Don and The Washington Post

12 06 2019

Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai is a junta clod, given to defending his bosses and his and their anti-democratic politics. He’s been at it again, belatedly rising to the bait at The Washington Post.

He is reported to have “dismissed an editorial piece run by the Washington Post which suggested the United States hold back on resuming diplomatic ties with Thailand…”.

Noting that despite Thailand having “been a major non-NATO ally of the United States since 2013,” the WP observed that “for five years, the country’s military has been denied U.S. aid because of the coup it carried out against a democratically elected government.” It argued against resuming full military cooperation: “The leader of the resulting junta, Prayuth Chan-ocha, has now managed to have himself installed as the prime minister of a nominally elected civilian government, and his regime and some in the Pentagon are hoping for a full restoration of relations. They shouldn’t get it.”

The small amount of military assistance that Thailand got before the 2014 coup was automatically “cutoff … as [a] consequence of a provision of the Foreign Assistance Act that bars military cooperation with countries where an elected government has been ousted by a coup.” Observing that the “ban can be lifted if the State Department certifies there has been a restoration of civilian democratic rule.”

The WP then points out that “Prayuth’s confirmation as prime minister on Wednesday was less an exercise in democracy than a crude mockery of it. It followed a grossly unfair election campaign from which some opponents of the regime were banned and others were hounded with criminal charges.” It adds that the:

new constitution gave the military a huge advantage: an appointed, 250-seat upper house empowered to participate in the election of the prime minister together with the 500-seat lower house. Such is the unpopularity of the charmless Mr. Prayuth, however, that he almost lost anyway. After the March election, an opposition coalition appeared to have won a majority in the lower chamber, while the military’s party won fewer than the 126 seats it needed to confirm Mr. Prayuth.

The result was what the WP correctly identifies as:

… another orgy of ma­nipu­la­tion. First the election commission changed the rules for apportioning seats after the vote, with the result that the opposition lost its majority and 11 tiny parties were each awarded one seat. All promptly endorsed Mr. Prayuth, giving him — not by coincidence — the votes he needed. The regime picked up other support by having the courts disqualify some opposition members — including the most popular opposition leader. It reportedly offered bribes equivalent to millions of dollars to deputies to switch sides.

Given that Gen Prayuth now has a “fragile coalition of 19 parties,” the WP sees this is doing little more than “further empoweri[ng] the military and Thailand’s erratic king, who has been using Mr. Prayuth’s regime to persecute his enemies, several of whom have been murdered or abducted in neighboring Laos.”

Of course, with the Trump administration in the White House, it “has not hesitated to collaborate militarily with gross violators of human rights, such as the regimes of Egypt and Saudi Arabia,” so it might be expected that it would easily cosy up with the illegitimate regime in Thailand. But the WP reckons that any “State Department certification that Thailand’s government now can be called civilian and democratic would trample a law Congress enacted precisely in order to deter what the Thai military has done.”

Weakening in its argument, the WP acknowledged that should “the administration wish… to restore some cooperation, it … should do so gradually and in exchange for tangible human rights concessions; and it should recognize that a return to democracy remains to be accomplished in Thailand.”

Don (clipped from Bangkok Post)

Don said what should be totally obvious, but that he, as a dedicated authoritarian forgets: “The editorial does not represent the US government’s official view…”. He went on to say that “several countries have congratulated Thailand on its return to democracy and for hosting the Asean Summit this month.” We have no idea how the two are related and we have to say that we have not read of such congratulatory messages.

Don then went full alt-Thai, saying “some foreign media outlets are often based on ‘biased’ information provided by opponents of the Thai government.” Such bogus claims are drawn straight from the conspiracy claims of yellow shirts and their foreign alt-media allies.

King, fear and feudalism

26 05 2017

A couple of recent articles that seek to comprehend the admittedly odd politics of contemporary Thailand deserve wide attention. We summarize and quote below.

The first is by Pavin Chachavalpongpun at the Washington Post. Pavin looks at the oddness that has emerged in the early months of this reign, with the military junta frantic to control the king’s image. He says “Thailand finds itself in the grip of a strange political fever.” It is a potentially deadly disease.

He notes that “there’s nothing particularly new about Thai officials displaying zealousness in their efforts to protect the image of the king.” But, there’s something different: “there is a palpable sense that the current government is reacting with much greater sensitivity in the case of the current king — far more so than at any other time in recent memory.”

