Of monarchy, repression and a bloody reign

23 10 2017

In a timely and brave op-ed stimulated by the ludicrous lese majeste case being brought against Sulak Sivaraksa, Pravit Rojanaphruk at Khaosod makes some excellent points.

In what follows, we want to add some points that he couldn’t or didn’t make.

On Sulak’s case, facing “15 years in prison under the anachronistic and draconian lese majeste law,” is simply buffalo manure as the feudal law does not “protect” a “a king who ruled and died four centuries ago.” Pravit continues:

What will become of Thai history, the study of history, and ordinary people’s understanding of the past if we cannot questions historical events that have to do with a past king or queen? Should we stop calling it history altogether and refer to it as illuminated texts only for rote memorization and recitation without question? There can be no study of history if some questions about the past cannot be asked. We will truly not know ourselves if we cannot gaze back critically.

In fact, in the minds of Thai nationalists, the real Naresuan is already a fabrication. Nowhere do we learn much about the nature of his reign.

Jacques de Coutre is one of the first Westerners to visit Siam, staying for eight months in 1595, during Naresuan’s reign. He portrays the king as a brutal, once burning 800 men he considered had refused to fight the Burmese. Another time, in a fit of fury he is said to have executed 1500 officials. In his memoir, de Coutre portrays Naresuan as a cruel despot, torturing and killing children as well as adults, often in gruesome detail. Naturally enough, it is this despot that the modern military venerates and “protects.”

For details, readers may peruse Dirk van der Cruysse’s Siam and the West, 1500-1700, chapter 2.

Pravit refers to the current unthinking veneration of monarchy:

Listen to royalist songs or read widespread texts praising the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and one cannot fail to notice the common ticks of describing love for “our king” as held by “all Thais.”

There is no space to even acknowledge Thais who think differently about the institution or allow themselves to express themselves. You either have to flee the kingdom and never return or face a jail term here for expressing something otherwise….

It’s a sad state for Thailand. This is a country where many people do not want to look straight in the mirror. They want comfortable stories that are tear-jerking or push safe emotional buttons to reinforce a preferred image. Anything that disrupts that prevalent narrative must be censored, silenced or made illegal.

The hagiographic drivel of recent weeks is to be expected with the death of a monarch made a god by those who wanted to use him, ally with him, worship him and earn from him. Nowhere do we learn much about the nature of his reign.

This past reign drips with the blood of the Thai people. An exaggeration? Not really. For some time we have had the banned report 60 Years of Oppression and Suppression in Thailand (opens a PDF banned in Thailand) at our downloads page a compilation of political assassinations and extra-judicial killings since 1947.

The compilation begins:

This document brings together some of the evidence of the fearful tension that underlies the power struggle between the Institution of Monarchy and the Parliament of the People, tension that must be faced with dispassionate reasoning by all sides if the governance of Thailand is to mature in the name of peace and sustainable development.

Between these two competing forces there squats the greatly over-grown, hugely self-important Royal Thai Army – playing the game of ‘protecting the Monarch’ from ‘corrupt government’.

Our decision, after April-May 2010, to attempt to fill the void of public data about the fallen heroes of the people’s struggle for democracy gradually became an eye-opener – even for the seasoned activist, not just because of the number of top-down political assassinations but because of the consistency of the top-down brutality throughout the 6 decades of the current kingship.

The military “protects” the brutality of the past and the present using lese majeste.





Updated: Covering the corruption money trails

22 10 2017

Recall the claim that Interior Minister General Anupong Paojinda had approved the purchase of hundreds of “road speed guns for six times the normal price?”

Anupong said the “849 hand-held laser speed detectors – each costing 675,000 baht – was urgent to replace outdated equipment.” That’s more than 573 million baht. The project did not go to open bidding. And, oddly, the speed cameras were said to be for the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation.

The Bangkok Post’s Umesh Pandey states that General Anupong is one of The Dictator’s “closest associates …[and] has hit the headlines once again and this time, again, it is for the carelessness of his decision making.”

According to Umesh, “Gen Anupong defended himself, saying that he was unaware of the pricing of the equipment and it was only his role to pass on the requests of the agencies to the cabinet. The cabinet did not ask too many questions and approved the procurement plan presented by Gen Anupong.”

