Updated: No one forgets 2010

19 05 2020

There’s a trend in academic work that emphasizes memory, memorialization and memory. As it has translated in Thailand, several very smart academics have argued that Thais have forgotten important events, including 1976 and 2010. And, there’s discussion of how to remember. As an example, see one of the several op-eds at the Thai Enquirer today.

We feel this is too academic and too detached from the reality of the almost two-month long Battle for Bangkok. No one who was involved has forgotten. Nor do they need “advice” on how to remember. But, it is a decade ago, and many of those talking of memory, forgetting and remembering were too young, too class-disconnected, too bookish or too coddled to be involved and therefore, it is their memories that are constructed, distorted or reoriented. For examples, see the other op-ed at the Thai Enquirer by reformed/reforming/rethinking/unreformed yellow shirts (here, here, here, and here). And, do look at the real effort that this newspaper put into trying to understand 2010 (here, here, here, and here). We don’t agree with everything that is said, but applaud the effort made.

The 19th of May 2010 marked the end of the red shirt struggles. April and May 2010 again revealed the utter brutality of a military that views electoral democracy and people’s sovereignty as a threat to the order it prefers and defends.

It must be recalled that the leadership of today’s regime is born of the military dictatorship – Generals Prayuth Chan-ocha, Prawit Wongsuwan, Anupong Paojinda, and Apirat Kongsompong – together with former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban have never been held accountable for the protesters shot down, injured and killed in those bloody events. These men, blood on their hands, remain at the center of yet another military-backed regime.

These pictures are from both sides of the battle as the military gradually surrounded and then cleared the Rajaprasong area. Blood flowed and no one has been held responsible. Unfortunately, while no one involved forgets, it is Jatuporn Promphan who captures the essence of “remembering” for those defeated by the military’s armed excess:

“The truth is that this is the deadliest fight for democracy in Thailand…. Over the past 10 years, the Redshirts have been living humbly because we know that there is no way for us to fight. We can only seek for justice, but it will not be delivered.”

Update: It was at Wat Pathum Wanaram that – according to the courts and eye witnesses – the military gunned down people, including medics, in a zone they had declared “safe.” Since those murders, the military has gone to extraordinary lengths to silence witnesses and silence campaigners. Of course, the military has a lot to hide. Sadly, the military has also used the virus to close the temple on the anniversary of its murderous assault.

 





Panitan goes full-on bonkers

27 02 2020

We are a bit late getting to a report on “adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister [Gen Prawit Wongsuwan] on Security Affairs, Panitan Wattanayagorn” lashing out at the US Embassy statement on the dissolution of the Future Forward Party.

As many long-time readers of PPT will know, we have no time for this leech on the public purse. He’s long taken positions with military and military-backed regimes as an “advisor” while also claiming to be an “academic” and taking benefits from that position. In addition, his academic credentials are anything but serious.

The statement we have seen from the US Embassy is this:

We note the Thai Constitutional Court’s decision on February 21 ordering the dissolution of the Future Forward Party.

The United States strongly supports democratic governance around the world, and appreciates Thailand’s recent seating of a democratically elected government. While the United States does not favor or support any particular political party in Thailand, more than six million voters chose the Future Forward Party in the March 24 elections. The decision to disband the party risks disenfranchising those voters and raises questions about their representation within Thailand’s electoral system.

The bit that the pathetic Panitan got agitated about was “disenfranchising,” which seems a pretty basic point. The Embassy might have added that this had happened several times since the 2006 military coup.

But Panitan “slammed the US Embassy’s criticism,” declaring the “US reaction was not appropriate and marked an interference in Thailand’s internal affairs by an outsider…”.

That’s a claim that is usually heard from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

He then went full bananas, promoting long-held yellow shirt notions of conspiracy, saying “he understood countries like the US would like to secure their advantages.” Astoundingly, the so-called academic and “security” adviser declares: “I think they pretend to not understand what actually happened because some members of Future Forward Party are still able to work…”.

