July 15, 2008

Thailand: Coup? New Politics? Rule of Law?

Thai politics six months from now?

Some people have given up trying to understand current events in Thailand. They figure, I suppose, that they will pick up the thread once it’s all sorted.

That thread has several possible endings.

It might be a Democrat Party led coalition government in power, aided by military machinations of some form. Thaksin Shinawatra would be in exile (if he can get away), with ex-prime minister Samak sunk by allegations of corruption relating to the time he served as Bangkok Mayor. This possibility emerges on the assumption that the various court cases against Thaksin and the government proceed, and the coalition government splinters in the face of indictments and the dissolution of pro-Thaksin political influence.

Another possibility would be a resurgent People’s Power Party (PPP) government (sans Samak?). This outcome would require more of the counter demonstrations that are breaking out across the country against the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). This is the so-called “Udon model”, which entails breaking up PAD rallies wherever they occur in the provinces. Empowered by the mass mobilisation of its support base, the government would simultaneously amend the constitution and in doing so end the cases on corruption and party dissolution. This outcome would assume significant military support to offset anti-Thaksin forces in the military.

To get that outcome would require a judicial revolution of its own. It would mean invalidating the work of the Assets Examination Committee (which was the body that forwarded some of the corruption cases to the courts) by claiming that it had no legitimate legal status because it was established by the coup group. But for sixty years, laws that have been issued by military juntas have been judged legally binding by the Supreme Court. Such decrees and laws remain in force today. The status of ‘coup law’ was recently re-affirmed by the Constitution Court in regard to the AEC. However, in the face of mass mobilisation - and one assumes some degree of military backing to the government - the courts might revisit the question.

Alternatively, pressure may be applied to have the various cases withdrawn, thus avoiding a legal challenge that might unravel the entire system. For that to occur some deal might be done that brings about a political truce. Not many people can imagine a truce right now.

Another possibility is a coup d’etat against the government. It is hard to imagine such a coup d’etat merely restoring the situation preceding the elections in 2007. This is where PAD’s ideas of recasting politics into a “functional democracy” of occupational representation comes to the fore. By appointing most representatives to parliament in the post-coup environment, and making this permanent in accordance with PAD's New Politics , pro-Thaksin forces would be marginalised. Such a system could only emerge with immense acts of repression and endure with the same.

There is a less destabilising possibility.

The PPP government could muddle through in its own way, surviving or stumbling according to parliamentary convention. An agreement could be reached on a constitutional amendment that abolishes Article 237 (see below) dealing with party dissolution, and which currently looms over the Coalition government. In return, the cases relating to corruption would proceed. All parties would pledge to non-interference in the courts and support a fair trial.

Undoubtedly, something else will happen.

Article on Party Dissolution in 2007 Constitution

"Section 237. Any candidate in an election, who has committed, created or supported any person to commit any act in violation of the Organic Act on Election of Members of the House of Representatives and the Taking of Office of Senators or orders and announcements of the Election Commission, causing the election not to be proceeded in an honest and fair manner, shall be deprived of his or her voting rights in accordance with the Organic Act on Election of Members of the House of Representatives and the Taking of Office of Senators.

If any such act of person under paragraph one appears to have convincing evidence that the leader or an executive member of his or her political party has acknowledged or ignored that action or has known of the act but failed to prevent or rectify it in order to ensure an honest and fair election, that political party is assumed to have sought to gain power in state administration by means other than what is provided in Section 68 of the Constitution, and in case the Constitutional Court consequently orders its dissolution, the voting rights of its leader and executive board members shall be revoked for a period of 5 years as from the date of issuance of the party dissolution order."

Taken from an unofficial translation of the constitution.

Thai Military Ranks: Cut and Paste

Perhaps its time to brush up on Thai military ranks?


