Anti-monarchy graffiti and royal wealth II

19 10 2013

This post continues PPT’s summary of the academic article “Working Towards the Monarchy and its Discontents: Anti-royal Graffiti in Downtown Bangkok,” that is authored by Serhat Ünaldi of the Department of Southeast Asian Studies, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. It is available (for a fee, free to subscribers or through universities that subscribe) at the Journal of Contemporary Asia.

Our earlier post concentrated on the graffiti, whereas this post is on royal ownership of valuable property. We earlier noted that the article’s analysis of the ownership of the Rajaprasong area was interesting:

The space examined here is a major part of downtown Bangkok and borders the Khlong Saen Saeb canal in the north, Ratchadamri Road in the east, Rama I Road in the south and Phaya Thai Road in the west. Based on land ownership the area can be divided into two. The western part is privately owned by Princess Sirindhorn who, as the landlord, earns the income generated from property rents directly. The eastern section is owned by the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) which manages the assets of the monarchy as an institution but whose generated income is “paid at the King’s pleasure” (p. 8).

As few researchers have ever dared publish on the private assets of the royals, the following bits and pieces from the article deserve attention. The dates are about acquisition/building/registration of the property or company:

An AP Photo

An AP Photo

The land owned by the princess comprises her palace Wang Sra Pathum (completed in 1916) and the sites of the surrounding commercial buildings: the Siam Kempinski Hotel (2010), the Siam Paragon shopping mall (2006), the Siam Center shopping mall (1973), the Siam Car Park (1994), the Siam Tower offices (1998) and the Siam Discovery shopping mall (1997).

 The CPB-owned land encompasses: the Isetan department store (1992), the Centara Grand Hotel (2008), the CentralWorld shopping mall (1989/2006), Zen department store (1989), the Offices at CentralWorld (2005), Chumchon Lang Wat Pathumwanaram (a slum community), Suan Pathumwananurak (an unfinished park) and the Wat Pathum Wanaram school (2007).

The dates are about acquisition/building/registration. There’s more:

… in the Siam-Ratchaprasong area the commercial interests of the monarchy are served not only by income from its properties, for Princess Sirindhorn and King Bhumibol are also major shareholders of the retail company Siam Piwat which operates the Siam shopping malls on Princess Sirindhorn’s land. The king holds 180,000 shares in Siam Piwat and the princess holds 4.32 million shares, most of them acquired from the Ministry of Finance and BankThai (now CIMB Thai Bank) in 2003 and 2005, respectively. This makes the royal family the second biggest shareholder of Siam Piwat. The family thus earns twice: from leasing out land to Siam Piwat and from their shares in the company. The princess could earn an estimated 1.68 billion baht (US$52.5 million) in annual rents from the mall and hotel operators in the “Siam” area, calculated on the basis of recent estimates of land prices in downtown Bangkok of 600 million baht per rai (1,600 m2), a total plot size of approximately 70 rai and a policy – followed by the CPB next door (Grossman 2011, 297) – of raising annual rents of 4% of a property’s market value. Moreover, in 2010, Sirindhorn’s share of Siam Piwat’s net income amounted to 145 million baht (US$4.7 million) or almost a quarter of the company’s total net income attributable to shareholders for that year.5 Siam Piwat itself subleases part of the land to the Siam Kempinski Hotel. The Siam Kempinski is owned by Kempin Siam, a joint venture between the Bahrain-based Al Manar capital group (49%), the Thai property developer Natural Park (35%) and Royal Wealth (16%) which, again, is co-owned by Al Manar and CPB Equity, a holding company which looks after the share dealings of the CPB. Interestingly, by setting up the aptly named company Royal Wealth together with Al Manar, the CPB helped the foreign capital group to increase its shareholding in Kempin Siam beyond 49% to become a majority shareholder in a Thai company. Moreover, the CPB not only co-owns Siam Kempinski, it also owns 86% of the shares of Kempinski Hotels S.A., a world-wide operating luxury hotel chain which manages the Siam Kempinski. In the mid-1990s the Dusit Thani Hotel Group and Siam Commercial Bank (SCB, of which the CPB holds a dominating 23.69%) invested in the ailing Kempinski group. After the 1997 financial crisis the CPB bought the shares from Dusit Thani and the SCB to “face-lift” the bank’s portfolio.

