More on Sulak’s case

22 01 2018

A couple of readers mention information they think we should have made clearer in our post on Sulak Sivaraksa again foiling a lese majeste charge.

In our post, we observed:

Sulak is also a self-declared conservative and monarchist. Perhaps that’s why he chose to have this reported: “Sulak said he credited the mercy of King Rama X for the case being dropped.”

One reader points out that an AP report said more:

Sulak, a veteran academic and proclaimed royalist, said he had petitioned Thailand’s new king, Vajiralongkorn, for help in dropping the charges against him.

“I contacted many people for help but no one dared to. So I petitioned the king. If it weren’t for His Majesty’s grace, this case would not have been dropped,” he said.

That is an important addition.

Another reader says we should have been more forthcoming on Sulak’s royalism:

Sulak Sivaraksa has a dilemma in the contradictions between his continuing platitudes on the ills of Western capitalism, neo-liberalism and consumerism on the one hand, and on the other hand his inability to come to terms with supporting (whenever this appeared in recent history) a people’s elected government and endogenous grassroots democracy. He fails to perceive of how society can develop, and in his lay preaching offers his followers only nostalgic platitudes on an “ideal Dhammic society”; one that seemingly cannot coexist with the amoral power of today’s global market forces. He recalls the time of Siam’s founding royal father King Ramkhamhaeng: “a perfect [*though in fact unequal and exploitative] society guided by Dhamma”. He unashamedly went on stage supporting the right-wing yellow shirts against an elected government and in praising the “positive elements” of the core leaders of PAD which successfully twice sabotaged an elected government. He explained in a talk on “How to Achieve Our Democracy” a couple of months after 2006 coup: “I will not offer any view on the recent coup d’etat. I will not criticize those who are in power now and will not discuss about the government of the present prime minister (General Surayud Chulanont) and his ‘parliament’. I think many individuals in power now are good. At least, they have good intentions and want to make changes to benefit the people as a whole…” (Sulak 2008).

Sulak (“Non-violence is not simply the absence of physical violence,” The Nation, March 1, 2006), it seems, is stuck on a negative propagandized image of ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra, who he compared ignobly to “a dog” on the PAD stage . He was silent when the state massacred unarmed protesters in Bangkok, though in one recorded interview said that this incident was, quote, well, rather “unfortunate” (sic). Even today Sulak has refused to criticize the repression and violence against innocent pro-democracy protesters or activists– as he had earlier cheered the military and ultra-royalists when they came to power in the guise of conditional “peacemakers” on 19 September 2006.





Pushing and shoving

21 01 2018

Reuters report that “[h]undreds of police in Thailand on Saturday blocked protestors planning to march from Bangkok to Khon Kaen in the northeast of the country in a rare display of public discontent in the junta-ruled country.” While displays of “discontent” have been anything but “rare,” this event comes when some see as a junta under pressure.

According to Prachatai, this march has been planned for a while and there was considerable publicity and discussion on social media. The network organizing it has a series of related activities:

… called “We Walk, A Walk for Friendship” [it] is organised by a group of civil rights activists called the People Go Network. The campaign focuses on four main themes: the right to universal health care, the rights of farmers, community and environmental rights, and the Constitution.

Lertsak Kumkongsak, a community rights activist and one of the event organisers, stated that “[h]e expected about 200 people to join the march.” At the time of the Prachatai report it was said that:

The campaign commences with an event on Friday, 19 January 2018, at Thammasat University, Rangsit Campus. The event comprises a play and a public forum with speakers including Jon Ungpakorn, Director of iLaw, Kannika Kittiwetchakun of the People’s Health Systems Movement, and Lertsak from the Campaign for Public Policy on Mineral Resources. The march sets off from the Rangsit campus on Saturday, 20 January 2018, at 9 am after a reading of testimonies. The first stop is scheduled at Wang Noi District, Ayutthaya. There will be more activities to come along their route to Khon Kaen… Lertsak said the group will inform the police today (Wednesday) of the planned rally so as to comply with the Public Assembly Act….

Complying with the junta’s draconian law seemed to mean walking in groups of four. It was also reported that some lawyers, academics and intellectuals were also involved.

Sangsiri Teemanka, a leader of People’s Network for Welfare, proclaimed: “This walk is a friendship walk. Over the past four years under the coup government we have no rights in terms of speech, action. We want the junta to hear us…”. Anusorn Unno, dean of Thammasat University’s Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology, said that the “group said it wants to cultivate a network of those with opposing views to the government’s policies in relation to food security, natural resources, community rights and civil liberty.”

