Working for the man?

9 03 2019

As we mentioned in a recent post, King Vajiralongkorn is very wealthy. After changes to the Crown Property Bureau Act, his shares in the Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) and the Siam Cement Group (SCG) are valued at US$9.23 billion. On those shares alone, the Forbes billionaires list should have him 3rd for Thailand. Of course, his portfolio is far larger than these two companies.

As well as being the major shareholder in both SCB and SCG, the king’s personal assistants hold positions on both boards of directors.

All of that makes a story at The Nation about the SCG very interesting reading. It begins: “There is a growing outcry over the government’s recent decision to allow corporate giant SCG to utilise parts of a forest reserve in Saraburi province, as a special case, till 2036.” SCG quarries the area for limestone, used in cement production.

The junta’s Cabinet on “Tuesday passed a resolution to permit cement manufacturer SCG to use … land in the Tab Kwang and Muak Lek Forest Reserve for its operations.”

According to reports, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Ministry “persuaded the Cabinet to give the green light mainly on grounds that those parts of the forest reserve had once been SCG’s concession area.”

The ministry said “the allotted land plots have enormous potential for mining, and SCG … has always complied with conditions related to permits issued to it.”

SCG’s previous permit to “use the … land plots expired in 2011, but its mining licence remains valid until April 27, 2036.” That permit was issued in 2002.

An official at the Royal Forest Department, reported anonymously, said: “The request to use these old concession areas has won approval from the National Environment Board and all relevant screening committees,” adding that “the authorities also recognised the importance of industrial development.” It was also stated that “the government can put in place efficient control measures to ensure the private miner won’t cause any adverse environmental impacts…”.

According to the Bangkok Post, the SCG “facility is located in the Tab Kwang and Muak Lek Forest Reserve in Saraburi province…. The forest covers 3,223 rai and contains a large protected Watershed Class 1A zone.”

Watershed Class 1A zones are considered “ecologically rich and were given protection under a 2005 cabinet resolution.” However, case-by-case exceptions are permitted.

The grant to SCG has drawn considerable (and surprising) criticism. Mahasarakham University’s Chainarong Setthachua called for an investigation of the concession. He worried that the area is a “top-grade headwater area” and reckoned that the area might be inside “a national park that was established in 2016,” he said.

Other critics included the deeply yellow Veera Somkwamkid and Srisuwan Janya who demanded Cabinet rescind its decision or be faced with court action. Somlak Hutanuwatr, said to be “an independent expert on primary industries and mines.” who claimed the Cabinet’s decision was “illegal,” as did EnLaw Foundation coordinator, Supaporn Malailoy,

Meanwhile, Amnuayporn Choldumrongkul, deputy chief of the Royal Forestry Department, “said the decision to extend the operating permit was made in accordance with the state concession previously awarded to the company, SCG Plc, to mine there.”

Some questions arise. One is what was SCG doing in the area from 2011 to today? If its permit expired in 2011, what did it do for lime in the intervening period? Another is to ask how much the junta’s Cabinet was influenced in its decision making by SCG’s royal connection? Does that connection and ownership provide the king with influence over the junta?

We think this story needs a lot more investigation. Is the media up to it?





Yellow “justice”

5 03 2019

After the Supreme Court finally upheld finally upheld the sentencing of six leaders of the People’s Alliance for Democracy to eight months in jail for actions during its occupation of Government House in 2008 it was thought by some that this was a late but appropriate judicial recognition of PAD’s illegal actions.

However, that seems to have been a foolish conclusion when writing about the judiciary in Thailand. As reported by Khaosod and the Bangkok Post, a “court on Monday found a group of anti-government protest leaders not guilty of multiple charges for their siege of the parliament in 2008 which turned fatal.”

That protest by PAD sought to topple a pro-Thaksin Shinawatra elected government and laid siege to parliament seeking to prevent it meeting. Police were ordered to clear the parliament entrance, and fired rounds of tear gas at the protesters in the morning of Oct. 7, 2008. Two people died in the clashes and about 380 were injured, including police. One of the PAD dead blew himself up in his car bomb.

