The military on top

24 04 2017

A couple of days ago, we commented on yellow shirt commentators who see military dictatorship as “normal” for Thailand. Many yellow shirts believe that the military is the only thing standing between them, an election and the hated Thaksin Shinawatra.

Naturally enough, the military junta plays on this relationship, seeing the anti-democrats as its best political ally, so long as they know their place as supporters, not leaders. The military considers that it is uniquely qualified to rule Thailand. That is why the 2017 constitution is as it is.

The Nation reports that Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan has expressed the junta’s view that the military must remain on top.

Making the argument that Thailand is “unique,” he says this means “it is necessary to have military commanders oversee a long-term national strategy…”. That “strategy” is to remain in place for 20 years.

The proposed committee to oversee the “strategy” will include “the prime minister, his deputy or another minister, the presidents of the Upper and Lower houses, experts, as well as five military commanders and a permanent secretary of the Defence Ministry.”

Let’s add that up. We don’t know how many “experts” will be appointed, but they will likely reflect a military view of the political world. The prime minister is likely to be military, but suited up as civilian. It is possible that “his deputy” will be military similarly suited. The president of the mostly unelected upper house will almost certainly be military. Then there will be five serving military and the permanent secretary.

Any civilian politician will be lucky to get a word in.

Prawit can babble about “[n]ational strategy need[ing] to be driven by all parties, whether the military, people or academics…”, but the dominance of the military is clear.

What is “unique” about Thailand is its capacity for military authoritarianism.





A feudal future beckons

21 04 2017

Yellow shirt commentators do not worry much about military dictatorship. They see military dictatorship as “normal” for Thailand.

While most yellow shirts still believe that the military is the only thing standing between them, an election and the hated Thaksin Shinawatra, it is also clear that not all yellow shirts expected an enforced royal dictatorship that fosters Thailand’s refeudalization.

Nonetheless, yellow shirt anti-electionism and royalism naturally promotes refeudalization.

The symbolic removal of the 1932 plaque is not just a royalist act of political and historical vandalism. It is also one more step by the military junta that marks the path of Thailand’s refeudalization.

The attraction of a feudal political arrangement for the military dictatorship is that it has no truck for notions that the people are sovereign.

In this sense, while symbols can have multiple meanings, expunging those that can be used by those who demand popular sovereignty is a part of the military’s palace alliance and its 20-year plan for a “reformed” Thailand.

This is part of the reason why The Dictator is both mum on the removal of 1932 commemoration plaque and protective of the royalist plaque that replaced it. It is pretty clear that this vandalism initially caused fear among some in the junta. Now, however, they have fallen into line, knowing that by their own design, they are politically bound to the reign.

That the opposition and agitation over the removal of the plaque has largely come from those the junta considers the “usual suspects” has also meant that protection of feudalism and its symbols is an easy and “natural” decision.

The most recent act of protection has been to accuse opposition figure Watana Muangsook of “a computer crime for posting on Facebook that the missing 1932 Revolution Plaque is a national asset.”

As Prachatai explains it:

On 19 April 2017, Pol Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, the Deputy Chief of the Royal Thai Police (RTP), revealed that the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) filed a complaint against Watana Muangsook, a politician from the Pheu Thai Party, for breaching the Computer Crime Act.

The police apparently think that the use of the term “national asset” is threatening and false.

Watana was due to report to the police. He is the second to face charges or detention over the plaque. Like Srisuwan Janya, Watana has called for the “return of the missing plaque and for prosecution of those responsible for its removal.”

No one associated with the removal of the plaque has been named, arrested or charged. The chances of this happening are pretty much zero.

As one correspondent stated, everyone knows who is behind this act, but no one can say for fear of lese majeste and jail.

Expunging the symbols of 1932 expunges notions of popular sovereignty. That serves the interests of the military-monarchy alliance where King Vajiralongkorn looks like a throwback absolutist.





Updated: All about the law II

2 04 2017

Bangkok Post editor Umesh Pandey gives some credit to the judiciary – the Central Administrative Court – for having ruled that “the military junta’s moves to take away the three passports held by the former Education Minister, Chaturon Chaisang, was a ‘serious violation’ of …[Chaturon’s] fundamental rights…”.

But he goes way, way too far when he states that the “judiciary is making great strides in bringing about fairness in society…”.

Thailand’s judiciary and its legal processes are somewhere between a joke and feudal. PPT has spent a considerable amount of space highlighting repeated failures and while we don’t expect Pandey to be a regular reader, surely he reads his own newspaper.

On the same day when he is full of praise for the judiciary and its “strides in bringing about fairness,” his colleague Alan Dawson lambasts elements of the judicial system and its double standards.

