Court Votes to Dissolve Democrats


Amazing Thailand and the amazing ruthlessness of the establishment: within a day of Army Chief Anupong Paojinda calling for a dissolution of parliament (which I take it means no more crackdowns on his watch) and the Electoral Commission has apparently voted 4-1 to dissolve the Democrat Party for receiving an illegal donation and other charges (at least one other charge anyway – the reporting is not entirely clear).

The process is not automatic (well, not in law anyway) as the case is now passed to the Attorney General and then on to the Constitution Court. However, I think there is no need for me to spell out what this means.

So, Abhisit is finished and will presumably be banned for five years, along I guess with Suthep, Kasit (? do PAD coalition members also get banned) and whoever it is who passes for the brains behind the Democrat Party.

This would mean an election and another few months of faffing around with the relevant court still having the power to ban any successful party, if the court so decides (how many times can they do this without looking just a little bit, shall we say, presumptuous?).

That would be good for Anupong, who stands a chance of getting to his retirement with his various powers intact, so to speak. Any potential violence might be put off (unless the stories of the Prem v Watermelon coup/battles I mentioned earlier turn out to be true) but the ill-feeling will be stored up for explosions of anger later.

For the establishment, the system prevails – which is what the system and its key supporters most want.

Secret Hand Full of Cash?


Perhaps it is that these things go in cycles and I just have not been in Thailand long enough to have witnessed this stage of the cycle before but I have not seen this kind of critical scrutiny of the military or of the Secret Hand. In part, this is following (or at least moving in parallel with) the pro-democracy movement’s attempt to shine light on particular acts and crimes by the establishment – with some success as it revealed junta prime minister General Surayud Chulanont as illegally occupying public land and he had to demolish his property there. Now, attention is focused on army procurement policies and the payments received (allegedly) by Privy Councilor Prem Tinsulanonda from the army. It is claimed that the army pays Prem 200,000 baht per month. This has been denied by army chief Anupong Paojinda but then Anupong says lots of things and still plans to use the GT200 metal sticks.

Wassana on Anupong


Wassana on Anupong In her column in the Bangkok Post this week, Khun Wassana Nanuam looks at the career of General Anupong Paojinda, who has held the post of head of the army under two democratically-elected prime ministers and two military-installed ‘prime ministers.’ She attributes his comparative longevity to the continued power of the military in the Thai political system and the need in the post September 19th 2006 world to placate the military, particularly its top brass which displays an inordinate sense of entitlement, status and desire to wield power presumably (she does not make this point but I do) so as to be able to distribute resources to reinforce power networks. Anupong of course was initially appointed by former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, the first politician to be democratically elected and to serve a full term, then the first to be re-elected, then the first to establish a single party government. Anupong turned against Thaksin as part of the coup even though he had been appointed as a former classmate and the hope that he would be loyal to the state. In fact, Anupong then exposed his own character fully when, with the democratically-elected government imperiled by the heavily-armed PAD mob (and its celebrity sponsors) which had occupied Government House and the airports, he declared that the army would not obey the government but would be ‘neutral.’ Fortunately, Anupong is due to retire this year and one of his four hand-picked cronies is likely to succeed him (since interfering with this process by democratically-elected politicians will almost certainly bring another coup). Interestingly, Khun Wassana observes in concluding: “While nobody knows for sure who the next army commander will be, one thing that is certain is that the new top soldier will have to be braver and more committed than Gen Anupong, not in clinging to the seat of power but in bringing more professionalism to the army, as he will be in for a really tough time.” It is true that the red-shirt pro-democracy movement appears to have resolved to shine a light on the military’s activities by rallying outside some of their very numerous bases. The inquiry into the GT200 ‘bomb detection’ devices is also likely to open a can of worms concerning the methods adopted in military purchasing, which the apparent desire to buy yet more Gripen jet fighters will, it is to be hoped, exacerbate.