จอมพลอากาศ Marshal of the Royal Thai Air Force
พลอากาศเอก Air Chief Marshal(พล.อ.อ. ACM)
พลอากาศโท Air Marshal (พล.อ.ท. AM)
พลอากาศตรี Air Vice Marshal (พล.อ.ต. AVM)
นาวาอากาศเอก Group Captain (น.อ.Gp.Capt.)
นาวาอากาศโท Wing Commander (น.ท. Wg.Cdr.)
นาวาอากาศตรี Squadron Leader (น.ต. Sqn.Ldr.)
เรืออากาศเอก Flight Lieutenant (ร.อ. Flt.Lt.)
เรืออากาศโท Flying Officer (ร.ท. Flg.Off.)
เรืออากาศตรี Pilot Officer (ร.ต. Plt.Off.)
พันจ่าอากาศเอก Flight Sergeant First Class (พ.อ.อ.FS 1)
พันจ่าอากาศโ Flight Sergeant Second Class (พ.อ.ท. FS 2)
พันจ่าอากาศตรี Flight Sergeant Third Class (พ.อ.ต. FS 3)
จ่าอากาศเอก Sergeant (จ.อ. Sgt.)
จ่าอากาศโท Corporal (จ.ท. Cpl.)
จ่าอากาศตรี Leading Aircraftman (จ.ต. LAC)
พลทหาร Airman (พลฯ Amn.)


จอมพล Field Marshal
พลเอก General พล.อ. Gen.
พลโท Lieutenant General พล.ท. Lt.Gen.
พลตรี Major General พล.ต. Maj.Gen.
พันเอก Colonel พ.อ. Col.
พันโท Lieutenant Colonel พ.ท. Lt.Col.
พันตรี Major พ.ต. Maj.
ร้อยเอก Captain ร.อ. Capt.
ร้อยโท Lieutenant ร.ท. Lt.
ร้อยตรี Sub Lieutenant ร.ต. SubLt.
จ่าสิบเอก Sergeant Major 1st Class จ.ส.อ. SM 1
จ่าสิบโท Sergeant Major 2nd Class จ.ส.ท. SM 2
จ่าสิบตรี Sergeant Major 3rd Class จ.ส.ต. SM 3
สิบเอก Sergeant ส.อ. Sgt.
สิบโท Corporal ส.ท. Cpl.
สิบตรี Private 1st Class ส.ต. Pfc.
พลทหาร Private พลฯ Pvt.

จอมพลเรือ Admiral of the Fleet
พลเรือเอก Admiral พล.ร.อ.Adm.
พลเรือโท Vice Admiral พล.ร.ท. VAdm.
พลเรือตรี Rear Admiral พล.ร.ต. RAdm.
นาวาเอก Captain น.อ. (ชื่อ) ร.น.Capt.
นาวาโท Commander น.ท. (ชื่อ) ร.น. Cdr.
นาวาตรี Lieutenant Commander น.ต. (ชื่อ) ร.น. LCdr.
เรือเอก Lieutenant ร.อ. (ชื่อ) ร.น.Lt.
เรือโท Lieutenant Junior Grade ร.ท. (ชื่อ) ร.น. Lt.JG.
เรือตรี Sub Lieutenant ร.ต. (ชื่อ) ร.น. SubLt.
พันจ่าเอก Chief Petty Officer 1st Class พ.จ.อ. CPO 1
พันจ่าโท Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class พ.จ.ท. CPO 2
พันจ่าตรี Chief Petty Officer 3rd Class พ.จ.ต. CPO 3
จ่าเอก Petty Officer 1st Class จ.อ. PO 1
จ่าโท Petty Officer 2nd Class จ.ท. PO 2
จ่าตรี Petty Officer 3rd Class จ.ต. PO 3
พลทหาร Seaman พลฯ

Military Insignia

July 9, 2008

The Law is an Ass-et. Coups, Law and Corruption Cases

The Asset Examination Committee/Asset Scrutiny Committee

In late June 2008 the Asset Examination Committee/Asset Scurtiny Committee (depending on the translation) wound up its activities. Vilified and loved in the same measure, the AEC was commissioned in the aftermath of the 2006 September coup against the caretaker Thaksin government to investigate losses to the state during the Thaksin administration. Some of its members were well known anti-Thaksin figures and their impartiality was quite reasonably questioned. However, the AEC had no authority to determine guilt, but merely to investigate. Its evidence had to be forwarded to the appropriate authorities and courts.

Recently, the Constitutional Court ruled the Committee was a lawful organization, after lawyers argued its coup-origins made it an illegitimate body. This was always going to be a long shot: Thai law proceeds on the premise, and has done for nearly 60 years, that coups are legal once the resulting government has, de facto, established its right to rule. This then enshrines all coup decrees as legal. Of course, the new constitution also verifies that "fact" - hence the layered, complex mess that is Thai law.

It is worth noting that the cases that are now before the courts, including the Rachadapisek land purchase) are merely the tip of the iceberg. Below, for the purposes of information, I summarise the cases that the AEC have determined should be pursued. Only a few are now in process. The ASC claims that the 21 cases it examined involve a loss to state revenue of 1.8 saen laan baht The information comes from Vote Magazine, July 2008 issue.

