals’ action. Thailand may be wracked by political conflict, but it remains largely peaceful. Even when protesters derailed a general election in February, the troops stayed in their barracks. If there is a political vacuum in Bangkok, the army and other elite-controlled institutions created it.

So why did Gen. Prayuth act now? One clue is the way Mr. Niwatthamrong has gone on calling for new elections later this year. The military and the aristocracy need to close off that possibility.

The only way forward for Thailand is to go back to the voters for a new mandate.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon:

 “The way to secure Thailand’s peace and prosperity is through full respect for democratic principles and engagement in democratic processes,” the statement continues, and adds: “The Secretary-General urges all sides to exercise utmost restraint, refrain from any violence and fully respect human rights.”

The New York Times:

General Prayuth faces a daunting challenge: to cajole some form of reconciliation in a society split between the old-money elites in Bangkok who are backing the antigovernment demonstrators and a populist governing party with a power base in the provinces, led by a nouveau riche tycoon, Thaksin Shinawatra.

The last military coup was in 2006, and it overthrew the same political movement that dominates the country today. But analysts say the current impasse is more intractable than anything the military has taken on in the past.

The Deccan Chronicle:

What happened on Monday in Thailand appears to be a soft coup, martial law has been imposed and the Army is in control of the streets and television stations.

… India’s solidarity with the people of one of the working democracies of the region, a prosperous one with close trade ties and strong bilateral bonds should be reflected in our hope that democracy will get back on its feet fast.

The obvious way out would be for free and fair polls and India could offer assistance. The problem lies in Thai society having showed an inclination not to trust the popular vote, which the billionaire Shinawatras still command with the poor backing them. Any civilian government that lives under the shadow of the military intervention would only be beholden to the military top brass.

Kevin Hewison at The Conversation:

In the dead of night, Thailand’s military has used a 100-year-old law to declare martial law across the country. General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army’s commander, has said it did not overthrow the government, so this cannot be Thailand’s 19th successful coup.

Should the military move quickly and call an immediate election, perhaps it would pass the “duck test”. Yet that seems highly unlikely. So, for the moment, the declaration of martial law looks like a coup and probably is.

Aspects of this military action bear striking similarities with the last coup in September 2006…. Back then, the conservative elite was in broad agreement on the need to get rid of Thaksin.

The palace’s support for that coup was a major element in elite solidarity. This time, the palace has been quieter, although several privy councillors, and others known to have links to the Privy Council, have been grumbling. It seems doubtful that the military would have acted without being sure of support in the highest places.

There are other similarities. First, the justification provided for martial law, enacted without consultation with the interim government, is remarkably similar.

Back in 2006, the military stated that it overthrew the government to prevent bloody clashes between the Thaksin government and royalist protesters known as yellow shirts. Of course, that was a concocted scenario. The palace and military had been hatching the plot for months.

Tuesday’s enactment of martial law was also said to be in response to supposedly pending clashes. Given that there has been sporadic violence for the past seven months, this claim appears as spurious as it was in 2006.

A second similarity is that the initial target of the intervention in 2006, and again today, was government supporters. The red shirt demonstration on the outskirts of Bangkok, which has been large but entirely peaceful, has been surrounded by troops. The police, also seen to be pro-government, witnessed armed soldiers surround their headquarters for several hours.

A third similarity is that anti-government protesters appear to have applauded and welcomed the military. It is likely that the business community will again support military intervention because the long months of anti-government activism have undermined the economy.

Ironically, many of Thailand’s major businesses have supported the demonstrations that have done the economic damage. This reflects the fact that much of the business class is bound to the conservative elite.

… The 2006 coup ended Thailand’s tenuous, elite-negotiated political consensus. There has since been remarkable political mobilisation…. The colour-coded demonstrations have tended to simplify a more complex political dystopia born of political and economic inequality, status and class-based conflict and even ethnic animosities that were long thought forgotten.

This grand unravelling has exposed the foundations of these inequalities and conflicts. Major institutions have been brought undone, mainly through their own audacious declarations of political bias: the judiciary’s double standards have been revealed; the monarchy is embroiled in political conflict; and “independent” agencies have been shown to be hopelessly prejudiced.

… An election within a suitable timeframe will likely reduce the potential for clashes. Anything else is likely to be dangerous.