Pavin continues to the widespread view that the “mysterious incident six weeks ago, when a modest memorial plaque suddenly disappeared from the sidewalk of the Royal Plaza in Bangkok” was on the king’s orders.

He continues, noting that “the removal of the plaque and the intense official reaction to any online questioning of King Vajiralongkorn’s image show that he [Vajiralongkorn] is beginning to exert his influence over the state.”

That’s scary enough, but its scarier still when Pavin says that the king “is clearly very serious about reintroducing royal absolutism, and not at all interested in defending democracy or free speech.”

That raises a question. Will the king’s “increasingly hard-line policies … reinforce support for the monarchy or ultimately contribute to its weakening.” We are betting the latter. But it could be very messy.

The second article is at Asia Sentinel. It pulls no punches, beginning with this:

Thailand, once known as the Land of Smiles, is a country today seemingly trapped in a perpetual nightmare, headed by a half-mad king determined to return the country to the era before … the last absolute monarch of the country after the military ended [royal] absolute power in 1932.  Nobody appears willing to stop him.

It continues on the king’s time in waiting:

The prince, now 64, is said to be regarded with loathing by many within royal circles for his associations with Chinese gangsters, his womanizing and his apparent refusal to adhere to royal rules, according to official US cables leaked in 2011 by the Wikileaks organization, verbatim copies of which were carried in Asia Sentinel.  He has repeatedly scandalized the nation despite the military’s desperate attempts to use the world’s most restrictive lèse-majesté laws to keep a public lid on his behavior.

Since becoming king, he has largely lived up to his ominous promise….

And there is talk of the king’s bizarre and macabre behavior and how the junta must support it and even condone it:

“For decades, the Thai Army has used the excuse of upholding the monarchy to justify their actions and deeds that have included feathering their own nests, suppressing people’s rights, and conducting multiple coups to hold on to power and retard progress towards democracy,” a western source said. “So now Prime Minister Prayuth [Chan-ocha] is hardly in a position to meaningfully oppose Rama 10’s power grab that takes the situation back to the pre-1932 coup era, when palace officials had no protection and were subject to the king’s every whim, or in the case of this latest monarch, every cruelty.”

So far, the source said, “most of the new king’s abuses have been inflicted upon his own entourage, but the fear is what happens after Rama IX’s funeral in October, when the memory of his father is laid to rest and the last restraints on his power are released?  Will he start inflicting abuses against perceived opponents or dissenters in the wider populace? Will he launch a campaign against those who he views as having slighted him in the past, since it is well known that he has a list of such people?…”.

Who will be willing to stop him?

Autocrats and “democracy”

7 08 2016

The Washington Post has a sharp and critical editorial on the military’s referendum. We reproduce it in full:

THAILAND GOES to the polls Sunday for a referendum on a new constitution that was written by a committee appointed by the military junta that took power in 2014. The voting should fool no one. The process has not been democratic, nor would the constitution guarantee a working democracy. Whether the document is approved or rejected by voters, Thailand badly needs reconciliation of deep divisions in society over ideology, economics and ethnicity, rifts that have driven the political conflict between “red shirts” and “yellow shirts,” as the polarized factions are known. This constitution is, at best, unlikely to help achieve that reconciliation and, at worst, an invitation for continued military rule.

The referendum itself is a good illustration of how autocrats have cloaked themselves in procedures of democracy in order to cling to power. Instead of brute force, triggering protest at home and criticism abroad, 21st-century autocrats preside over referendums, talk of elections, create fake organizations and charters, and very quietly suffocate anyone who stands in opposition.

In Thailand, the drafting process of the constitution was not open. Criticism of the draft is punishable by imprisonment. There is no formal “no” campaign. On July 22, a 30-day blackout was ordered of Peace TV, a television station loyal to the opposition. A few weeks ago, at a university campus, students were detained by police for releasing balloons into the air inscribed with the words “Campaigning is not wrong.” At least 120 people have been prosecuted for voicing opposition to or criticizing the charter. No international monitors were allowed for the vote. This is a constitution born by undemocratic means.

Nor is the document itself very promising. When the military took over, the parliament was abolished. The draft constitution would reconstitute the lower house of 500 members but change the membership toward proportional representation and away from district elections, in order to reduce the power of Thaksin Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai Party — allies of the “red shirts” — which has won every general election for the past 15 years. Also, the charter would make the upper house, the Senate, an unelected body.