On the political economy of royalism and consumption, the author observes:

Royals often frequent the “Siam” malls whose appeal, through physical proximity to a royal palace, can hardly be replicated elsewhere in the city. Therefore, business success in the Siam area partly depends on the continued power of the monarchy’s sacred charisma. But while the monarchy lends its barami to the shopping malls it also symbiotically profits from them – and not just in terms of income generated from rents and shareholdings. Subtle references to the royal ties of the malls link the monarchy with the material progress of the Bangkok populace, yet carefully avoiding revealing the royal family’s direct financial interest in these commercial operations. As a place of conspicuous consumption, of Louis Vuitton and Ferrari, and as a “royal” mall, Siam Paragon is a double source of social distinction.

All-in-all, this is one academic paper that deserves broad attention and careful reading.

Sufficient nonsense

16 10 2013

Sanitsuda Ekachai is an editor at the Bangkok Post specializing in Buddhist issues and rural development and NGOs material. We were somewhat surprised that she has been beating the sufficiency economy drum again.

PPT had thought that the sufficiency economy discourse had died an appropriate death when it was linked with the geriatric royalist regime that the 2006 coup put in place. After all, the royalist Democrat Party gave it little attention, except in ideological terms, when they were hoisted to power by military and palace. So while it was put in development plans – does anyone look at these any more? – and posterior polishing conferences were organized bringing together well-paid luminaries with no particular knowledge of this “philosophy,” it seemed, well, forgotten.

While Sanitsuda knows it is an “empty mantra,” she seems to think that it needs resurrection in the fight against rapacious capitalists.Now which is the largest capitalist conglomerate in Thailand? Oh, yes, the (never sufficiency) monarchy…. Yet it was this line that got our attention:

The sufficiency economy concept initiated by His Majesty the King is lauded worldwide because it addresses the much-needed moral dimension of development and capitalism.

Lauded the world over? Really? We did a bit of a search, and apart from Thai royal pandering sites, there isn’t much. The best of these we saw was at a UNESCO site, where this was the blurb:

UNESCO Future Lecture – Towards a Sufficiency Economy: a New Ethical Paradigm for Sustainability: In Homage to the Philosophy on “Sufficiency Economy” by His Majesty the King Bhumibol Adulyadej

All of this event was Thai officials using taxpayer funds to promote the monarchy. A bit of an expensive yawn. There are some blogs that link to the notion and competing claims for ownership of the idea, For example,

Samuel Alexander is a founder of the Simplicity Institute, a group … making some of the most interesting contributions to the post-growth debate at the moment. In particular, their work has focused on the ‘sufficiency economy’….

Alexander is a new kid on the sufficiency/simplicity block, but there’s little evidence that  the king’s idea – if it was his – is being lauded worldwide.

The question is: why make this stuff up and publish it in a newspaper? To be honest, we can’t think of a single reason why a serious journalist would do this.

Rich richer

15 09 2013

There are several measures of wealth around. There are also measures of poverty, but these are less likely to generate media stories unless associated with political strife.

There have been several media accounts of a report by Wealth-X, which each year delineates the really, really rich around the world. PPT uses a Wall Street Journal story that appeared at Wealth-X’s website. It begins: “In Southeast Asia, the rich are getting richer.”moneybags

The WSJ says:

Every country in the region tracked by the [Wealth-X] report – Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam – saw their population of ultra-high net worth individuals (UHNW), defined as those with assets of US$30 million and up, grow over the past year.