In 2012 prosecutors charged 21 PAD leaders and argued that the protesters caused serious unrest in their resistance to the police and using various weapons against police. They were also accused of using threats to block members of the parliament from entering the building, injuring several policemen, locking all gates of the parliament, detaining officials inside the parliament for hours, and threatening to detain MPs.

The Criminal Court now declares that the demonstration “was protected by the constitution and did not constitute sedition despite confrontation with riot police…”. The court flocked to support PAD, ruling “that the leaders of the rally briefed followers on the extent of then-government’s corruption and mentioned attempts to amend the constitution in favour of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra…”. In other words, the court ruled that PAD supported the 2007 constitution and was protected by that constitution. The court also declared that “violence only broke out after officers fired tear gas at the crowd.”

No court seems to apply the same ruling in the case of red shirt protesters, preferring double standards.

For an accounts of the events, including PAD’s violence, see Nick Nostitz at New Mandala. At Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s Facebook page there’s an assessment of the ruling and events of the day.





Palace propaganda and the new reign

28 02 2019

As PPT has mentioned in several posts, when succession finally came, there were numerous commentators who had predicted a crisis and even an unraveling of the monarchy. Part of the “crisis” was that King Vajiralongkorn, because of his checkered past and odd personality could not have the same palace propaganda that had made his father’s benign, deified image, even when the reality of his reign was quite different.

The period since Vajiralongkorn came to the throne have shown that for all of his personal foibles and the great fear associated with his erratic and narcissistic behavior, for the palace propaganda machine, nothing much has changed. The monarch is promoted using familiar and what the palace (and junta) considers tried and true methods.

These comments are prompted by a Bangkok Post story that has the junta “urging the public to wear a yellow shirt bearing the royal emblem of … the King from April until July as part of nationwide celebrations of the royal coronation in May.”

This yellow shirt wearing gimmick was really only widely adopted around the time of the dead king’s 60th jubilee which coincided with agitation against Thaksin Shinawatra. Yellow shirts became a symbol of loyalty and was taken up by the People’s Alliance for Democracy as it marked its territory as monarchists.

Even some who were to become red shirts donned loyalist yellow shirts.

When the military coup came in 2006, the troops marked themselves as loyalists by using yellow ribbons.

More recently, we have seen the creation of “royal volunteers for the king,” all of them decked out a loyalist uniform associated with the current king.

It was Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, speaking “after a second meeting of the government’s committee responsible for handling procedures for the ceremony” who revealed that the Prime Minister’s Office (The Dictators Office) “will issue a design prototype of the royal emblem for the yellow shirt.”

That design has already been approved by the king but the “committee is now waiting for a letter from the [Royal Householf B]ureau to confirm details of the design so it can be used as the official logo for the ceremony…”. Only that emblem will be permitted to be used.

That emblem will be reproduced in millions and will blanket the country and suffocate its people. Nothing much has changed. And, the events and displays of loyalty play into the junta’s political hands.





Updated: Nothing seems to change

19 02 2019

The reporting over the last few days seems to suggest little has changed in over a decade of military coups, elected governments illegally thrown out, scores of deaths and mass street demonstrations.

In observing this, we are leaving aside the continuing speculation regarding Thaksin Shinawatra’s failed bid to make a (semi-) royal fruitcake a prime minister. Those guesses range on a spectrum from the events were out of the box to ordinary, that they weakened the king or made him stronger, that the king knew what was going on or he didn’t, and even resurrect some perspectives from the 1950s to try to explain various scenarios. And there’s still the misleading view that Thailand is somewhere on a road to democracy. And that’s all from the same source in several articles.

But back to the nothing-much-changes idea.

First, we see The Dictator showing himself for his Palang Pracharath Party and the party using his picture on campaign posters while he remains deeply engaged in all kinds of state activities, spending and so on.

Meanwhile, his former boss, brother-in-arms and Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paochinda has “defended his [now] boss … by insisting that junta leader-cum-Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha should not step down before the royal coronation takes place in two months.”