The Useful Mr Red


The media have had a lot of joy dramatizing the recent events surrounding Seh Daeng – army specialist Major General Khattiya Sawasdipol, who today reported to the police to hear charges against him. He is accused (inter alia) of being in possession of ‘war weapons’ – you can always tell who is going to be painted as the bad guy when the phrase ‘war weapons’ comes out; I recall when the police were trying to disperse the violent, heavily armed PAD mob that was illegally occupying Government house they were suddenly accused of using ‘war weapons’ against civilians. What weapons have been found? (As ever, I rely on what information has been put in the public domain – perhaps there is secret evidence to which I am not privy). Apparently, there is a .38 calibre pistol and a ‘number of bullets’ – well, he is a major general and TIT (This is Thailand) so it does not seem very surprising that he should have a gun at home. He is also said to have one, just one M26 grenade – and of course we immediately think of the grenade attack on General Anupong’s quarters the other day (and perhaps grenade attacks against at least one of the PAD’s fascist rallies). Just one grenade? Khun Khattiya himself denies all charges and says he has been framed. He also claims that comments he made (supposedly death threats against judges and others) were distorted or taken out of context – well, as far as I can see, he is a bit of a loose cannon so he might well have said some rash things. He has, I believe, form. In any case, he seems to have performed the role that the establishment might have wished him to perform – there is now some pretext for the jackboots to step up security, repress free speech even further and so on because of the supposed threat from the crazed red-shirt faction and its supporters. He has been very useful to the state, in that sense.

General Anupong Stakes Position on No CIA Secret Prison in Thailand


General Anupong Paojinda, army chief and responsible for various acts in recent years, has now denied that the US government operated a secret jail in prison where prisoners were tortured. The Bangkok Post has the general saying:

“”I can confirm you that there is no such place in Thailand,” he told reporters. “I can take my post on the line that such place does not exist.”

Meanwhile: “The United States government has admitted for the first time that it had a secret jail in Thailand where suspected al-Qaeda operatives were flown in to be interrogated, including being subjected to “waterboarding”.

Federal prosecutors revealed the details in documents submitted to a court in New York as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.”

Over at MCOT, General Anupong continues: ““There’s no secret jail for torturing terrorist suspects in (the northeast Thailand province of) Udon Thani,” Gen. Anupong said. “There’s no secret place in Udon Thani. Anybody can visit every district or village.”

Gen Anupong said he could assert “one million per cent” that there was no such secret jail and he could use his position as Army chief to guarantee this.”

Strangely (i.e. it is not strange or unsurprising in any way), the Nation seems not to have picked up on this story.

Back in 2005, the Washington Post had a story including this:

“The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.

The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.”

The WorldFutures website has more details (I had not heard of this place before – it looks legitimate but who knows?):

The CIA is still running dozens or even hundreds of so-called secret prisons in different parts of the world. After the exposure of the CIA-run network of secret prisons in Europe

George W. Bush has evidently chosen to move them to Asia. One of these is in Udon, the capital of a province in Thailand, located 560 km northeast of Bangkok, the Thai capital. The Thai Air Force has a base in Udon known as “Kong Bin 203” and US military transport and private planes frequently land there with terror “suspects” of the CIA. At night these individuals from the countries of Africa and the Middle East are secretly transported in military lorries to the US listening post in Bang Dung district (Amphoe Ban Dung), about 65 km from the airport; this military site was selected and developed in the 1970s to monitor China, being camouflaged as the regional relay station of the Voice of America. Thais have no access to it with Americans controlling both its outer and inner perimeters. Prisoners brought to the station are held in an underground bunker with limited space for inmates—and thereafter what happens to them only God knows.

Many of the Thai Generals now in power actually fought in Vietnam and their ties with the US military are quite strong. As is well known, several Thai Generals studied at Army Staff Colleges in the US. So their relations with the USA remain intact and are of a durable nature regardless of the fate of the governments in Thailand that come and go one after another.”

Read the rest of the story there and make up your own mind.

 

Anupong to Lead Military Campaign in Isan?


One of the more sinister headlines of the last few days: “Army to visit Isan to soothe social disunity.Apparently, politically influential General Anupong Paojinda is able to take time out from refusing to obey orders from a democratically elected government to launch a ‘hearts and minds’ mission among the people who have most justified reasons to be concerned about his arrival and that of his troops – especially given that few journalists find it possible to drag themselves out into the provinces to cover what is going on.

Anyone who has looked even briefly at Thai history will be struck by how lawless society has been away from the urban centres. There are endless stories of attacks by bandits and by wild animals, not to mention the depredations of unjust local rulers, especially when it came time to collect up men to serve their legal obligation of corvée labour.