To us, this sounds like a claim that Future Forward members work for the US Embassy. How bizarre. Well, in the social media that has circulated from royals to Democrat Party and within the military, such conspiracies are taken seriously.

Panitan, who graduated in the US, then displays his ignorance, saying: “Our constitutional courts are quite the same.” We assume that he compares Thailand’s Constitutional Court and the US Supreme Court. Of course, they are not “quite the same.” In fact, they are quite different.

Even more astoundingly, Panitan personally attacks the US ambassador as ignorant and falsely compares US (democratic) politics and Thailand’s authoritarianism: “The new ambassador is not familiar with Thai matters and we have to discuss it with him soon. Their criticism paints them in a negative light than us, as their political situation is even worse than Thailand’s.”

Panitan and army buddy working on a “story.”.

He then gets pompous and nasty:

“It’s quite confusing why a big country [like the US] has allowed some children to write something on their official website. The US might just pretend to be an idiot. However, we don’t want to add anything more to rupture our diplomatic relationship.”

Apart from the unwarranted arrogance of this statement, it is also a large pile of buffalo manure when it is considered that he’s used astoundingly undiplomatic terms to describe the Ambassador and the Embassy.

Panitan does not pretend to be an idiot; he demonstrates his idiocy.





With 3 updates: Corrupt military

15 02 2020

The calls for reform of the Army following the Korat murders are almost deafening. Some are from those who previously more or less supported the 2006 and 2014 military coups. Other critics are ardent yellow shirts.

But, really, wasn’t all of this corruption known before? It was for us, and we have posted on it dozens and dozens of times. The unusual wealth, free digs for senior officers, the use of the lower ranks as slaves by the top brass, “commissions,” scams, nepotism, the impunity on torture and murder, etc. It has all been widely known.

Clipped from Khaosod

Naturally enough, the criticism of the military flows across into the military-backed regime, led by generals. One reported comment was an expression of “hopelessness” at responses to Korat from both Army and regime. Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha was seen as gruff and uncaring in his response while Gen Apirat Kongsompong’s tearful media conference was seen by some as theatrical.The two are seen as part of the same regime and they are both men who have benefited greatly from the corrupt system.

Of course, Apirat’s response is also political as he is angling to take the premiership after Gen Prayuth, to continue the Army’s political dominance.

One of the public responses has been skepticism that “the army chief’s vow to bring transparency to the barracks” is real. As one person commented to reporters, “there is no reason why those in power will make sacrifices…”.

We at PPT are not so skeptical because Gen Apirat obviously views the current criticism as an opening for critics and a threat to the Army’s role in the economy and politics. For the moment, he is unable to shut down critics. And, he needs to respond. He’s said:

There are many projects among army personnel who collaborate with businessmen including real estate and loan sharking businesses. I know that and there will be generals down to colonels who will go jobless this month and in the coming months….

Sacking underlings is one thing. Attacking the toxic culture of a feudal military requires much more that this.

But the political threat to the military is acknowledged by Gen Apirat and he knows he has to be seen to be doing something.

As the Bangkok Post reports. “[p]olitical activists are pushing for an investigation into what they describe as the army’s administrative errors, which they believe was the root cause of the massacre in Nakhon Ratchasima…”.

The Future Forward Party and other opposition parties are demanding investigation and reform.

A group known as The People’s Party for Freedom, Democracy Restoration Group (DRG) called on the “House of Representatives’ committee on military affairs” to conduct “an investigation into the army’s alleged mismanagement” of armories and poor security. More significantly, it also demanded “that businesses run by the army, especially those managing army-owned land for commercial purposes” be investigated.

This is a big deal. Consider, for example, the role of the military in the Eastern Economic Corridor, controlling the airport and port in the project as well as tracts of land that are being converted to commercial use. And, the military controls millions of rai of land.

The group also demanded “that the authorities look into certain members of top brass, who have abused their authority for the benefit of themselves and their families.” Here the group is pointing to the “military housing project … in which the gunman was reportedly cheated by his superior and his superior’s family, [as]… clear evidence of blatant abuse in the army…”

But there’s much, much more. Think of the crony Senate and the nepotism of Gen Preecha Chan-ocha, among many, many others. Consider how it is that Can anyone remember the Rolls Royce corruption case and how nothing happened? Does anyone recall the corruption allegations over the Army’s expensive Rajabhakti Park homage to dead kings?