Without an election, the military’s actions will, at best, further undermine Thailand’s electoral democracy. At worst, division, conflict and crisis will likely deepen.

Update: The Economist:

AT 3AM Thailand’s army, the institution that determines the fate of the country’s civilian governments, declared martial law.

It invoked a draconian 100-year-old law that was most recently used by Sarit Thanarat, a military dictator, following his second coup in 1958.

… It may look like one, it may sound like one, but the army insists this is not a coup, and that the civilian government is still in place. It dissolved the Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order (CAPO), the government agency tasked with overlooking security. A so-called “Peace-Keeping Command Centre” now enforces martial law.

The army will be keen to keep its move regarded as a “non-coup” to prevent Thailand’s being cut off from international capital markets, and to prevent its officers’ prosecution at a later date. “What’s happened is that the army has given itself the legal means of achieving an army coup”, says Paul Chambers, an expert on the Thai army at Chiang Mai University’s Institute for South-East Asian Affairs. [PPT: we are not sure what “legal” means here. Nothing we see is legal and the disdain for legalities is clear]

… [M] martial law is something like a last ditch effort on the part of Mr Suthep’s sponsors. He had been playing the role of a front man for the old Thai establishment—representing the street-level id of the civil service, the army, the judiciary and the monarchy—and he has failed to deliver.

A Khaosod editorial:

Regardless of the pretext or intention, the martial law imposed by the Royal Thai Army today infringes on the rights of Thai citizens and should be repealed without delay.

… The military has insisted that this is not a coup. But coup or no coup, the martial law is already restricting a number of human rights and freedoms guaranteed under the Thai constitution.

There is no basis for Gen. Prayuth to impose the martial law. Although there has been sporadic violence over the past few months, the situation has not reached the full-scale “unrest” that Gen. Prayuth said last week was the condition for a military intervention.

Thailand’s martial law explicitly says that it may only be declared by the military in a time of war or insurrection. Neither is happening in Thailand at the moment.

On the first day of the martial law regime alone, at least 14 TV stations and local radio stations were shut down by the POMC, ostensibly to avoid dissemination of “distorted” information to the public.

Direct military intervention rarely ends well in Thailand. The fact that Gen. Prayuth decided to impose the martial law on the 4th anniversary of the unrest in 2010 — in which more than 90 people were killed in the clashes between the army and Redshirt protesters — is particularly uncouth. One can only wonder whether the military has learned its lesson.


With 3 updates: Some reactions to the verdict

9 05 2014

A Wall Street Journal editorial:

Thailand’s Aristocratic Dead-Enders
The royalists who can’t win an election stage a judicial coup.

Royalist forces struck another blow against Thai democracy Wednesday when the country’s Constitutional Court staged a judicial coup and removed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office. Her supposed crime: having impure motives when she transferred a bureaucrat three years ago. For the third time in a decade, this unaccountable institution controlled by the aristocracy has removed an elected leader for dubious reasons.

The justices’ meddling rewards the bad behavior of the ironically named royalist Democrat Party. It boycotted the general election in February after several of its leaders led street protests aimed at overthrowing democracy and installing a ruling council made up of the country’s elite….

The Constitutional Court’s decision this week is a last gasp of the old regime, discrediting itself as it fights to hold back the forces of democracy. One can hope that a wiser leader will emerge from the royalist camp who will realize this and stop trying to overthrow democracy…. For now, though, it appears the aristocracy is not ready to give up its claim to a divine right to rule Thailand and accept the more modest role of loyal opposition.

Academic Paul Chambers:

“This court has a tradition for making ridiculous decisions…. Thailand has become a juristocracy.”Chambers - Copy

Chambers at Khaosod:

“I think once again we have a judicial coup in Thailand,” …

“Thailand has a form of democracy [sic.], but there is no real balance or checks…. What we have here is juristocracy – the judicial branch is head and heels above the legislative and executive branches of the government, and it’s supported by traditional institutions.”

… “This constant replay of courts issuing ridiculous verdicts may cause people who have believed in Thailand’s democracy to stop believing in it,” said Professor Chambers.

Chiang Mai University law lecturer Somchai Preechasilpakul:Somchai - Copy

“The verdict appears to indicate that all Prime Ministers who do not come from the Democrat Party will be eventually removed by the so-called independent agencies…”.