It was said that when the demonstrators got to Khon Kaen, they planned to visit Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, a student activist who was jailed on trumped up lese majeste charges last year.

As the gathering got underway, the Reuters report said one leader declared: “We want to tell the junta that you have taken Thailand back a long way. The people in the agriculture ministry are all generals. There are just generals!”

The report states: “The demonstration, which was broadcast live on Facebook, was shared more than 900 times and viewed by more than 32,000 times.” View some of the footage at the People GO network Facebook page. The Bangkok Post also has pictures.

As more than 200 assembled, the call was: “Let’s hold hands! We are friends!”

Some 200 police blocked roads at the university to prevent protestors from leaving.

Police, however, blocked the group from leaving the university on the grounds that were in breech of the public assembly law and also posed a risk to public safety. The Bangkok Post reports that the “demonstrators nevertheless tried to break through the police cordon, prompting a brief tussle.”

The group “met with Pol Maj Gen Surapong Thanomjit, chief of Pathum Thani police, to ask for permission for 10 people from the group to complete the protest march to Khon Kaen, but the proposal was rejected.” Even so, “four people from the network slipped through the defence line [sic.] and walked together on Phahon Yothin Road. Soon after, another two groups — of four people each — also followed them.” They were tailed by “[p]lainclothes police officers on pickup trucks and motorcycles …[photographing] them from time to time.”

The remaining activists planned “to meet those who had managed to begin the march in Pak Chong district of Nakhon Ratchasima next weekend.”

Generally, yellow-shirted intellectuals and academics have been critical of this rally, warning against public protest.





Three views on 14 October

14 10 2013

Today is the 40th anniversary of the 14 October 1973 student-led uprising that brought an end to 16 years of the authoritarian regime established by royal favorite, General Sarit Thanarat. This was a momentous event that, for a short time, unleashed many of the struggles that had been suppressed for so long by Sarit and those who followed him. It is to be expected, then, that there would be commentaries and reflection on 1973 and contemporary politics.

PPT noticed three commentaries, and we thought we could highlight bits and pieces from each of these. Two are by heroes of the 1973 events and a third is by a young critic.

Seksan

Seksan

First, at the Bangkok Post, Seksan Prasertkul, a key leader of the student uprising who spoke at Thammasat University. Seksan has been reasonably quiet and conservative in recent years, engaging with aspects of Buddhism that do not necessarily promote social or political engagement. Unsurprisingly, he called on people to promote peace through democratic principles.

Reflecting on 1973, Seksan said “the October uprising created new, middle-class political groups – one urban movement concerned with natural resources and the environment, and a provincial group engaged in the representative parliamentary system.” That’s rather too simplistic, but let’s stick with his reported statements. He sees these as “capitalist groups of urban and provincial middle-class movements have been incredibly good partners in striving against the old capitalist and political forces…”.

He argued that “the capitalist political forces which have emerged recently have responded to the needs of the poor in a more substantial manner” than just calling for better wages. We assume he means elements of a broader social welfare system put in place since 2001. He went on to criticize the 2006 coup that overthrew the elected government of Thaksin Shinawatra “in an unconstitutional way.” He’s certainly right to observe:

“Ultimately, the coup ushered in forces that wanted to drag parliament back to the old days when it was dictated by authoritarianism…”.

Ironically, Mr Seksan said, many urban middle-class groups did not seem to uphold democratic principles and responded inappropriately to the mistakes of the Thaksin government.

Seksan called on red shirts to become more expansive in seeking democracy:

“The movement should be a tool of the struggle for democracy and not to serve a single government or political party, unless the plight of their preferred party and leaders directly affect the survival of Thailand’s democracy,” Mr Seksan said. He said the quest for sustainable and peaceful political liberalism needed to be developed along with democratic principles.

“Democratisation is a delicate and complicated process since we need to deal with authoritarian cultural notions and, above all, to build equity and human dignity,” Mr Seksan said.

… “Democracy releases people from exploitation and merges their collective power.”

Thirayuth

Thirayuth

Second, and reflecting a similar conservatism that many might see as deriving of age and others might see as developing from a lack of connection with current political struggles, another former student leader and self-styled deconstructionist political critic, Thirayuth Boonmee has had his say.

The report at the Bangkok Post states that Thirayuth “has broken his long silence to give his views on the current state of Thai democracy 40 years later.” To be honest, we hadn’t noticed that he had been quiet. In a post in 2012, we described him as an aging and often theoretically incomprehensible middle class “radical.” He has long been an outspoken critic associated with yellow-shirted intellectuals, being especially vocal in his criticism of “populism,” which he sees as being akin to “policy corruption” or vote-buying.