You might say that the judges are not the whole system, and that’s true, with Pandey slamming elements of it. However, there are now hundreds of cases that have gone to court in recent years that have seen judges fail all reasonable tests of fairness. Think of the scores of lese majeste cases, several cases we mentioned in a previous post, cases against Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban, cases making coups legitimate, a judicial coup, cases against red shirts (and not against yellow shirts), allowing torturers to go free and many, many more.

Being honest, we think the judicial system is now broken beyond repair. We have royalists, the military, the palace and the judges themselves to blame for this sad state of affairs.

Update: A reader puts us onto another Bangkok Post story, where the headline is, NCPO urges Thaksin to stop ‘distorting the truth’. The junta says:

“Mr Thaksin [Shinawatra] should stop harming the country, show restraint and stop distorting information. If Mr Thaksin calls for justice from society, Mr Thaksin should give justice to society, too,” the NCPO spokesman said.

The junta demands that Thaksin stop harming Thailand. Yet it is the junta that distorts truth. It has done so for years now. And, if the junta demands the legal system for Thaksin, how about themselves? Why is it that Section 113 of the Criminal Code doesn’t apply to this bunch of thugs?

Section 113: Whoever, commits an act of violence or threatens to commit an act of violence in order to:

  1. Overthrow or change the Constitution;
  2. Overthrow the legislative power, the executive power or the judicial power of the Constitution, or nullify such power; or
  3. Separate the Kingdom or seize the power of administration in any part of the Kingdom, is said to commit insurrection, and shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life.




Seeing red

21 03 2017

As the junta approaches the anniversary of its third year of military dictatorship, it is going through another phase of red shirt repression. The regime is again seeing reds under its beds and it doesn’t like it.

There are frantic junta imaginations of fantastical red shirt assassination plots, reds infiltrating Wat Dhammakaya, separatist rebellion and more.

This reaction appears to derive from two closely related perceptions: first, a view that any opposition is an immediate threat to the junta’s stability; and second, a desire for regime longevity, where “regime” is the broader elite military-monarchy-business alliance.

At least an element of this perception derives from yellow-shirted and anti-democratic grumbling about the junta having lost its zeal for “reform” – defined as rooting out the Thaksin Shinawatra regime. That grumbling has also been associated with some southern protests over ports and cola-fired power stations. It seems the junta felt its right wing was weakening in its support.

The result has been an intensification of both anti-Thaksinism and anti-red shirt repression.

The targeting of Thaksin has involved an effort to levy Thaksin for past taxes due (although we had somehow thought that the assets stripping case was part of the “tax’) and going after loyalists in a series of legal cases.

The anti-red shirt effort has been frenzied of late, with the Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee weapons and assassination stories and the earlier (and probably related in the minds of the junta) plots said to be originating in Laos.

At the same time, the courts have been at work, dealing with red shirt cases. The most recent of those sees the Appeals Court upholding a “lower court’s sentence of a four-year jail term each, without suspension, for singer Arisman Pongruangrong and 12 other red-shirts for leading protesters who forced their way into the Royal Cliff Beach Resort Hotel in Pattaya, where the 2009 Asean Summit was being held.”

(What has happened with the yellow shirt occupation of airports in 2008?)

They were prosecuted “for defying an order prohibiting a rally of more than 10 people and causing unrest.”

(What has happened to all the yellow shirts who broke similar laws?)

In early 2015, they were sentenced to four years each in jail, without suspension, and a fine of 200 baht. Those sentenced were:

Arisman Pongruangrong, Nisit Sinthuprai, Payap Panket, Worachai Hema, Wanchana Kerddee, Pichet Sukjindathong, Sakda Noppasit, Pol Lt Col Waipot Aparat, Nopporn Namchiangtai, Samrerng Prachamrua, Somyot Promma, Wallop Yangtrong and Singthong Buachum.

The Appeals Court upheld the lower court’s ruling, which sentences the 13 to four years each in jail without suspension. Bail may follow, but the threat is clear.

This is a pattern seen previously, although the junta does appear more frantic in its efforts at present.





What a story!

20 03 2017

The junta’s minions have come up with a remarkable story regarding the weapons “seized” in Pathum Thani.

In our earlier post we did express some skepticism about the report and added a note about Thai Rath saying the weapons were for an assassination plot. We expressed skepticism about that claim as well.

There has been a lot of skepticism, and not just from us. (The yellow-shirted royalists and anti-democrats believe all the stories.)

So the junta has come up with a story of a “plot” that suggests a remarkable effort to weave together a range of moral and political panics by the junta and among its anti-democratic supporters.