Professor Kevin Hewison at The Conversation:

Because the country’s judiciary is so highly politicised, decisions that defy legal logic have become the norm, with the judiciary consistently acting against elected governments. In essence, such decisions, sometimes based on flimsy accusations and charges by opposition activists, undermine the very democratic processes the judiciary is supposed to protect.

There was never any doubt that the Constitutional Court would oust Yingluck once the case was referred to it. Indeed, the court reached its decision – which took almost two hours to read – within a day of hearing the last of Yingluck’s evidence and witnesses. That is evidence enough that the court had its verdict before hearings were concluded.Hewison - Copy

Such obvious political bias also suggests an orchestration with those opposed to the government. The decision will reinforce views among the government’s supporters that Thailand’s political system is inherently supportive of the royalist elite. They see this elite as not just opposed to the will of the majority as expressed in elections but also as manipulating law and politics to protect their economic and political power.

South China Morning Post:

Ultimately undone by Thailand’s courts, Yingluck Shinawatra laboured under claims she was a stooge for her exiled brother. Yet the kingdom’s first female prime minister also displayed unexpected resilience during a turbulent stay in office….Montesano - Copy

“History will give Yingluck great credit for her conduct since November,” said Dr Michael Montesano at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

“She has scrupulously avoided the use of state violence … maintained the dignity of her office and displayed humanity rather than arrogance while under great pressure.”

Update 1: Duncan McCargo at FT:

The conflict is pitting an entrenched elite that is destined to lose power against new political forces whose rise seems inexorable. Ousting Ms Yingluck on a technicality was an act of desperation, not a show of strength.

Update 2: A Coup by Another Name in Thailand By The Editorial Board of The New York Times:

It was the third time the justices have removed the head of the government in recent years using dubious legal reasoning…. Thailand, which has managed to grow despite its chaotic politics and frequent coups, appears to be approaching a breaking point.

Update 3: The Daily Beast:

An ‘iron triangle’ made up of the army, senior judges, and royalist supporters continues to deconstruct Thailand’s democratically elected government by means of a rolling judicial coup,” says a retired U.S. diplomat. “It is this iron triangle rather than the country’s electorate that determines who will govern here in Thailand. This iron triangle has deposed three democratically elected prime ministers since 2006 and is on the cusp of deposing a fourth.


What the WSJ should have reported

25 11 2012

The Wall Street Journal has usually been pretty reasonable in reporting events in Bangkok in recent years. However, their report on the Pitak Siam rally appears to us to have a wrong-headed slant in it. Hence, we take the liberty of suggesting how it should have been written:

Thai Protest Fizzles: Rejected as Undemocratic by Most Thais

An anti-government rally in Bangkok fizzled as it failed to attract any support from the majority of Thais. Amid torrential tropical downpours Saturday, the disappointed organizers – a group of military- and palace-linked troglodytes – called off their failed attempt to destabilize and bring down the elected government led by Yingluck Shinawatra.

After a few hundred thugs attacked police lines, the stench of tear gas wafted through two or three streets of the old section of the Thai capital in a reminder of how Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is struggling to consolidate her elected regime in the shadow of one of Asia’s most  conservative politicians, most of them associated with the military and palace and all claiming to be supporters and protectors of the divisive and politicized monarchy.

These aged leaders and their supporting demonstrators say it is the continuing influence of Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup six years ago, that they oppose. However, it is clear that what they really oppose is the idea that non-elite people can elect a government of their choice. In other words, these protesters attack democracy.

Police arrested 138 demonstrators and released all but one without charge. The one charged drove a large truck into police, injuring several.

In many ways, Saturday’s protest, while smaller than expected, was a throwback to the days when royalist demonstrators massed in Bangkok in 2006 and 2008 to throw out elected governments.

When Ms. Yingluck was elected in a landslide in July 2011, there began an rapprochement between the populist Thaksin camp and Thailand’s conservative military and civil service, helped along by the country’s relatively strong economic performance this year. But royalist hatred of Thaksin, Yingluck and of democracy remained.