Thirayuth’s position seems to be pretty much standard for yellow-shirted intellectuals. Being rather lazy in researching historical events and struggles, Thirayuth claims that:

since the change of the country’s administration in 1932 from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy, only a handful of military and civilian personnel and some politicians had benefited from what is called “democracy”.

Even after the Oct 14 incident, students, intellectuals and middle-class Thais lavishly and wastefully exploited the state of democracy, opening the opportunity for groups of capitalists who were freed from military and police control to wreap [sic.] the benefits for themselves.

He is right to note that the military has “returned to be totally loyal to the monarchy,” although while he dates that as being since 1932, we’d date it earlier, from 1958 or perhaps 1973. He is also right to note that “Thai capitalist groups pay no attention to democracy, but cling firmly to the royal institution and the armed forces for their business interests.” Oddly, he right to be at one with Thaksin loyalist Jakrapob Penkair (look for his FCCT transcript) in being critical of “a society plagued by the patronage system or, in harsher words, a society of servants.” He is also right to observe that coups “had proved to be a mistake.” Well, maybe “disaster” would be a better word than “mistake.”

Thirayuth believes he has the answer for what he calls 40 years of “lost opportunities”: forget Thaksin , red shirts and yellow shirts and emphasize “good governance and proper mechanisms to get rid of corruption…”. And, look to decentralization. Hardly an intellectual bombshell, for he is essentially mimicking the royalist critic Prawase Wasi and a royalist mantra on the evils of politicians.

This rather boring and predictable stuff brings us to a third and younger critic, Prajak Kongkiarti. At The Nation, he is more realistic than the aged professors. He says that so much political reform is required that it may be another decade before it can be achieved. What needs to be done? He is clear:

Prajak

Prajak

To establish a truly democratic society, Thailand needs to reform all of its key political pillars, including the monarchy, the military, politicians, independent organisations like the Supreme Court and the news media….

The Thammasat University lecturer urges that Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lese majeste law, be addressed first. But reform of the military, an issue far less discussed, is urgent as well, he says.

That sounds like a reasonable assessment to us, showing a keen awareness of the political issues that have been driving politics in recent years. He is reflective of that period, apparently being the only one willing to point out the very large gorilla that inhabits too much of the political space but which may not be spoken of or criticized for fear of repression or worse.





Panic, coups and courts

9 05 2013

It is difficult to miss the increase in political panic attacks on the two main sides of the political contest in Thailand.

As PPT has already posted, the yellow-hued opponents of the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra have had multiple panic attacks that have caused them to shout their real political views out very loud. When Yingluck speaks to a meeting on democracy, the royalists and anti-Thaksin Shinawatra coalition has its leading figures shout about treason, selling out the country and greater “crimes.” The main “crime” seems to be Yingluck’s failure to again kowtow to the old men who think they run Thailand and continue to concoct a royalist version of the country’s recent political history. A few statements by a younger woman about political reality suggest to the geriatric royalists that their presumed control of her has weakened and that she does not “know her place.”

The tried and royalist trusted method for attacking elected governments, apart from the military coup, is judicial harassment and intervention. And so it is that as the political temperature rises ever more panicked and preposterous royalists charge off to their buddies at the Constitutional Court seeking judicial interference.

At the Bangkok Post it is reported that the latest move is appointed senator  – that is, unelected senator – Paiboon Nititawan who “represents” something called “other sectors,” which really just means he’s an unelected spawn of the military junta, has begged the kangaroo court to consider Thaksin Shinawatra’s alleged “order for Pheu Thai to amend the constitution,” which the senator claims “violates Section 68 of the charter, pertaining to acts that could undermine the constitutional monarchy or grab power through unconstitutional means.”

The Post states that some yellow-shirted intellectuals think the “Constitution Court is likely to take up a complaint…”. At the same time, “Somchai Srisuthiyakorn, a political science lecturer at Sripatum University, said the allegation that Thaksin’s Skype call breached Section 68 is far-fetched.” That won’t bother the court or the royalists.

Somchai reckons that a more likely constitutional court intervention is over the “MPs and senators [who] have declared they will not accept the authority of the charter court…”. He says: “Such an announcement is bound to be a violation of the law…. Many MPs and senators may realise their action carries a risk.”