And then there’s the declared wealth of the military members of the junta’s administration, showing huge and unusual wealth in 2014:

If a general in the armed forces, your assets average about 78 million baht.

If you managed to become an admiral in the navy, you sail away with average assets of about 109 million baht.

The top money secretes to the top police …[where] the average for the top brass in the police is a whopping 258 million baht.

Even declared unusual wealth was never investigated. For confirmation of this, for readers with access, a recent academic article detailed some of this. This is what the paper’s abstract states:

After the military coup of 2014, 143 serving and retired generals of the Royal Armed Thai Forces submitted asset declarations to the National Anti-Corruption Commission on being appointed to the military junta’s National Legislative Assembly. By analysing these declarations, this article demonstrates that a cohort of wealthy generals has emerged, which leads to the article’s central concern: how is it that despite the political reform project of the 1990s, military leaders were able to evade scrutiny and become wealthy? It is argued that behind the lack of scrutiny of the military’s wealth accumulation was a structure of fear that severely undermined the capacity to enforce regulations and which enabled the military to evade the constitutional forms of scrutiny elaborated in the 1997 Constitution. That structure of fear emerged in a context of an elusive political settlement when the apparatuses of the state were occupied by competing regime framers, leading to a re-assertion of military power.

The Korat event has led to an outpouring of accusations and complaints, some of it from soldiers:

Lawyer Atchariya Ruangrattanapong said he was compiling a list of soldiers who had made similar complaints about being caught up in shady loans or real estate deals with superior officers.

“There are plenty of cases at the moment…”.

Atchariya also praised the military for transferring Col. Uthai Fangkratok and Lt. Col. Tee Permpol to “inactive duty” within the Second Army Region, which covers Thailand’s northeastern region where the rampage took place.

“Thank you commander of the Second Army Region for the actions after we exposed the scam,” he said in a Facebook post on the Help Crime Victims Club page.

Despite our comment above, there’s ample reason for skepticism about the “optics” around “doing something.” Critic Titipol Pkadeewanich of Ubon Ratchathani University declares: “It is just a show…”.

For one thing, Gen Apirat is not allowing any independent investigations. He has:

… ordered 2nd Army commander Lt Gen Thanya Kiattisan to conduct a “straightforward” and speedy investigation into the shooting, said a source who asked not to be identified.

Two other working teams have been told to look into soldiers’ welfare provisions and businesses run within the barracks as well as take action against any personnel found to be involved in dishonest deals, the source added.

Maj Gen Rachit Arunrangsi, chief of the Army Welfare Department, and Lt Gen Ayut Siwiset, chief of the Directorate of Personnel, are in charge of the two panels.

While he has “threatened to suspend any business-oriented army projects that are found to have irregularities,” again, it is an internal investigation.

Bolstering skepticism, it has been widely reported that Gen Apirat’s statement that “retired army officers must move out from their official residences…”, has exceptions. No prizes for guessing that Gen  Prayuth, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Gen Anupong Paojinda will be first among those keeping their Army-supplied houses. This is because they make a “contribution to society.”

Other “retired generals who now serve as Senators; and retired army generals in the Privy Council” also have taxpayer-funded free accommodation on bases, cloistered from the rest of the population, feeling comfortable among the groveling and hierarchy of the forces, using military slaves and more.

While they suck on the public teat forever, they are being “recognized” for their “contributions” to the military, conducting military coups, strengthening impunity and slaughtering red shirts. And, they have strengthened the military’s systematized corruption.

Who can forget the taxpayer-funded years of free accommodation  for now dead Privy Council President Gen Prem Tinsulanonda in a house that the Army has since “donated” to the king. Where does current Privy Council President Gen Surayud Chulanont live?

It is not just that those at the very top engage in nepotism, corruption and sweet deals, setting a poor example, but it is systematized: those at lower levels engage in corruption that funnels funds up into the higher ranks.