The buildup to Saturday’s rally was punctuated by claims that Ms. Yingluck’s government operates with the single purpose of furthering Mr. Thaksin’s long-term political aims, although there has been little evidence that her government is actually doing more than implementing its stated policies that saw it win a massive electoral victory. More than 90% of Thais opposed the Pitak Siam rally, suggesting that Yingluck’s government retains strong popular support

It is expected that the defeat of Pitak Siam will see the undemocratic forces rethink, regroup and seek more violent and conspiratorial means to bring down the government. And so on….


Election talk

7 05 2011

As readers will have noted, PPT has been watching election speculation and while agreeing that there is probably an elite strategy on the royalist government an electoral mandate that will (it hopes) silence critics, we have also noted the intense debate that has gone on within the elite on whether this was the “right” strategy at this time. This caused us to comment on the conflict with and in the People’s Alliance for Democracy as well as the unbridled use of lese majeste against the government’s opponents while demanding silence on the monarchy during an election campaign.

As the Bhum Jai Thai Party-Ministry of Interior-Internal Security Operations Command organized a large rally of the so-called Monarchy Protection Volunteers Group in Rangsit (go here and choose 6 May to see a front-page picture) and as the Army displayed on Channel 5 its nationwide activities supporting the monarchy and opposing those “threatening” the monarchy, and as the Cabinet approved huge budgets (see below and here) in an unusual, long and generous meeting, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said late Friday that he had submitted a decree for the king’s signature that would dissolve parliament and lead to an election.

The Economist, writing before Abhisit’s announcement, has a piece that includes some interesting issues.

It begins with Abhisit’s “spendthrift cabinet” approving “102 spending proposals, totalling billions of dollars.” (A Bangkok Post account says 137 billion baht.) It concludes: “Plainly, an election is in the offing.” The Economist believes “the contest will be bitter…. And whatever the result, some will not accept it.”

PPT hasn’t mentioned what the Economist calls “the centre of the show”: Thaksin Shinawatra. It observes:

Deposed in a coup in 2006 and banned from politics in Thailand, he is now in exile in Dubai. But his devoted followers, the red shirts, have kept the flame glowing, often in the face of extreme government hostility. Scores of their number were gunned down during a prolonged protest in central Bangkok a year ago. They see this election as possibly their last chance to right the wrong of that coup.”

PPT would add that the supporters of Thaksin have seen their votes count for nothing in the three most recent elections. Many of them will wonder if that will be the case again should the Puea Thai Party do well. It is unclear if people will remain connected to the electoral process if their votes are thrown out time and again.

Thaksin remains critical. As this report notes, many “hoped that Pheu Thai would evolve into an issues-based party rather than remain a Thaksin fan-club. Fat chance. As the election nears, the opposite is happening…”. One reason for this continuing “Thaksinisation” of the party is because “the party does not have a lot of choice, because of government crackdowns… [and bannings]. With so many leaders sidelined, Pheu Thai’s remaining talent pool is shallow.”

Abhisit sees an opportunity to “ opportunity “win his own mandate.”

The Economist raises one important question: will “the campaign will be a proper contest of people and ideas…”, adding that censorship, jailings and so on make “some red shirts argue that it will be almost impossible to hold a free and fair election.” Not just red shirts. PPT has argued a “fixing” has been going on.

A second important question relates to acceptance of a hypothetical Puea Thai victory. PPT thinks that such a victory would be a remarkable outcome with so much aligned against the party. Hence the generals say they will accept a Puea Thai government. We think this is little different from their claims back in 2007 when they said the junta’s constitution could be changed following an election that they thought the Democrat Party would win. When they didn’t, and People’s Power Party sought constitutional amendment, PAD mobilized, chaos resulted and the judicial coup took place in December 2008.

Writing after the Abhisit statement, the Wall Street Journal has another take on the election. Despite all of the obstacles and fixing, the Journal thinks calling an election is “a risky strategy” against a “well-funded opposition backed by former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, the man the army kicked out of power nearly five years ago.” In fact, the Democrat Party doesn’t seem short of campaign funds, and has used the state coffers extensively to promote its position (see above).

The Journal has more on opposition to the election amongst the elite, saying “conservative royalists argue that Thailand isn’t ready to hold peaceful elections.” It cites Michael Montesano who says “that even among Thailand’s anti-Thaksin establishment, there are doubts that elections are the best way to stabilize the country.”

As we noted above, the military has actively campaigned for the royalist government and hopes that its work will be more successful than it was in 2007. Meanwhile, Abhisit, who was put in place and maintained there by the military says: “I think we see the military is now playing its role according to the constitution, and supports an elected government and the policies we adopt.”