A second question on the ballot, if approved, would give the unelected Senate a role in picking a prime minister, leaving open the possibility of a general. Although the junta has promised to eventually relinquish power, the constitution looks to be written as a road map for the generals to hold on to their influence for a long time, while enjoying the window dressing of a new constitution.

Mangling perceptions

22 09 2015

The international media is bothering the military dictatorship, not least because The Dictator is about to visit the United States.

The New York Times edition that includes a story on the monarchy’ decline has not been available in a print edition in Thailand as “its local printer in Thailand has refused to print its Asia edition because it featured an article on the ailing king.” The paper’s front-page article was considered “too sensitive.” However, it “can still be viewed online in Thailand.”

Meanwhile, in response to an editorial in the Washington Post from 16 September, “Jailed for a bad attitude,” Thailand’s ambassador has written to defend the junta and its jailing of persons alleged to be political opponents. He’s trying to manage perceptions.

Pisan Manawapat blames “deadly political violence” for having “sent the economy into contraction.”

In fact, it was the paralysis that came from months of anti-democrat protest that did that.

Those who oppose the military dictatorship are not democracy activists, but are claimed to be “[i]nciting lawlessness and divisiveness,” while Pisan bizarrely argues that it is an illegitimate military dictatorship that “hopes to craft a democracy that will be sustainable…”.

He claims, perhaps having neglected to get his story straight, that the “no vote on the draft constitution by the National Reform Council was a response by the majority of members to views expressed by major political parties and elements of civil society that opposed a draft they thought was not democratic enough…”.

Pisan seems to neglect that it is the military junta that banned public discussion of the draft and “re-educated” those who criticized the junta and its draft charter.pinocchio

He sees “democracy is a work in progress in Thailand” despite the fact that the junta cannot be criticized and political opponents are repressed. Democracy cannot be formed on such rotten foundations.

But, never mind, it is the attempt to shape perceptions that matter. Say the military dictatorship is building democracy and maybe someone will believe it.

For the U.N. audience and the American media, The Dictator will emphasize “reforms” on the “trafficking of people and wildlife as well as illegal fishing.” He will say his dictatorship is promoting “sustainable development, reducing inequality, building peace and fighting climate change.”

General Prayuth Chan-ocha is going to have a very long nose as he “shapes” perceptions of his dictatorial regime. He can compare his snout with the ambassador’s proboscis.

Military dictatorship vs. democracy

28 02 2015

Pisan Manawapat is Thailand’s ambassador to the United States. He read the Washington Post’s editorial “Thailand’s ineffective rule by force” (19 February 2015) and was ordered or decided to respond. His is an official response and thus represents the military dictatorship’s position.

He writes of a make believe kingdom located at the bottom of The Dictator’s garden, full of fairies and other imaginaries.

Pisan writes:

The Feb. 20 editorial “Thailand’s rule by force” grossly misrepresented the situation in the country.

In fact, any fair reader would look at the Post’s editorial and think it rather mild. It could have said more about the draconian lese majeste law and the dozens of people in jail based on flimsy evidence and mad monarchists’ claims. It could have said more about the corruption of the generals and their flunkies. It could have said more about Prayuth’s role in murdering protesters in 2010. More could have been said about the dysfunctional monarchy.

Thailand has not wavered in its commitment to democracy. Progress is being made, and the new constitution’s drafting and consultation process must, by law, be completed by September. After its enactment, Thailand will hold multiparty elections early next year. To prejudge the constitution’s contents or even to presume a referendum will not be held is not appropriate. The talk of election delay was in anticipation of the time needed to organize a referendum.

The Ambassador has lost his marbles and cannot find them. Democracy? Even in its limited electoral format, the military dictatorship and its puppet assemblies has moved to allow an unelected senate and an unelected prime minister. “Democracy” will be controlled by the military, which is winding the clock back to the 1980s and ineffective and incapacitated parliaments dominated by generals and bureaucrats. This will not be democracy.

As with every country, Thailand has to balance its national security with respect for civil liberty. Martial law is necessary to maintain public safety. Fed up with prolonged street protests and random violence, the Thai public is not affected by this deterrence. Martial law will, however, have to be lifted before elections to allow vibrant and participatory campaigning.

Here the Ambassador seems quite mad. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of people have been arrested or detained. The rest of the population is repressed. Censorship is standard practice. Farmers are thrown off their land. Martial law protects the military dictatorship, the monarchy and crony business interests.

There are no political prisoners in Thailand, and former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra will be accorded due process in our Supreme Court.

Completely bonkers. Dozens of political prisoners languish in squalid jails charged with lese majeste.