Update 1: Is it only a coincidence that Gen Prayuth has ordered the Fine Arts Department to produce “shows” on “Thailand’s war history to bolster patriotism among Thais.” The aim is to strengthen “unity” and promote “awareness of the roles of key institutions — the nation, religion and monarchy — in helping overcome crises…”. Given that most of the propaganda will be about the military, their “reputation” will also be bolstered.

Update 2: The op-eds criticizing the military are raining down like political confetti. Some of them seem to express surprise at the size of corruption revealed, while neglecting to mention some of the biggest military scams or to ask why it is that the military brass gets away with murder and crime. Other op-eds get right to the point: “The Thai army is a closed system governed by feudal authoritarianism which breeds corruption and abuse of power.” Read them all.

Update 3: Prachatai reports on a rally of:

a hundred people [who] gathered in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) yesterday (13 February) for a candlelight vigil to mourn the victims of the Nakhon Ratchasima mass shooting … and to demand that Gen Apirat Kongsompong take responsibility by resigning from his position as army chief.





Political appointees to the Constitutional Court

12 02 2020

Continuing the military junta’s practice of appointing protectors of the status quo to the Constitutional Court, the junta appointed Senate selected four new Constitutional Court judges, all of them – as far as we can tell – died-in-the-wool royalists and rightist supporters of the military’s role in politics.

From Ji Ungpakorn’s blog

While it isn’t clear exactly what their qualifications are, those selected are Udom Sitthiwirattham, Wiroon Saengthien, Jiraniti Hawanont, and Noppadol Theppithak.

We did a little digging and found some links, in English, on these new appointees.

Udom Sitthiwirattham is the judge who ruled the project to construct court office buildings and housing for judges and officials on a 147-rai slice of green land near the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park legal. More than that, he “warned that continuing to post comments online or sharing comments online that are deemed to tarnish the reputation of the Appeals Court Region 5 could result in lawsuits.” So he fits in nicely to the Court.

Wiroon Saengthien was appointed by the junta – well, the Supreme Court, but there has been little space between them – to be “in charge of the rice-pledging dereliction of duty against former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.” However, we think this might refer to ” case against former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom and 20 other people for alleged malfeasance, in connection with the sale of government rice under the previous administration’s rice-pledging scheme.” Those are the “credentials” valued by the Senate.

Jiraniti Hawanont was appointed by the junta established following the 2006 military coup to a committee to “probe of allegedly corrupt politicians…”. This was a special graft investigation panel and with “the power to freeze suspect assets.” Again, solid establishment and military-linked credentials. Many of those on the committee were also solid yellow shirts. Jiraniti has also held a position with the Ananda Mahidol Foundation, providing palace links.

There’s less we could find on Noppadol Theppithak. He seems to come from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But if that’s so, MFA is renowned for its conservative royalism and support of military dictators.

In other words, don’t expect the Constitutional Court to become anything different from its current politicized self.

Any further information from readers would be appreciated.





Updated: Judiciary exposed

6 10 2019

Thailand’s judiciary has been a pliant and willing arm of the ruling class, and courts like the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court have been politicized. Most Thais understand that the judiciary’s standards are double standards. Justice is certainly not blind.

These aspects of the (in)justice system have been tragically on display after a judge shot himself in court. This is how Khaosod reported that event:

Yala senior judge Khanakorn Pianchana pulled out a handgun and shot himself in the chest inside a courtroom moments after he acquitted five defendants of murder and firearm charges. In a court filing leaked on social media after his suicide attempt, Khanakorn said he was pressured by his supervisor to find the men guilty despite lack of evidence.

Khanakorn’s statements were written inside a full court verdict, which is typically released to the press after a ruling.

The judge said he was threatened by regional justice chief Permsak Saisrithong to deliver a guilty verdict on the five defendants, or Khanakorn himself would be placed under a disciplinary hearing if he disobeys.

Khanakorn said he could not bring himself to condemn the men due to lack of hard evidence. If found guilty, the defendants would have faced death penalty.

