In political terms, 2017 wasn’t a great year for Thailand. It was yet another year of military dictatorship, repression and using “law” to oppress.
PPT has gone through its hundreds of posts to remind ourselves of the issues of the year and to list of some of those that should not be neglected in 2018. These are:
The junta’s “election.” Interestingly, our last post in 2016 was about the “election” slipping. Our next to last post in 2017 matched that. So, in 2018, watching the “election” timetable and how the junta’s efforts to “fix” the result progress. If the junta decides on an “election” in 2018, it can be neither free nor fair.
The military embedding its rule. Our first 2017 and the second were about the militarization of politics and the embedding of the regime. 2017 saw mammoth efforts to ensure the military’s ongoing domination of Thailand’s political space. A 2018 question is whether the non-military parts of society can limit or even oppose this process.
Lese majeste and the destruction of opposition. Hardly a new topic, 2017 saw the junta using the law to target and imprison political activists identified as ant-coup and anti-junta. Student activist Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa had been singled out from thousands for a charge. He was in jail for the whole of 2017, convicted in 2017, and remains there in the beginning of 2018. Several of the lese majeste cases in the courts in 2017 have been downright bizarre and even more ridiculous than in the past. Lese majeste will continue to be the junta’s political hammer in 2018.
The king. 2017 was King Vajiralongkorn’s first full year on the throne and the junta spent considerable money and time “protecting” him. He’s not easy to “protect” because of his foul temper, his preference for living in Germany and his penchant for young concubines. As was the case with his father early in his reign, he’s been interventionist, using lese majeste and other charges to clean out his father’s royal house, demanded constitutional and legal change that give him more control and taken personal and unfettered control of the Crown Property Bureau. Most of this was done in secret. An interventionist, odd and scary king with his own jail is a dangerous king and 2018 may result in conflict. 2018 could see a rockier relationship between junta and king, especially if the latter asserts himself.
Erasing 1932 and people’s sovereignty. Throughout 2017, the king and the military junta chipped away at the legacies of the 1932 revolution. Some of this erasing was physical. Most believe that it was the king who ordered the removal of the 1932 plaque. This was a part of consolidating “royal” property that erased the post-1932 parliament building from public view. Under the junta’s constitution, popular sovereignty has been undermined. More than ever, in 2018 it will be important to remember the ideals of 1932.
Deepening repression. In 2017, the junta’s political repression deepened. It remained intolerant of any opponent it considered associated with red shirts, the Shinawatra clan or the Puea Thai Party. It trashed political and human rights. It may even be that the junta sent a hunter-killer squad to “disappear” red shirt iconoclast Wuthipong Kachathamakul. The junta waged a deepening campaign against online critics. With human rights ignored and undermined, the opposition cowed, the regime concocted plots. All of this can be expected to continue in 2018.
Corruption. The junta seized power and campaigned against corruption it identified with “politicians.” Yet it was its own corruption that was a theme of 2017. Any number of corruption allegations against the junta and even longer-standing corruption have all been covered up in a cloud of silence. While General Prawit Wongsuwan’s unusual watch collection will continue to cover up in 2018, other cases have disappeared (Rolls Royce, insider trading with Sino-Thai tycoons, military purchases, nepotism, and much more). The junta’s cover ups are likely to deepen in 2018.
A crumbling justice system. The lese majeste law has been destructive of the judiciary and notions of justice. That law is often applied illegally and almost all those accused are forced to plead guilty. The double standards of courts, rule by law, the retrospective application of new laws, the continued use of military courts and the lack of impartiality of courts were all clear in 2017 as junta, palace and judiciary entwined. The junta’s and the elite’s (mis)use of the judicial system for political purposes undermines an important institution. Nothing is likely to improve in 2018.
Chaiyapoom Pasae’s case and its cover-up: The extrajudicial killing of Chaiyapoom by soldiers was reported in March 2017. Since then, the military has covered up and avoided investigation. In 2018, it is important to follow this case and not allow it to disappear. In 2018, the impunity that protects soldiers and civilian officials may become an arena of contestation.
The Shinawatra clan. The junta has schemed and worked hard to destroy the political influence of Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra. In 2017, Yingluck went on the lam just prior to the judiciary sentencing her. There was never any doubt that she was to be found guilty of something/anything. Her flight was either a deal done or a junta preferred outcome or both. Suggesting a deal, she has been silent and was only seen, for the first time since her disappearance, a few days ago. As the “election” draws nearer, perhaps 2018 will be another opportunity to test the Shinawatra clan’s political pull. The junta will continue its manic repression.
Prem’s desperation. From about 2005, Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda planned the moves to get rid of Thaksin Shinawatra, viewing him as an ungrateful upstart, corrupt and a challenge to the monarchy. Now 97, in 2017, with a new king, Prem seemed to lose political energy and his ability to completely control of the Privy Council. In desperation, he has sought to prod and poke the junta on its path to a Premocracy, reflected in the junta’s constitution and its hopes for continuing political domination. 2018 may be the year that Prem’s desperate measures pay off, although his age and his more limited control may see the old schemer fall.
We have surely missed some important events of 2017 that will play out in 2017, but the list above has much grist for the political mill.