Here the point being made to the electorate is that only The Dictator and the military can be “trusted” as loyalists. It was the anti-democrats of the People’s Alliance fro Democracy that proclaimed loyalty as a political issue of the era by donning royal yellow.

Second, to make the point about loyalty, none other than anti-democrat Suthep Thaugsuban is quoted as declaring that only a vote for his party (and pro-junta parties) “can prevent Thaksin Shinawatra from returning to power through its proxy parties…”. That’s a refrain widely heard from the anti-democrats for over a decade. And, Suthep appears to be admitting the electoral strength of the pro-Thaksin parties, something seen in every election from 2000 to 2011, when elections were free and fair.

Suthep’s claims that the anti-democrats could keep Thaksin’s “proxies” out saw him drawing on the experience of the repressive actions of the junta in forcing through its 2016 constitution draft in a “referendum.” Perhaps he expects/hopes for similar cheating in the junta’s “election.”

And third, Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong, who himself wielded war weapons against red shirt protesters in 2010, and who refuses to rule out another coup, has again declared that he will not be controlled by “evil” politicians.

After the military budget increasing 24% under the junta, the notion that it might be cut by an elected government prompted the evil but loyal Gen Apirat to order the “ultra-rightist song ‘Nak Phaendin’ [Scum of the land] to be aired every day on 160 Army radio stations across the country…”. This anti-communist song from the 1970s – another period when the military murdered hundreds in the name of the monarchy – was to be played twice a day. It was also to be played at the Ministry of Defense and and in all Army barracks:

The Army chief reasoned [PPT thinks that word is incorrect] earlier that the anthem broadcast was aimed at encouraging everyone to be aware of their duties and responsibilities towards the country.

The “duties” he means are to protect the monarchy and murder opponents of the military-monarchy alliance.

He was supported by Deputy Dictator, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, who supported the notion that politicians are “eveil” and deserve death at the hands of murderous loyalists. He said: “Listen to the song that the Army chief mentioned. Listen to it.”

Apirat partially revoked the order later, with the song continuing to be broadcast inside the Army Command at noon. As former Thammasat rector and historian Charnvit Kasetsiri expressed it,

Other than calling for a return to absolute monarchy, they’re now rehearsing ‘Scum of the Earth,’ too? History will repeat itself if we don’t learn from it. And where will that path take us? Better or worse?

It leaves Thailand in its ultra-conservative, ultra-royalist time warp.

Clearly, the Army commander and the Defense Minister are campaigning against pro-Thaksin parties and for The Dictator and the party of the rightists, Palang Pracharat.

That’s not new. Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, then head of the Army, demanded that voters reject Thaksin parties in 2011. However, this time, the threat is louder, nastier and very, very threatening.

Nothing much changes.

Update: PPT noticed that the Election Commission has issued a warning that “posting text, sharing or commenting on messages that defame political candidates violates the Computer Crime Act.” So how will the EC respond to Gen Apirat’s condemnation of Puea Thai and other pro-Thaksin parties as “scum” and actively campaigning against them? As a puppet agency our guess is that it will do nothing.





Heroes and villains

14 02 2019

The Supreme Court has finally upheld finally upheld the sentencing of six leaders of the People’s Alliance for Democracy to eight months in jail for actions during its occupation of Government House in 2008 may be seen as a late but appropriate judicial recognition of PAD’s illegal actions.

Chamlong Srimuang, Sondhi Limthongkul, Pibhop Dhongchai, Somkiat Pongpaibul, Somsak Kosaisuk and Suriyasai Katasila were charged with “breaking into Government House and damaging property there during the protests they led against the Samak Sundaravej government from May to December 2008.”

But the process involved shows how the sentences have been reduced through the judicial process. Originally they were sentenced “to two years’ jail each, commuted from three years due to their useful testimony.” That was reduced by the Appeals Court “to eight months in jail, commuted from one year.”

However, the “Supreme Court ruled that their demonstration was not peaceful, as they claimed, because their supporters broke into Government House.” Apparently, this means that occupying Government House grounds for seven months, seeking to prevent an elected government from operating is okay.

