Getting headlines wrong

21 04 2017

Brief corrections to two stories in the media that mislead, both noted by PPT readers.

First, at Prachatai, there’s a report headlined “Junta blocks Youtube channel of exiled Thai journalist.” This is a story that reports the censorship of a YouTube channel run by exiled journalist Jom Petpradab called Jom Voice. He makes his program in the US and is critical of the regime. The story adds:

In 2014, after he was summoned by the junta, he fled Thailand to live in the US where he founded Thaivoicemedia.com, a web-based Thai media outlet in exile. The website is also blocked by the government.

Correction: As far as we are aware, the blocking of a YouTube channel is the work of YouTube, a Google subsidiary. The military dictatorship’s minions might have asked for the blocking but it is Google’s YouTube that does the blocking.

Google’s policy states:

Government requests to remove content
We regularly receive requests from courts and government agencies around the world to remove information from Google products. Sometimes we receive court orders that don’t compel Google to take any action. Instead, they are submitted by an individual as support for a removal request. We closely review these requests to determine if content should be removed because it violates a law or our product policies. In this report, we disclose the number of requests we receive in six-month periods.

The latest report we could find at Google is for the end of 2015 and then they counted nearly 5,000 government requests for censorship. No information was listed for Thailand. It states that: “From July to December 2015, the top three products for which governments requested removals were YouTube, Web Search, and Blogger.” It adds: “From July to December 2015, governments from around the world requested that we remove 6144 items from YouTube. Of these, we removed 4242 items—3498 due to legal reasons, and 744 found to be violations of YouTube’s Community Guidelines.”

Google has been named previously as working with the military dictatorship.

Second, at the Bangkok Post, there’s a headline “Future govts ‘won’t face curbs’.” It’s first paragraph states: “The government has given assurances that a bill supporting its 20-year national development blueprint will not restrict future elected governments from making changes to the plan as they see fit.”

The puppet National Legislative Assembly, without a single dissenting voice, voted “to accept the government’s bill setting out action plans for national reforms for deliberation…”.

But here is how junta minion Wissanu Krea-ngam is actually reported:

… Wissanu … told the meeting that the national strategy bill will set out action plans for long-term national development as stipulated by the new constitution.

Mr Wissanu allayed concerns that the 20-year national development strategy will cripple future elected governments’ ability to run the country.

The bill still allows future governments to adjust the 20-year plan to suit changing circumstances both at home and abroad, though any changes must be in line with the law and the constitution, he said….

…[H]e said, a range of measures will be in place to enforce compliance with national strategy, including warnings and coercive measures.

If state agencies fail to comply despite warnings, the National Anti-Corruption Commission will be asked to take action against the chiefs of those agencies, Mr Wissanu said.

This plan is deemed to take precedence over all others. It is binding on all agencies,” Mr Wissanu said.

Correction: Wissanu actually warned future “elected” governments that will most certainly be restricted from making any changes to the military junta’s plan for 20 years.





More secret king’s business I

21 04 2017

In case you missed it, the junta had the puppet National Legislative Assembly (NLA) meet in secret on 20 April to enact a “new bill … to reorganise the six agencies serving the Crown…”.

The puppet lawmakers naturally “approved in-camera the royal administration bill which the Cabinet had added to the meeting agenda.”

We can only guess that the king has directed that these changes be made as he establishes his authority and his people in the palace.

The report states that “Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam told members of the … NLA… the cabinet asked that the bill be deliberated in-camera. The sessions were no broadcast and non-members were asked to leave.”

The Nation adds that the “act was not available for public perusal.” NLA puppet-in-chief “Pornpetch Vichitcholchai … declined to speak on the matter, saying the meeting was confidential.”

The Post report states that “the new structure will have three agencies serving the palace.” A reconstituted Bureau of the Royal Household will merge the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary and the Bureau of the Royal Household. The Royal Guard Command will merge the Royal Thai Aide-De-Camp Department and the Royal Guard Command. A new Office of the Privy Council is said to be created.

If this is the sum of the changes, then the secrecy beggars belief because the 2017 junta constitution allocates powers to the king in these areas:

Section 15: The appointment and removal of officials of the Royal Household shall be at the King’s pleasure.

The organization and personnel administration of the Royal Household shall be at the King’s pleasure as provided by Royal Decree.

This suggests the need for Wissanu to explain why the NLA needed to be involved. Otherwise, wild speculation is invited.

It is left to the imagination as to why a reorganization of the palace administration should be something that needs to be considered in secret. Was something nefarious going on? Is the reorganization likely to lead to conflict? Does the secrecy imply that something unconstitutional is being done? Is there a “deal” being done?

The secrecy means that any interpretation is possible.





Secrets and miracles

16 03 2017

The news media has been quite taken up with the scramble among junta people – and their accusations flying back and forth – on the failure to levy any tax on the Shin Corp sale deal back in early 2006.

Part of the problem for the tax authorities was that a later grab for Thaksin Shinawatra’s assets. The authorities wanted to his kids, but the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions had ruled that the assets really belonged to Thaksin, not his kids.