Villages beyond the reach of the central government (which has mostly been weak and limited in its ability to affect what went on at a distance) felt themselves free to specialize in whatever kind of activity suited them – so there were villages specializing in different types of intoxicants, for example. Reports from Europeans showed that brawling and gangsterism among Chinese coolie labour was also a regular feature of life.

In response, military and police figures treated the provinces with a kind of wild west form of justice, secure in the knowledge that no one (important) would find out what they had done (or would complain if they did). Is General Anupong now planning to revive this form of behaviour? Let us hope that there are enough people with mobile phones or cameras who can record what is going on and can bring it to the attention of the world, bypassing the now curiously arrayed court system. The internet helped, to some perhaps limited extent, to reduce the amount of violence meted out by the violent Burmese troops against the monks and civilian demonstrators – can it do the same in Isan?

Or perhaps I am wrong to be suspicious and the military is really planning a series of calm sit down discussions over tea.

Is the PAD an Organ of the State?


Is the PAD an organ of the state? As Marxist thought indicates, ‘the state, in the last analysis, consists of armed bodies of men.’ The PAD is certainly a body of armed people – most of the guards appear to be men, while the women act as human shields – in common with most if not all right-wing movements, the PAD maintains strict divisions in duties and responsibilities dependent on gender. However, it is accurate t consider the PAD an organ of the state?

What are the characteristics of an organ of the state, given the characteristics of Thailand in which unelected figures wield the real power either by means of behind the scenes action or else in full public view but in a society which refuses to discuss what is plain and obvious.

First, the organ must do the will of the state where the state is defined as those unelected figures who have genuine power.

Second, the organ must be loyal only to the state and refuse to consider negotiation or compromise with non-state interests (including elected politicians in the case of Thailand).

Third, the organ must receive its authority and needed resources from the state.

I think it is fairly clear that all of these grounds have been met, even if the law prevents open statement of some of the consequences. In the eyes of some members of the state, then, the PAD has more legitimacy than the police, whose loyalty is also commanded (now to only a limited extent) by the will of the people as expressed by government.

Does this matter? It would if certain legal suits were possible.

Why Do You Tell Me That It’s Good To Be A Stranger?


Looks like it might be a good weekend to be away from  Bangkok – central Bangkok at any rate – if any of the various ‘doomsday’ scenarios pitching the anti-democracy PAD mob against the pro-democracy DAAD supporters and a police presence led by former Police Chief General Salang Bunnag come to pass. Disgraced PAD ringleader Chamlong Srimuang, a man with a great deal of blood on his hands already, seems quite prepared for more of his pawns to lose their lives and to continue murdering opposing protestors. The police seem to be preparing for the worst. Curious how quickly one’s sympathies can change – who’d be a copper with the heavily-armed and powerfully-supported PAD are out to get you? Not to mention being held to blame for anything else that happens.

Will the military take this opportunity to stage yet another coup? It seems to be quite well established that leader of the army Anupong Paojinda is holding out against the rest of the top brass who are in all favour of rolling the tanks out onto the streets again. Anupong, surely, calculates that he is now at the height of the power he can expect – the military receives huge amounts of money from the budget, enough to smooth over many things, shall we say, as well as buying a load more gear (and of course purchasing provides its own opportunities). At the same time, Anupong can lord it over the government because PM Somchai is in no position to act against him, even if he wanted – it was reported earlier this week that Anupong had further bolstered his position by appointing protégés to key Bangkok-based posts. All of this power and prestige is likely to be lost if there is a coup – it is more than likely that there would be an armed response to the tanks and jackboots this time and one which might, just might conceivably spiral into an entirely more serious series of changes in Thai society. Anupong would also face international condemnation and would have to make more constitutional changes to protect himself and his cronies from the criminal prosecutions which he and the previous junta so richly deserve. It is a lot to throw away.

Why Do You Tell Me That It’s Good To Be A Stranger?


Looks like it might be a good weekend to be away from  Bangkok – central Bangkok at any rate – if any of the various ‘doomsday’ scenarios pitching the anti-democracy PAD mob against the pro-democracy DAAD supporters and a police presence led by former Police Chief General Salang Bunnag come to pass. Disgraced PAD ringleader Chamlong Srimuang, a man with a great deal of blood on his hands already, seems quite prepared for more of his pawns to lose their lives and to continue murdering opposing protestors. The police seem to be preparing for the worst. Curious how quickly one’s sympathies can change – who’d be a copper with the heavily-armed and powerfully-supported PAD are out to get you? Not to mention being held to blame for anything else that happens.

