No change on repression

21 06 2019

While some media still delude themselves and readers that the junta’s “election” was about “returning to democracy,” The Diplomat has a story that shows that things haven’t changed and may be getting worse:

Weeks after the March election, the plainclothes officers that had become a familiar sight on college campuses under military rule were back at Ubon Ratchathani University in Thailand’s northeast.

“Things should have changed. But they came with an identical message” to five years ago, said political scientist Titipol Phakdeewanich about a second visit from the special branch police last week. “They were quite confident they could keep politicians in check. But they are very worried about universities and students.”

As the story observes, “[h]eavy-handed responses to even the mildest of criticism have been a defining feature of a junta that routinely threatened and prosecuted opponents…” since its illegal 2014 military coup.

As academic Titipol puts it: “Nothing has changed. But now Thailand is whitewashed by an election…”.

Is it getting worse? We think it is, with the mad rightists unleashed by the junta. Most noticeable is the use of lese majeste as a way to damage and repress.

Future Forward’s spokesperson, Pannika Wanich is one target, accused her of lese majeste. She says: “It’s a witch hunt. Progressive politicians have frequently been accused of being anti-monarchy…”. It is also the yellow-shirted tactic that is used against democrats or anyone considered too pro-Thaksin. Future Forward has scared the bejesus out of the political dinosaurs and the ruling class.

After the assault (clipped from Matichon)

The story also points out rising “systematic violence,” including murders and enforced disappearances.

It cites Anon Chawalawan from iLaw, who says: “We are seeing rising numbers of violent attacks against democracy activists, often by masked attackers, since the election. But there have been no arrests…”.

One recent case is Sirawith Seritiwat (left).

No arrests. Probably because these are officially-sanctioned thugs.





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.





Updated: Another activist assaulted

3 06 2019

Matichon reports that political activist Sirawit Serithiwat was assaulted on the evening of 2 June. He is said to have sustained minor injuries to his head and face, consistent with being beaten up. It is reported that he was attacked by a group of about five men at a bus stop.

After the assault (clipped from Matichon)

There’s a pattern emerging. Under the junta, police and military were used to intimidate, detain, arrest and charge political activists. In recent months, more or less coinciding with the junta’s need to allow political activity prior to the election, the pattern appears to have shifted to violent attacks. These are never seriously investigated by police, suggesting the involvement of the authorities in the attacks.

Add this to the murder and/or enforced disappearance of activists in neighboring countries, and the political landscape is looking increasingly dark.

As an aside, as the death of Gen Prem Tinsulanonda has had us looking back at the 1980s, it is noticeable that similar means of intimidation were used back then. We noted reports of with several activists being murdered or disappeared as well as assaults of others. In most cases, none of these attacks were seriously investigated.

Update: The Bangkok Post has reported this assault. Sirawith is reported to be asking “police to file attempted murder charges against the people who attacked him.” He added, “I will not forgive them…. I never thought they could be so cruel.”

Anti-junta politicians including “Pheu Thai secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai and Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroonruangkit posted messages on social media condemning the attack…”.

Phumtham observed: “This country is difficult to live in…”. Anti-democrats and yellow shirts will be cheering and hoping they leave the country. Those on the right seem to enjoy watching the military repress, assault and murder. They cheer it.





Crony senate

14 05 2019

As simply everyone expected, a Senate has been unveiled by the military junta that is packed full of junta supporters, backers and lackeys:

Khaosod reports: “Military top brass and the junta’s inner circle dominate the full list of 250 appointed senators unveiled to the public on Monday, ending months of secrecy.”

The Nation states: “Many of the newly appointed senators are from the ruling junta and people close to its key figures.”

The Bangkok Post: “The Royal Gazette on Tuesday published an announcement on the royally-approved list of 250 senators, including 66 army generals…. The Senate list includes the names of 105 people with ranks in the military or police….

None of this is a surprise. Perhaps some hoped that the members of the junta might demonstrate at least a pinch of political decorum, but that is misplaced as the military junta has repeatedly demonstrated that is has no shame at all.

Some other quotes from the reporting linked above are worth preserving here, demonstrating that the junta is a chip off the 1991 coup group and operates as a representative of yellow-shirt interests. (Those who imagined that the red-yellow divide was gone should look more carefully at the manner of the junta’s operations.):

The list – mostly handpicked by junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha – includes generals, loyal government technocrats, 15 ex-ministers who served under Prayuth until their resignation last week, and even a younger brother of the junta leader.