That seemed like a tax dead end, but no! At the last moment, before the statute of limitations expires, and amid recriminations within the bureaucracy, a way to tax Thaksin has been found!

Problem is, it is a secret. Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, who is involved in just about every news event of late, said the “Revenue Department will proceed with the tax collection process before the statute of limitations in the case expires on March 31.” He claims the junta has decided on a “miracle of law” that will allow to collect the taxes, which he says should “be worth a try.”

Secrets and miracles are hardly the stuff of rule of law, but this is a military dictatorship.

This secrecy reminded us of the secret changes to the draft junta constitution. As we understand it, the king has flitted off to Germany.

As far as we know from news reports, he has not signed off on the document that he received back in early February. That version, the junta says, only made changes to the (so far) secret things the king demanded. So why is he sitting on it? We know he has 90 days (although some reports did claim 30) to sign and only about 38  of those have so far been used.

We can only guess that the constitution is not considered urgent by either the king or the junta. It may be that a full 90 day “consideration” suits the junta which seeks every way it can to extend its military rule. There are no miracles in the constitution story, just secrets.





Defending dictatorship

13 03 2017

The minions of Thailand’s military junta are descending on Geneva to defend the indefensible. The Nation reports that some 46 officials, “more than any other country,” for its second review before the Human Rights Committee on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR). The next largest delegation has 33 persons.

As well as presenting its own national report, the Committee “provided a list of 10 issues involving 28 inquiries for Thailand to respond to.” These issues “include rights and liberty and security of people, as well as rights to freedom of expression…”.

The 46 officials, including senior persons and bag carriers, are described in the report:

Headed by permanent secretary to the Justice Ministry Charnchao Chaiyanukij, the delegation consists of 14 officers from the Foreign Ministry, six from the Justice Ministry, four from the police and the Labour Ministry each, three representatives of administrative bodies in the deep South, three from the Education Ministry, two from the Interior Ministry, the Defence Ministry, and the Social Development and Human Security Ministry each, an officer from the Office of the Attorney General, Office of the President of the Supreme Court, the Digital Economy and Society Ministry, the National Security Council each and an interpreter.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Kreangam, who is the legal and “civilian” face of the dictatorship, “defended the large number of Thai delegates saying it was due to various missions the delegation has to handle.”

According to the report, “Thailand is obligated to provide information on the use of some of the junta’s orders that give military officers’ authority to search or detain any individual deemed a threat to national security.” The Nation has a copy of Thailand’s report and states:

Thai representatives will respond that the country did not allow impunity. If a state official, or someone acting on its behalf, commits a crime, that person shall be held accountable and subject to disciplinary action and/or legal punishment….

That makes it clear that the junta’s “defense” of its “human rights record” is likely to be a crock of lies.

On the use of military courts, if The Nation is to be believed, the response from the junta evades the issue.

As more details emerge, the degree to which the junta is prepared to dissemble will become clearer.





Secret constitution amendments

15 02 2017

Readers will recall that the military junta’s “constitution” was sent to a process it described as a “referendum.”

Despite that exercise in (false) legitimacy, the junta then had to withdraw the draft constitution to make changes demanded by King Vajiralongkorn, said to increase his powers.

During the amendment process, the exact changes were kept secret.

The Bangkok Post reports that Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam has declared that the secret “[a]mendments to the constitution … have been completed…”.

The “handwritten copy of the constitution, in the form of an accordion-style scroll by the Bureau of Royal Scribes and Royal Decorations of the Secretariat of the Cabinet, was also scheduled to be completed today.” Then it is sent to the king for another look at it.

The Dictator has not requested an audience with the king, so we can guess that the changes have been made to the “constitution” in a way that will please the king.

We think it is remarkable that the secret amendments will be announced by the palace rather than the junta. Wissanu stated: “The Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary would disclose the content of the amendments to the public…”.

That seem to us to be something quite novel, even for royalist Thailand.





“Election” slipping IV

9 02 2017

On the last day of 2016, PPT posted that there had been quite a few indications that the promised “election” would be delayed from 2017 to 2018. Then we observed that the military junta had an addition to repression and control, meaning that their authoritarian rule is likely to be extended for as long as it desires, especially as opposition has been pretty much neutralized.

We see no reason to change that view. Not least because the junta’s legal minion and deputy prime minister Wissanu Krea-ngam has finally admitted that there will be no “election” in 2017.

That’s just one more promise nixed by the military dictatorship. It has been a repeated promise since the day of the coup in 2014, broken again and again. As the Post reports, the junta “had earlier set rough deadlines for elections via … [its] ‘roadmap’ in 2015, 2016 and 2017.”

Wissanu set a record for breaking a promise. He first said: “One year from today, there’ll be elections…”. Seconds later he said:

Please don’t force [the government] to give a specific schedule for the election…. We can only roughly estimate it…. In future we will talk about the election schedule in broad terms, not the exact timing….