These UHNWs have done pretty nicely in the past year, for Thailand:

boasted the biggest growth of this specific group of wealthy, with its ultra-high net worth population up 15.2% to 720 individuals this year, compared to 625 in 2012. The wealth pool of these millionaires in Thailand has also grown, and they now control US$110 billion in assets, up from US$95 billion a year ago.

That’s about $150 million each for the 720.

Of course, US$150 million is a drop in the bucket when compared with, say, the announced royal wealth for Thailand, which is far in excess of $30 billion. And that doesn’t even include the taxpayer slug of US$436 million for making sure the royals are safe, secure and posterior polished. With the rich getting richer, we would expect the Crown Property Bureau’s assets and personal royal wealth to have at least kept pace in recent years.

Thailand, which has actually seen tiny improvements in its Gini Index and increases is incomes for the poorest in recent years. Even so, the National Statistical Office’s 2011 household survey revealed that the national average monthly income was 22,236 baht (US$741). The national average per capita income for the poorest 10% of the population was just 1,896 baht (US$63) per month.

13,869,660,200 baht

21 08 2013

That’s how much it will cost in the coming year to revere the monarchy. Here we refer only to the cost to the taxpayer as set out by the Bureau of Budget. Recall that this monarchy is often ranked as the wealthiest in the world.

PAD protester

Give them more!!

That huge, mind-boggling figure is about US$436,360,620.

In 2011 it was 10,781,250,000 baht.

In 2012 it was 11,208,800,975 baht.

The increase over three years is over 20%.

The British monarchy cost their taxpayer about 31 million pounds or about 1,500,000,000 baht. We know this because the royals there produce an 80 page report each year on their grants from the state.

This means the Thai monarchy gets almost 10 times more that the British monarchy! Each year!


Supporting royalism 2013

9 06 2013

Some two years ago, PPT posted a comment based on a New York Times report by Thomas Fuller. In a long post on royal wealth, we noted this:

Fuller adds that income from the CPB [Crown Property Bureau] “is separate from the approximately $350 million in taxpayer money allocated for the royal household, royal-led development projects and other expenses related to the royal family.”

PPT added:

In fact, PPT thinks $350 million of taxpayer money is an under-estimate. For example, in the Abhisit Vejjajiva government’s last budget the first three lines of the Ministry of Finance’s allocation was for royal things and amounted to about $100 million. Line after line in the budget allocates funds to the royals. This is public information, but as far as PPT knows, going through the Budget Bureau’s allocations has not been a task yet completed.

Now doing the rounds of the social media is this estimate for 2013, and drawn from the Budget Bureau. Our version is sent to us by a reader who says it is a Facebook translation provided via Andrew MacGregor Marshall. PPT edited some of this but didn’t change the data:

… according to the Fiscal Year 2013 budget Act:

- Expenses related to Royal Development Projects – 2,300,000,000 Baht (US $76.67 Million)

- Expenses related to traveling and welcoming foreign Heads of States – 700,000,000 Baht (US $ 23.34 million)

- Layout of plans for cherishing, safeguarding and protecting the monarchy institution to these government organizations:

1. Office of the Permanent Secretary to the Office of the Prime Minister – 635,066,000 Baht (US $ 21.2 Million)

2.  Office of the Secretariat of the Prime Minister – 2,104,446,500 Baht – (US $ 70.15 Million)

3.  Minister of Defense (22,760,700 Baht – (US $ 0.76 Million)

4.  Royal Thai Aide-De-Camp Department – 580,426,700 Baht (US $ 19.35 Million)

5.  Royal Thai Armed Force Headquarters = 260,000,000 Baht (US $8.67 Million)

6.  Royal Thai Army – 320,000,000 Baht (US $ 10.67 Million)

7.  Royal Thai Navy – 12,246,100 Baht (US $ 0.41 Million)

8.  Royal Thai Air Forces – 23,500,000 Baht (US $ 0.78 Million)

Grand Total: 6,958,446,000 Baht (approximately US $232 Million) per year

The version sent to us adds this, which confirms our earlier comment above on needing to drill down on the budget:

In an addition, several individuals provided the comments that most governmental branches are required to use their own annual budget to allocate for “cherishing, safeguarding and protecting the monarchy institution” on the top of the Official Annual Budget for Fiscal Year 2013.