More doublespeak by Abhisit, obscuring his enduring debt to the military and their weapons. Expect much more of this and also expect the military to be heavily involved as they provide bodyguards for Abhisit and other Democrat Party politicians as they campaign. Also expect the already huge promises made by both sides to get even bigger. And, don’t forget the monarchy. We assume the king will sign off on the dissolution of parliament, despite his operation. Even if the major parties agreed that it is unmentionable, state television and the military will continue to harp on “the institution,” implying that the opposition is disloyal.

Human rights continue to decline

1 05 2011

With major statements by Human Rights Watch and the Asian Human Rights Commission, both pointing to the further deterioration of human rights in Thailand, it is worth looking at what they say in some detail.

HRW’s statement notes the state’s aggressive censorship of opposition community radio stations associated with the red shirts, observing that the “crackdown followed the government’s announcement that it would dissolve parliament on May 6, 2011, in preparation for national elections.” The question then raised is one PPT has been commenting on for several months: how can an election be fair with the opposition stifled and censored?

HRW demands that the “government should immediately allow the stations to resume operations,” noting that the elections “can hardly be credible if the government closes down opposition radio stations and websites…”.

But even if these radio stations were able to operate – and the Abhisit Vejjajiva government fears these stations for they provide alternatives to mainstream and state-controlled media – even that would not make for a “credible election. As PPT has reported, however, arrests of red shirt leaders continue, aimed at shutting up the opposition.

HRW notes that the Abhisit government mouthed platitudes (PPT’s words) about being “committed to protecting rights, but it has become the most prolific censor in recent Thai history.”

That’s a big statement but absolutely true. PPT has pointed this out several times, noting that even Thaksin Shinawatra, accused of numerous human rights abuses, was not able to gain the same level of control and deliver the level of repression and censorship that this palace-military-capitalist regime has.

HRW’s complaint was prompted by the raids by “hundreds of armed police officers joined officials from the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) … [on] 13 community radio stations in Bangkok and surrounding provinces associated with the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD)…. The stations were forced off the air for broadcasting material deemed offensive to Thailand’s monarchy. Broadcasting equipment, computers, and documents were seized. At least two station operators were temporarily held in police custody and questioned, then released on bail.”

HRW notes that the raids “were ordered by the army commander-in-chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha…” who has been running a broad-ranging campaign against persons he deems a threat to the monarchy.

HRW claims the “court warrant … provided vague authorization for the raids on the ground that the community radio stations have been operating illegally. But among hundreds of unlicensed community radio stations across Thailand, only those closely linked with the Red Shirts have been targeted…”.

HRW added: “Freedom for all Thais has suffered badly because the government and military have cast aside the rule of law to clamp down on critical speech…”.

The military has responded, as seen in a remarkable story in The Nation. It is remarkable as arguably the most inane response ever by a military that seems to assume that the public is as brainless as the military speakers making the comments masquerading as “explanations.”

The story begins with a claim that the “13 community radio stations run by the red shirts were shut down because they violated the law and not because of any political reasons…”. This claim is attributed to Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) spokesman Major-General Ditthaporn Sasasamit who claimed that ISOC “had told the police it had received complaints from local residents about the illegal radio stations’ frequencies interfering with regular radio broadcasts.”

So we are left to conclude that the “complaints” were received for just 13 of the more than 800 stations and that each of these just happened to be red shirt stations. No one in their right mind could ever believe such nonsense. But the military just sprays it out there, treating sensible Thais with complete disdain.

Then, of course, it is added, and this time truthfully: “community radios also broadcast speeches made at the April 10 rally that contained messages deemed to be threatening to national security, offensive to the monarchy as well as inciting unrest…”.

Despite this statement of political acts, the army babbles on about “reject[ing] accusations that the recent raids on red-shirt radio stations were politically motivated.”

Army chief Prayuth chimed in, supporting the lame comments by army and ISOC spokesmen saying that “action had been taken because those radio stations had really broken the law by operating illegally, interfering with legal radio frequencies and provoking social unrest…. The stations tried to provoke violence, and even urged soldiers not to follow orders. They did something wrong…”. In truth, they were wrong because the oppose the government, the army’s political entanglements, coups, election rigging and the descent into brutish political authoritarianism.