We cannot say that there is nothing in the “plot” claims – after all, all “plots” have to have some aspect to them that will convince true believers to believe. However, the royalists and anti-democrats have concocted a remarkable number of plots over the past decade to justify their political actions. Think of the Finland Plot, the infamous republican plot diagram and the “Khon Kaen model.” None of these has ever been shown to be other than a political concoction.

More recently, there was the claimed republican plot to murder The Dictator. We mention this, because it seems that the junta is using this to weave its current plot:

Police believe the huge cache of mostly military weapons retrieved on Saturday were intended to be used against authorities who had laid siege to Wat Phra Dhammakaya, including a plot to kill Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Add to this remarkable aggregation of Wat Dhammakaya and a plot to assassinate The Dictator, the weapons are located at a “house linked to hardcore red-shirt leader Wuthipong Kochathamakun, alias Kotee.” Then stir in a claim that “some of the seized weapons had been taken from soldiers during the violent red-shirt political rallies in mid-town Bangkok in 2010.”

Even the words in that quote are meant to reinforce the notion that red shirts are still “violent” and a political problem.

The cops reckon that the “weapons were being prepared for a potential attack against officers that had surrounded and were searching Wat Phra Dhammakaya in Pathum Thani’s Khlong Luang district…” and “were prepared to ‘harm or assassinate’ … Gen Prayut…”.

A police chief says that something he called “[a]n investigation” that “found people in Kotee’s group were preparing to use weapons to assassinate the government’s leading figures including Gen Prayut…. We found a rifle with a scope. We guarantee that this is not to shoot at birds but was going to be used to assassinate the leader of the country…”.

That’s a remarkably frivolous piece of evidence gathering and imaginative supposition.

He goes on: “If the government uses forces to suppress people in Wat Phra Dhammakaya, the armed group would be ready to help the temple and hurt officers.”

Evidence? It seems that “police and the DSI have always suspected that political groups have operated in Wat Phra Dhammakaya and intelligence from both agencies points to allegations they had tried to cause unrest.” Confirming this for the authorities, “[0]fficials found people in Mr Wuthipong’s network had been entering and leaving the temple prior to the siege and had been meeting him in the neighbouring country [Cambodia].” In fact, of the nine people so far arrested, the police say “[o]ne … was found to have showed up to the temple before…”.

It is a flimsy story. But there’s more: “Pol Gen Chakthip [Chaijinda] said Mr Wuthipong has played a role in inciting people to fight against the monarchy, and he is a supporter of Wat Phra Dhammakaya.”

And still more: The nine “suspects” had “joined the 2010 red-shirt political rally in central Bangkok.” The implication that the public is meant to draw from this is that the suspects might be “men in black.”

So far there’s red shirts, republicanism, Wat Dhammakaya, assassination, war weapons, men in black and monarchy involved in the plot. What more could there be? How about the frustration of the regime unable to extradite those they hate?

While Ko Tee has denied the arms belonged to him, the cops admit he’s been on the run since early 2014 (not since the coup as we said in our earlier post). “Pol Gen Chakthip said police had tried to contact … Cambodia … for Mr Wuthipong’s extradition, but had received no helpful reply.”

Now the police can claim that Ko Tee “allegedly played a leading role in gathering weapons to support the temple and as such must be considered a threat to national security…”. This “plot” will presumably help with gaining his extradition.

The next step for the police will be to parade the “suspects” before the media where they will presumably admit their guilt and “confirm” the “plot.” They may even be made to re-enact some “crime.” That’s the pattern.





Palace punishment

4 03 2017

PPT has posted on the travails of former top cop and top aide to King Vajiralongkorn, Police General Jumpol Manmai.

jumpol-shavedAs has been something of a pattern when the prince-cum-king tires of people or he believes they have done him down in some way, Jumpol was first rumored to be in trouble, then legal cases were mentioned, followed by his disappearance. When he reappeared, like others, his head was shaved and he refused to apply for bail and entered guilty pleas on the legal accusation.

The Nation has a series of photos of what is a public humiliation of the former confidante to the king. Accounts on social media and The Nation report speak of dozens of photographers and reporters fighting for a piece of the new public face of the now officially disgraced Jumpol.

SuriyanThose reporters know that Jumpol is lucky to reappear – others, like Suriyan Sujaritpalawong have died.

Oddly, a later report in The Nation manages to mangle events, actually writing that “Jumpol surrendered to the Crime Suppression Division to face the charges…”.

The reporters also know that land encroachment charges seem rather “light” if Jumpol is really to be disgraced as others usually face lese majeste charges.