The Thai of the translation  above is:

… ตาม พ.ร.บ.งบประมาณรายจ่ายประจำปีงบประมาณ พ.ศ.2556 ต่อไนี้หน่อยครับ (เพื่อนลิงค์มาให้ตามโพสต์ด้านล่าง)

 - ค่าใช้จ่ายตามโครงการอันเนื่องมาจากพระราชดำริ 2,300,000,000 บาท

- ค่าใช้จ่ายเกี่ยวกับการเสด็จพระราชดำเนินและต้อนรับประมุขต่างประเทศ 700,000,000 บาท

- แผนงานเทิดทูน พิทักษ์ และรักษาสถาบันพระมหากษัตริย์ จัดให้หน่วยงานหลักดังนี้

(1) สนง.ปลัด สำนักนายกรัฐมนตรี 635,066,000 บาท

(2) สำนักเลขาธิการนายกรัฐมนตรี 2,104,446,500 บาท

(3) กระทรงกลาโหม 22,760,700 บาท

(4) กรมราชองครักษ์ 580,426,700 บาท

(5) กองบัญชาการกองทัพไทย 260,000,000 บาท

(6) กองทัพบก 320,000.000 บาท

(7) กองทัพเรือ 12,246,100 บาท

(8) กองทัพอากาศ 23,500,000 บาท

If readers go back to the 2012 budget (clicking downloads a very large PDF in English), the centrality of the expenditures on and for the monarchy indicates how debased ideas about “national security” have become. In fact, these allocations are evidence of the extent of the warping of public public policy required by monarchism:

The FY 2012 budget allocation consists of 8 strategies and a list of expenditures on general administration under 49 programmes. Important aspects of the strategy can be summarized as follows:

Strategy 1 : Building of foundation for a balanced development towards the society….

Strategy 2 : National Security

The government has allocated the budget for protecting national security, upholding and preserving the monarchy and maintaining domestic order by strengthening and developing readiness and potential for the national defence system….

The amount of 190,300.9 million baht, equivalent to 8 per cent of the total budget, is allocated for this strategy and can be classified by the following programmes.

2.1 Programme on upholding, protecting and preserving the monarchy

The amount of 11,208.8 million baht will be allocated to uphold, protect and preserve the monarchy from any offenses by providing a security system and organizing events on upholding the monarchy at appropriate occasions. In addition, His Majesty’s suggestions will be implemented along with the promotion and promulgation of the Royal Projects to make people aware of his kindness and maintain their loyalty to the monarchy and the fact that the Thai society is the society of unity and sufficiency living.

2.2 Programme on national defence

The amount of 164,615.4 million baht will be allocated to strengthen and develop the national defence system to be prepared with potentials to protect independence, sovereignty, security and national interests from internal and external threats….

2.3  Programme on maintaining domestic order

The amount of 14,476.7 million baht will be allocated to preserve national interests and maintain domestic order….

Obscuring by political concoction

13 12 2012

As any long-time reader of PPT knows, the wealthiest family in Thailand is the royal family. If the wealth of the top ten in the annual Forbes list is combined, then the total comes out roughly the same as the assets of the Crown Property Bureau alone, leaving aside the other assets of the royal family.Money & Banking

Another measure of wealth that comes out each year for Thailand is the Money & Banking/การเงินการธนาคาร list of top shareholders at the Stock Exchange of Thailand. We do not recall it including the royal family’s personal shareholdings. PPT hasn’t seen the latest issue and ranking (the cover is reproduced, right), but we note a story based on it from The Nation.