The Bangkok Post reported that Khanakorn earlier posted a 25-page ruling online:

The document states the case he was hearing concerned national security and was related to secret association, conspiracy and gun-law offences.

The document allegedly described disagreements among senior judges over the case ruling, in which Mr Khanakorn reportedly decided to acquit all five defendants.

Messages reading “Return the ruling to the judges” and “Return justice to the people” were repeated three times in the document. The Court of Justice has neither confirmed nor denied the authenticity of the circulated document.

The initial response of the Office of the Judiciary was to blame Khanakorn, saying he “had apparently acted out of stress from personal issues.” As ever, it said it would launch an investigation (read this as “launch a cover-up”).

Those who have seen the injustice of the judicial system were quick to point out the apparent meddling in the case, seemingly for political reasons. But the defense of the judicial system was strong and perverted.

Poramate Intarachumnum, chief of the Department of Thonburi Criminal Litigation, cited in the Bangkok Post, “said the public should withhold their criticism for the time being because what they read might turn out to be true.” That’s also a kind of blaming the victim. It was also part of a developing and truly bizarre deep yellow conspiracy theory-cum-plot. Supporters of the junta-cum-government claimed a political plot, masterminded by the Future Forward Party. The “evidence” being that that opposition party chairs a parliamentary committee on justice and, most grotesquely, that the judge, now recovering, had deliberately not intended to kill himself…. This lot seem ready to believe any concocted “plot.”

Meanwhile, the Court of Justice has insisted that nothing is wrong in the (in)justice system. Its Secretary-general Sarawut Benjakul said “his office … would submit the case to the Judicial Commission, a panel of judges who make decisions concerning themselves by voting.” That is said to be an “independent agency” being “independent.” In fact, it is analogous to cases where the military vets itself – a cover-up results.

Of course, the judiciary is anything but independent. Rather, it is a part of the bureaucracy.

It is known that as the case was “deemed important, Mr Khanakorn had to send it to the Region 9 chief judge’s office for a review.”

When the ruling reached the regional chief judge’s office, two senior judges reviewed it first and wrote on the memo that they disagreed with it. The regional chief judge then allegedly stamped “confidential” on the memo and ordered Mr Khanakorn to rewrite the ruling based on the opinions of his superiors.

Mr Khanakorn pointed out one of the two high-ranking judges who reviewed his ruling had checked it out before and made changes only in minor details. He said he could not help but suspect he might have agreed with his ruling but something had changed his mind later.

A Bangkok Post picture

Mr Khanakorn wrote that by law, if a chief judge disagrees with a ruling, he must put it in writing in the document. It didn’t happen in this case and instead Mr Khanakorn was told in confidence to reverse the ruling to convict the five defendants.

“If I complied with his request, there would have been no evidence in the case files showing that the conviction, instead of the acquittal, was the result of the chief judge’s order. Instead, it will be on me and my panel of judges who signed the ruling,” he wrote.

“If I complied with the order, three of the defendants would have been executed for first-degree murder — there’s no lesser penalty to choose from — and two others would have been imprisoned as accomplices.

“The confidential memo also said if I insisted on acquitting them, I must detain them during an appeal, which makes no sense to me.”

He added that if he defied the order, he would be investigated and eventually he would have to quit.

In Khanakorn’s view, “the case was not related to national security or terrorism. Yet all evidence and witnesses were acquired while the five were detained under martial law and emergency laws which allow detention of up to 30 days without charges, although the laws are intended for security or terrorism cases only.” He seemed to consider that the defendants had been framed by the police. That’s not unusual for Thailand’s police and nor for the military.

Suspiciously, “a spokesman of for the Region 4 Forward Command of the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc), said security officials had never interfered with the justice system…”. He’s lying.

Update: As usually happens in regime cover-ups, those protecting themselves and their comfortable and powerful position have decided to “investigate” for so-called disciplinary offenses, and will probably charge the judge who shot himself. This blames the victim and takes the heat off those who make the problems. These are quite awful and exceptionally nasty people who have learned from their peers and their predecessors that they have impunity, so long as they line up with the great and the good.