Will the military take this opportunity to stage yet another coup? It seems to be quite well established that leader of the army Anupong Paojinda is holding out against the rest of the top brass who are in all favour of rolling the tanks out onto the streets again. Anupong, surely, calculates that he is now at the height of the power he can expect – the military receives huge amounts of money from the budget, enough to smooth over many things, shall we say, as well as buying a load more gear (and of course purchasing provides its own opportunities). At the same time, Anupong can lord it over the government because PM Somchai is in no position to act against him, even if he wanted – it was reported earlier this week that Anupong had further bolstered his position by appointing protégés to key Bangkok-based posts. All of this power and prestige is likely to be lost if there is a coup – it is more than likely that there would be an armed response to the tanks and jackboots this time and one which might, just might conceivably spiral into an entirely more serious series of changes in Thai society. Anupong would also face international condemnation and would have to make more constitutional changes to protect himself and his cronies from the criminal prosecutions which he and the previous junta so richly deserve. It is a lot to throw away.

Gambling Prisoners Leads to Inactive Post; Crimes and Coups


Prison officer Withoon Promdee has been re-assigned to one of the notorious ‘inactive posts’ following the broadcasting of mobile phone camera footage of prisoners in the high security zone for which he was responsible playing cards. Gambling is suspected. Debate continues as to who took the footage and how it came to be broadcast in the way it was. An inactive post is exactly what it sounds like: the affected individual is given a desk and expected to obey office hours but must not actually do anything – no work, yes but also no reading the newspaper, chatting with friends. Just sit there being ‘inactive,’ at least so it has been explained to me. No doubt conditions vary.

Avoid, my friends, at the risk of sounding like repulsive hypocrite John McCain, avoid being sent to a Thai prison. No doubt, conditions vary.

Speaking of which, a raft of court activity is expected today and over the next few days. The Ratchadapisek land case verdict is expected for 2 o’clock today, while the Department of Special Investigations has recommended reopening the case against TPI PLC founder Prachai Leophairatana and relatives for embezzlement and former PM Thaksin Shinawatra’s lawyers will bring proceedings against convicted criminal and ringleader of the violent PAD mob Sondhi Limthongkul for repeated violations of a court order not to slander Khun Thaksin. Demonstrations are expected today by both pro- and anti-democracy protestors and probably will intensify after the ceremonies for the royal funeral are completed. It is more likely than not that violence will break out sooner or later, although the PAD mob did not attack the police again yesterday.

Army chief General Anupong Paojinda has moved to consolidate his power by having chosen protégés take over key military positions in Bangkok. Presumably this means that he has much more ability to control whether or not a military coup takes place in the capital and, hence, the whole country. It is generally believed that the other leading military officials have been trying to persuade General Anupong to launch a coup which he has so far declined to do.

Thailand and Cambodia


There appears to have been no more fighting on the Thai-Cambodian border overnight – both sides have taken some small steps towards achieving confidence-building measures, through joint patrols and some continued negotiations. On the other hand, reinforcements still appear to be entering the area and it is far from clear that there will not be more and more intense fighting. It is unfortunate indeed that Thai Army Chief General Anupong Paojinda has chosen this moment to start politicking by undermining the democratically-elected government and, so it is becoming widely thought, planning yet another military coup (which, in a financial crisis, would be a disaster beyond imagining).

Relations between Thailand and Cambodia have never been very warm: this article by Charnvit Kasetsiri, a leading historian, entitled Thailand-Cambodia: A Love Hate Relationship is helpful in understanding the background.

Cambodians remember the Thai attitude during the Khmer Rouge period, when asylum seekers were forced back across the border, many shot and killed and many other acts of barbarity conducted – the Thai view of events is of course different.

Relationships are not helped by hare-brained ideas in Thailand to promote even more ignorant nationalism among schoolchildren by using textbooks which, among other monstrosities, portray Cambodian people as inherently untrustworthy. I know that if I ask my students to name a Cambodian person or celebrity or even one or two words of the Cambodian language they will be unable to do so.

Let’s see if the situation remains stable throughout the day.