Sound familiar? It should. General Anupong made similar noises when he approved the Red Bull plant in Khon Kaen that has now been cancelled. Don’t blame me, he said, I just processed the approval.

Yeah, right. Then there was the deflated zeppelin. And the GT200 magic wands, both purchased in the past with Anupong and General Prayuth Chan-ocha working on the very bad deals that were both likely to be corrupt.

On the speed guns, there’s a belated attempt to construct a story that is so riddled with nonsense that the story is designed to befuddle while hoping the story goes silent – the junta’s trusted strategy. (Think of Rolls Royce corruption, the murder of Chaiyapoom Pasae and the “stealing” of the 1932 commemoration plaque, to name just three silences.)

The new story is that The Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department planned to buy laser-equipped speed detectors to enforce speed limits and would lend them to the police every so often. We looked at the Department’s website and couldn’t see how it might use speed guns….

Department Director-general Chayapol Thitisak “said the detectors were necessary for officials to effectively enforce the law against speeders and inculcate traffic discipline. The devices would mainly be used on secondary roads connecting districts, tambons and villages.” The department’s plan was claimed to be “in response to requests from organisations running campaigns to reduce road accidents…”.

That seems a most unlikely story to us.

Trying to save the boss, director-general Chayapol said the “procurement process had not begun…” and that “no sale had been concluded…”.

Maybe. Let’s see, when The Dictator gets his boot out of his mouth over Facebook, how he defends his former boss and co-conspirator.

Update: Interestingly, Veera Prateepchaikul, in an op-ed at the Bangkok Post has almost the same points about this deal as our post.





The old propaganda tricks

22 10 2017

We at PPT haven’t spent much time on the dead king’s upcoming funeral.

That said, we did have a critical post yesterday that was about venal propagandizing for the monarchy. We did that because Thitinan Pongsudhirak locates himself as a commentator of contemporary Thailand for the West. When he makes stuff up, there’s a chance that his readers might just believe his hagiography.

Sure, there has been a lot of this, in Thai and in English. In fact, it is as if the last few years of critical attention to the monarchy has been erased.

Indeed, that has been the task of the military dictatorship. It has wanted to erase discussion, debate and contention over the monarchy. Lese majeste has just been one of the repressive and blunt neuralyzers used.

This has extended further by the dictatorship, in alliance with the palace, by seeking to erase memories of any moments when the monarchy was criticized, put in its place and opposed. Symbols of such periods, like the 1932 plaque, are stolen and disappear.

One of the untruths pedaled by Thitinan is that the dead king “owned no fancy vehicles or other trappings that would have been seen as extravagant and lavish…”.

We take it that “owned” is not a way to hide a lie, seeking to separate the man from his family and palace. But it is simply a lie but one that has been endlessly repeated by palace propagandists.

Forget all those luxury vehicles, erase all knowledge of the wealthiest monarchy in the world, blur images of palaces all over the country, and all the other lavish accoutrements of royal position, power and wealth. Forget how much the taxpayer has subsidized the wealthiest monarchy in the world.

In relation to this, we were interested in a Reuters report on the upcoming funeral. It states:

The military government has set 3 billion baht ($90 million) aside for the lavish funeral. Preparations took almost a year to complete, with thousands of artisans working to create an elaborate structure of gold-tipped Thai pavilions in a square in front of the glittering Grand Palace.

We think this is a gross underestimate, but let’s accept it and observe that it amounts to a taxpayer subsidy of roughly $2 million for each year of the reign.

One outlet, using the Reuters story had this headline: US$90MIL … FOR A FUNERAL –ISN’T THAT TOO MUCH? BUT IF YOU SAY, YOU CAN BE JAILED FOR ‘LESE MAJESTE’: THAILAND REHEARSES LAVISH SEND-OFF FOR LATE KING.

Reuters also includes one paragraph that pokes at the huge propaganda about the monarchy in general, observing that the:

revival in the monarchy’s popularity [following 1932 and especially since 1958] was helped by a formidable public relations machine –- the evening news in Thailand includes a daily segment dedicated to the royals and the late king was often featured in his younger days crisscrossing the country to meet the poor and disenfranchised.

That period was actually rather brief – in a period following the king’s fatigue-wearing counterinsurgency activism and into the General Prem Tinsulanonda period, when the taxpayer took over royal projects – but has become one of the lasting images that the palace and various regimes have not wanted to neuralize.

