Thai-style Kangaroo Court Injustice

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

According to the daily newspaper Khao Sod, the Appeals Court recently announced its decision to uphold the death sentences for two migrant Burmese workers convicted of a brutal rape and double homicide on island of Ko Tao. [See http://bit.ly/2mKOdFo ]

Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, migrant workers on the island, were convicted of the September 2014 murders of David Miller and Hannah Witheridge largely on the basis of DNA traces police claimed were recovered from the crime scene and Ms Witheridge’s body. No other physical evidence or witness testimony directly linked them to the crime. The crime scene was allowed to be hopelessly contaminated by the incompetent Thai police. The police are also suspected of being involved with the circulation of inappropriate naked photos of Ms Witheridge’s corpse on social media.

The defence was never allowed to independently test the DNA evidence on its own, and many have cast doubt on the integrity of the police investigation and the Thai justice system. The trial came after an investigation widely criticized for unprofessional bungling, and accusations that desperate investigators arrested two men on the margins of society for use as scapegoats. Burmese migrants are continually being scape-goated in Thailand.

The two were being held at the Bang Kwang Central Prison in Bangkok and were not allowed in court. No witnesses were called during the appeals process and defence lawyers were not informed. The Appeals Court simply endorsed evidence and testimony already entered into the record during the initial trial.

There has long been a lack of justice in the Thai court system with the rich and powerful always escaping punishment while ordinary working people are assumed guilty before trial and treated with contempt. Migrant workers receive even worse treatment. All this is due to a number of factors; a lack of democracy, a judicial system under the control of the corrupt elites, the weakness of trade unions and socialist parties who could act as tribunes of the oppressed, and the elite-driven racism which permeates society.

Of course the presence of a ruling military junta only makes matters worse. Generalissimo Prayut initially remarked about the Ko Tao murders that women should not wear bikinis on the beach. He and his ilk always like to create an image of “brutal efficiency” in dealing with problems. Thus the need to quickly find scape goats to “clear up” cases. Prayut has also gone on the rampage, using his “because I say so” article 44 to order the occupation of Dammakeye temple and hundreds of sackings and appointments of state officials. [See http://bit.ly/1RM69fv ]

Since the 2014 military coup, many opponents of the military have been hauled in for “attitude changing sessions”, often in secret locations. Many have faced military courts. Recently the head of the military courts, General Tanin Tuntusawat, explained that the courts cared not a jot about human rights and merely followed the diktats of the junta.

If the junta gets what it wants, no change is on the horizon. Deputy Prime Minister Wisanu Krua-ngarm warned people that even when Generalissimo Prayut was no longer Prime Minister, nothing would change. This is because he would be head of the National Strategic Committee and the military constitution states clearly that for 20 years after the first elections, governments will have to conform to the military’s National Strategic Plan.

Further reading: http://bit.ly/1WjMcfF

What do the royalist really want?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In recent times we have seen anti-democracy mobsters roaming the streets of Bangkok demanding “True Democracy under the power of the King”. The military is constantly harping on about need to protect the institution and prerogatives of the monarchy. If we were to take the hysterical shouts from the Thai royalists at face value, we would be led to believe that they want to see a return to an Absolute Monarchy or at least an increase in royal political power.

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Yet this could not be further from the truth. These demands are a coded way of saying that they want less democracy and more authoritarianism under the power of the military and the conservative elites with the monarchy simply being used as a rubber stamp for everything they do.

Ever since the 1932 revolution led by the People’s Party that overthrew the Absolute Monarchy, amid mass support from the general population, there has been only one single royalist revolt and that was 1 year later in 1933. The Boworadet Rebellion was led by royalist Prince Boworadet in October that year. It lasted 12 days and was decisively defeated by government troops backed up by volunteers including trade unionists.

Decisive action by government troops and citizen volunteers defeated the Boworadet Rebellion .
Decisive action by government troops and citizen volunteers defeated the Boworadet Rebellion .

