PPT on a break

15 10 2019

Don’t expect much posting from us until early next year.





Updated: Criminal minister and law

19 11 2019

As everyone knows and he still denies – despite plenty of evidence from courts in Australia – Deputy Agriculture Minister Thammanat Prompao is a convicted heroin smuggler. In the green-hued world of military political domination, this conviction counts for nil as Thammanat is one of the standover men who maintains the military-backed government’s political control. He also claims links to the palace, saying he was working for the then crown prince when he was busted in Australia.

It seems he has other uses too.

As the Bangkok Post says in an editorial, “On Tuesday, Capt Thamanat handed over Sor Por Kor land rights certificates to 335 poor and landless farmers” so they can make a living on the land.

The Post points out that:

One of the recipients turned out to be Samatcha Angchuan, a vice-chairman of the Krabi Provincial Administrative Organisation (PAO) Council and a former Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) candidate in the last general election. He was granted 16 rai of land.

This follows Thammanat’s recent efforts on behalf of the PPRP’s controversial Pareena Kraikupt defending her family’s alleged use of 900 rai of Sor Por Kor land in Ratchaburi.

Such scandals, in 1994, transacted by then deputy agriculture minister Suthep Thaugsuban, brought down the Democrat Party-led government.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

However, with criminals running the show for the military, that would seem unlikely in this case.

Update: The many commentaries on Thammanat’s actions seem to have spurred the party bosses into action to try and – again – quieten things down. According to Thai PBS, Thammanat has had to abandon Pareena and has told her to give up her 900 rai of land.

This action might suggest infighting in the shaky coalition that is the government, but is more likely to be yet another effort to hold the government together and to avoid the same demise that befell the Democrat Party in 1994. We need to see what happens in Krabi.





Sulak and the king

18 11 2019

The Isaan Record has an interesting interview with Sulak Sivaraksa. Always a conservative royalist, Sulak was once seen as an opponent of lese majeste.

As things developed in the heat of anti-Thaksinism, Sulak flip-flopped between opposing lese majeste in some cases, including his own, but not in others, like those facing Thaksin Shinawatra.

Most recently, the media has given Sulak some credit for getting the current king to stop allowing the use of lese majeste for “protecting” the monarchy.

In this interview, Sulak is quite shocking in his praise of the erratic and absolutist King Vajiralongkorn. Of course, unlike his disdain for the king’s father, Sulak hasn’t yet found a personal reason for denouncing the current monarch. Perhaps murders of dissidents don’t count for Sulak these days.

For all of this posterior polishing of Vajiralongkorn, Sulak does have one useful insight on the monarchy and says some useful things to say about the military and its current political regime.

The one insight is in this statement:

I told His Majesty that I was being unfairly targeted, that the charge of lèse-majesté was just a pretext for silencing me, and he believed me. He instructed the royal secretariat to have the court case dropped immediately. [The king]… is very decisive. If he is going to do something, he doesn’t wait around to do it. I am very grateful indeed. 

Under King Bhumibol, the buffalo manure that came from royalists was that the king had no say in how lese majeste was used. Sulak and Vajiralongkorn have demonstrated that this was always a ridiculous claim.





Fear, the monarchy and democracy

17 11 2019

We feel the Asia Times interview with Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit of the Future Forward Party is worth reading in full. We were most interested in the comments – or lack of them – on the monarchy. That’s the fear that resurgent absolutism had created:

Asia Times: Your party has already made waves in challenging military power. What was the thinking behind your party’s voting against an emergency decree to move elite military units into the King’s royal guard?

Thanathorn: I refuse to answer this question. My official answer would be our secretary general Piyabutr (Saengkanokkul) has already answered this in parliament. That is our official answer (related to the decree’s lack of transparency).

Asia Times: Some construed that as a direct challenge to royal power. Was that the intent?

Thanathorn: I refuse to answer this question.

Asia Times: Why do Prayut[h Chan-ocha]’s ruling Palang Pracharat Party (PPRP) members consistently try to portray you and your party as anti-monarchy?

Thanathorn: Because we have no corruption cases, we have never been in government before. I think that’s the easiest way to demonize someone in Thailand.

Basically, tyranny anywhere in the world you need to create an imaginary enemy. It was Thaksin [Shinawatra] before, an imaginary enemy of the nation.

So now I have become an imaginary enemy of the state. And the easiest way to build that momentum is to brand the person you want to demonize as anti-monarchy.