Panic has also set in on the government and red shirt side. PPT has already posted on the political foot-in-mouth calisthenics by Information and Communication Technology Minister Anudith Nakornthap. Equally panicky seems to be red shirt supporters claiming that a coup is in the offing. The clearest English-language statement of this was at New Mandala where Jim Taylor makes this claim:

The army, if a little confused about royal futures, are talking about a coup (yes, yet again) among themselves and many senior army officers (including Prayuth Chan-ocha) dropping strong hints in the media…

Several readers have emailed PPT with similar claims. We don’t doubt that the military brass around boss Prayuth Chan-ocha were shocked by Yingluck’s Mongolia speech, but we have yet to see any strong evidence of the tanks warming up. We would expect to see and hear a lot more from the top brass if they were at any serious level of plotting. That said, Yingluck’s speech and the failure of the king and queen to appear as scheduled probably mean that the military men have the coup jitters.Red shirt protest

Meanwhile, while red shirt anger over the Constitutional Court shenanigans saw a mobile protest. Reports from the protest site are mixed, with some saying the protesters preparing to leave and others reporting an expansion of the protest (both in the same newspaper on the same day….). The very same newspaper is back to its old tricks of producing material filched from yellow-shirt sites and dressing it up as an op-ed rather than concocted propaganda.

The latter report also refers to:

hundreds of yellow-shirt Thai Compatriots and Territory Protection Front members, gathering since Tuesday at Sanam Luang, are refusing to clear the site.

They say they will stay until Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is ousted and that their presence won’t interfere with Royal Ploughing Ceremony on the grounds next Monday…. They are also demonstrating to offer moral support to the Constitutional Court judges and oppose the Preah Vihear court case.

The Bangkok Post, which says the rally is called off, has a spurious headline at its website, seems to say that the red shirt protest at the Constitutional Court was all Thaksin’s doing, when the story itself implies something else again, even suggesting that the Puea Thai bosses and Thaksin were out of sync with the protesters. Apparently the protest was called off:

after losing the backing of Pheu Thai, other red-shirt groups and, more importantly, ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, sources say.Thaksin did it

Some ruling party MPs initially sponsored the protest by the Radio Broadcasters for Democracy movement formed by some red shirts, the Pheu Thai sources said.

Apparently, the MPs got cold feet when the rallies turned to those close to the palace:

The MPs had also joined the protest in front of the Constitution Court on Chaeng Watthana Road in Bangkok.

But they later withdrew their support after demonstration leaders ignored their warnings and attacked Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda, threatened Constitution Court judges and used obscene words.

The MPS and Thaksin apparently worried that the rally could destabilize the government. If Thaksin is the ring master in all of this, he seems to have been unable to control the situation or to fathom the impacts of his sister’s speech or the red shirt rally against the hopeless bunch at the Court. Always murky, the arm wrestle continues.





The old gang gets a crowd II

28 10 2012

The Nation and the Bangkok Post estimate 20,000 attended the the military-royalist Pitak Siam rally at Royal Turf Club. Police claimed 6,000, but photos suggest it was larger than this.

The report says that this is a “surprisingly successful first rally…”. Not really. As PPT pointed out earlier, Boonlert said his “organisers hope to draw about 25,000 people to fill up the Royal Turf Club stadium…”. We don’t believe seasoned coupsters and ultra-royalist organizers like Chamlong Srimuang and Prasong Soonsiri were about to allow a small rally. In addition, the links to former classmate and privy councilor General Surayud Chulanont and with links to his boss General Prem Tinsulanonda were always sure to mobilize ultra-royalists.

Now the challenge for the Yingluck Shinawatra government is the Pitak Siam plan “for a bigger demonstration at Government House…”. The challenge for the old soldiers and yellow-shirted coupsters is to find reasons for people to rally with them. One strategy is the claim that the “government had done nothing to stop several people from attacking and violating the royal family…”. This is fabricated nonsense, but ultra-royalists have always been sure that “red shirts are republicans.” So the search will be on for acts of “disloyalty.”

In our original post, we noted that we expected yellow-shirted intellectuals to increase their sniping; it seems that has begun as the aged anti-Thaksin economist Ammar Siamwalla has rejoined the political fray. The Post report refers to “Surachai Sirikrai, a political scientist from Thammasat University” damning the government and making bizarre claims that Pitak Siam could grow to be a “Thai Spring.”

Meanwhile, the Democrat Party has coordinated with the Pitak Siam events by launching a campaign to “save democracy.” Again plagiarizing red shirts, the idea-less DemoPADs have begun “opening political schools and calling on their supporters to fight against Thaksinomics.” The conservative elite’s pin-up boy Abhisit Vejjajiva made an opening speech entitled “Major institutions in a democratic system in Thailand’s constitutional monarchy.” As we noted above, the monarchy will again be front and center in the renewed attempts to overthrow an elected government.