This was really the end of the dreams of the royalists that they could restore the absolute power of the monarchy. From this period onwards, according to historian Thongchai Winichakul, the royalists merely sought alliances to increase the importance of the monarchy in political society.

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Pibun

Until the military coup carried out by Sarit Tanarat in 1957, the most powerful factions of the armed forces and police under the triumvirate dictatorship of Pubun, Pin and Pao were strongly anti-monarchy, seeking to severely restrict the public duties and role of the king. The civilian faction of the People’s Party under Pridi, even though it compromised about moving forward to a republic, was never the less totally against restoring the power of the king.

Pumipon visits his patron, Sarit, who was on his death bed
Pumipon visits his patron, Sarit, who was on his death bed

It was the rise of Sarit, a military man with no connection to the 1932 revolution, that the royalists saw their opportunity to increase the status of the monarchy. This was made much easier by the heightened tensions in South-East Asia under the Cold War. The monarchy became a conservative anti-communist symbol and the U.S. very much supported this and the dictator Sarit.

But at no point did the royalists even dream of re-establishing the absolute power of the king. The military dictators who were in power in the 1960s, including Sarit, had no intention of giving up their power to the monarchy either. Their promotion of the king was so that he could be used more effectively as a tool to justify their actions and to justify elite class rule.

When we consider the situation in modern day Thailand, neither the present military junta nor politicians like Sutep Taugsuban had any intention of handing over their power and influence to the ailing king Pumipon and they certainly do not want king Wachiralongkorn to rule over them.

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The military justified their 2006 and 2014 coups by claiming that they were protecting the monarchy when the monarchy was never under threat from Taksin and his allies. It was merely their standard justification for toppling democratically elected governments. The military are very confident about using the monarchy for their own ends. They have had years of practice and high-ranking and retired military generals surround the throne via the Privy Council, allowing them to run the monarchy.

Politicians like Sutep and the middle-class Yellow Shirts also need a justification for calling for the overthrow of elected governments or for wrecking elections. When they call on the monarchy to intervene, as they did in 2006, it was a call for a military coup under the guise of a “neutral and unifying” king. When in 2014 they called for “True Democracy under the power of the King”, they wanted authoritarianism under the power of the military and themselves. At that point king Pumipon was clearly on his deathbed and incapable of intervening in anything. Their excuse for the destruction of democracy was that the poor were too stupid to deserve the right to vote and were therefore manipulated by Taksin.

The middle-classes, the military and the conservative elites have appropriated both “the Nation” and “the Monarchy” to mean themselves.

Rumble at the Temple

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

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Prayut with his favourite fascist monk

Following the appointment of Umporn Prasattapong, Abbot of Wat Ratchabopit as the new Supreme Patriarch, the cog-wheels of the military junta are turning in unison with those of the fascist monk “Putta-Isara”. The military have now launched a full scale attack on the Dammakeye Buddhist sect.

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Umporn was appointed by Generalissimo Prayut, although according to procedure, he was officially appointed by King Wachiralongkorn. We all know how much Wachiralongkorn knows about or follows Buddhist teachings!

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Previously the guy in line for the top monk job was Chuang Sudprasert, the abbot of Wat Pak Nam and acting Supreme Patriarch, but he was accused by the Department of Special Investigation of forging documents over the importation of old classic cars in order to avoid tax. Previously Chuang had praised Prayut’s military junta in July 2014, hoping to become Supreme Patriarch. Chuang was believed to be close to the monks from the Dammakeye (Dhammakaya) sect.

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Dammakeye is a huge sect with a massive flying saucer shaped temple just north of Bangkok. It is steeped in scandal and accusations of accumulating untold riches. Urban middle class followers believe that the more you donate, the more merit you acquire. They also believe that people are poor because they sinned in their past life. Rich and powerful people have supported this sect for in the past.

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Chaiboon Sittipon or “Tammachayo”, abbot of Dammakeye, is currently trying to avoid arrest on corruption charges. Prayut used his dictatorial “Article 44” to order the police to invade the Dammakeye compound in a failed attempt to arrest him. Hundreds of Dammakeye monks and followers had a number of confrontations with the police. One man has tragically taken his own life in protest against this crack-down. Many are rightly questioning whether “Tammachayo”, or anyone else for that matter, can ever get a fair trial in the junta controlled courts.