Thanathorn is clearly right in his comments on the monarchy and democracy. We fear, though, that democracy is the last thing the grasping king wants:

Asia Times: Is there an inherent conflict between an emphasis on unity and loyalty, and the push, pull and contest of democratic politics?

Thanathorn: Let me put it this way: Everywhere in the world where monarchy still exists, a sustainable and strong monarchy happens to be in a democracy.

However, if there is no democracy and there is a monarchy, the institution creates stress, enormous stress in that society.

So I think the long-term prosperity of the monarchy as an institution goes together with democracy. Unless and until you build a strong democracy, monarchy as an institution will not be sustainable.





Where’s Burin Intin?

25 10 2019

The Thai Alliance for Human Rights website has posted three parts of an article by Ann Norman. These posts follow the case of Burin Intin, who was arrested, convicted and sentenced to 11 years and 4 months in prison on dubious lese majeste charges. He remains in jail and thes posts ask why.

What happened to Burin Intin? Part 1: His lese majesty case in light of the attacks on Ja New

What Happened to Burin Intin, Part 2: Some Clues from the Songs of Resistant Citizen

What Happened to Burin Inten? Part 3: Why is He Still in Jail after a String of Royal Pardons?





With 4 updates: King disposes of another wife

21 10 2019

It was is July that King Vajiralongkorn “bestowed the title of ‘Chao Khun Phra,’ or Royal Noble Consort, to Maj. Gen. Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, one of his royal guards.” She had been his minor wife for several years, often photographed with the prince-cum-king in Germany.

Then, in August, Sineenat, as royal consort, got huge palace-arranged propaganda as the king’s favorite.

All of this seemed to be a part of re-establishing the absolutism that the king appears to crave.

But, today, Sineenart is out, gone, dismissed. The official announcement “accused Sineenat of attempting to prevent Queen Suthida from being crowned and abusing her royal status.” It goes on:

According to the announcement, Sineenat not only “expressed her opposition and exerted her pressure in every possible way” regarding Queen Suthida’s elevation to the throne as the Queen of Thailand, she also sought to have His Majesty the King appoint her to the role instead.

Improbably, the July promotion to official consort is “explained”:

When in favor, now disappeared

After her repeated disobedience and attempts of interference with the royal affairs, the statement said, … the King graciously bestowed her the title of Royal Noble Consort in July out of hope that Sineenat would “lessen her pressure” and change her tact [sic.].

Instead, Sineenat continued to display “ambition” and overstepped her authority by engaging in many royal court activities without … the King’s approval, which caused much confusion to the public….

The announcement concludes that:

Her actions are considered disloyal, ungrateful, and ungracious of [the king’s] kindness…. They caused division among the royal servants and misunderstanding among the public; these amount to acts of sabotage against the country and the institution [monarchy].

She has been stripped of all royal ranks, decorations, and her military rank. That’s happened before and the victim continues to be punished. We can’t help wondering what Sineenat’s fate will be. For that matter, what becomes of her family and friends? An absolutist king in a ridiculously royalist Thailand can do pretty much anything. He can be as erratic and as obsessive-compulsive as he wants.

Update 1: The Bangkok Post reports extensively on the announcement:

According to the announcement, Chao Khun Phra Sineenat had opposed the coronation of Her Majesty the Queen after the royal marriage on May 1, 2019. She had been openly against the ceremony, applied pressure to prevent the coronation from taking place and, driven by ambition, had tried ways and means to get His Majesty to appoint her instead, according to the announcement.

“Despite her expectations, the ceremony took place. She also breached royal authority by issuing orders involving Their Majesties’ activities.”

To alleviate the problem and prevent inappropriate actions that could affect the royal institution and the country, His Majesty appointed her as Chao Khun Phra Sineenart Pilaskalayanee, read the announcement.

Since then, His Majesty has kept a close watch on her behaviour and actions and found she did not appreciate his kindness nor behave in a manner worthy of her new position.

She was not satisfied with her new position and tried to act in ways that matched the status of Her Majesty.

“She did not understand royal traditions and acted defiantly towards Their Majesties. She also exploited her new position by issuing orders, pretending they were royal commands. In addition, she ordered people to comply with her personal wishes without accountability, saying she had received royal orders to act on His Majesty’s behalf.”

Her actions were intended to bolster her popularity and benefit herself rather than the public interest. She did all this in the hope that His Majesty would grant her a higher position that would match that of Her Majesty.