Abhisit apparently “said the reason the party decided to launch the political schools was that the country’s political fighting had intensified and the objectives of opponents were different from the past. Democracy was being used as a tool for self gain.” None of this is new and, in fact, Yingluck’s politics have been so timid that there is simply no intensification. This is a beat-up by Abhisit and his military-royalist allies.

Old and failed former Democrat Party leader Chuan Leekpai expresed his support for the military and designated the main threat to the country as not the murdering royalist military but “… a new political disease since Thaksin has joined politics and bought political parties with majority votes…”. In other words, the majority vote amounts to nothing for the anti-Democrat Party. And, as expected, Chuan declared: “… there is a move to topple the monarchy with the committing of lese majeste offences…”. As we said, nonsense, but the plan is to destabilize, again with palace and royalist support.

The picture is pretty clear. This is a coordinated and planned move against the elected government.

As a footnote, PPT thinks it worth observing that yet another royalist overthrow of an elected government is likely to mean the end of the monarchy as republicanism will be the only alternative for those who want elections as expressions of political will to be respected.





The old gang gets a crowd I

28 10 2012

For those who were hoping that the rally organized by General Boonlert Kaewprasit and his Pitak Siam (พิทักษ์สยาม) royalist front might be a fizzer, a report with several photos in Matichon suggests something else. As PPT has pointed out, the “old gang” is coming back together and this was a test of support for the old gang of yellow shirts, ultra-royalists, People’s Alliance for Democracy, old soldiers, Privy Council connections and so on.

A Matichon photo.

PPT is guessing that the turnout will embolden those who wish to yet again bring down an elected, pro-Thaksin Shinawatra government. If the undermining continues, we can expect yellow-shirted intellectuals to increase their sniping, more events like this one, and support to be expressed from the serving military brass.





Anti-democratic academics and others

26 03 2012

PPT has been reading some of the recent commentary by an apparently reinvigorated bunch of yellow-hued academics and we have found, all too  predictably, that nothing much has changed for those who seem to delight in acting as the anti-democratic mouthpieces of the royalist elite.

A few days ago the aging and often theoretically incomprehensible middle class “radical” Thirayudh Boonmee came out with statements reported at the Bangkok Post that seemed to trouble the military (because he mentioned a coup) and some of Thaksin Shinawatra’s acolytes (because, as ever, the crumpled academic was critical).

Thirayudh

The academic is director of the Sanya Dhammasak Institute for Democracy at Thammasat University. Sanya was a prime minister appointed by the king in October 1973 and never held elected office. PPT notes that this is yet another institute in Thailand commemorating “democracy” as a royalist invention rather than a result of long political struggles.

Thirayudh is reported to believe that “the ongoing political conflict in Thailand derives from the fact that people do not respect the opinions of others who belong to a different political colour.” Well, yes, there is a “lack of respect,” but this tells us nothing about the interests that underlie “different opinions.” It is a fallacious position influenced by postmodernist positions that consider opinions, ideas and ideology the basis of politics. It is as if ideas float in thin air, disconnected from material interests. In other words, such Thirayudh’s observation is useless to any deep understanding of Thailand’s politics.

Thirayudh’s main point, though, is a critique of electoral politics. He says Thailand is “dominated by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, grass roots politics and populist policies.”

He may be partly right to identify Thaksin as “one of the three most influential political figures since 1957.  The other two are former military strongman Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat and Gen Prem Tinsulanonda,” but forgets the king and the palace as a major political actor.

Thirayudh seems disturbed that “political parties under Thaksin consecutively won power,” because he sees Thaksin as having “no true intentions of building democracy for the grass roots.” This is because he think the “grassroots” are a bunch of dullards who are vulnerable to Thaksin as “a marketing leader” rather than “a democracy leader.” They can be mobilized by Thaksin for his purposes. Like many middle class academics, for Thirayud, “Thaksin’s aim is more to make the grass roots his clients than to make them a sustainable foundation of the Thai economy.”

Part of that marketing push involved elections and “populist policies.” For him, “populism” is some kind of political sin as it makes electoral popularity paramount and what Thirayudh sees as necessary is to “uplift Thai society to be democratically strong, with strengthened rights, freedom and responsibility in which the people respect the feelings of others.”

