Critic in fear for his life

23 04 2017

Asia Sentinel carries a report headlined “Thai Critic Faces Death Threat.” We guess that the story is blocked for many readers in Thailand, so while not reproducing the report in full, PPT posts the main points from it.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun has become one of the most implacable critics of the country’s ruling king, … Vajiralongkorn, and the junta that took over the country in a coup in 2014. Now that may have put his life in danger from the country’s erratic and violence-prone king.

The report reports the story that Pavin and two others have been “banned” by the junta, with anyone contacting them being threatened with jail.

… The junta has unsuccessfully attempted to persuade several governments to return Pavin to Thailand. He has lived in exile since the coup, mostly as an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies in Japan although he has traveled and lectured widely in the United States and Europe, often with royalist Thais attempting to shout him down. The government has also sought to persuade foreign governments to bar him from speaking.

… In recent days, Pavin has escalated his attacks with a series of articles published in Asia Sentinel, New Mandala, and Washington Post, charging that the new king is reigning “as a monarch whose authority is based on fear and cares little about those around him. In vivid and depressing language, Vajiralongkorn’s command structure, Pavin said, resembles those of Thai mafias, or chaophos.

After the article ran, Pavin learned from a number of credible sources that the new king would seek to “manage” him, which in Thai vernacular usually means he would seek to kill his critic.

“So the warning is credible given the credibility of the source,” Pavin told Asia Sentinel. “Someone may come after me in Japan, although my friend believes it will be difficult because of where I live. But they could attack me when I travel overseas, that would be more likely.

Asia Sentinel reminds readers that “several people who worked for or with the new king have met their deaths under mysterious circumstances.” It mentions deaths and disappearances, naming: Police Major Prakrom Warunprapha and Major General Pisitsak Saniwong na Ayutthaya, Suriyan Sujaritpalawong, former police spokesman Prawuth Thawornsiri and Police General Akrawut Limrat.

… Deep concerns about the new king’s behavior have circulated for years, and although the country’s severe lese majeste laws have kept them out of the local press, they have circulated widely….

Since he replaced his … father, the lese-majeste laws and the military’s campaign to build Vajiralongkorn’s royal presence into near-mystical status have become a kind of trap for the junta. His erratic and violent behavior are now unchecked….

It is believed that the king engineered the disappearance of [a] memorial plaque of 1932 revolution, since he hated the revolutionaries who abolished absolute monarchy 85 years ago. And now he wishes to revive royal absolutism….

Thailand has arrived at a critical juncture in which the head of state is ruling its subjects with fear. His yearning for absolute power seems to have been met with the military’s own wish, a country where politics is a game of the political elites. To consolidate their rule, events have shown both the monarchy and the military have resorted to brutal tactics to eliminate its critics….

 





Political vandalism and the control of history

23 04 2017

1932 plaqueThe political theft of the 1932 plaque has had unintended consequences.

The thief-in-chief was seeking to remove a perceived threat to the new reign and the junta’s constitutional basis for authoritarianism.

One unintended consequence has been to shine a light on 1932. The understanding of that time and the revolution that ended royal absolutism has been “controlled” by royalists for a considerable time. Think of the King Prajadhipok Institute and its mangled version of history. (If the KPI “The history” and “About KPI” seem reasonable, then you are a victim of the royalist control of history.)

Over the past couple of days, the Bangkok Post has had several op-eds that have posed questions about the received “history.” Each deserves attention. We’ll just quote some bits and pieces.

The first is by Wasant Techawongtham. He begins:

The switcheroo involving the 1932 Revolution memorial plaque seemed at first to be a simple act of theft or vandalism. But once the matter was brought to the attention of the authorities, things rapidly spiralled into the realm of the surreal.

And the more people try to make sense of it, the murkier it becomes.

He points out the quite banal and seemingly inexplicable initial responses from the junta:

Both government [junta] spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd and National Council for Peace and Order [junta] spokesman Winthai Suvaree, who can normally answer anything the press might throw at them, were lost for words.

The Dusit district chief who has jurisdiction over the area knew nothing about it either. The Fine Arts department chief not only did not know anything about the switch but claimed — rather hilariously, I should say — that the plaque was neither an artefact nor had any historical value.

The police not only did not know about it but would not accept complaints to look into the matter, claiming — I’m not sure whether I should laugh or cry here — that no one owned the object, and therefore no one could file a complaint. Huh?

You have to ask yourself: Is this for real?

The plaque was installed there for only 80-plus years and is associated with arguably the most significant political development in modern Thai history.

He refers to more ridiculousness by the junta and its minions before observing:

The silliness in this country knows no bounds. But this latest episode really takes the cake.

This really worries me. The Thai people under this military regime are already under orders not to think or speak their mind. But now we are supposed to not see or hear as well.

George Orwell would love to have written such a story.

We seem now to be living in another dimension where reality is distorted out of all proportion and truth is anything the powers-that-be say it is.