Hardline critics of ex-leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who remains a popular figure among opposition voters, also made it to the final cut. They include poet and activist Nawarat Pongpaiboon, former anti-corruption chief Klanarong Chanthik, and royalist law scholar Kamnoon Sitthisamarn….

The announcement dated on Saturday included Gen Preecha Chan-o-cha, younger brother of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Adm Sitthawat Wongsuwon, younger brother of Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, Klanarong Chantik, former secretary-general of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), former deputy prime minister Chatchai Sarikulya, former national reform member Khamnoon Sitthisaman, former foreign trade director-general Duangporn Rodphaya, and former national security council secretary-general Thawil Pliensri.

Among other senators were Pornpetch Wichitcholchai, former president of the National Legislative Assembly, former NACC chairman Panthep Klanarongran, forensic expert Khunying Porntip Rojanasunan, former deputy agriculture minister Luck Wajananawat, and former tourism and sports minister Weerasak Kowsurat.

More than a third of  the newly appointed senators have military or police backgrounds….

But one surprise is this for the conflict of interest and nepotism it involves:

Some of the new Senate’s members sat in the committee tasked with nominating senatorial candidates to be selected by the National Council for Peace and Order.

More than 100 of them are retired or active high-ranking officers from the armed forces and the police, including 70 from the Army, 12 from the Navy, eight from the Air Force and 12 from the Royal Thai Police.

Many new senators are family members of people in power.

These include General Preecha Chan-o-cha, who is the younger brother of Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha; Air Vice Marshal Chalermchai Krea-ngam, who is the younger brother of Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam; Admiral Sitsawat Wongsuwan, who is the younger brother of Deputy Premier and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan; and Som Jatusripitak, who is the elder brother of Deputy PM Somkid Jatusripitak.

Nothing more or less can be expected from the military junta. Be prepared for this kind of cronyism to breed deeper corruption. After all, that’s the pattern of past military-dominated regimes.





Color coding royal pardons?

4 05 2019

As is usual around supposedly auspicious royal events, “pardons” – a kind of amnesty – have been granted to prisoners and others serving sentences. They include commuted jail terms for serious offenses.

The latest, for the coronation, includes some interesting “pardons.”

Five leaders of the People’s Alliance for Democracy will be released. They were only convicted a few weeks ago. They are: Maj-Gen Chamlong Srimuang, Pipop Dhongchai, Somkiat Pongpaibul, Somsak Kosaisuk, and Suriyasai Katasila. Sondhi Limthongkul’s position remains unclear, although he may have benefited by having his fraud sentence reduced.

Interestingly, PAD seem to have designed the kit for the king’s royal volunteer “army.”

What of red shirts serving sentences? We haven’t seen any news yet.

Anti-junta critic, sentenced on lese majeste for sharing a BBC Thai report, student activist Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, also known as Pai, has benefited, but not by much. He was due to be released on 19 June.

We might be missing something, but it might be that royal pardons are now color coded.





EC blames voters for its failures

22 04 2019

An interview with the Bangkok Post by Election Commission chair Ittiporn Boonpracong is headlined “Setting the record straight.”It is nothing of the sort. Like the administration of the “election,” it is nothing short of a scam.

Where Ittiporn “admits” to flaws in the “election,” these are described as relatively minor problems that the EC can “come up with a quick but comprehensive solution to the issues.” He babbles about advance voting and fixing that. He fails to explain why the EC’s expensive taxpayer-funded study tours didn’t help identify these quite basic “issues.”

One thing that Ittiporn does “set straight” is that fact that the Election Commissioners are unqualified for their positions. Ittiporn is a former diplomat, “some are former judges” and  another ” is a former permanent secretary…”. Another is a lecturer in environmental technology and one more was a former member of the defunct National Reform Steering Assembly.

All commissioners were selected by the junta’s puppet National Legislative Assembly for being suitable for doing the junta’s work.

As to the complaints about the EC’s performance, Ittiporn is mostly dismissive, saying that while the EC ” can’t immediately provide an answer to these queries,” it can sort out and explain the anomalies given some time and investigations. He adds: “the amount of mistakes were relatively minimal and many of these mistakes cannot be blamed on the EC, or the system.”

He goes on to blame “voters.” Ittiporn says that the claims and accusations about the EC’s failures are due to mobile phones and social media.

His claims take on a bizarre yellow hue, intimating that “voters who were not previously familiar with politics with easy access to multiple sources of information, both real and fake.”

Presumably the “voters” are the usual suspects – “the “uneducate,” who are beguiled by fake news, which seems to be news that criticizes the EC. He responds: “Back in 2011, not many people had mobile phones. It is a different story today, as more and more people express their views online, without even thinking.” He adds that the criticisms are “rants”:

We have arrived at that point in history where anyone can post whatever message they want without feeling any guilt. In the past, mass media such as newspapers had to publish apologies if they run a false story. These days, social media users can just go on numerous rants online without thinking of the consequences.