The hagiography associated with the funeral has reproduced every single piece of royal propaganda and all the old and familiar (approved) images.





History re-made for the dead king

21 10 2017

The monarchy has long had scribblers working in its interest. As the author of a Bangkok Post op-ed says, truthfully, “There is a lot of hagiography and officially enforced views about Thailand’s traditional institutions…”.

This is Thitinan Pongsudhirak, who has, in recent years, become a hagiographer himself. And, this latest outing is gross in its hagiography, smashing history into a royalist shape. Thitinan is no dummy, so his choice to take a hatchet to recent political history is an effort to mislead.

For starters, he claims that the king worked for the 70 years and 126 days. That he stayed around for a long time is worth noting, but suggesting he was hard at work until the end is odd indeed. Clearly, over some of the last decade of his life, the king was unable to do much at all, being ill with the afflictions of old age.

That may be a minor point, but the discussion of the beginning of the reign ignores – deliberately – they key event: the shooting death of King Ananda Mahidol. This event brought Bhumibol to the throne. No one has tried to adequately explain that event. But to ignore it is misleading.

Thitinan says that in “1946, the monarchy was at a low point, whereas military and civilian elites in the emerging new bureaucracy dominated.”

He neglects to note that the monarchy was at the center of these “squabbles.” Royalists used the death o King Ananda to seek to oust the persons the old princes hated and viewed as republicans.

The royalist-anti-royalist struggles of the period need to be mentioned.

Thitinan is right that there was a “symbiotic relationship between the military and the monarchy.” Both sides benefited enormously, with the royal family and the king becoming hugely wealthy as a military dictatorship went on for 16 years. These seem worthy of some consideration, but not in Thitinan’s story.

Remarkably, Thitinan justifies all those years of dictatorship: “The fight against communism during the 1950s-80s necessitated a strong state revolving around the military, monarchy and bureaucracy…”.

His speculation on what Thailand might have looked like in those years “[w]ithout the monarchy” is hypothetical nonsense. His claim that it was that monarchy that “saved” Thailand from communism is just silly speculation that polishes the monarchy’s posterior simply to make it shiny. Military dictatorship, repression, murders of citizens, secret wars, massive U.S. funding seem not to deserve attention.

His hagiography gets really hysterical when Thitinan seems to say that it was the king who was remaking Thailand. It gets worse when  he makes this up: the “late monarch owned no fancy vehicles or other trappings that would have been seen as extravagant and lavish…”.

This is bizarre. The royal garage was stuffed with expensive cars. Maybachs, Mercedes, Rolls Royces and more. The palaces expanded and spend plenty. His family was and is fabulously wealthy and awash with jewelry and luxury accoutrements.The taxpayer has seen several regimes shoveling baht into supporting the royal family’s lifestyle.

Much of the rest of the op-ed repeats this propaganda in ways that is little different from the palace propaganda and hagiography poured out over many decades.

Then Thitinan recognizes that “there were dissenters during the 9th reign. They derived from a competing political narrative that arose from the 1932 overthrow of the absolute monarchy and lost out in power struggles…”. It is noted that “[m]any of them suffered from repression and persecution over the years.” But is was much more than this. Some of them were exiled, many were murdered, but that’s not stated.

The continual rebuffing of calls for democracy and human rights came from the palace and the military.

Thitinan then writes of reconciling the re-emerging 1932 narrative and that of the triumphal royalists. How much chance of that when he and others make up the historical events? How can dissidents reconcile with a make-believe royalist discourse?





Who is taking advantage of the funeral?

20 10 2017

PPT has had several posts in recent days that compare The Dictator’s campaigning and his accusations that Puea Thai Party’s Sudarat Keyuraphan was “political campaigning” in the name of remembering the dead king.

Khaosod has a report that deserves some attention.

Anti-corruption activist Srisuwan Janya points to “two purchasing scandals” he says have surfaced in the past week, but claims he can “only fume … because of the period of national mourning for for … King Bhumibol…”.

Yet he was not too constrained to refrain from slamming the military junta: “this is a period of sorrow for the entire nation…. But the government has no decency to consider this at all.”

One case involves officials who are buying hundreds of “road speed guns for six times the normal price.” The second case involves “revelations the army spent upward of 15.9 million baht to build restrooms” at Corruption/Rajabhakti Park.

