2006 as royalist coup

19 09 2018

2006 coup

It is 12 years since the military, wearing yellow tags, rolled its tanks into Bangkok to oust Thaksin Shinawatra, the Thai Rak Thai Party government and to wind back the Thaksin revolution.

Thaksin had a lot of faults and made many mistakes. His War on Drugs was a murderous unleashing of the thugs in the police and military that should not be forgiven.

But his big mistake was being “too popular” among the “wrong people.” TRT’s huge election victory in February 2005 was an existential threat to the powers that be. Their final response, after destabilizing the elected government, was to arrange for the military to throw out the most popular post-war prime minister Thailand had known. And, the palace joined the coup party.

2006 coup

But getting rid of the so-called Thaksin regime and his popularity was too much for the somewhat dull guys at the top of the military and the palace’s man as prime minister was typically aloof and hopeless. He appointed a cabinet full of aged and lazy royalists who misjudged the extent of Thaksin’s popularity. The 2007 election proved how wrong the royalists were about the Thaksin regime being based on vote-buying and “policy corruption.”

So they ditched out another prime minister and then another elected government, this time relying on the judiciary. Then they killed red shirts.

But still Thaksin held electoral sway, this time via his sister Yingluck. And she had to go too, replaced by the knuckle-draggers of the current military dictatorship.

Meeting the junta

12 years on, PPT felt that our best way of observing the anniversary of the military-palace power grab is to re-link to the Wikileaks cables that reflect most directly on that coup. Here they are:

There are more cables. As a collection, they provide a useful insight as to how the royalist elite behaved and what they wanted the embassy to know.





Hitting Puea Thai, using populism

20 06 2018

Report after report has recounted how the military dictatorship is hoovering up Puea Thai Party politicians for its own parties.

The most recent we saw told the story of former Thaksin Shinawatra-linked politicians working for the junta canvassing in the northeast trying to entice and bribe politicians to join up with the junta.

After a trip to Loei, Suriya Juangroongruangkit (same family as Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit) and Somsak Thepsutin are heading into Nakhon Ratchasima “to try to convince former Pheu Thai MPs to switch their allegiances to a party supporting [Gen]Prayut[h] Chan-o…cha to be an outside prime minister after an election.” The offers are to join the Palang Pracharath Party and are said to target “three members of the Rattanaseth clan: former [party] list-MP Wirat and two former constituency MPs, Tassineeya and Athirat.”

Suriya and Somsak “are publicly leading the campaign to woo Pheu Thai members into the new political camp.”

The other element of this pilfering of politicians is the junta’s continuing efforts to destroy the Shinawatra clan and the Puea Thai Party.

The Bangkok Post reports that former foreign minister Surapong Towijakchaikul “has been sentenced to two years in prison for issuing a passport for Thaksin Shinawatra.”

The Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions “ruled him guilty of malfeasance under Section 157 of the Criminal Code and the 2000 anti-corruption law.”

Surapong has appealed, but the message is clear: support Thaksin and we will screw you. Malfeasance is highly debatable under the law but the court decided that he was guilty because Thaksin was subject to “an arrest warrant on national security charges.” We take it that this means lese majeste. That charge is trumped up. But the yellow shirts and junta prevail over law.

The claim that Surapong’s “actions allowed Thaksin to travel freely and live abroad and the Thai government could not ask a country to expel or extradite him on the charge of not having a passport” is complete nonsense given that Thaksin has other passports.

When the court states that Surapong had “weakened the judicial procedures and court sanctions” and argues that he “tarnished the reputation of the country,” we can only point to the 2014 military coup that was illegal and caused serious damage to Thailand’s reputation (and still does). Yet the courts have always accepted that coups are retrospectively legal because the criminals make them so.

That effort to “legally” target the Shinawatra clan and Puea Thai sees more Supreme Court action against Thaksin.

While the junta pilfers politicians from Puea Thai and uses the judiciary against recalcitrants, the junta continues to pilfer political tactics from that party.

When The Dictator orders the execution of a prisoner, he captures some of the notion of populist appeal.

Gen Prayuth declared that “most people thought it [state execution] should remain in place,” he was appealing to fear. When he says:

The death penalty is legitimate. Many cases of severe crime have happened. Capital punishment exists to guarantee national peace and teach lessons. It is a necessity for us and people want it….