The cases acted on by the Asset Examination Committee are classified into four types:
1. Those currently in progress in the courts

1.1 Tax avoidance in transferring Shinawat Computer Inc. Communications involving Khun Ying Pojaman Shinawat –Bannaphot Damaphong Case number : 1149/2550 commenced 26 March 2007
1.2 The sale of land in the Rachadapisek district by the Financial Institutions Development Fund (FIDF) to KY. Pojaman Shinawat. Both Thaksin and Pojaman are defendants
1.3 The case regarding the 2/3 number lottery project by the The Government Lottery Office. 32 political office holders and 16 officials.

2 Those cases which have been sent to the office of the auditor general but which were not decided by the Attorney General before the ASC ended its tenure:

2.1 Projects regarding electrical cable laying at Suwannaphum airport involving former Minister of Transport Suriya Jungrungreangkit and a top official in the Ministry of Transport
2.2. Case involving baggage systems and CTX 9000 scanners at S.Airport involving 26 politicians, civil servants, officials of state enterprises, juristic persons, and entrepreneurs. Loss to the state estimated at 6, 937 million baht.
2.3 Case involving “loan irregularities loan irregularities extended to the Krisda Mahanakorn Group” by the Krung Thai group. The case involves Thaksin, his son Panthongtae and 31 (former) board members of Krung Thai Bank.
2.4 Five cases that allege the former prime minister Thaksin used his position to benefit his own businesses, causing loss to state assets.
2.4.1 Case on the order to convert mobile phone operator concessions to an excise tax, leading to a loss of the Telephone organization of Thailand of 30, 667 million baht.
2.4.2 Case regarding reducing revenue share paid to TST ทศท from prepaid mobile services from 25 to 20% leading to a state loss of 70, 872 million baht.
2.4.3 Case relating to AIS and its reduction of payments by treating networks separately for payment purposes to TOT. Loss of 18970579711 baht during the term of the concession. This gain enabled rise in Shin Corp before its sale.
2.4.4 Various breaks given by the Board of Investment for IPSTAR satellite projects within Thailand.
2.4.5 Case regarding Treasury officials in tax negotiations regarding the sale of Shin Corp.

3. Those cases under consideration by the AEC but not forwarded to the OAG before 30th June.

3.1 Case regarding Sky Train Airport link with losses to the state of 1, 200 million baht.
3.2 Three Cases regarding Ua Athon housing project that involves builders, officials (3.2.1/3.2.2/3.2.3 )
3.3 A case involving the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives and its dealings with private companies worth 300 million baht.
3.4 The case involving the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority’s purchase of fire trucks involving a loss to the state of 1, 900 million baht.
3.5 The cause of unusual wealth in Thaksin’s purchase of Manchester City

4. Those cases which have been returned after the Attorney General determined not to proceed.

4.1 The Export-Import Bank and the loan to Burma (which involved purchase of Shin Corp products). Claimed loss of state amounting to 670,436,201 baht (EXIM) 140,349,000 (Treasury). Gains to Shin Corp 593,492,815 baht.
4.2 Case involving Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives and rubber plantations project. Loss to the state of 1, 400 million baht Case involves 44 people including Newin Chidchop, former Deputy Minister of Agriculture. Various accused are being asked to pay compensation of 1,109 million baht.

5. Those cases sent to the Tax office to recoup tax.

5.1 Pojaman Shinawat and Banaphot Damaphong transferred shares with no tax. Tax outstanding approximately 546 million baht.
5.2 Thaksin’s children Phongthongtae and Thongtha Shinawat bought shares in Shin Corp from Ample Rich Invesment (164.6 million each) at a cost of 1 baht before they sold it to Temasak at 49.25 baht, which is subject to tax. In August 2550 requested Tax Department to seek payment of 11, 809, 294, 773 baht in tax.
5. 3. Ample Rich tax issue, as it was active in Thailand for four years, but never paid tax.

Thailands "new politics" Charade

Please click on title to read article on the People's Alliance for Democracy (Phase 2) as it appeared on Asia Sentinel

or click here for Bangkok Post version

The 'New Politics' charade
Bangkok Post 8th July

By Michael Connors

No longer content with the old slogan of Thaksin Tid Khook, Samak Awk Pai (Thaksin in gaol, Samak get out), Sondhi Limthongkul, the core leader of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), has called for "New Politics". I heard Mr Sondhi's New Politics speech delivered from the stage on July 4, near Government House in Bangkok. It was the 41st day of the PAD's new round of street protests.