The military dictatorship has also used Article 44 to place a police general in the post of director of the national office of Buddhism.

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We must condemn the military junta for using its illegitimate power to try to crush Dammakeye. People should be free to believe or not to believe in any religion of their choosing.

We must also condemn any Buddhist monks, including supporters of Dammakeye, who incite hatred towards Muslims. The extremist anti-Muslim Burmese monk “Wirathu” has come out in support of Dammakeye.

Make no mistake, the side-lining of the abbot of Wat Pak Nam for the top monk job and the invasion of Dammakeye is totally about politics and little to do with corruption or Buddhist morals. After all, the junta has remained very quiet about the corruption of Generalissimo Prayut’s relatives and the fact that top generals and their allies are getting paid for their various jobs, even though they never turn up to do any work or attend meetings.

The abbot of Wat Pak Nam was deemed unacceptable to the junta because Prayut’s favourite fascist monk, Putta-Isara, and the yellow shirts, did not want the Pak Nam and Dammakeye factions to be in a position of power.

We should never forget that fascist monk Putta-Isara helped to wreck the February 2014 elections alongside Sutep’s mob. Putta-Isara’s followers used fire arms to intimidate those wishing to vote. Because he is Generalissimo Prayut’s favourite monk, he was recently allowed a free hand to demonstrate in the streets while others were prohibited. He has also accused Dammakeye of wanting to “overthrow the monarchy”, a standard charge against one’s opponents in Thailand. After Prayut’s strong-arm tactics against Dammakeye, Putta-Isara publically thanked him.

An anti-government protester shoots his rifle, hidden it inside a sack, toward pro-government protesters during clashes in Bangkok February 1, 2014. Dozens of gunshots and at least two explosions raised tension amid anti-government protests in Thailand's capital on Saturday, a day ahead of a general election seen as incapable of restoring stability in the deeply polarised country. REUTERS/Nir Elias (THAILAND - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)

All this fighting between Buddhist sects and the involvement of the military junta, merely strengthen the argument that religion should be totally separated from the state and that religious hierarchies and top positions like the Supreme Patriarch, should be abolished.

Military junta orders the building of more coal-fired power stations

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Generalissimo Prayut, backward head of the Thai military junta, and Chair of the National Energy Committee, has ordered that the Electricity Generating Authority push ahead with controversial coal-fired power stations in the south at Krabi and Tepa in Songkla. This is despite opposition by environmental and conservation groups in the area. These groups came to peacefully protest outside Government House in Bangkok, but the military regime ordered the arrest of its leaders under draconian laws which outlaw the right to protest.

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Opposition to these coal fired power stations is based on the negative impact on the local environment in Songkla, Krabi and Patani. The power stations and the docks for unloading imported coal, will destroy natural habitats including mangrove forests and coral reefs, which are also important for local fisheries. They are also located in areas of high tourism, where people come to visit the natural beauty of the environment.

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But this is not merely a “not in my back yard” issue. It is widely accepted by most scientists and intelligent citizens that the burning of fossil fuels, especially in coal-fired power stations, is causing dangerous global warming.

Many countries are trying to phase out coal-fired power stations and to increase electricity generation via alternative sustainable means, such as solar and wind power. Not so, the backward military idiots that are now running Thailand.

The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) is wedded to coal and gas and its propaganda about the new power stations claims that they will use the most advanced technology which will reduce dust and damage to the local environment. Nothing has been said about the continued burning of fossil fuels and the problem of carbon dioxide generation which causes global warming.

The south of Thailand is prone to powerful cyclones which cause flooding and storm damage. These storms will only get worse as the temperature of the Earth increases.

The EGAT has been working with the local authorities, which are under the military, to conscript local people to come out and “show their support” for the power stations.