Denying constitutionalism, affirming neo-feudalism II

27 08 2019

Thailand has reached yet another political crossroads.

The military dictatorship was responsible for the 2017 constitution. The charter as designed by the junta was meant to maintain the junta in power for years to come. Unlike the 1997 constitution, it was never meant to be an imperfect effort to democratize the nation and to give average people a say in governance. The 2017 charter was an exercise in maintaining the power and position of the ruling class.

The king demanded changes to the junta’s constitution – and got them. The changes he wanted shifted power towards the palace.

Self-crowned

But this was not enough. The king wants more. He’s keen to remake Thailand as a neo-feudal political system with him at the pinnacle.

As we posted a week or so ago, the failure of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha to say all of the oath required by the constitution is very likely the king’s idea. Under the provisions of his own constitution, Prayuth was meant to say:

I, (name of the declarer), do solemnly declare that I will be loyal to the King and will faithfully perform my duties in the interests of the country and of the people. I will also uphold and observe the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand in every respect.

He babbled something along these lines with the struck through words left out. In other words, it is the king that matters, not the constitution.

We guess the king reckons everything went skewiff for the monarchy when a constitution was foisted upon it in 1932.

There’s been controversy over the oath, with parliamentary debate likely and complaints made. Yet, today, the king has made his position crystal clear. As Khaosod reports it:

the King has instructed Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his cabinet to hold true to their oath and solve the country’s problems earnestly.

In messages presented to cabinet members in an elaborate ceremony at Government House today, King Vajiralongkorn also expressed moral support for the government and urged it to be strong. The messages were personally signed by … the King.

Prayuth and the cabinet members received copies of the message one by one in front of a portrait of King Vajiralongkorn.

For the feudal lord (clipped from Khaosod)

Yes, that’s right, the king is off in Europe and thinks so little of the constitution and people’s sovereignty, he reckons some certificates for ministers, his expression of support and a portrait of himself will see off the opposition and “his” government will not have to worry too much about the constitution. Rather, the government will serve the king, not the people (or even the whole ruling class).

Meanwhile, it seems the Ombudsman somehow missed the message. As the Bangkok Post reports, that office has sent the oath issue to the Constitutional Court. We guess that court will do as expected and affirm that king and government may ignore the constitution.

That’s the political crossroads. Are Thais now willing, after more than 70 years of royalist preparation, to ditch constitutionalism and return to a modern, reinvented feudalism or neo-feudalism?

This is where all of the political action against electoral democracy of recent years has led. Under the leadership of palace, military and yellow shirts and supporters the question is now how far people are willing to discard their rights and what remains of a ragged political system in favor of an erratic and grasping king and his spineless minions.





Two new articles

25 08 2019

There are two new and interesting articles by academics to add to our recent listing.

One is by James Buchanan at New Mandala. In “Is the era of ‘Red versus Yellow’ over in Thailand?” the author seeks to present an understanding of how politics has changed (or not) in recent years. We find his argument quite convincing. However, there has been some negative response on social media, suggesting that observers of Thailand’s post-coup politics are splintering. Helpfully, this article also has a Thai version: ยุคของ “แดง ปะทะ เหลือง” ในประเทศไทยจบแล้วจริงหรือ?

Another article is by Kevin Hewison at the Journal of Contemporary Asia. His abstract states:

This article provides an account of the upper echelons of Thailand’s capitalist class. Based on an analysis of the Forbes data on Thailand’s wealthiest for the period 2006–2019, it analyses the 30 families and groups that have dominated these rankings over this period. The article compares how the growth of this group’s wealth has outpaced other measures of how Thailand’s economy has grown over this period. The article also compares this Forbes-ranked group with the upper reaches of the Thai capitalist class in 1980, assessing wealth and investment between the most important capitalist groups in 1980 and those in the Forbes rankings for 2006–2019. It finds considerable consistency within this category, in both periods and over time.

The article is behind a paywall. However, as we have stated previously, authors are generally willing to help out with copies for those without access.