A Bangkok Post editorial is closer to the mark, noting that PAD’s leaders “resorted to extremism and violence, sexed up by hate speech.” It also observes that PAD “set up armed and unarmed forces who mingled among protesters … and used tens of thousands of their protesters as human shields against the police crackdown.”

That PAD’s “ruthless operations” served as a model for red shirts and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee cannot be disputed.

The Post’s history of support for the yellow-shirted and PDRC movements seems forgotten. So too are the double standards of the judiciary in the sentencing of red shirts versus the treatment of yellow shirts.

This should remind us that, in the current political climate that emphasizes “loyalty,” the PAD leaders going to jail means they become heroes and martyrs in the renewed battle against the villainous Thaksin Shinawatra and for the monarchy.





Justice system a politicized tatters

1 02 2019

Thailand’s judiciary is in tatters. Politicized for years, conscripted into judicial activism and royalist to the core, the judiciary is unable to work independently or even to maintain rule of law.

The most recent example involves the Appeals Court upheld an earlier court ruling “that dismissed a trial against nine yellow-shirt leaders who demonstrations against late prime minister Samak Sundaravej in 2008.”

The court decided, against all evidence, that Chamlong Srimuang, Sondhi Limthongkul, Pipob Thongchai, Somkiat Pongpaiboon, Somsak Kosaisuk, Suriyasai Katasila, Chaiwat Sinsuwongse, Amorn Amornrattanond and Therdpoum Jaidee:

were … not guilty … [when] the Appeals Court …ruled that their protests under the now-defunct People’s Alliance for Democracy … were conducted peacefully and according to democratic principles.

They had stood accused of “attempting to use force to change the government and instigating chaos in the country.” This related to their extended protests in Bangkok and the seizure of government offices. Other charges relates to possessing weapons such as baseball bats, iron bars, axes and catapults.

The Appeals Court dismissed the weapons charges saying they may not have belonged to the protesters. The court then “found that the defendants were not guilty when they obstructed the authorities’ attempts to demolish their tents, saying that the incident did not start from the defendants’ side,” despite the fact that they occupied these buildings and their grounds.

The court then “ruled that the protests led by the nine defendants in 2008 were conducted peacefully, in a manner which was allowed in a democracy and under the Constitution.”

Of course, similar manufactured dismissals were manufactured as convictions for red shirts.

The justice system has brought itself into disrepute.





Updated: Scurrilous scoundrels

15 10 2018

Two scoundrels appear in separate stories at Thai PBS. One is on The Dictator and the other is another anti-democrat, Suriyasai Katasila. We won’t waste much space on them except to point out their untruths.

We can begin with Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha. As big boss at the military junta, he has banned “politicians” and political parties from using social media. So what’s the deal with The Dictator’s deputy secretary-general for political affairs announcing that The Dictator “and his aides would administer the [boss’s Facebook] page, IG [Instagram] and Twitter accounts as well as the website of the prime minister.” Everyone knows that The Dictator is campaigning and now he’s the only politician permitted to campaign in public and with social media. Double standards? Of course. Crooked? Of course. Rigging the election? Naturally.

Then there’s the yellow ideologue and pretend academic Suriyasai. His self-assigned role is to speak for “the people.” The problem is that the people ignore him and the things he says about them are nonsense. He said “people have more expectations on the next election than the previous ones because they want politics to help solve problems the country is facing.” He means yellow shirts. Sensible people know that the outcome of the elections, when held, will be more military domination (see above). He added that “people are fed up with politics and do not trust politicians…”. This is nonsense. The evidence of voter turnout is that the last two elections had turnouts at record rates of 80-88%. Of course, Suriyasai and his ilk prefer the military’s voice to voter voice and rigged elections to free and fair elections.

Both anti-democrats are scurrilous scoundrels.

Update: A reader chastises us for being too eager to criticize The Dictator. After all, that reader says, many other politicians have Facebook and other social media accounts. That’s true, but those politicians didn’t establish them all in one day in anticipation of winning an election (whenever it is decided it will be held) and after almost five years after seizing power in a military coup. Nor are they permitted to use these accounts for election campaigning. Indeed, some have been charged for doing this.