New Politics turns out to be a startlingly reactionary proposal to move Thailand's parliamentary system towards a form of appointed corporatism, or what might be called a selectoral democracy: 30% of MPs would come from elections, perhaps one per province, and the rest of the MPs would derive from various occupations and associations. Mr Sonthi says the proportion is not fixed, it's up for debate.

The rationale for wanting to dismantle Thailand's electoral system is evident: pro-Thaksin forces keep winning elections. And as Mr Thaksin is said to represent everything bad about Thai politics, he cannot be allowed to wield power directly or indirectly. Thus, for Mr Sondhi - and it would seem the PAD leadership as a whole - there is now a need to bring about a revolution in political representation.

The idea of examining alternatives to electoral democracy is not without some merit, for it is common knowledge that massive amounts of money are required to win parliamentary seats, making parliament a millionaire's playground and a source of further monopolisation and corruption.

It wasn't always so, Mr Sondhi told the rally. In the 1970s, socialist politicians in Thailand could get elected on the basis of their ideology and popular support, but the emergence of dirty politics in the 1980s crushed any such possibility in the present.

New Politics has interesting antecedents. The PAD leadership has clearly been speaking to military figures (this is now well-documented in the Thai-language press) who tried to stifle the emergence of parliament in the 1980s.

Indeed, selectoral democracy nicely fits with corporatist visions of the old "Revolutionary Council". The council, to which General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh was said to have an association, held that elections merely led to parliamentary dictatorship and proposed a form of corporate representation to realise the "general will" of the people.

A former communist, Prasert Sapsunthon, was the inspiration for this Thai appropriation of Rousseau, the French theorist of the social contract. Mr Prasert became a leading intellectual among military circles calling for non-elective forms of democracy.

When the Revolutionary Council effectively declared itself a provisional government during the political crisis of 1988, the elected Chatichai government took it to court for treason. It then faded into obscurity, but its ideas have never quite gone away, finding support among small rightist groups and even in some labour circles.

"New Politics" is unashamedly pro-military and even codifies the conditions under which military intervention may occur. Mr Sondhi has spoken of four conditions for military intervention: when charges of lese majeste are not acted on; when a government is incompetent; when corruption is rife; when a government betrays national sovereignty.

It is not clear if permissible military intervention according to the PAD's envisaged system of selectocracy is to be in the form of a coup d'etat or the exercise of some new administrative power to compel government agencies to rectify a wrong.

But what is clear is that the PAD has explicitly sanctioned ongoing military intervention in politics.

Of course, anyone looking at the Thai military will know that it is a conflicted organisation, with pro- and anti-government factions and both corporate and individual commercial interests. How such an organisation might work to protect the "general will" of the people is not at all clear, notwithstanding the fact that politicised militaries the world over become deeply corrupt and self-serving.

In part, the answer for the PAD lies in who controls the military. An important feature of Mr Sondhi's speech that went unreported in the press was the proposal to take the Ministry of Defence out of government control and place it under the Crown. At a time when Thailand is urgently facing the need to institutionalise its politics around public rules, the PAD is proposing to formally enhance the power of the monarchy.

For many observers, the PAD's latest thinking comes as no surprise. They say that from the start the PAD was associated with opportunist use of nationalist and royalist discourse in its call for a royally-appointed government to replace the Thai Rak Thai caretaker government in March 2006. That the PAD should now become an agent of political regression, willing to hand power to the military and bureaucracy, flows from the logic of its initial strategy to beat Mr Thaksin with the royalist and nationalist stick.

On the contrary, I would argue that whatever one may make of the early anti-Thaksin movement, its politics were, in part, a form of royal liberalism; it was legitimately concerned with the authoritarian slide during the Thaksin era.

And this means that the PAD's current phase is a significant departure from its earlier stance and is of great significance.

Most dangerously, the PAD's new turn has the potential to lend a significant social base to a conservative and reactionary form of corporatism.

In the 1980s, the semi-fascist corporatist politics of the Revolutionary Council were marginalised as Thai politics democratised. The council became a laughing stock and the organisation was dubbed the "Joke Council". Somehow, the PAD seems to have reversed Marx's dictum that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce.