The Dictator is targeting the same vein of fear that had Thaksin receiving support for the reprehensible War on Drugs.

Take from Thaksin and Puea Thai while crushing them has been on the top of the junta’s agenda from the time that it planned the coup.





Contextualizing official murder

29 05 2017

Many readers will recall the extrajudicial killing of Chaiyapoom Pasae and the failure of any serious investigation. There has been no serious investigation because there’s a cover-up.

In this context of an official cover-up and the efforts to ensure impunity for the soldiers and their officers who were involved, a recent report in the Bangkok Post deserves attention. It is sad and revealing. Most of all, it is a story of how the people are repressed and exploited.

Bits and pieces from the report can be quoted here, but do read it and weep for these people and for Thailand:

‘They pointed a gun at me,” Lana whispers into my ear.

She means military, police and officials and she’s talking both of an events in the past and a pattern of intimidation and exploitation.

In 2005, the gun was pointed at her by “them” to prevent her and other Lahu accessing their farmland in Ban Kong Phak Ping village in Chiang Mai’s Chiang Dao district, just a few kilometres from the Thai-Myanmar border. The altercation followed their discovery of young plants placed on the land as part of the authorities’ forestation project, which the Lahu were unaware of.

Violence is imprinted in her memory. Some local Lahu were reportedly beaten up by officials as suspected drug dealers.

Amid the intense drug suppression [Thaksin’s time], Lana was charged with resisting an operation to arrest two Lahu drug suspects in her village. Their house was raided but no drugs were discovered. The officials refused to back down despite the lack of evidence. They demanded Lana, who was widely respected in the local community, assist in the arrest.

After she refused to collaborate, she was arrested then imprisoned for nine months.

“We’ve fought for our rights for so long until we’re bored to fight and let it be.”

This conversation took place at a “gathering” on the spot where Lahu rights advocate Chaiyaphum Pasae, 17, was killed on the morning of March 17….

Many locals do not believe the Lahu youth [Chaiyapoom] was linked to drugs. But people in his village are watching the case from distance. It’s also not an issue that they speak about openly in their community despite the loss.

Chaiyaphum’s death heightens the fear the Lahu community have lived with after long years of discrimination….

Checkpoints [for drugs] became a common encounter during my daily drive with another journalist tracing the shadow of Chaiyaphum in Chiang Mai’s border towns. We passed the checkpoints easily.

But when it’s Saroj’s [a local’s] turn, he usually has to undergo a urine test despite this being a routine commute for him.

His 17-year-old nephew says he has been slapped in the face by a soldier. On another occasion, he was beaten and stamped on by military personnel although no drugs were found on him.

Four other Lahu I interviewed told me similar stories. They have all experienced violence themselves or have friends or family who have faced official violence.

“Life is already difficult for ethnic people who don’t have status here. They have no choice but to submit to fate. Would they [the military] do the same to suspects if they are not ethnic?” Saroj asks.

Remarkably, the authorities have poured mony into the area since Chaiyapoom was murdered. It might be hush money, it might be compensation, it might be an admission of guilt.

Aid has flooded into Chaiyaphum’s village. The state and military have dispatched resources to remedy the community’s loss. A new toilet was installed in mother’s house.

Trucks were seen delivering construction materials to the village to build facilities. Soon they will get water tanks and electricity lines. New social development projects will be slated for the village soon.

Local authorities visit the community to survey their problems and requirements. The chief of Chiang Dao district recently visited the village — some locals say he is the first chief to visit their community in a decade.

“This village has been neglected for so long. When the incident [Chaiyaphum’s killing] took place, we allocated a budget to assist the villagers because we don’t want them to be left behind,” says Chiang Dao district chief Sarawut Worapong.

…[T]he overwhelming military presence in the community has made some Lahu feel insecure, especially those close to Chaiyaphum or those who have experienced violence.

They claimed to have been photographed by military officials. Officials also took pictures of houses, claiming it was part of a survey to allocate aid.

A diagram of the drug network was shown to some community members which contained the names of their friends, in order to sow discord among the community.

Villagers are still seeking the truth behind Chaiyaphum’s death.