The actions currently being taken against red shirts are clearly politically motivated and are designed to silence red shirt media.

Meanwhile, the Asian Human Rights Commission says that “blatant threats” made towards Somsak Jeamteerasakul were ignited by Army boss Prayuth, who “derided Somsak in an interview on April 7, describing him as ‘a mentally ill academic’ who ‘is intent on overthrowing the institution’ of the monarchy.”

AHRC describes this threat in the context of “ultra-conservative forces are using the symbolic power of the king and royal institutions to advance a new authoritarian project…”. PPT has delineated this “project” several times.

While all of this is going on, the Wall Street Journal has an interview with Prime Minister Abhisit that fails to mention the use of repression and intimidation against political opponents under the guise of lese majeste claims. For the WSJ, it is business as usual in Thailand. In fact, ther is nothing usual about current politics.

Hence it is surreal when Abhisit is cited on his “plans to dissolve the House of Representatives by Friday and call what he described as a landmark election…”.

PPT imagines that, if it does come off, it will only be a landmark in the sense that the military and elite backers have expended money and opposition blood in an effort to gain an electoral mandate for a government that could not win a free and fair election. If it does win, wait for all the nonsense about how free and fair this election was and how a mandate will permit further repression.

When Abhisit says: “This is a real opportunity for Thailand to get out of this cycle of violence…. For too long I think we’ve been held back” it should not be forgotten that he supported the whole string of events that saw multiple election results overturned by a tainted judiciary, palace political intervention and a military coup. The body count in the violence makes it clear that the state’s weapons and snipers were used to maintain this government in power.

PPT is quite taken aback by the WSJ’s comment that “[g]oing to the polls now might provide Mr. Abhisit with a fresh mandate to pursue fresh policies to help buttress the country’s economic progress, analysts say, and he is choosing to call the election several months before the end of his term in December in order to provide Thailand with a firmer sense of direction and to remove the shadow of uncertainty that still hangs over the country.”

We are taken aback because Abhisit has no mandate except that cobbled together with money from businesses backing the Democrat Party and its now coalition partners and the military and palace brokering a deal that bought parliamentarians to support the party of the aristocracy. That he is saying he will call elections just short of this parliament’s full term is not great innovation; most elections in Thailand come before a full term is served.

What is clear is that Abhisit is only now seeking an “electoral mandate” because he thinks that his military-backed regime, after all of its fixing and what used to be called “policy corruption” but for the “analysts” in the WSJ are “fresh policies,” finally has a chance of getting the votes it needs.

But really, where are the WSJ’s analysts on the corruption of the electoral process that has taken place very openly in a series of fixes, acts of political violence and censorship and repression? Where is the acknowledgement that the Abhisit government has become the most prolific censor in recent Thai history?

Thitinan on rule by law and judicialization

16 12 2010

Thitinan Pongsudhirak has a most useful commentary in the internationally-influential Wall Street Journal. He takes aim at Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s repeated claims about the rule of law. He begins: “On the surface at least, Thailand has returned to the rule of law. After the government declared a state of emergency in April, the military subdued the “red shirt” protesters and restored order. And in the last three weeks, the Constitutional Court dismissed two cases against the ruling Democrat Party that could have seen the party banned from politics. However, in both cases the government’s wins came at the expense of its perceived legitimacy.”

He argues that the military and judiciary are “[p]ropping up the pro-establishment status quo” and that the “public’s suppressed aspirations for reform mean that Thailand’s period of tumult is not over…”.

Thitinan argues that the “courts are increasingly the final arbiter of the country’s political direction. But because the courts are perceived as biased, instead of achieving [political] reconciliation and a way forward, judicialization has exacerbated matters.” He goes on to describe the Constitutional Court’s work on the cases against the Democrat Party as “shocking because they were made on procedural grounds and in the face of strong precedents for holding the ruling party accountable.”

The “precedents” are the cases that dissolved the parties and banned some 200 politicians associated with elected governments and that were pro-Thaksin Shinawatra in moves that look to PPT like judicial coups. Nothing of that for the so-called Democrat Party as technicalities were used to save the party of the establishment. As Thitinan politely observes, those trials “were expeditious and the court delivered the verdicts rapidly.”