After criticism, Interior Minister General Anupong Paojinda said “849 hand-held laser speed detectors – each costing 675,000 baht – was urgent to replace outdated equipment.” That’s more than 573 million baht.

We, like others, can’t see why Anupong needed to buy more than 800 speed guns right now. Given that “[c]ritics said similar devices can be found for about 100,000 baht…”, it seem reasonable to think that there’s “commissions” in the wind.

The main issue is that “[n]either of the projects went to open bidding, meaning the contracts were awarded to contractors solely at the discretion of those officials in charge.”

Yellow-shirted ultra-nationalist Veera Somkwamkid thundered that the speed gun “purchase was intentionally slipped through under the cover of mourning…”.

Veera observed that the junta had criticized Sudarat but questioned its own actions: “those bastards are engaging in corruption! It damages the public!… It is both inappropriate and damaging to the country.”





Updated: The Dictator and Facebook

19 10 2017

Back on 16 October, the Bangkok Post reported that “Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will meet Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in Thailand on Oct 30 to discuss international crime.” Some other reports mentioned digital commerce.

The Post stated that it was The Dictator who declared that”the visit was normal and the talk would focus on transnational crime cooperation.” General Prayuth added: “Let’s not speculate. It’s a chance to exchange views. And to meet [in person] is better than not…”.

All set! Facebook threatening Prayuth and Zuckerberg were going to meet and talk.

We at PPT didn’t comment on this and would have questioned why Zuckerberg would do this, even if his company has an office in Bangkok.

Then the story was expanded. The Nation reported that “security issues and digital business opportunities will likely figure prominently during talks between Prime Minister Prayut … and … Zuckerberg, … when they meet later this month in Bangkok.”

According to Deputy Government Spokesperson Lt Gen Werachon Sukondhapatipak, The Dictator was expected to raise “key issues concerning the widespread use of social media at the October 30 meeting.” In other words, he was going to grill Zuckerberg on censorship, seeking to block anti-monarchy commentary.

In amongst all the fluff about internet commerce and so on, it was clear that the junta wanted Zuckerberg’s visit to be another effort to get Facebook engaged in “protecting the monarchy.”

The the whole story crashed and burned. There was no meeting planned. A Facebook spokesman stated: “There are no plans currently for any of our senior leaders to visit Thailand…”.

We think we heard The Dictator hit the roof.It was Prayuth who stated that: “Mark Zuckerberg will come to Thailand on a business trip.” He is quoted as stating: “Mr Zuckerberg asked to meet me to discuss cooperation in preventing and solving the problems of transnational crimes, and what kind of measures and plans should be in place…”.

To date, we haven’t heard a response from the junta.

Was The Dictator infected by “fake news”? Was the junta scammed? We can’t wait for more on this story.

Update: So far we haven’t seen any comment by The Dictator or his junta. What there has been is the not unusual fuming. The Bangkok Post reports that:

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha abruptly cancelled a press interview session at Government House Thursday, leaving the media confounded as to why the regime said it would host CEO Mark Zuckerberg in Bangkok on Oct 30.

Facebook claimed Wednesday it has no plans for any of its “senior leaders” to visit the country.

The session was called off despite a podium having been put in place and questions being gathered from journalists. Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak was said to be on sick leave.

It was Somkid who made the initial announcement of the Facebook “meeting.” Khaosod traces the story so far.

So did The Dictator and his junta just make this up or were they scammed? We may never know as the loss of face is so great as to demand silence. The Dictator is not usually quiet, so let’s see if he fumes in public.





Campaigning among the poor

19 10 2017

“Politicians” can’t campaign. Especially not when the dead king’s funeral is coming up. But nothing stops the military dictatorship.

Khaosod reports that “the Finance Ministry said it might increase their shopping credit [on poverty cards] to 800 baht.”

Permanent Secretary Somchai Sujjapongse claimed that “the cash limit for welfare cardholders to purchase necessary goods might be raised from 200 baht or 300 baht to 700 baht or 800 baht per month, depending on annual income.”

Remarkably, The Dictator “took a test ride on a Bangkok bus using one of the welfare cards that will go to 550,000 capital residents.”

Is this not campaigning? Is this not populist? Of course it is.