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.





Updated: Bans and banalities

26 07 2019

Many readers will have seen that Facebook has “removed multiple Pages, Groups and accounts that were involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook and Instagram.”

“Coordinated inauthentic behavior” is defined by Facebook here. Note that the action is not necessarily because posts are “fake news.” It is that they are deceptive about their identity and who they work with and for or by hiding where they operate. Another source explains “coordinated inauthentic behavior” as involving multiple account purporting to be unrelated acting in tandem. This behavior uses sock puppets to create the impression that information is coming from multiple independent sources.

Not everyone is comfortable with Facebook’s actions, not least because many of those removed have links with countries the current US administration defines as “enemy” states (Iran, Russia, etc.).

The Thailand details are explained by Facebook:

We removed 12 Facebook accounts and 10 Facebook Pages for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior that originated in Thailand and focused primarily on Thailand and the US. The people behind this small network used fake accounts to create fictitious personas and run Pages, increase engagement, disseminate content, and also to drive people to off-platform blogs posing as news outlets. They also frequently shared divisive narratives and comments on topics including Thai politics, geopolitical issues like US-China relations, protests in Hong Kong, and criticism of democracy activists in Thailand. Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our review found that some of this activity was linked to an individual based in Thailand associated with New Eastern Outlook, a Russian government-funded journal based in Moscow.

    • Presence on Facebook: 12 accounts and 10 Pages.
    • Followers: About 38,000 accounts followed one or more of these Pages.
    • Advertising: Less than $18,000 in spending for ads on Facebook paid for in US dollars.

We identified these accounts through an internal investigation into suspected Thailand-linked coordinated inauthentic behavior. Our investigation benefited from information shared by local civil society organizations.

For many readers, the examples provided of Land Destroyer, New Eastern Outlook, The Local Revolution and The New Atlas are well-known as purveyors of the work of the pseudonymous Tony Cartalucci. Examples of his anti-democratic paeans to yellow shirts can be seen at Land Destroyer blog. At times in the past, “Tony Cartalucci” was boostering for the likes of Alex Jones, Iran and China, before landing with Russian-funded groups.

Some time ago we noted the remarkable influence “Tony Cartalucci” had had within Thailand’s extreme right and, more significantly, on ultra-royalists:

Thailand’s military junta is composed of royalist rightists who have faithfully imbibed palace propaganda for years. In more recent times, as the military supported and egged on anti-democrat and royalist protesters, these military rightists have accepted a nastier propaganda that combines extreme right and extreme left elements, cobbled together with conspiracy theory….

We noted that (links not updated):

Thailand’s official propaganda agency is now citing the a yellow-shirted conspiracy theorist writing for one of Russia’s propaganda outfit, the New Eastern Outlook, which provides links to a range of alternative media sites, some of them anti-Semitic, others climate change deniers and many libertarian. Some of the co-authors have links to the extreme right in the U.S., including Lyndon LeRouche.

Back in 2013 we posted on the links that “Tony Cartalucci” had with the People’s Alliance for Democracy. Former “leftists” associated with PAD and the Democrat Party religiously sent “Tony Cartalucci” posts on to PAD networks that included royals, royalists and politicians. The conspiracies peddled caught on among these anti-democrats.

The Bangkok Post, which has previously had op-eds that trotted out “Tony Cartalucci”-like material, states:

According to a 2014 Asian Correspondent article, Tony Cartalucci is believed to be a pseudonym made up by Michael Pirsch, who in an abbreviated biography on the website Truthout.com, describes himself as a former “union activist and union organizer for more than 25 years and a DJ on Berkeley Liberation Radio, a pirate radio station” who now lives “as an economic refugee from the United States in Thailand.”

Having said all of that, we are PPT are not enthused by efforts to silence critics, even if they are mad right-wing conspiracy theorists. But, then, it is only Facebook and Twitter where this has occurred and all the parent pages – mostly blogs and “news” sites – continue to pump out the drivel. For obvious reasons, we think the notion that “fictitious” identities is a reasonable reason for declaring “coordinated inauthentic behavior” is dubious and dangerous. Anonymity and the use of pen names has been common for centuries.

And restricting the drivel from an expatriate, former leftist, now monarchist and rightist American means little in Thailand where conspiracy theory has run rampant in recent years. Most of the nutters who get oxygen seem to be those who make use of the monarchy in political battles.

The most recent example is the banal conspiracy claims by Natthaporn Toprayoon, “a lawyer and former adviser to chief Ombudsman, [who] accused the FFP [Future Forward Party] of being a threat to the constitutional monarchy, which plays a fundamental part in Thailand’s political system.” He has made several accusations, including that Future Forward’s “logo — an upside-down triangle — is reversed, it bears a close resemblance to the Illuminati’s triangle sign.” He has “claimed that the Illuminati was behind efforts to overthrow monarchies in Europe and that it also played a role in the US Declaration of Independence in 1776.”

How bizarre.

Update 1: Natthaporn has claimed that:

that remarks made by several key FFP members discouraging the act of prostrating oneself to pay respects, pouring scorn on “Thai smiles”, and trying to end the patronage of all religions in the country were in line with Illuminati thinking as well as those of the Nitirat group of progressive-minded law scholars.

He seems misguided at best but seems more like a nutter. The Thaiger describes him as having “gone ‘full woo woo’,” which is a polite way of describing a looney. But the seriously nutty are sometimes taken seriously when their “ideas,” plots and conspiracies match the political aims of the powerful in Thailand.

The idea that “the orange triangular logo used by Future Forward, if turned upside down, closely resembles the symbol used for the Illuminati” is seriously deranged. If there was any “truth” in the claim, then he’d have to also include Google Drive, Google Play, several banks, Alcatel, Kenwood, Delta and Qantas airlines, Caterpillar, Hyundai Engineering, Le Coq Sportif,  CITGO, Aston University, Mitsubishi and more.

You get the picture. Nattahaporn has been imbibing far too much mind-altering kool-aid.

But there’s a link to “Tony Cartalucci”-like ramblings. As can be seen in the nuttier conspiracy theorists that span extreme left gone extreme right, the so-called Illuminati are today associated with “World Government” or a “New World Order” that infiltrates a lot of American-originated rightist propaganda like the “work” or Alex Jones and a range of Tea Party, Neo-fascist, anti-Semitic ideologues. “Tony Cartalucci” has been there.

Update 2: New Eastern Outlook has been quick to defend “Tony Cartalucci.” We suspect that it is “Tony Cartalucci” who wrote the post.





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.