Re-feudalization and repression

26 01 2020

Somsak Jeamteerasakul has posted another before and after picture of the destruction of symbols of the 1932 revolution and the People’s Party. This time at the Field Marshal P. Phibulsonggram House Learning and History Center in Chiang Rai:

Meanwhile, yet another critical report seems to have been removed from the Khaosod news website.In this case, an opinion piece by Pravit Rojanaphruk titled “Opinion: The Talibanization of Bangkok’s Architectural Heritage” about the erasing of post-1932 architectural style from Rajadamnoen Avenue, has gone.

When one looks for the article at the site, the return is:

It was there.

And it was circulated:

And it was re-posted in Thailand:

Frustratingly, PPT didn’t copy the article before it was taken down. If any reader has a copy, please email us.

The last time this happened it was a news story about the trouble caused by Princess Sirivannavari when she and some rich friends had a holiday in the south and officials closed land and sea to allow her to have fun with “security.” Ordinary Thais lost income and work while taxpayer funds were burned.

As far as we can tell, in neither case has Khaosod explained why the articles have been disappeared. We assume the management and owners came under pressure. But from where? From notions of self censorship? Or from the regime? Or from the palace?

The fear about commenting on anything royal is reinforced. The erasure of memory and history gathers pace.





Chinese-style snooping

25 01 2020

In a report a couple of days ago, Zachary Frye at ASEAN Today considers how Thailand’s repressive state apparatus may seek to follow the Chinese and create a snooping regime that is far more intrusive than anything seen in Thailand so far.

He says that “China is exporting its AI-driven surveillance technology to Thailand.” In fact, (state-linked) Chinese firms selling facial recognition technology have set up in Thailand. Immigration in Thailand is using the technology. And, it’s not just the state, with Thailand’s largest conglomerate (outside the crown), CP, set to use the intrusive technology.

In China, as the article explains, “facial recognition technology, abetted by artificial intelligence (AI), forms a backdrop to citizen’s lives. Their faces are scanned in supermarkets, subway stations and airports, allowing the authorities to identify and track millions of people in real time.” All of this is claimed to be in support of anti-terrorism and to “reduce crime and fraud,” but, in fact, they about surveillance and control.

The Thai authorities, keen to stamp out anti-monarchism and to prevent all political unrest, have been looking at the Chinese technology and systems: “In 2019, Thailand struck a deal with the Chinese firm Megvii, which makes AI-enhanced surveillance and deep-learning software. The Thai government is also opening a 5G testbed with Huawei…”.

Thais have already “seen their digital freedom curtailed in recent years.” The military junta-cum-military-backed regime “goes to great lengths to keep tabs on its citizens online, especially surrounding delicate topics like the monarchy.” Its cyber laws are highly repressive. The Chinese technology (c)would restrict online freedom even further:

Surveillance technology is a powerful weapon. The government’s manipulation of cybersecurity laws and lese-majeste provisions have given no indication that [Gen] Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government can be trusted to implement Chinese tech for the public benefit. While a surveillance state [like that in China] is still a long way off, the purchases will no doubt further government control.





Playboy prince, fearsome king

25 01 2020

Readers may be interested in Richard Bernstein’s piece with Vox, “Thailand’s playboy king isn’t playing around.”

PPT finds some of the underlying assumptions a bit too accepting of elite propaganda:

Self-crowned

With King Bhumibol Adulyadej old and ailing, many worried the Thai monarchy would atrophy into irrelevance once his playboy son [Vajiralongkorn] ascended to the throne. And given its importance as a pillar of Thai nationhood and identity, that could be disastrous in a country already prone to deep divisions and political turmoil.

This ignores the fact that Vajiralongkorn was preparing for the throne for all those years that the old king was ailing. But, anyway, as the author says, “… things have decidedly not worked out that way.”

As Bernstein notes, the outcome of succession – so far- is that “… Vajiralongkorn has rapidly amassed power.” That’s legal, economic and political power. On the economic side, suggesting that the royal wealth is $43 billion seems a significant underestimate to us.

The article lists several of the ways in which this transition to an even more powerful king has taken place in a relatively short time.

Through all of this, Vajiralongkorn has behaved badly, just as he has throughout his adult life:

Vajiralongkorn gets away with things that would have ruined his predecessors, [and]… involves an intentional display of royal power, a signal that the rules that apply to everybody else don’t apply to him.

Fear is palpable when it comes to Vajiralongkorn:

Royal Household Bureau via Khaosod

It’s clear that nobody wants to be heard saying anything negative or derogatory about Vajiralongkorn. Thailand is a country where there can be lively conversations about all sorts of topics….

But there’s almost no discussion of the king’s grasping, his horrid treatment of his women, his militarization of the monarchy, his manipulation of the law or anything else. Political critics worry that they may end up in jail or floating in a river, murdered and disemboweled. It may be that lese majeste is no longer used the way it was under the military junta, but the beatings, deaths and disappearances are a potent warning of the lawless power wielded by and for the monarch.