The actions of Chao Khun Phra Sineenart disrespected His Majesty, lacked gratitude and failed to recognise royal kindness. They created rifts among palace officials and misunderstanding among the public, as well as undermine the country and the royal institution.

When in favor, now disappeared

Update 2: Now the social media rumors begin to run wild. One says that Sineenat will be in the king’s personal prison for two years. This one is believable as the king has done similar things in the past. She’ll have her head shaved. Another says she will be under house arrest for two years. That too is believable given the way Srirasmi was dealt with (see link above). There is also a rumor connecting the cancellation/postponement of the king’s self-congratulatory boat show, suggesting that there was a palace battle over which woman got to sit next to the king. Some say this was a plot to undo Sineenat. Who knows? Thailand has made itself so ridiculously royalist that many will believe the unbelievable royal announcement while most will believe the rumors because that’s all they get that seems more believable. There’s a chance that the king may have more to say or do on this as, like a gangster, he gets furious when he thinks he’s been disrespected.

Update 3: Normally, on a story such as this, PPT would post a bunch of links to the international media as they discuss this case. The problem is, because of the censorship of all news related to the monarchy, the palace’s extreme secrecy, and the manner in which ridiculously royalist Thailand has been repressed by the regime, the only story is the announcement from the palace. Everything else is guesswork or re-packaging of the palace’s furious announcement, as can be seen in the following examples:

The Independent asks the right question but has no answer, “Thailand royal consort: Why was Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi stripped of her titles?” The Guardian, “King’s sacking of consort highlights power of Thai monarchy” recounts some of the king’s earlier great love for his consort and his trashing of former wives. So does a report in The Irish Times, “A sudden and brutal fall: Thai king’s consort stripped of her titles.” AP helpfully has a video report including when Sineenat was made official consort:

A story at an Australian news site has another interesting question and one that is somewhat easier to answer, although details remain secretive in “Who are the key players at the centre of the Thai royal feud?” The BBC asks the question everyone has: “Thailand royal consort: How did Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi fall from grace?” It has a nice and full royal family tree, including the exiled children. It also quotes Tamara Loos, professor of history and Thai studies at Cornell University, who  says:

… the king is sending a message that goes beyond just falling out with his mistress.

“The king is sending a signal that he can’t be touched and that once you’re out of favour with him, you have no control over your destiny.

“Each move of his, whether economic, military or familial, reveals his unfettered abuse of power,” she adds.

Yes on the latter, but he’s been furious before with wives, long before he was king. The message then was of rants and a childlike desire to have what he wants, when he wants it.

For all the pictures and video of the king’s misdemeanors and erratic behavior, try The Daily Mail: “Thai king, 67, strips his 34-year-old concubine of all royal titles over her ‘disloyalty to the crown’ and ‘misbehavior’ – less than three months after she knelt at his feet in bizarre ceremony.” And, finally, The Economist has this, under the sub-header “Beauty and the Beast”:

INGRATITUDE, MISBEHAVIOUR and disloyalty. These were among the failings of Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi detailed in a scathing royal statement on October 21st. Apparently the mistress of King Maha Vajiralongkorn wanted to “elevate herself to the same state as the queen”. The former army nurse also dared to issue commands and disobeyed her superiors. She has been stripped of all titles and honours. At one level, Ms Sineenat’s sudden fall from grace is stunning; it was only in July, on the king’s birthday, that he made her Thailand’s first officially recognised royal mistress in almost a century. At another, it is typical. The king has frequent, dramatic romantic bust-ups, with dire consequences for the women concerned.

The designation of a “royal noble consort” shocked Thailand. The elaborate ceremony saw Ms Sineenat prostrate herself before the king and Queen Suthida Tidjai, a former flight attendant whom he married in May. The silk and jewels on display were a far cry from the crop tops and fake tattoos that king and consort had been snapped wearing before. More official photographs of Ms Sineenat in camouflage and in cockpits appeared in August. The website hosting them crashed as curious Thais flocked to it.

Queen Suthida is the king’s fourth wife. He divorced and humiliated his first, a Thai princess who bore him a daughter. He has disowned four of his five children with his second wife, an actress, who fled abroad. And he imprisoned the parents and brothers of his third wife, who has disappeared from sight after he divorced her. Their son remains with his father. These dealings pass without comment in Thailand. The king supposedly sits above politics.