After all, not that long ago, former appointed premier, coup plotter and Privy Councilor General Surayud Chulanont was seen to have engaged in forest encroachment and nothing legal seemed to happen to him. He was still able to remain on the Privy Council as he apparently retained the support of General Prem Tinsulanonda and the palace. At the time, Surayud was seen as a leading light in the anti-Thaksin-cum-yellow shirt machinations against Thaksin Shinawatra and his parties and supporters.

Another reason for huge interest in the Jumpol case is that he is widely considered to have provided a link between Thaksin and the prince-now-king. The evidence for this is seen in some Wikileaks speculation and because Jumpol was treated as a Thaksin man by the former Abhisit Vejjajiva regime, despite his links to the then prince.

The police state they “have yet to charge him with violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code, which involves lese majeste,” so it seems that this step is likely.

After his initial appearance, the military used one of their aircraft to take Jumpol to Nakorn Ratchasima for several legal matters associated with land encroachment.

One further step in the palace punishment process is to also charge family members as “accomplices.” These people may have committed real crimes, but their position close to a now “failed” royal relationship also places them at risk and they also get disgraced.

In this quite feudal and narcissistic approach to “relationships” has now seen Jumpol’s wife appear to be charged. Unusually, the police banned reporters from taking photographs of her.

She is described as having “turned herself in to police yesterday to face the same [forest encroachment] charges. She is reported to have “denied some of the charges against her, but allegedly made partial admissions during the police interrogation.” She was released on bail.

It is also reported that:

three other defendants had been released on bail after police investigators concluded that they were unlikely to flee. They were identified as Region 5 Police deputy commissioner Pol Maj-General Pongdej Prommijit, his wife Chanasit Pisitwanit, and her relative Manop Plodkhoksoong.

We suspect there’s a lot more to play out in this case.





The Buddhism stand-off

24 02 2017

As we have said several times, PPT has no particular insights on the confrontation that has involved thousands of police and soldiers intent on raiding and searching Wat Dhammakaya. We have posted a couple of times on why this case and is apparently so central for the junta and the broad yellow shirt movement (here, here, here and here).

As we write, it is reported that the temple remains surrounded by several thousand police and soldiers operating under The Dictator’s use of Article 44.

These troops, behind barricades, are supplied with shields, helmets and batons. No one may enter the temple. Those who wish to leave are let out. Data communications to the temple have been cut to prevent those in the temple using social media. This was meant to be a “secret.”

Those in charge of the temple have made an “announcement for followers inside to be prepared” for action by the authorities.

monks

In fact, in the lead-up to the current (renewed) stand-off, there have been several clashes. Even so, while the idea of troops clashing with monks and their supporters seems have caused some concern among the junta, it remains firm on pressing forward. Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan vowed that the search for the temple’s former abbot at the temple compound “will continue no matter how many more weeks or even if a year passes. Authorities are trying to avoid violent confrontations. But it is necessary to continue to enforce the law…”.

Odd alliances are claimed and seen. A Wat Dhammakaya supporter called Aye Phetthong “called on the government to revoke the order which he said has an adverse impact on the country’s image.” He’s also reported as saying that “key figures” from the “yellow-shirt and red-shirt groups” had “entered the grounds of [the] Wat … to ‘protect Buddhism’.” Meanwhile, a fascist and ultra-nationalist monk in Myanmar has offered support to the besieged temple.

Another report, by Reuters, offers some analysis – if that is possible of this situation – and seems to agree with one of PPT’s earlier suggestions, that the military regime and its supporters are intent on protecting the “religion” part of the nationalist-royalist trilogy of Nation, Religion and Monarchy.

The report quotes another with fascist leanings who is close to the junta, Paiboon Nititawan, who declares: “It [the sect] is trying to create unrest and subverting state power…”. That does seem far-fetched, but the political heat is now turned to full and yellow shirts like Paiboon have a history of political fanaticism.

Reuters reminds us of the timeline on these events:

The showdown for control began last year when the Sangha recommended a candidate for Supreme Patriarch with links to Dhammakaya and was under investigation over taxes on a vintage car.

The junta rejected that candidate. Then, when the new king took the throne in December, the law was changed to let him choose a patriarch and ignore the Sangha’s wishes.

Four days after a new patriarch, chosen from Thai Buddhism’s more austere fraternity, was installed the junta declared emergency powers over Dhammakaya.

The junta risks an unraveling of its rule not just on a Buddhist sect, but on several front, mostly because it is treading on the toes of the middle class, its natural (for Thailand) support base. Environmentalists, Buddhists who see themselves as devout, anti-corruption campaigners and similar types are getting the junta runaround and are seeing the hard edge of the regime directed at them. That signals a rising but reluctant opposition to the military’s authoritarianism.