Bernstein writes of the seldom-discussed “massive building campaign in the central Dusit district of Bangkok.” This area is now essentially a “royal compound”:

It’s an immense rectangle, surrounded by newly renovated walls surmounted by the yellow flag of the monarchy. Soldiers patrol the sidewalks alongside. Construction cranes loom over the ramparts. In one area, a row of large buildings that once housed senior members of the palace staff are empty and decaying, reportedly awaiting demolition.

The gates to the old zoo are locked shut. A glimpse into the old race track revealed a bunch of construction sheds….

“It’s all a way of making his power formal, visible,” one person whispered to me. “He wants everybody to see, whether it’s taking back the land that the zoo is on or assuming direct control of military regiments. And nobody can or dares to stop him.”

The king and the junta’s years in power eliminated opposition to such grandiose designs and little is whispered about the vast (mis-)use of public funds for aggrandizing a monarch whose every action projects a desire for re-feudalization and absolutism. He cultivates:

an image of sternness, command, and Olympian distance from ordinary people. If there were people hoping somehow that, being a Western-educated, cosmopolitan person living mostly in the West, he would encourage a move back in the direction of liberal values and practices, they have by now been disappointed.

We have no idea how anyone could have thought that the obsessive-compulsive Vajiralongkorn was ever going to be anything other than a military man, a thug and greedy wasn’t watching him as he “matured.”





Going backwards II

24 01 2020

In our last post on the destruction of symbols of 1932, PPT commented: What’s next? The Democracy Monument? Changing street names? We think anything is possible under a king who wants more absolutism and mad military monarchists who cravenly lick his boots.

We got the answer within hours. An erasure of architectural style on Rajadamnoen Avenue as another effort to make Bangkok the monarch’s city.

Rajadamnoen now. Clipped from Wikipedia

Khaosod reports that the Crown Property Bureau, on King Vajiralongkorn’s orders, will “tear down buildings along a 1,200-meter stretch of the iconic Ratchadamnoen Avenue and rebuild them under a new architectural style…”. The CPB owns the buildings.

The CPB will “renovate 10 buildings on the avenue in a ‘neoclassical’ style, ditching the art deco look originally implemented in the spirit of a 1932 revolution that overthrew the absolute monarchy.”

Rajadamnoen now. Clipped from Wikipedia

For example, the Deves Insurance building, majority owned by the king, “is currently a six-storey art deco structure” but will be made neoclassical.

Why neoclassical? According to theCPB, “the new look will showcase ‘art, culture, and identity of Thailand’.” In other words, neoclassical is considered the style of the absolutist monarchy even if the Avenue has never had such a style.

As the report notes, “Ratchadamnoen Avenue is perhaps the most politically charged landmark in the capital; its history symbolizing the ebb and flow of the ideological struggles that define the last century of Thai politics.”

The monarchy is now reclaiming control of the properties and their style, and it can be expected that the politics will be removed from the avenue as it is made more firmly a royal avenue.

Royal vandalism. Clipped from Khaosod

After 1932, the revolutionaries “soon set out to fill Ratchadamnoen Avenue with buildings designed under art deco style… [A]rt deco was chosen by the revolutionaries to signify a break with the feudal past.” As historian Chatri Prakitnonthakan notes, “Buildings with this look came to represent democracy. It represents the ushering of the modern era…. It’s democratic architecture.”

The king and his agents, including the monarchist-military regime.

Chatri recognizes that “conservatives are not happy and hate this type of buildings,” and there can be no doubt that the king has been schooled in this conservative mode and his now using his economic and political power to obliterate symbols of 1932 and democracy.

And, of course, the report notes the fear: “In spite of the magnitude of the change coming to one of the most iconic landmarks in the Old City, few people are willing to discuss the issue.”

Officials responsible for maintaining building and construction ran and hid when asked about the CPB’s project. No official dares comment.

Others claimed that “they carry out whatever changes or construction as instructed by the Crown Property Bureau.”

Welcome to neo-absolutist Thailand. Watch for more such moves against symbols of 1932 as the monarch promotes cultural and political crimes.





Further updated: Going backwards I

23 01 2020

Earlier this month we pointed to another effort directed by King Vajiralongkorn to erase all symbols of the 1932 revolution.

We pointed to reports that memorial statues to two leaders of the 1932 revolution – Phraya Phahol Pholphayuhasena and Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram – were to be removed at a military base in Lopburi.

This was just the latest in a string of secret, then semi-secret and now brazenly open re-feudalization efforts by the palace to de-memorialize 1932 and replace it with symbols of the monarchy.

We observed that history is being re-constructed as we watch.

This dirty deed has now been done, in the depths of night, as shown in social media posts of before, during and after the official vandalism.

What’s next? The Democracy Monument? Changing street names? We think anything is possible under a king who wants more absolutism and mad military monarchists who cravenly lick his boots.