Thailand has a great abundance of sunshine and it would make perfect sense for the state to vigorously promote a national plan for vastly increasing electricity from solar power. New solar power technologies are being developed in China and Spain and the cost of developing solar power is rapidly decreasing, especially when carried out on a large scale.

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Any forward-looking government in Thailand would be pushing ahead with solar power and wind power while phasing out coal and gas power stations. But the pig-headed backward Generals have no such plans. They also, quite naturally, wish to develop dangerous and costly nuclear power so that they can have access to nuclear weapons technology in the future. The junta and their conservative allies in the courts have also successfully delayed progressive plans for high speed rail links put forward by the previous Yingluck government. Such high speed rail projects would also reduce global warming by cutting unnecessary airline travel within the country.

The issue of coal-fired power stations is yet another example of how the Thai military junta can use its dictatorial powers to ride rough-shod over the wishes of citizens and the reasoned arguments against increased use of fossil fuels.

Further reading: http://bit.ly/2aGcSun

They are ALL corrupt

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Now that the scandal of Rolls-Royce bribery of politicians and state official in Thailand has been exposed, we can draw some initial conclusions.

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In the case of bribes to “encourage” Thai Airways to buy Rolls-Royce T80 engines for its fleet, bribes were paid a total of three times. Between 1991 and 1992, $18.8 million were paid. Between 1992 and 1997 another $10.38 million was given and between 2004 and 2005 a further $ 7.2 million was handed out.

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A further Rolls-Royce bribery scandal involves payments amounting to $11 million to “persuade” PTT Public Company Limited, the Thai state-owned SET-listed “oil and gas company”, to award a total of 6 contracts to Rolls-Royce Energy Systems, Inc. (RRESI). These bribes were paid at various times between 2000 and 2012.

We do not know yet which individuals pocketed the bribes, and given the state of the police and the justice system we may never know. But what we can point to are the top state officials who should be held responsible for allowing this corruption to happen or for not instituting proper checks on large commercial transactions.

The Prime Ministers during the periods when all these bribes were paid were the following:

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(1) Anand Panyarachun, technocrat and so-called “Mr Clean”, who was appointed as an unelected Prime Minister by the military junta, after the coup d’état in 1991. The power behind this Prime Minister was Dictator Suchinda Kaprayoon.

(2) Chuan Leekpai from the Democrat Party.

(3) Banharn Silapa-archa from the Chart Thai Party.

(4) Chawalit Yongjaiyut from the New Aspirations Party.

(5) Taksin Shinawat from Thai Rak Thai Party.

(6) Surayut Julanon, military dictator following the 2006 coup d’état.

(7) Unelected Abhisit Vejjajiva, Democrat Party leader, appointed by the military under Prayut Chan-ocha and Anupong Paochinda.

(8) Yingluk Shinawat from the Pua Thai Party.

Some of the top officials at Thai Airways were military men and civilians associated with the 1991 coup and Thanong Bidaya, a Thai Rak Thai politician.

What can we conclude from all this?

Firstly, that rampant corruption has taken place and is still taking place under various military juntas who came to power in coup d’états, claiming to overthrow corrupt civilian governments. Given the long history of military corruption in Thailand under Pibun, Sarit and Tanom, this is hardly surprising. Even under elected civilian governments top generals sit on the executive boards of state companies.

Secondly, corruption also took place under elected and non-elected civilian governments of all the main political parties, including Thai Rak Thai, the Democrats and supposedly technocrat-led governments.

Thirdly, the entire Thai ruling class is steeped in corruption of both an illegal and legal nature. “Legal” corruption is taking place today because military generals have come to power and then appointed themselves and their friends and relatives to high paying positions.

Fourthly, corruption is an integral part of the world capitalist system, with Western multinationals paying bribes on a regular basis to avoid so-called free market competition. Corruption is not just a Thai problem, it is also endemic in the USA, UK and other European countries. We can see this in the “conflicts of interest” in the Trump administration and involving British cabinet ministers and payments to members of their families and dishonest claims for expenses by French and British politicians.