While few would disagree with some of this, the point is that this is a deeply politically conservative position that hankers for some kind of “united” people, free of conflicts. Think here of the king’s repeated calls for unity and order. Essentially the ideas expressed by the king and Thirayudh spring from the same conservatism.

That same conservatism prompts Thirayudh to see the “current conflict in the country derives from Thaksin’s insatiable desire for wealth and power…”. In other words, the “desires” of the people are ignored.

More recently, and more obviously royalist in perspective, are the recent comments by the deep yellow-hued Chulalongkorn University political scientist Chaiyan Chaiyaporn. Chaiyan has long been a People’s Alliance for Democracy supporter and anti-Thaksin activist.

Like his colleagues in PAD, Chaiyan has a warped notion of electoral democracy. At The Nation he adds to the long history of PAD’s and his own anti-democratic cravings. There, Chaiyan makes the extraordinary proposal that any “national referendum on the Constitution should require the backing of two-thirds of voters before the charter can be adopted.”

Chaiyan

For PPT, the idea of a referendum on a constitution is silly and suggestive of exceptionally shallow thinking. Take the 2007 constitution and the military junta’s idea of having a referendum on it. Voters got to cast a vote of Yes or No for the draft constitution. That basic law contained 309 articles. What was a voter who had read the thing to do if he or she strongly objected to one article but kind of liked 308? Vote No? What would the voter who agreed with 155 articles but disagreed with 154 to do? Vote Yes? In any case, the junta’s team made constitutional change a task for parliament.

But politically, Chaiyan is doing something else. He is proposing the two-thirds requirement simply because it “is not easy to achieve.” The proposal he makes is to prevent the current government changing the constitution. He makes this crystal clear:

The Pheu Thai and government coalition did not get that many votes in the 2011 election. They will have to campaign more to get approval for the new charter while the opposition might campaign for people to oppose or abstain.

Chaiyan is anti-democratic to the core. But we guess his anti-Thaksin panelists found such proposals just fine and dandy.

We are not suggesting that all academics are simply the ideologues of the elitist royalist regime. For alternative perspectives, this story at the Bangkok Post is worth reading.

Retired Thammasat University history professor Thanet Aphornsuvan said:

We know that there is social inequity in our country, but what makes the people no longer tolerate this and why are the factors that used to make them accept the situation not being sustained anymore. It’s clear that of late the authority of those in power is being questioned….

PPT doesn’t agree that people “tolerated” inequality previously, but Thanet’s questions are worthy of consideration.

Porphant

At the same event, Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University Professor Porphant Ouyyanont noted that mammoth economic structural changes had “created a new political economy in Thailand,” and that, post-1997, “old capitalist groups, such as the banks, seeing their share … [in the economy] reduced while new businesses in telecoms and media have emerged.” He also noted the integration of farmers with markets and a range of new provincial players. He observes that: “New economic players have new political demands.”

But, as Attachak Sattayanurak of Chiang Mai University’s history faculty notes, the current power structure has not been giving way to new demands. Attachak refers to “capitalist groups colluding with the military and aligning their legitimacy with the monarchy…”. He added:

The co-operation between the military and capitalists in controlling the socio-political landscape in the country has clearly been featured with a monarchy-loyalty flavour. The monarchy has been issued a new role of sustaining and legitimising the political entities in the country….

Pruek Taotawil of Ubon Ratchasima University also picked up on new economic groups that “have challenged the traditional conservative power structure…”. He adds that:

The old power groups have created new political discourse that the king is the community leader and anything opposite or against the discourse is not legitimate or accepted. The recent political conflicts are clashes between the networks of old and new powers galvanising grass roots masses as their support….

Pruek warned that the new political players would “not tolerate being only cosmetic accessories to the power structure.”

The future is clear, even if the conservatives – academics, military bosses, politicians and royalists – can’t accept it.





Democrat Party and getting a political crisis in motion

11 09 2011

The Democrat Party has declared that time is up for the Puea Thai Party-led government. In the Bangkok Post, the deputy spokesman of the party that was trounced in the election in early July has declared the new government, officially in place for a month, has had it.

Democrat Party deputy spokesman Atthaporn Polabutr warned that people “should be prepared for a new round of political crisis which may occur in six months because the Pheu Thai-led government has abused its power for the benefits of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra…”. He claimed that “the government’s power abuses had become unacceptable to the people in society.”

These alleged “abuses” include: “pressure to win a royal pardon for Thaksin, an attempt to revive the Ratchadapisek land case, unfair transfers of state officials, and appointment of people under serious legal charges to take political positions…”. For good measure, he added that “the government’s key policies such as the 300 baht daily minimum wage, the 15,000 baht monthly salary for bachelor’s degree graduates, and the paddy mortgage programme were full of flaws and could affect its stability.”