He also notes that the cases against the anointed Democrat Party “dragged on, [and] several judges of the nine-member court were filmed discussing how to exonerate the Democrats.” Red shirt claims of “injustice” and “double standards” have traction, and Thitinan believes that red shirt opposition will be galvanized.

Thitinan observes that “the establishment forces’ game plan is clear. Having put down Mr. Thaksin’s challenge and crushed the red shirts’ uprisings in April 2009 and earlier this year, the latter at a cost of 91 fatalities and 1,900 injuries, the army-backed government of Abhisit Vejjajiva is emboldened to soldier on with its own populist agenda of deficit spending on handouts and giveaways in preparation for the polls. The Democrats are unlikely to win an outright victory, but the establishment camp can ensure they remain in power. The army is poised to pressure smaller parties to join a Democrat-led coalition, leaving out the pro-Thaksin Puea Thai Party.” He predicts that there are “a series of confrontations down the road.”

PPT would add that the establishment’s game plan only involves elections that they can “win” one way or another. They want to be able to further crush any red shirt and anti-monarchy movement by pointing to such a victory, effectively legitimizing their long-standing repression of  opposition. The military, palace and establishment allies do not want a repeat of 2007, when they thought they had organized an election victory, only to have it snatched from them. Their on-going repression, purges of the bureaucracy, police and military, corruption of the judiciary, and their support for shady coalition partners are all meant to ensure a victory in the next election (that will only be held when victory is assured).

Updated: WSJ on red shirts

6 09 2010

The Wall Street Journal, like several other international outlets, comments on red shirts regrouping. One of the useful things in this article is the inclusion of a picture of the large red shirt rally in Pattaya (see below).

The article begins with the statement that the red shirts “are testing the limits of what political and military leaders will allow…” and says “another rally planned for Bangkok.” The main aim of the rallies is said to be: “the release of opposition activists arrested in the aftermath of May’s demonstrations. In their Bangkok rally, set for Sept. 17, they plan to lay red roses outside the prison where several Red Shirt leaders are being held on terrorism charges. They’re also encouraging supporters to stage other events to commemorate the 91 people killed during clashes between protesters and government security forces.”

Red shirt protesters in Pattaya (WSJ photo)

If they do rally in Bangkok, then the military-Abhisit Vejjajiva administration is ready – see here. Bangkok remains under the emergency decree.

Key red shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan “said in an interview during the Pattaya concert that the crackdown had left the movement uncowed—and that while the Red Shirts might lack strong leadership at the moment, adherents learned from that experience and can now put together their own smaller-scale protests.”

Referring to the Pattaya event, the WSJ says it “had much of the flair that drew tens of thousands of people to the earlier Bangkok protests. Cabaret dancers in black, thigh-high boots and feather boas performed on a large stage while speakers railed against the Thai army and Bangkok-based bureaucrats they say manipulate the system to keep themselves in power. Farther back from the stage, vendors sold sausages on sticks alongside DVDs and graphic photographs of some of the people killed during May’s Bangkok clashes. Entrance to the concert was set at 100 baht or approximately $3 a head.”

The day after the rally, Sombat Boonngamanong “organized a series of games and stunts on Pattaya’s main beach that drew around 300 people dressed wearing T-shirts with slogans such as ‘I Am Red’.” They also did a bit of a beach clean-up with both events announcing that the red shirts are back.

Update: Here’s a video of the Pattaya beach red shirt event:

Updated: Abhisit and media unfreedom

17 08 2010

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has done it again. He’s gone to the international media and made claims that are evidently false. This time he was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal. Go to the Wall Street Journal and click the first video box – with Abhisit’s photo – to get the statement as an almost 3 minute video.

These statements to the international media are Abhisit’s forte, and PPT has shown previously that he has lied. He does this in part because he goes unchallenged in the interviews and in part because he seems to now believe his own propaganda. One of his statements that stood out for us was at about 0:42, where Abhisit seeks to “correct” the view that the opposition is blocked. He says: “there is no limitation of space for the opposition…”. He then adds that the government is “allowing” political debate. This is a bald-faced lie. The government has closed virtually all opposition outlets while it controls the vast bulk of electronic media and has a swathe of supporters in the mainstream media.