The difference between Thailand and many Western countries is that social movements, trade unions, opposition political parties and the press have more freedom and power to expose such corruption. The crucial role of mass movements can be seen only this past week in Romania, where a mass movement forced the government to withdraw a law which would have white-washed corrupt officials.

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In Thailand, the problem of corruption is closely linked with the lack of freedom of expression and the weakness of independent mass movements from below, including the trade unions.

Why is there no “power vacuum” in Thailand?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

For years many Thai and Western commentators incorrectly claimed that King Pumipon was a powerful monarch who controlled the military, the judiciary and the civil service. If this were true, then there would be a serious power vacuum in the country today, months after the king’s death.

The fact of the matter is that no such power vacuum exists.

This important fact should be a wake-up call for academics and commentators to reassess their flawed analyses. Yet there has been total silence from those who once claimed that Pumipon was an all-powerful monarch.

Why is there no power vacuum today in Thailand?

It cannot be that Pumipon is still controlling things from the grave!!

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No one with any intellect would try to explain it by saying that Wachiralongkorn had stepped in as the new King and was now exercising power instead of his dead father. As a clueless playboy, Wachralongkorn has the unenviable task of trying to behave in a regal manner. He was put on the throne by the military and conservative elites and he is totally beholden to them in every way, just as his father before him was beholden to them.

Of course the powerful elites have to throw Wachiralongkorn a few expensive bones to keep him sweet, including pandering to his vicious and demented whims, when it does not affect their power, and also giving him an enormous amount of wealth which was originally created by poverty stricken working people.

One of his whims is to spend most of his time outside Thailand, in his palace in Munich. This is what lies behind his demand to change the junta’s constitution so that he has flexibility in appointing others to sign laws on his behalf (or not) while he has a fun time abroad. Yet some misguided folk try to paint this as “royal meddling in politics”. The truth is that demanding to amend the military’s awful and authoritarian constitution to suit his personal lifestyle, is of little overall significance to the present state of democracy. It merely reflects the fact that he cannot be bothered with the tedious ceremonial duties of kingship and doesn’t want to live in Thailand. He wants the Crown, but not the job.

In some ways, the intermittent “exile” of Wachiralongkorn may be a good thing for the military and the elites. He can be out of the lime light when he lives abroad, causing less scandal, while the military can keep on using the monarchy for their  own legitimacy.

To understand why there is no power vacuum in Thailand today, we have to understand the nature of the Thai ruling class and the source of its power.

Power at the top of society comes in two major forms: naked coercion and ideological legitimisation. Examples of naked coercion are the actions of the ruling class’ security forces. In Thailand this has included gunning down pro-democracy activists in the streets, numerous military coups and the use of the courts, the lèse majesté law, and the prison system to muzzle dissidents.

The Thai ruling class is a poisonous and vicious patron client network which draws in new recruits to its “elite feeding trough”, where fortunes are to be made at the expense of the hard-working poor. During Pumipon’s life, this vast parasitic organism maintained its legitimacy by creating a false image of the King as an all-powerful god and benefactor to “his people”.

The high profile ideological status of the King started from his systematic promotion by the military dictator Sarit Tanarat. Therefore the increasing importance of the monarchy after its initial overthrow in the 1932 revolution was closely connected to the need have an ideology to counter Communism in order to protect the status quo.

The use of “Nation, Religion and King” as a conservative ideology, where the King symbolised the “heart of the nation”, the head of religion and the embodiment of “all that is Thai”, has remained central to Thai ruling class ideology to this day. Socialisation of the population using this ideology is an attempt to create a population loyal to the generals, the top officials and the rich. Gross inequality is an integral part of this ideology.

The Thai ruling class, which is made up of the army, the capitalists and high-ranking officials, are a modern ruling class: conservative, anti-democratic and barbaric. It is not the King who is in charge of this bunch of thugs. It is they who use the symbolic role of the King to protect their interests. Therefore army generals, politicians, businessmen and privy councillors prostrate themselves on the ground and pay homage to the monarchy in order to protect the vital false images which underpin their ideology. Many have mistaken this play act as a sign of royal power. But this is only a shallow analysis.