Finally, Atthaporn called for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, with only a month in office, to go. Otherwise, “this government would meet growing resistance from various sectors of society.”

Should Atthaporn simply be dismissed as a lunatic who can’t get over the fact that the Democrat Party can never win an election? We don’t think so. There are several reasons for this view.

First, less than a week ago, Puea Thai MP and and red shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan is said to have stated that “an unconstitutional power clique is conspiring to bring down the Pheu Thai-led government.” There can be little doubt that the anti-Thaksin elite are already at work, plotting and scheming.

Second, the Democrat Party has repeatedly shown that it does not respect the electoral process, so no electoral defeat, no matter how large, will be respected.

Third, the Democrat Party has a long history of relying on decidedly undemocratic forces to lift it to government – palace, military, the People’s Alliance for Democracy and backroom elite deals.

Finally, the Democrat Party is drawing on precedent. Thaksin won the biggest ever election victory in February 2005 and yet the military set the tanks rolling just 14 months later following a long period of agitation by anti-Thaksin forces.

For Atthaporn and his party, the election defeat is just a bump in the road, and can soon be overcome with anti-Thaksin propaganda, rhetoric and by getting the yellow-shirted media, intellectuals and organizers in motion.





Pro-lese majeste action

6 04 2011

In our last post, PPT commented on activism aimed at getting rid of lese majeste as a political crime. In this post, we comment on what is effectively the military’s and the military-backed government’s campaigns to stifle discussion of the sometimes nutty but highly politicized and exorbitantly wealthy monarchy and royal family.

Prachatai has two stories that deserve attention.

The first tells of the 1st Army Commander launching the Thais Protect the Land program “to organize the people to fight threats against the monarchy.”

There’s nothing particularity new about this. The Army has, since 1957, been the appointed protector of the monarchy, and there have been numerous programs to link the military and monarchy. Likewise, the military has organized, with the monarchy, numerous “protection” projects, ranging from murderous vigilantes such as Nawapol to Village Scouts and huge propaganda throughout the country (at taxpayer expense, after the U.S. stopped funding it through, USOM, JUSMAG and the CIA).

Yet again, on 2 April, “Lt Gen Udomdet Seetabut, 1st Army Commander and Director of Internal Security Operations Command Region 1, presided over the opening ceremony of a programme to build people’s networks at the Phra Pradaeng district hall in Samut Prakan. Lt Gen Udomdet said that society was beset not only with the problems of crime and drugs, but currently also with offences and attacks against the monarchy by ill-intentioned groups of people in various forms.”

This program will “make the people aware of their duty to protect the nation, religion and king, to instill unity among them and to encourage them to take part in preventing and solving problems which affect internal security and social order…”.

Reflecting the recent royal comment on rumors, the general stated: “… we have to work together with our hearts to find the way to unite the people, particularly for the sake of the monarchy which is subject to attacks and rumours. So I want to ask all Thais to help and understand. If we help each other and have good will, bad things will vanish. Our nation will be secure. The threats to the monarchy will vanish.”

The second story shows how the monarchy is critical to current politics and why lese majeste is central to the royalist struggle to maintain its political regime.

During a seminar for the royalist Democrat Party, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban “called on the people to help protect the monarchy to prevent civil war.”

Suthep Thaugsuban (Bangkok Post photo)

Longtime readers of PPT will recall that it was just over a year ago that many, including royalist and yellow-hued intellectuals took up the civil war discourse.

At a “seminar attended by about 1,000 local party members as well as core leaders such as Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij, Deputy Interior Minister Chamni Sakdiset and Bangkok MP and former Bangkok Governor Apirak Kosayodhin” Suthep blamed (almost) all problems and conflicts on the red shirts amd Puea Thai Party, equating them with communists! He added the yellow shirts for good measure.

Here’s what he is quoted as saying:

Now the Pheu Thai Party and Thaksin are using communist methods to mobilize the mass. So the people have to be aware of this. The country is currently beset with problems because of the red shirts, the Pheu Thai Party, the men in black—an armed force fighting for Thaksin to return to power, and the yellow shirts who think that they have power and mass and can do whatever they want, attacking everybody who holds differing opinions and seizing Government House, although they [currently] have only 300 people.