Thailand’s goal is to achieve democratic rule, where key principles such as good governance, transparency and accountability are respected. Further, anti-human trafficking and anti-child pornography bills to further improve human rights protections are being pushed into law.

Mad as a hatter. Human rights protections are non-existent. The National Human Rights Commission is a sad joke. “Thailand” does not exist politically. Where the Ambassador says “Thailand” he means the military dictatorship, and its goal is anything but a functioning democracy. Its goal is a political system controlled by the royalist elite under military leadership. Their aim is to retain power for the old ruling classes.

The Nation’s convenient amnesia

19 07 2010

PPT doesn’t waste too much time on The Nation’s editorials. Most a forgettable and predictable as the editorial staff writers are lost in a hatred and fear of red shirts and Thaksin Shinawatra. However, a brief comment on this Sunday’s effort is warranted.

The Nation attacks the Washington Post of having the temerity to lecture Thailand on democracy. The grounds for editorial bile are that the Washington Post, like apparently all foreign editorials, somehow manages to let “crucial details … slip through…:” when they argue that the “outcomes of ‘democratic elections’ were ‘not respected’.” The inverted commas around democratic elections tell the reader something about where the editorial writer is headed.

The writer seems to chafe particularly at the idea that the “root cause” of Thailand’s political crisis is “the refusal of the traditional political class, the military and the royal court, which the Abhisit government represents, to accept the results” of elections. An independent observer may believe that there is something in this after coup, judicial coup and all kinds of yellow-shirted demonstrations, army mutiny and so on. But The Nation wants to set the historical record straight. It does so with a very crooked measure.

This is The Nation’s beef with the Washington Post: “The op-ed, crucially, failed to mention that the Samak government was opposed not because of elites’ desire to hold on to power. That government came to power following an election that the military junta promised, and all was well until it started to do what many had feared it would. Street protests against the Samak administration began after it announced plans to amend the Constitution, not for the country’s sake, but for someone longing to come home from exile and possible stage a spectacular political return.”

That, apparently, is history. But The Nation’s editorial, crucially, failed to mention that the Samak government came to power following a palace-military coup, a constitutional fix, a military-backed campaign to fix the results of the referendum and repeated statements by the junta and its government that the parliamentary victors could amend the constitution following the election. The Nation forgets to mention that when this was all stated, the military and its elite bosses reckoned they could fix the election so the Democrat Party could come to power. Its claim that “Election results were always accepted” is simply playing with words to describe a fleeting moment before the elite managed to work out illegal and legal ways of chucking out the elected government.

When that didn’t happen, a campaign began to unseat the elected government that ended with the inaptly monikered People’s Alliance for Democracy, joined by the equally inaptly named Democrat Party’s leadership, occupying Government House and then the airports, forcing a quick judicial decision that brought the government down, with the military and its allies higher up, fixing a new government in place.

There’s more Nation nonsense. Take this: “After the 1992 bloodbath, governments – Democrat-led or others – crumbled under the weight of their own sins, and nobody used “popular mandate” or “landslide election” victory to counter corruption allegations. Only Thaksin did that. So much for the proclamation that he’s a victim of double-standard.” We agree that Thaksin took advantage of his electoral power, but the claim that no other government claimed a “landslide election victory” is simply because none had one. Thaksin had the two biggest ever election victories in Thailand, and the 2005 result truly was a landslide. So The Nation editorial writer is lost in the mist of its own myth-making and historical revisionism.

Thaksin was the only prime minister elected under the 1997 constitution that was meant to create a strong party system and to avoid the perils of unstable coalition government.

So the convenience of letting crucial details slip seems to infect domestic media as well. The Nation seems to be so infected it is in intensive care.

Washington Post and Asia Times on Thailand’s Right-wing Govt; Asia Sentinel on lèse majesté; a crisis for human rights groups in Thailand

30 01 2009

Tim Johnston comments on the coming together of human rights issues, the military and the Democrat premier in the Washington Post, 30 January 2009: “New Thai Premier Seen as Leaning Right; Reformists Worry”

Shawn W. Crispin examines the right wing slide, the role of the military and succession issues at Asia Times Online, 29 January 2009: “Abhisit’s conservative stripes”

Hong Kong-based Asia Sentinel on lèse majesté, 28 January 2009: “A cat can’t look at a queen”

Human rights groups in Thailand seem to have taken sides politically, according to The Nation, 28 January 2008: “Human rights defenders split into yellow and red camps”

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