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There is no power vacuum today because the ruling class, especially the generals, have not lost their naked power of coercion in any way. In fact the demobilisation of opposition to the dictatorship by the Red Shirt leadership has only strengthened the power of the junta. In addition to this, the ruling class are still coasting along, using up the reserves of their royalist ideology left over from Pumipon’s time. However, at some point they will have to recharge their legitimising ideology. How they actually achieve this will be an important question on their minds given the real nature of the new king. For now they are hoping that fixing the political system into a 20-year straight jacket will ensure that their interests are protected.

The Dictatorship’s so-called reconciliation is a sham

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The Prayut Dictatorship’s so-called reconciliation is just a sham. It is merely an attempt at forcing the pro-democracy side to concede to a form of long term “Guided Democracy” at gun point.

The various pompous generals have been lying once again, claiming that the military is a “neutral party” in the political crisis and that it can therefore act as an unbiased referee for reconciliation.

Yet, how can the military be neutral when it was the very institution that overthrew the elected Taksin government in 2006?

How can the military be neutral when it deliberately stood by, doing nothing, and allowed the yellow shirts to take over government house and the international airports?

How can the military be neutral when it organised the unelected Abhisit Government from a military camp and imposed him on the Thai people as their Prime Minister? Abhisit’s party, the Democrats, have never won an overall majority in any Thai election.

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How can the military be neutral when it deliberately used snipers and tanks to shoot unarmed pro-democracy red shirts who were demanding elections in 2010?

How can Prayut’s military be neutral when he urged people not to vote for Yingluk’s Pua Thai Party in the 2011 elections?

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How can the military be neutral when they deliberately did absolutely nothing to protect the 2014 elections from Democrat Party mobsters, some led by the fascist monk “Isara”, who is close to Generalissimo Prayut? There was no attempt by the military to defend the democratic process or the rule of law. Prayut was just waiting for an excuse to stage a coup.

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How can the military be neutral when the current dictatorship is using the lèse-majesté law against opponents of the military junta in order to jail pro-democracy activists? How can it be neutral if it hauled large numbers of pro-democracy activists into military camps for “attitude-changing” sessions so that they would stop opposing the military? Arrests and harassment of those who believe in democracy continues to this day.

How can the Thai military ever be neural when it has a long history of destroying democracy and engaging in corrupt practices over the last 70 years?

The true cause of the Thai political crisis is not the fault of “bad politicians” as the military likes to claim. It is because the military, the conservative elites and the reactionary middle-classes, including the NGOs, failed to respect election results and viewed ordinary citizens with contempt, claiming that they were “too ignorant to deserve the right to vote”.

Whatever we might think of them, Takisin’s parties won at election times over and over again because they were genuinely popular with the electorate for very logical reasons. The universal health care scheme was one such reason. This is why the current shower of anti-reformists, appointed by the junta, are busy crafting a “Guided Democracy” system where the views of the military and the conservatives will be more powerful than the will of the people. This is enshrined in the junta’s awful 20 year political strategy and road map.

So talk of “reconciliation” by the military is merely forced capitulation to the junta’s plans so that they can hold sham elections.

But what would genuine reconciliation for peace and democracy look like?

  1. The military would remove itself from politics and all the generals who have been involved in military coups would resign from the ranks, retire, and promise never to engage in politics. The military budget would be slashed and the various sections of the armed forces placed under genuine democratic civilian control.
  2. The Democrat Party and various anti-democratic mobsters would have to agree to abide by the results of all democratic elections.
  3. The military constitution would be scrapped and fresh democratic elections would be held under the 1997 constitution until that constitution can be improved at a later date. An electoral commission would be chosen from a balance of representatives of various political groups. Foreign observers might be necessary to ensure clean elections.
  4. All political prisoners would be released and political trials stopped. Authoritarian laws such as lèse-majesté and the military’s various censorship laws would be abolished.

Of course this is just a pipe-dream so long as a vigorous pro-democracy social movement is not present to force through such a democratic conciliation process.

 

Thai politics