PPT’s attention was drawn to the article by the headline: “Richest stockholders linked to govt, PM”. As far as we can tell, this is a complete fabrication by the newspaper. This concoction – made for blatantly political purposes – is apparently not even based on the data the editors of this fish wrap  reproduce in their own story. The first lines of the story modify the false headline only slightly: “Politicians and their families, especially some people close to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her government … rank among the richest stockholders in the country.”

Well, yes, they do rank “among the 5,737 millionaires as of September…” – yes, that is more than 5,700.

The Nation breathlessly states: there “are Yingluck’s two nieces, who are daughters of her big brother and former prime minister Thaksin [Shinawatra].” It shows that “Paethongtarn Shinawatra, was ranked 47th with her 29-per-cent holding in SC Asset worth Bt3.46 billion, while Pinthongta Shinawatra was 53rd with a 28-per-cent stake in the same real-estate company worth Bt3.35 billion.”

What the data show is that the top 46 stockholders are not related to the government or prime minister, at least not according to The Nation’s data.

The paper does find others who are not “Richest stockholders linked to govt, PM”, but claims they are: “Pojaman na Pombejra, Thaksin’s ex-wife, fell to 502nd” place on the list, while “Pongthep Thepkanjana, deputy prime minister and education minister, has his wife and daughter on the list. Yapa was ranked 244th with a 2.1-per-cent interest in Kiatnakin Bank worth Bt795.50 million, while his wife Panida was 264th with a 1.9-per-cent stake worth Bt728.08 million in the bank.” Then they dug up “Artharn at 1,811st with a 2.6-per-cent stake worth Bt58.28 million in Unimit Engineering, and Duang at 2,213rd with 1.8 per cent or Bt38.60 million in the same company,” who are sons of Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung.

It is quite clear that The Nation has simply made up its headline and concocted a story. It has long been known that the Shinawatra clan is wealthy, and they have appeared on the Money & Banking list for many years, often much higher ranked than they are now. Pongthep’s family has also been on the list for some time.

Recent reports suggest that the king’s personal holdings “include shares valued at $63 million in companies including Minor International Pcl (MINT), Thailand’s biggest hotel operator … according to data compiled by Bloomberg.” If accurate, that alone would rank the king above Pongthep’s wife and daughter combined.

If real analysis was done of the biggest shareholders, we have little doubt that the real headline would be “Richest stockholders linked to Democrat Party.”

The Nation is too often a disgraceful pile of pulp and remarkably stupid in its concoctions.

Monarchies in comparison

27 08 2012

Personal or public?

Readers may recall that back in April this year, PPT posted regarding the scandal facing the Spanish king at that time and some of the historical coincidences that haunted the Spanish and Thai kings. At the Council on Foreign Relations blog, Joshua Kurlantzick has a post with a contemporary comparison.

Referring to a Washington Post article of a few days ago, Kurlantzick writes of how European austerity programs are impacting the monarchies there. Kurlantzick reminds readers of the criticism of the Spanish king, Juan Carlos, for his 19th Century and colonial-like penchant for shooting wild animals in Africa (see PPT’s earlier post). That criticism “led to a major backlash against the monarch.” The blog article states that that event has seen calls for “Juan Carlos to drastically cut his annual spending and to be much more transparent about how he is spending money on royal activities.”

While the well-funded and seemingly well-fueled escapes of the youngest British prince/playboy in Las Vegas may suggest that the austerities are not cutting too deep for some, the calls for greater transparency for the more controversial and big spending and well-connected royals has been growing, while establishment figures and self-serving royalists seek to protect the extravagant royals.

Kurlantzick then turns to Thailand:

Though it may be able to hold off such inquiries for now, via harsh lèse-majesté laws and the genuine reverence the monarchy enjoys, the Thai monarchy could learn some lessons from Juan Carlos. Like the Spanish king, the current Thai king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, has truly earned a high degree of respect from many Thais over the course of his lengthy reign. But that respect, and the fact that the king’s reign is strongly supported by a core of arch-royalists in Bangkok, does not mean that questions are not increasingly being raised, in private, about the royal family’s finances.