National elections will take place when the junta feels it can adequately control the outcome. That desired outcome is no Thaksin Shinawatra, no Thaksin proxies and no political party having power to change anything the junta has put in place. More “positively,” the junta prefers that it continue to control things for the next 15 to 20 years.

Of course, this depends on the current junta being able to maintain its influence over a seemingly divided military and maintaining its coalition with the palace.

The junta’s servants are reportedly still at work on the constitutional changes demanded by the king. Wissanu said the amended charter would go back to the king on 18 February, and he has up to 90 days to think about it.

Wissanu reckons neither the Democrat Party and Puea Thai Party object to another “election” delay. Lies and broken promises are important parts of the junta’s political arsenal.





Chipping away at 1932

12 01 2017

Several times since we began in 2009, PPT has marked the 1932 Revolution by reprinting the first announcement of the khana ratsadon or People’s Party.

Democracy Monument, BangkokIn recent years the anniversary of this event is barely noticed, buried by a the celebration of various historically insignificant royal anniversaries. While there has been a long-term effort to erase 1932 from school books and the public mind, under the military junta there has been a determined efforts to make invisible an event it consider horrendous for reducing royal powers and granting sovereignty to common people. Moreover, the junta and palace have been writing laws that reverse important changes made in 1932, not least in limiting the powers of the monarchy under the constitution.

One of the nominated changes is to allow the king to decide if he needs a regent when he is flitting back and forth to his home outside Munich.

The current order by the king to change aspects of the draft constitution, “approved” in a “referendum,” is an example of how the very notion of a constitutional monarchy is being rolled back.

The junta may have been surprised by the king’s demands, but they are unwilling to tell him to go to hell. That could be because they are in dispute with the king but feel he should get his way for the moment. It might be that the junta is happy enough to have General Prem Tinsulanonda lose some influence. It may be that the junta wants to further delay an “election” and this is their excuse. It could be that the junta may feel that its legitimacy depends entirely on the monarchy. It might be that the junta believes that a feudal Thailand a la pre-1932 is appropriate for a 21st century Thailand. Or it might be all of these.

Whatever is going on, it’s clear the junta has asked how high the king wants it to jump. It is rushing ahead with the demanded changes.

The Nation reports that quotes junta lawyer Wissanu Krea-ngam as sayin: “Now, … the situation in the country has changed, so they will have to be amended to meet the situation. Otherwise, we will be using principles that were written in 1932…”.

He’s clear on what’s being done here. As a reminder, in 1932, Article 5 stated:

If there is any reason that the king is unable temporarily to carry out his duties, or is not in the capital, the Committee of the People will execute the right on his behalf.

How things have changed and they’ll change further in the next few days.

Readers might ask why the junta wasn’t getting the king’s view as it developed its constitution. Wissanu says: “The clauses to be amended were not paid attention to before the referendum, because drafters had only copied them from the previous constitution.” Yet, you would think a royalist regime would have been talking with the soon-to-be-king. Maybe he was more interested in his concubines and fake tattoos than the work of rolling back 1932 constitutionalism. Perhaps he only realized the potential problems of the regency when Prem got the job back in October.

The chief of the charter drafters, Meechai Ruchupan might have been a bit contrite about causing the king some angst, but he’s still talking draft constitutions and says the proposed “amendment would give the [k]ing the option of either appointing or not appointing a regent should he not reside in the Kingdom.”

Another of the royalist dopes, Somchai Sawaengkarn, of the puppet National Legislative Assembly (NLA), ignoring constitutional history and practice,  babbled about it not being “necessary to name a regent because modern communication methods have made it easy and convenient to work remotely. The charter should be amended to meet this environment…”.

In another report, Meechai blathered that the demanded changes were “in line with proposed changes to the charter sought by the government…”. That is so nonsensical that it suggests he’s lost his marbles or is a great liar. It could be both. If the changes were “in line,” why the seeming panic and back-filling now?

Recalling Article 5 from 1932, this is what the same article looks like in the draft constitution:

16. Whenever the King is absent from the Kingdom or unable to perform His functions for any reason whatsoever, the King will appoint a person as the Regent and the President of the National Assembly shall countersign the Royal Command.

If this is to change, what does it mean for related articles? The other relevant articles state:

17. In the case where the King does not appoint the Regent under Section 16, or the King is unable to appoint the Regent owing to His not being sui juris or any other reason whatsoever, the Privy Council shall submit the name of a person suitable to hold the office of the Regent to the National Assembly for approval. Upon approval by the National Assembly, the President of the National Assembly shall make an announcement, in the name of the King, to appoint such person as the Regent.

18. While there is no Regent under Section 16 or Section17, the President of the Privy Council shall be Regent pro tempore. In the case where the Regent appointed under Section 16 or Section 17 is unable to perform his duties, the President of the Privy Council shall act as Regent pro tempore….

Our immediate question is what happens if the king dies or is badly injured and can’t appoint a regent? Another crisis and military intervention to again fix the rules and manipulate constitutional principles and practice?

The new king may well end up creating a republican military that “remembers” what motivated the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932. That would be positive in the long run….