In any case, no one dares to criticise the king’s viciousness or caprice. Successive governments have long fostered public adulation of the monarchy—an easier task under the king’s mild-mannered father, Bhumibol Adulyadej. Since Vajiralongkorn came to the throne three years ago, he has exploited this reverence to demand sweeping formal powers. In 2017 he insisted the constitution be changed to make it easier for him to live abroad (as he does, in Germany) without appointing a regent, even though Thai voters had already approved the text in a referendum. Last year he took personal ownership of the Crown Property Bureau, an agency which has managed royal land and investments for decades. Its holdings are thought to be worth more than $40bn. This month the government issued an emergency decree transferring command of two army units directly to King Vajiralongkorn.

Thailand’s harsh lèse-majesté law curbs discussion of these manoeuvres. It promises between three and 15 years in prison for insulting “the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent”. Yet it has not deterred recent grumbling on social media over traffic jams made worse by royal motorcades. Nor did it seem to scare those who wrote about Ms Sineenat’s downfall. The hashtag #SaveKoy began trending, Koy being a nickname for the disgraced mistress. And despite the fulminations of the royal statement, every Thai knows that no one can beat the king himself for ingratitude, misbehaviour and disloyalty.

Update 4: The purge of all those associated with Sineenat has been quick. This is a pattern, with the king accusing people of using their royal proximity for personal gain. Interestingly, Khaosod observes:

The ex-consort Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi has not been seen in public since the announcement. It is also unclear whether His Majesty the King would rescind her royally bestowed surname.





Nationalism, slavery and conflict

20 10 2019

Some reading for our followers, in place of a long post:

An article worth reading is “Nationalism and Anti-Statehood in Thailand” by Gabriel Ernst at a site new to PPT: “New Bloom is an online magazine covering activism and youth politics in Taiwan and the Asia Pacific, founded in Taiwan in 2014 in wake of the Sunflower Movement. We seek to put local voices in touch with international discourse, beginning with Taiwan.”

The Irish Times has a story by Ian Urbina which, for all we know of the fishing industry’s cruel hunt for profit is still eye-opening. “Thailand’s sea slaves: Shackled, whipped and beheaded” is sub-headed: “Every year, tens of thousands of migrants to Thailand are sent to brutal lives at sea.”

Then there’s “Is Thailand risking another massacre?” by Sheith Khidhir at The ASEAN Post, writing of the militant right-royalist saber-rattling.

Finally, readers who like free access to academic articles might like to look at almost 40 articles by various editors of the Journal of Contemporary Asia, from the 1970s to today. There’s some of Thailand interest.





The state of politics

18 10 2019

There are a couple of assessments worth reading together. We have been able to access both, so we figure others can too and that there’s no need to reproduce in full.

The first is “Why the Thai King’s Power Grab Could Backfire,” by Joshua Kurlantzick of the Council on Foreign Relations. Referring to the fake emergency decree, the author states:

The decree claims the change was made necessary by an emergency, but there is no obvious emergency that justifies such a decision.

In reality, taking personal control of the military units is just the latest move by King Maha Vajiralongkorn to expand his influence over Thailand’s politics, military affairs and economy since ascending to the throne in late 2016…. Vajiralongkorn seems intent on pushing the country further away from a constitutional monarchy as well, but in another direction altogether: closer to an absolute monarchy.

From Ugly Thailand

Some of the rest of the article we do not agree with, including its wishful thinking. Frankly, we do not see this relationship between a cocky, dominant and obsessive king and the seemingly supine military coming undone any time soon. Hopefully we are wrong. This is the conclusion to the article:

Ultimately, the king’s power grab might hurt the long-term viability of the monarchy. Although lese majeste laws outlaw public criticism, Thais are generally well aware of Vajiralongkorn’s past and present conduct. There is little evidence he has boosted his popularity as king. His maneuvering is making enemies among business, military and political elites, in addition to quiet republicans who already distrusted the monarchy. Meanwhile, disempowering advisers, like the Privy Council, and assuming more control over both politics and the economy removes any plausible deniability for the king in the event of failure.

By operating in the shadows, the king’s father wielded significant power but allowed the blame for Thailand’s problems to fall on others. Vajiralongkorn may have squandered that option.

The second story is The Economist’s Banyan writing on Gen Apirat Kongsompong demonstrating his loyalty to the king. Again, the relationship between supine military bosses and the powerful king is a feature.

Read them and weep for Thailand.