Atthachak Sattayanurak, an academic at Chiang Mai University, says the violence is a part of the authoritarianism that puts marginalised people vulnerable to abuse of power.

Especially when Thailand’s political environment is not conducive to democracy, vulnerable people like ethnic minorities are at the mercy of the state.

As she [Lana] keeps a faint smile when telling me her life story, I ask why she maintains such an expression.

“It’s just the way I am dealing with the problem. Actually, I’m scared.”





Tens, thousands, millions and billions

5 04 2017

How many extrajudicial killings have there been? No one seems to know precisely, although Prachatai has a story about some of them. One issue with the story is that the author repeats inaccurate figures on Thaksin Shinawatra’s War on Drugs, almost doubling the number killed in that grisly campaign. We would think the more accurate figure of about 1,300 was brutal enough and demonstrated the capacity of the police and military for extreme violence.

How many conscripts are slaves? With the recent attention to conscripts being treated to “strict discipline” involving inhumane beatings, torture and murder, and with the unusually wealthy Army boss doling out chump change of 100,000 baht to the family of the latest murdered conscript, the feudal system of conscription has come under scrutiny.

One interesting observation is at Prachatai, reporting a former Democrat Party MP, who states that “more than half of Thailand’s military conscripts end up as servants for high ranking military officers.” Compared with the men who die from “strict discipline,” these 40,000-80,000 guys are lucky. That said, they face the degradation of having to grovel before military thugs and their families. Anyone who lives near an officer knows that he or she will have 3 to 6 servants provided to them.

How much can they spend on military kit? Thinking about the commissions, there’s the 36 billion baht about to be forked out on Chinese submarines and then there’s the two billion baht spent on 10 extra VT-4 tanks from China to replace the decades-old M41 tanks from the USA. The earlier purchase of 24 tanks at about 5 billion baht. Expect more as the top brass cash in before an “election.”

How many read the BBC on the king? Readers will know that student activist Jatuphat Boonpattararaksa has been singled out for a lese majeste charge and rots in a junta cell awaiting his further framing. He was charged after sharing a BBC Thai story on the king, (some) warts and all. The BBC now says that its story “broke records as the site’s most popular story, accumulating millions of views despite the article’s eventual censorship.” It says it has “received over 3 million views and counting…”. Tell us again why the military dictatorship singled out Jatuphat? It can’t have much to do with this story! Watch a documentary on Jatuphat here.





Going after kids III

21 03 2017

Along with the alleged “assassination plot” or perhaps it is multiple “plots,” against Thailand’s dictator, another unbelievable event has unfolded with the killing of a young Lahu boy by soldiers.

No one has any reason to believe the police or the military on this tragic event. Their story is bizarre, the only credible witness is in their custody and the “investigation” of the killing is being conducted by the people who did the killing.

The Bangkok Post reports on what it says is an “extrajudicial killing.”

The police have “insisted …[the] Lahu activist … was linked to drug trafficking…”. They also claim that the killing “was carried out in self-defence.” As we said in our earlier post, this really does sound like a report from the 1970s or perhaps from the War on Drugs earlier this century.

A police spokesman has claimed that Chaiyapoom Pasae “was shot dead by a soldier in Chiang Mai last Friday as he tried to attack him with a hand grenade.” That spokesman “insisted” there “was no foul play behind Chaiyapoom’s death.”

This is the official spokesman making this claim of nothing untoward when there is meant to be an “investigation” into the events. It is pretty clear where that “investigation” is going.

Locals have called for a broader probe into the killing. They say “they don’t believe the [young] man was embroiled in drug smuggling and that he was an activist dedicated to local causes.”

Experienced in cleaning up such messes and managing official impunity, the police claim that they “found” some “2,800 methamphetamine pills hidden in a car.

Pongnai Saengtala, the driver of the car that Chaiyapoom was in, they say, was being “detained” when Chaiyapoom “ran away.” You can already see that this is is either concocted or that the soldiers and police involved were incompetent dimwits. If Chaiyapoom was a “suspect,” why wasn’t he under guard?

The next claim is equally suspicious: “A soldier chased Chaiyapoom, who turned and threw a hand grenade at the soldier, forcing him to shoot Chaiyapoom. It is not clear where the grenade came from.” That shooting was “only one shot…”.