After this “defense,” he cheers the military dictatorship:

As a citizen, I think it was necessary for a strong figure to step in, otherwise there would have been lots of casualties among the yellow- and red-shirted protesters. It was meant to restore peace and order.

In short, a junta supporter, made head of an EC that has been incompetent, blames voters for the problems encountered in the “election” and for criticism of the EC. He’s a remarkable dolt. But we guess the junta knew that when he was appointed.





Further updated: Ministry jumps for the junta

9 04 2019

Many readers will have seen photos of the representatives of foreign embassies and other international organizations attending and observing the police reporting and charging of Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.

The response from the junta has been to spur the Ministry of Foreign Affairs into action that is hugely damaging to the already battered reputation of both the junta and its “election.”

The MFA’s first jump was when spokeswoman Busadee Santipitaks, pointing a crooked finger at Future Forward, “told the media on Sunday she had information claiming the international bodies had been invited to the event.”

We weren’t aware that MFA was an investigative agency, but, heck, anything’s possible these days when Thailand is at the bottom of the slippery slope.

Future Forward did indeed have contacts with embassies and the like, but so does every party, and the case against Thanathorn is so emblematic of a junta fix/stitch-up/frame-up, that these embassies and organizations just had to be interested.

Diplomats from “Australia, Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and the US, as well as EU and UN human rights officials, went to the [police] station as observers.”

By Tuesday, junta foreign minister, Don Pramudwinai, decided that his ministry should attempt the high jump.

Don declared that “the diplomats’ actions amount to ‘interfering‘ with Thailand’s justice system.” He stated that “foreign dignitaries are only allowed to observe legal proceedings involving their nationals, not Thais.” And he added: “This kind of incident has never happened in other countries, and it cannot happen [here]…”.

Then going for the whip, he further declared that:

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will invite them for a discussion to ask for their cooperation and reach a mutual understanding to not let it happen again, because it’s against diplomatic principles.”

Over the past several decades, and most especially since the 2014 military coup, foreign diplomats have observed police and court procedures.

Don now says this is wrong and claims that they can only get information from the MFA alone. He went into a bit of a rant, declaring: “We will ask them to cooperate and not to do that again. It was against the diplomatic protocols of the United Nations…”.

We are not exactly sure which “protocols” Don is drawing on, but a bit of searching suggests he may not be entirely correct. For example, one document states that “it may be useful” for UN human rights observers “to notify the Government of the operation’s intent to send an observer to the proceeding.”

This may not be UN gospel, but it suggests that Don is manufacturing his response. And that action adds to the giant weight dragging Thailand down. MFA sunk below the pale long ago, defending all kinds of dictatorial practices, and continues to respond enthusiastically to the dictatorship.

It might also be noted that the MFA’s stand appears to coincided with a vitriolic set of attacks from anti-democrats and yellow shirts on the diplomatic observers. It is a little difficult to discern who is leading who here. But, then, there seems little space between the junta and the rising (again) anti-democrats.

Update 1: A story at The Nation muddies the story of the diplomats and Thanathorn. Pol Gen Srivara Rangsibhramanakul has stated that the diplomats did not attend “the interrogation” of the politician but “were invited to a briefing after the interrogation … finished.” Did Foreign Minister Don yelp before knowing the “facts”? Or is he still barking because he is part of the junta plot to bring down Thanathorn/steal the “election”?

Srivara said the 12 diplomats “began to ask many questions after the questioning of Thanathorn finished. Police then invited them to a briefing…”. He also showed documents to the diplomats. He adds: “They asked, we answered. No problems at all…”. Tell that to Don.

Update 2: Another story at The Nation states that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs “yesterday summoned foreign envoys one by one to accuse their embassies of taking sides in Thai politics.” The Nation cites the aide memoir presented by MFA: “Regardless of the intention, the presence of embassies’ representatives at the police station, with such visibility and [with] the publicity it generated, was clearly an act of political significance, seen by the Thai public largely as a show of moral support for Mr Thanathorn…”. The response has been, in diplomatic terms, “interesting. The US Embassy told reporters that “attendance at legal prosecutions is standard practice.” The Embassy stated: “The US interest in this case, as in many other cases, is to observe the judicial process and obtain first-hand information about the handling of the case…”. In Thailand, and particularly under the junta, there have been so many “political” cases that foreign embassies have been run off their feet monitoring these.