All of this is seen as a threat to the monarchy, associating red shirts with attacks on the institution that is so central to the royalist regime that has been established since the 2006 coup:

I ask everybody to help protect the monarchy, because now when [we] open the websites of the red shirts, we’ll see only attacks against the institution, which is unacceptable to me. I insist that my talking about the institution is not to gain votes, but for national security. If [we] don’t protect the institution which binds our hearts and minds, we’ll risk civil war….

And, in a remarkable addition to his comments, after attacking the red shirts and Puea Thai Party, Suthep acknowledged his own party’s weakness when he called on that party “to fight under the democratic system, and not to exploit its political mass mobilization during the general elections.”

Lese majeste allegations are thought by the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime to potentially diminsih red shirt mobilization.





Trying to fix an election, part III

18 02 2011

Simon Roughneen in the Sydney Morning Herald joins those who think that there will be an election “before the end of June.” Both Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban have spoken of such a possibility, with no commitment to a date.

Chris Baker

The article notes that this latest bit of election speculation came after “MPs voted to amend the electoral format, expanding the party list representation in parliament and moving the remaining constituency seats from a multi-seat to a single-seat format.” Roughneen cites well-known pundit Chris Baker who says that “the amended system could boost Mr Abhisit’s Democrats [he means the Democrat Party, for they are not democrats], the lead party in the governing coalition, but which has been comfortably beaten by pro-Thaksin [Shinawatra] parties in recent elections.” Baker adds that the premier’s party ”did much better last time on the party list than the territorial constituencies. Shifting seats from territorial to party list should favour them.”

PPT said similar things more than a month ago. We remain on the fence about an election date although we think the probability of an election increases as the Democrat Party and their backers get all of their pieces in order.

We have previously posted on how jailing opponents, engaging in massive censorship, killing protesters, being backed by the military, judiciary and palace, banning hundreds of politicians who would oppose the royalist regime or pose an electoral threat, and getting an already rigged constitution fixed (again) seems not enough for the Abhisit government that has now thrown billions of baht at voters.

With all of this in mind, readers should also look at the post at Bangkok Pundit regarding what PPT considers amounts to Thai-style gerrymandering.

PPT also wants to emphasize the article that BP cites, from The Nation. The panel selected and appointed by Abhisit and chaired by yellow-shirted academic and virulent Thaksin critic Sombat Thamrongthanyawong is said to be “poised to recommend the formation of a Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) tasked with a major overhaul of the electoral system, transforming the way governments are formed.” And just guess which party is going to benefit enormously from the proposals so far leaked. Of course, it is the Democrat Party.

Sombat says that the military junta-backed 2007 constitution simply doesn’t cut the mustard and needs a “major rewrite … to improve on Thailand’s political institutions…”. We’re pretty sure this doesn’t involve the institution.

Getting the junta's constitution in place

It may seem strange that the military junta’s basic law doesn’t work for the Democrat Party as the party of the amart. The military worked exceptionally hard, in alliance with all kinds of yellow-shirted intellectuals and junta flunkies to get the constitution passed by a referendum, so it should be in the interests of the amart. It surely is, but the simple point is that this constitution, while rigged for the anti-Thaksin parties still saw them elected in 2007! Therefore it must be changed to prevent such an “anomaly” again.

Basically, the rules have to be changed to ensure a system that is heavily biased against pro-Thaksin, red shirt or populist parties.

So here are some of the draft recommendations from Abhisit’s panel led by Sombat:

The party with highest proportionate ballots, known as the party-list vote, should have first the chance to form a coalition government. As PPT has pointed out already, this is meant to reflect the fact that the Democrat Party did much better on the party list in 2007 than in the constituency seats. In other words, the proposal does away the notion of the party with the most seats getting first opportunity to form a government. By implication, this approach, in good yellow shirt fashion, effectively devalues votes in rural areas where pro-Thaksin parties have their strongholds, especially in the North, Northeast and Central regions.

The House should not have the mandate to censure the prime minister. PPT reckons this comes direct from Privy Council President and former unelected prime minister General Prem Tinsulanonda. We have no evidence for this claim, but recall that Prem refused through his many years to appear before parliament for a grilling. This would remove the capacity for proper scrutiny of government and for one of the more interesting interludes in parliament.

MPs should not be required to have party membership. This would take Thailand back to a period when horse-trading was the main means of building coalition governments and when buying and selling politicians was the norm. The idea of this proposal, again harking back to the Prem model of the 1980s, is to weaken political parties. By demanding coalition governments the outcome is weak government, strengthening the bureaucracy, military and the intrusive extra-parliamentary institutions of business, palace and judiciary.

PPT wonders just how many more fixes the Democrat Party requires before it could win an election?