There’s no story about the grenade going off. In fact, it is being “examined” in the “investigation.” The claim must be that Chaiyapoom threw the grenade as if it was a rock. Earlier versions had him with a knife and a grenade. Believable?

Now, cleaning up, the cops will “trace the source of the drugs that were found in the car…”. We suspect a real “investigation” wouldn’t have to go far to locate that source. As is widely known, the police regularly plant “evidence.”

Yet what they do is “investigate” his family and they will charge the driver and make a deal for a “confession” and for incriminating Chaiyapoom. That’s the pattern of these things.

Of course, the junta is on-side with cops and soldiers:

National Council for Peace and Order [junta] spokesman Winthai Suvaree yesterday said authorities performed their duties according to a code of conduct and none of them would have fired their weapons had it not been necessary.

The military’s death toll of civilians murdered climbs by one more.





Drugs and the king

27 10 2016

As during his life, so it is in death. The king’s legacy is being chanted in all manner of media and all of it states that he was remarkable, even superhuman.

While sensible people don’t usually buy into such claims, such hagiographical hysteria is probably to be expected as the junta makes ideological hay even if their sun is no longer shining.

Yet one report in the Bangkok Post really demands a response. In Ayutthaya, governor Sujin Chaichumsak has presided over a ceremony marking the launch of an “operation aimed at eradicating drugs in various communities under the ‘white villages’ project in this Central province…”. He was joined by “Pol Maj Gen Suthi Puangpikul, the provincial police superintendent, and Col Ronnawut Ruangsawat, chief of the provincial office of the Internal Security Operations Command.”

It is stated that the “operation involved about 670 administrative officials, police and military officers and defence volunteers.”

In his speech, the governor “asked the operating officials to place emphasis on building a network with community members to carry out a project to create more drug-free or ‘white villlages’ as a tribute to the late [k]ing…”.

The operation rounds up suspects and has seized a few thousand methamphetamine pills.

There’s an eerie echo of the past in this. The parade of officials recalls the bloody War on Drugs under Thaksin Shinawatra’s government where some 1,300 were said to have been killed by police and military.

It also recalls the king’s role in that War on Drugs, briefly mentioned at the Wikipedia page on the king.

(We were reminded of this, and the debate over the numbers killed, by a comment at New Mandala by someone using the moniker TomV, and who promises a full article on the numbers.)





Worrying about more crackdowns

10 03 2016

When it comes to crackdowns on “influential people,” there are several reasons to worry.

The first is that the people doing the crackdowns are usually acting in the service of “villains” at the top of the military and police. It is well known that the police and military brass are, almost to a person, “unusually wealthy.” Their wealth is unusual because it far exceeds salaries and is composed of funds from intricate hierarchical webs that transmit ill-gotten gains to the top, with underlings taking percentages. This is why positions are often not just sold, but effectively auctioned.

Second, usually crackdowns are a way for the “villains” at the top of the military and police to sort out criminal arrangements that have come undone. At times, however, when there is political disjuncture or there have been foreign or upstart gangs taking turf or the profit rate has fallen, it is necessary to clean out those other villains who do not serve the king as loyal members of the police and military.

Anyone trust these guys?

Anyone trust these guys?

Third, cracking down on villains is popular. As was seen during Thaksin Shinawatra’s time in power, with the infamous and palace-supported War on Drugs, the public was enthusiastic about getting thugs off their backs. We suspect that this is one important consideration for the military junta is heading down this path. They want more political support for the charter referendum and/or for extending their time in power.

Fourth, “populist” crackdowns can become excuses for extrajudicial murder, as the uniformed villains settle scores and get rid of opponents. When lists are drawn up, they can becomes killing lists.

Fifth, the “dark influences” can be defined in political terms, and the military dictatorship will certainly use the “crackdown” to weaken political opponents. As General Prayuth Chan-ocha explained: “These people could support politicians in the future, and we cannot allow them to break the law and attack the people; we should solve the political crisis to make our country more safe…”.

Sixth, crackdowns tend to be lawless. We understand that the military dictatorship does whatever it wants, but there is some scrutiny. When officials with guns operate at night, there is no scrutiny.

Human rights advocates are right to be worried.