For a better visual perspective on the censorship of opposition media, just look at the graphic with the story (reproduced right). That is a better indication of the true level of media censorship and control in Abhisit’s Thailand. Just on the web, while the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology say they have “blocked at least 40,000 web pages this year, according to the government’s, which monitors the Internet. Free-speech activists say authorities are blocking at least 110,000 sites, based on government disclosures and spot checks online.”

Human Rights Watch is cited as claiming that “Thailand’s censorship [is] a ‘broad-brush clampdown’ that ‘violated Thailand’s obligations to respect media freedom and freedom of expression’.”

The 2007 Computer Crimes Act “imposes penalties for illegal activities online. Thai authorities also rely on a strict lèse majesté rule, dating back a century, that limits discussion of Thailand’s royal family. Thai authorities recently expanded a team tracking inappropriate discussion of the monarchy online and elsewhere to 120 people from two previously.”

In his interview, Abhisit comments that authorities are “mindful” that “there could be abuses” in deciding what to block and in the use of emergency powers. As he has falsely claimed previously, he said “we’ll put things right” if there are problems. When he’s said this previously the result has usually been heavier censorship. [Update: As is now usual, when Abhisit speaks of “freedom,” the next step is a further attempt to extend unfreedom – see here.]

At least Abhisit seems to claim that Thailand is not a democratic country, when he compares Thailand to “democratic countries” (at about 2:10).

WSJ on reconciliation

31 05 2010

The Wall Street Journal (29 May 2010) has an editorial raising important issues about the military-backed Abhisit Vejjajiva regime. The article is headlined: Thai-Style ‘Reconciliation’, a comment that has resonances with the non-democracy that is Thai-style democracy.

It says that “Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is back in public view and busy pushing his ideas for national ‘reconciliation,’ a catchword that he mentioned nine times in opening remarks to foreign diplomats in a speech Saturday.” It seems the WSJ is no longer blind to Abhisit-style propaganda. It observes that Abhisit is trying to take the spotlight of his government’s “bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protestors that resulted in the deaths of at least 88 people. But what little he’s said and done since then suggests his version of reconciliation is so far little different than his military-backed predecessor’s approach.”

Exactly right. This is a point PPT has been making for some time.

Observing that the red shirts’ main demand was “a free and fair national election” the WSJ states that while Abhisit acknowledges the “legitimate grievances” of the poor, he “would not commit to holding an early election. If anything, he’s pushing the date back by putting conditions on its arrival.”

Of course, these are not new conditions; in fact, they are long-standing. The media needs to view Abhisit less as a talking head and more as a hardliner who rarely changes position or policy. As the WSJ notes, his conditions – economic recovery and a “peaceful” election – are a long way off. The despotic Abhisit will be in place quite a while, palace coup aside.

The newspaper also accurately identifies that the “Abhisit administration is making strident efforts to control political speech and give pro-government views a megaphone. Over the past two weeks, government authorities have blocked hundred of pro-democracy websites; banned red-shirt publications; and raided community radio stations across the north and northeastern provinces.”

Such actions are only “legal” because of the draconian use of emergency laws. The WSJ says that the “signal they send … is that of an administration afraid of a lively and open public debate.” Actually, it is worse than this, for Abhisit wants a repressive regime in place.

As PPT pointed out some time ago, “part of Mr. Abhisit’s five-point plan for national reconciliation includes establishing a body to regulate media.” But this is not new, just more draconian and comprehensive, making Thailand sound like Israeli government spokesmen defending the murder of unarmed activists and look like China preventing freepolitical discussion.

The WSJ concludes that all of Abhisit’s repressive actions “show that while Mr. Abhisit may be sincere in his wish to achieve national reconciliation, he wants to achieve it on his terms and on his timetable, without a vibrant and open public debate.”

PPT again observes that this is not Abhisit’s project. That is now repression and control which Abhisit-speak makes “reconciliation.”

And we do agree when the WSJ says that this is “managed democracy [that] will be familiar to those in Russia and Burma, whose leaders also claim to support suffrage. It will also be familiar to Thais, who have heard military-backed rulers call for vaguely defined ‘reconciliation’ umpteen times in the past.”

Abhisit lacks the courage and foresight of a leader who is liekly to overcome his failures and his brutality. His only political future is at the head of a repressive military-backed government; exactly the kind of government Thailand now has to suffer.

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