Kurlantzick’s view of “respect” is couched in terms that don’t obliterate history in the way that several news agencies have long done, and the point he makes about transparency for royal finances is an important one. While he believes that “royals seem to understand this [need] in Thailand,”we are not so sure the royals are in any way keen on opening up about health, wealth or much else.

His evidence for feeling that the Thai royals have been given a message is the “recent, royally-approved biography of the king’s life” that he says “contained significantly more information on the Crown Property Bureau “than any royally-approved book had in the past.” That’s true, but it is a bit of closing the gate after the horse has bolted given the high profile of an academic account (get it here) and the related Forbes story of the CPB. Essentially, the book is a royalist and palace attempt to steer the public account of the monarchy, post-Handley (and his The King Never Smiles).

Kurlantzick believes that as the average Thai knows something about the monarchy’s wealth, that knowledge “only fuels a hunger for more —though Thais will not say so in public. On social media sites, and in private conversations, discussion of the Crown Property Bureau now is far more common than in the past.”

Juan Carlos has apparently “announced he would be taking a pay cut voluntarily, according to the Washington Post story, in tune with the austere times.” Kurlantzick asks if that isn’t a “model for other monarchs?” Probably not, for as the palace and those responsible for the recent biography points out, this king is unlike any other…. and other such concoctions that serve “protect” and conceal.

Much that contributes to the wealth and power of the Thai monarchy remains missing from public view. See sets of PPT posts on this here and here.

As a most basic of examples, it remains unclear – make that opaque – how much taxpayer money goes to support the royal family, its activities, projects and personal spending. Efforts have been made to cull information from Budget Bureau papers, but there is no clarity and a myriad of government agencies pour funds into the support of the royals, with no accounting or public accountability (as one small example, think of royal cars). No minister or politician dares  raise questions about royal funding in parliament, which is meant to be one site of scrutiny over the expenditure of public monies; many of these people assist in what amount to cover ups. Senior bureaucrats regularly come out with dopey letters denying royal wealth.

Transparency remains pretty much off the agenda and accountability is a term that is unlikely to be used in the same breathe as monarchy.

How feudal monarchies use lese majeste to protect status, wealth and privilege

27 07 2012

A dedicated reader pointed PPT in the direction of a lese majeste story from the feudal sultanate of Oman. Wikipedia tells us that “Oman is an absolute monarchy in which the Sultan of Oman exercises ultimate authority but its parliament has some legislative and oversight powers.” So in terms of government, Thailand’s political and social system should be far less feudal. But not, it seems, when it comes to lese majeste.

A recent report explains that:

One of the ten Lèse-majesté detainees was released on bail today by the Muscat Primary Court in al Khuwair, according to an activist. Last month authorities in Oman clamped down on a number of Netizens for slander against Sultan Qaboos Bin Saeed.

So far 10 activists, accused of defaming the country’s ruler by writing slanderous articles on social media or various web-based forums, have been sentenced by the Muscat Primary Court but released on bail pending their appeal in the higher court.

Of course, under the royalist Abhisit Vejjajiva regime, far more activists were locked up in order to “protect” the monarchy and the system of privilege and wealth that the royalist state manages. Abhisit’s political police attacked opponents with the same vigor and determination as Oman’s feudal rulers. And, they hardly ever bailed those accused of lese majeste!

Just like in Thailand, when family of the detainees tried to get help from the National Human Right Commission, that body turns out to be nothing other than a protector of feudal privilege.

And when protesters demand change, like in Thailand, the feudal forces choose to kill people. The protection of wealth and privilege seems to demand the deaths of citizens.

In reading the report, PPT has the impression that the ultra-royalists in Thailand are protecting a feudal-like monarchical system that is an anachronism. Despite its (modern) corporate wealth and the remarkable sums it receives from the state, the system of status, privilege and wealth is an anachronism that works well for the royalist elite but not for others, who are the vast majority.