Update 1: There’s now some confusion on social media about this removal of statues. The photos above referred to a statue of Phahon Pholpayuhasena being removed. Some reports had it as a statue of Phibun. It seems the latter’s statue remains. If we see any further news on this we’ll update.

Update 2: The confusion on statues seems to relate to a Phibun statue in Bangkok, which is still in place. The social media commentary on statue removal referred to Lopburi. Prachatai has a graphic summarizing the destruction and memory erasures:





Rampant re-feudalization

22 01 2020

The effort to re-feudalize contemporary Thailand has been gathering pace since the 2014 military coup and since King Vajiralongkorn ceremonially took the throne.

The most recent effort to move backwards “students at public schools operated by the City Hall must line up and sing the Royal Anthem in unison every morning per order from [junta-appointed] Bangkok Governor [Pol Gen] Aswin Kwanmuang.”

Indoctrinating the young (from Chiang Rai Times)

Aswin claimed his royalist imposition was because “he wanted to promote loyalty to the monarchy…. Singing the Royal Anthem is just an idea to promote … love and faith in the nation, religions, and the monarch, who are the crucial foundations of Thainess…”.

The report claims that “Thai schools typically require students to sing the National Anthem every morning,” which is well known, and adds that the Royal Anthem “… is played less frequently. In many schools, the Royal Anthem is sung only once a week, at the end of class on Friday.” Even that is a relatively recent royalist innovation.

Aswin now demands that the royal anthem must be sung after the national anthem every day.

The royal anthem was the national anthem until the 1932 revolution. So Gen Aswin’s order is yet another rolling back of 1932.

One of the military junta’s first steps after the coup was to tighten the thought control in schools. That involved both militarism and monarchism.





Updated: Fake case dismissed

21 01 2020

The Bangkok Post reports:

The Constitutional Court ruled on Tuesday that key figures of the opposition Future Forward Party (FFP) were not guilty of opposing the monarchy.

Televised images showed the verdict triggered celebrations at the party headquarters in the capital.

The court found regulations, press interviews and speeches made by senior FFP figures were not deemed to undermine the monarchy as claimed. It ruled to reject the petition.

“The accused have not acted in their rights and liberties to overthrow the constitutional monarchy,” said Taweekiat Meenakanit, one of the judges.

The Nation adds:

In its verdict, the judges said the evidence presented were not strong enough to warrant the party’s dissolution.

The majority of evidence presented to the court came from unreliable sources such as articles and messages on online media platforms while there was no evident action from the accused showing its intention to undermine the monarchy.

Even the politicized Constitutional Court was unlikely to convict FFP and dissolve the party based on this fake case. That it even accepted the case is a measure of the fear that the ruling class has of FFP making democratic politics relevant for the population. As a Bangkok Post editorial pointed out: “Despite many cautions that the Illuminati charge is bizarre, given the fact that the secret society’s existence has never been proven, the court accepted the petition for consideration…”.

So bizarre has this process been, that even the conservative Bangkok Post pleaded for a fair trial and a transparent verdict.

Nathaporn (clipped from The Nation)

In July 2019 crazed royalist Nathaporn Toprayoon, a former adviser to the Ombudsman, lodged a complaint, claiming that FFP was anti-monarchy because it was a part of the Illuminati. Part of the “evidence” for this bonkers claim was that Future Forward’s logo was triangular, which was a bit like an Illuminati sign, albeit rotated 180 degrees. Mad Nathaporn claimed the “secret Illuminati sect [was] ‘believed to be behind the unseating of monarchies in Europe’.”

Other concocted “evidence” was that the party’s did “not use the standard phrase ‘democracy with the king as head of state’, but instead uses the words democracy according to the constitution’,” and that it was “party policy [to ]… have Thailand ratify the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, a body that does not grant immunity to the head of state, which is against the Thai constitution.”

Nathaporn also cobbled together articles written by party leaders over many years. He used these to claim they were anti-monarchists.

As we said a couple of days ago, we didn’t think that this “case” will be the end of FFP – even the hopelessly biased Constitutional Court and its mentors could not be this ridiculous, maybe, perhaps. As we pointed out: Betting seems to be that the Court will dissolve FFP in another case, where the Court will miraculously define a loan as a donation to a political party. In the end, the plan is to do away with Thailand’s third most popular party.

Update: Khaosod has an interview with mad monarchist Nathaporn just prior to the Court’s decision. Indicating his odd way of “thinking,” the lawyer claimed “he had no bias toward the accused.”

He claims that in attacking the FFP as anti-monarchy – a major crime in Thailand on a par with murder and sedition – the rabid royalist claims “he was merely following his duty to protect the monarchy from the Future Forward Party…”.

Nathaporn goes on to explain that “he only filed complaints against the Future Forward Party because it’s the only party in the Parliament who has a track record of campaigning against the monarchy.”

Yes siree! No bias against FFP at all!

Like other ultra-royalists, nutty Nathaporn cries out: “I love the monarchy like I love my parents…. If anyone hurt them, I must protect them.” Indeed.