The PAD's metamorphosis comes at an odd moment when it seems to be making ground. It played an opportunistic role in capturing the ministerial scalp of Jakrapob Penkair. It gave support to the legitimacy of the Assets Scrutiny Committee (ASC), whose constitutional standing was questioned by pro-Thaksin forces. The Constitutional Court affirmed its standing. And if the Office of the Attorney-General appears unconvinced of the readiness of many of the cases presented by the ASC, the National Counter Corruption Commission seems ready to take on some of the cases.

Just as its demands are being met, the PAD has now put itself at the extreme margins of Thai politics. Many people have already deserted the PAD because of its hyper-nationalism and attacks on progressive activists who express views different than its own. Some people have, it seems, been forced to leave. There are reports that speakers from the stage have called on Democrat party members to leave the rally.

How far the PAD has travelled is perhaps illustrated by reference to a rally I observed in the middle of last week. A well-known rock star called on the spirit of the 1950s dictator Sarit Thanarat to deal decisively with corruption. The best that can be said of that episode is that people were applauding on cue - after four weeks of clapping, it's almost a reflex.But the PAD leadership has no such excuse; it has embraced a politics so contrary to its starting point that it now looks as bad as that which it sought to slay.

"New Politics" may well be the dying breath of the PAD, as those who thought they were fighting for a form of liberal democracy desert its ranks.

A protester I was sitting close to was visibly angry with Mr Sondhi, shouting out: "Who are you to abolish parliament?"

Actually, that's an appropriate question for the last generation of Thai politics.

July 3, 2008

A Night with the People's Alliance for Democracy

A brief note on a visit to PAD Rally 2nd July 2008

During late 2005 I visited the Sonthi rallies in Lumpini Park and then at Royal Plaza as they transformed into PAD. It has been over two years since I observed a PAD rally. Last night I headed to the rally near Government House and Kromluang Chumphon. It was day 39 of PAD’s newest incarnation. Calls for “new politics” were aired frequently.

Chamlong occasionally came on the stage to introduce artists/musicians supporting PAD. He also handed a 100,000 baht donation someone had given him to Suriyasai in a formal presentation.

Former Industry Minister and until recently member of the Democrat Party Chaiwat Sinsuwong gave a spirited speech, some of which I couldn’t catch. Chaiwat was the chap who filed a suit against the People’s Power Party for being a proxy of Thaksin, which was rejected by the Supreme Court. Pressure from the Democrats to withdraw the suit led to his resignation from the party. On stage, he announced that there would be demonstrations across the country on the 4th of July. This is the day that Sonthi Limthongkul has set for announcing the details of PAD’s “Revolution”. Chaiwat, as did others, referred to nation, king and religion constantly and also praised the navy for being (apart from a top navy general) on the right side, of the sacred triad. Chaiwat called on civil servants to join the struggle, asking if they belonged to the government or the king. After Chaiwat’s speech a navy song was played at the rally, military pomp and all that.

Praphan Kunmee, former member of the National Assembly appointed after the coup in September 2006, spoke about the long struggle ahead and invoked the patience of Mao, Mandela, Gandhi and Ho Chi Min. The struggle for new politics Praphan announced was no longer a struggle of the rural areas surrounding the cities, but both working together. Praphan was one of those thousands of people who fled to the jungle and sought refuge with the Communist Party of Thailand after the massacre at Thammasat University in October 1976. Subsequently, Praphan is reported to have worked with Chavalit’s New Aspiration Party and is said to be close to Prasong – the anti –Thaksin former intelligence chief and President of the Council that drafted Thailand’s current constitution. Praphan noted that in the short struggle so far two corpses had been claimed: Yongyuth (former speaker of the house) and Jakraphop (former minister). He also claimed that former PM Thaksin had dispensed with the telecommunications business in 2006 in order to use his special knowledge to invest in energy.

A singer, Rang, belted out songs about the king. He said no one wanted a coup because it would mean the end to the constitution that needed to be protected. During his time on stage he called on the (วิญญาณ) spirit of Sarit Thanarat (สฤษดิ์ ธนะรัชต์) to return and eliminate corruption. Sarit who died in 1963, was notoriously corrupt. The crowd, of around 4000-5000, applauded. The singer seems to have been travelling the country collecting money for PAD. On stage he presented 27000 baht to organisers from Chumphon.

There was lots of clapping, some of it by springed plastic hands waved by people. Plastic clapping hands and the spirit of dictator Sarit being summoned to eliminate corruption - a kind of surreal but appropriate montage for Thailand's "carnival of reaction" as Ji Ungphakorn has dubbed current trends in Thai politics.