More money for royals

17 07 2012

Already the world’s richest royals and receiving hundreds of millions of baht in taxpayer funds each year, governments continually throw ever more taxpayer money at the royals.

The Bangkok Post reports:

The cabinet on Tuesday approved a fund of 112 million baht from the central fund of the 2012 budget to cover expenses for the celebration of Her Majesty the Queen’s 80th birthday on Aug 12….

The extra loot was proposed by the Office of the Prime Minister. It was explained that the additional bags of money were to be used for:

expenses expected to be incurred are for the meetings of the organising committee and other related committees, the public relations, an exhibition in honour of Her Majesty the Queen, a feature film about Her Majesty, and a garden party.

PPT can hardly wait for the “feature film.” We can’t wait for the Democrat Party to claim that the amount is too little and part of a plot to make the monarchy look trivial.

Throwing money at the biggest moneybags in the country seems to be required. The more than US$350 million they already receive just seems somehow inadequate for this royal family. Another $3-4 million for these trifles seems like a drop, but it keep happening. The drops soon become a bucket and then a reservoir. How much does this royal family really cost?

Pavin on Thaksin, deals and the future of democracy

18 04 2012

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an associate professor at the Centre for South-east Asian Studies, Kyoto University, has yet another newspaper op-ed that deserves attention. Pavin has been one of the most prolific of media commentators on Thailand over the past 2-3 years after a kind of conversion away from the Democrat Party.

In our view, his most significant contribution in recent years has not been his writing but his innovative lese majeste-focused Ah Kong fearlessness campaign. At the time, Pavin’s action was brave and much needed,

Of course, as we at PPT well know, when one writes a great deal, there are many opportunities for getting things wrong in the murky world of Thai politics. Pavin’s latest piece is titled “End seems near for Thaksin saga,” and PPT thinks Pavin gets it wrong on several scores.

First, there is the issue of deals done and deals contemplated between Thaksin’s camp and the amart side. Pavin reckons that there must have been a deal because “the Yingluck government seems to lend credence to such reports through some of its actions.” But then there have been as many actions that would be deal killers by the same government. If a supposed deal was just about making the monarchy feel good about itself and letting the military play by itself, that would seem one-sided. But Pavin believes the deal includes Thaksin’s “enemies agreeing to allow him to return without facing any charges.”

Of course, no one has presented any evidence for a deal and there has been so much talk about deals done and deals broken that PPT can’t help but think that political deals are about as solid as a quicksand. We tend to think of strategies and pressure and counter-pressures rather than deals.

Related to the deal scenario, Prime Minister Yingluck’s government:

has made clear that it will not support calls to amend Article 112 of the Thai criminal code, which makes it an offence for anyone to insult or defame the monarchy.

That’s true, and this is our second point, we disagree that: “For the country’s traditional elite, Article 112 is the key to the survival of the royal institution and thus, to their position of power.”

That is a remarkable exaggeration that misses, for example, a whole range of symbolic and remarkably expensive symbolic nonsense that supports the monarchy and its lifestyle of living luxuriously at the taxpayer’s expense. It also ignores the most basic fact that monarchy is not just a bunch of welfare recipients living in grand style but the country’s largest capitalist conglomerates. That makes the monarchy more complex and more powerful.

Our third disagreement is more straightforward: Pavin says that Hun Sen’s “support to Thaksin and the Red Shirt movement” is the “first time in modern history that a Cambodian leader has openly taken sides in Thailand’s internal conflict.” Of course,Hun Sen has been doing this for several years now, so recent events are hardly novel.

We do agree with Pavin that the “traditional elite simply could not compete with Thaksin in the game of electoral politics.” That’s partly why we’d say that the monarchy as we have known it is finished.

And we also agree that Pavin raised the right question when he asks what the will be “the future direction of Thai democracy amid this power rearrangement among the elites?” In other words, what does Thaksin have in mind? His record in power was mixed and while he paints himself as a democrat now, his incapacity to disengage his own interests from those of the state seems likely to continue and to undermine those claims.


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