A second op-ed is by Ploenpote Atthakor. She begins:

… the plaque, which marks one of the most important incidents in modern Thai history, is a hot potato politically.

But though I fully sympathise with those inflamed by this apparent act of “political vandalism”, the extent of the public outcry has surprised me. Like those who are up in arms, I also wish the plaque, which marks the political transition from absolutism or constitutional monarchy, had stayed at its original site.

I believe Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who has ordered a probe into the case, will never give a full account of what has happened. Nor could he restore the original plaque to its rightful place….

She seems to believe she cannot say why this is. The vandal-in-chief is beyond criticism. The Dictator is beyond criticism.

She continues by noting the failure of people to understand 1932 or to respect its symbols. Likewise, she does not point to the royalist hold on “history” as the reason for this. It is fine to opine about “the people” being “ignorant,” but the reasons for their alleged ignorance need to be explained. But she sees a silver lining:

… its sudden disappearance has triggered an interest in this particular period of Thai history like never before. The people who removed it probably didn’t expect that.

The third op-ed is by Kong Rithdee. He begins:

Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present (tada!) controls the past. In summary, the military, like quantum physicists or mad sorcerers, controls time: The past, present, future, ad infinitum.

Through their coups, their fantasies and their laws, they control history — meaning the things that have happened or they want us to believe have happened. They also want to control the making of history — history as work in progress — meaning the shifting of glaciers and governments, the removal of memory and the manufacturing of dreams. Through the new 20-year national strategy bill, they also want to control the laying of future laws that will govern our life until eternity….

Much has been pondered about the missing plaque marking the 1932 Siamese Revolution. The erasing of history, an elusive heist, a voodoo ritual? Take your pick, for it looks like the burglary of the artefact is going down as one of the greatest puzzles of modern times. The sorcerers know they can’t change the past, even with chicken blood or powerful mantras, so they feel a need to change the record of the past — the imperfect past written by the revolutionaries who transformed the country into a constitutional monarchy.

He can’t get into the palace’s role although he could look at the role of royalist “historians” in the service of palace and military, writing “politicians” and the anti-royalists out of “their” history that is now “the” history. Or maybe he can, by allusion:

With the new plaque discreetly put in place of the original one, a palimpsest of history is being constructed before our eyes by the hand that appears firm, inexorable, invisible. So invisible that even the CCTV cameras (which only function when you’re speeding) lost all trace of what happened. The ghost did it. Again.

Some might see the ghost as a devil. He concludes:

The mark of dictatorship is when someone controls our life and our choice — that’s harder now because modern dictatorship still operates under capitalism, a system that values choice.

So it’s true dictatorship when someone attempts to control the concept of time — the mad aspiration to rule history and lay siege to the past, present and future while preventing us, the true holders of destiny, from writing our own parts. The clock is ticking but time is frozen. It’s not, as they often say, Orwell’s 1984.

This is a dystopian sci-fi, a country beyond Brave New World.

 





A curse on their house

22 04 2017

Many readers will have seen Teeranai Charuvastra’s excellent piece “The Curse That Haunted Bangkok 150 Years – Until Now?” at Khaosod.

As almost everyone knows, magic plays a role in politics and is deployed in various symbolic ways for political advantage. Teeranai’s brave article explains another way in which 1932 is significant in Thailand.

We recommend the article to those who haven’t yet seen it.

The article concludes with a royalist practitioner of black arts stating that no matter what happens, “we [he seems to mean the Thai people] will forever be ruled by Chakri kings, the descendants of King Rama I.”

We can say that he is wrong. Our astrologer, who has studied under powerful masters in Cambodia and Burma, is emphatic: those responsible for removing the 1932 plaque are in for a lot of trouble, and the dynasty remains threatened. He says that the vandals believed that they were acting to remove an impediment to the reign. His reading is that removing it will bring nothing but troubles for the regime and the reign, threatening the dynasty.





More secret king’s business II

22 04 2017

In a post yesterday we mentioned the secret changes made to  royal agencies. The reports that we had seen suggested a “re-organization,” and we wondered what was so nefarious that the changes were made surreptitiously.

A report at Reuters now explains the secret business a little more.

It seems the reason for the secrecy is that this is yet another episode of refeudalization as the new king requires more power be returned to the monarch. In this case, the king is consolidating his control over agencies that work for the monarchy, making them agencies of the monarchy.

The Reuters report states:

“It involves the transfer of agencies that work for the monarch so that they are grouped together and report to the king,” said one parliament member, who declined to be identified.

The agencies had previously been under the prime minister and defense ministry, he said. Other members of the National Legislative Assembly confirmed the decision….

We concur with Paul Chambers, identified as a lecturer at Naresuan University, who observes:

The transferring of these agencies to be under the monarch’s direct supervision is another sign of an increasingly absolutist monarch, following the pattern of the new constitution, which similarly was amended to legally enshrine more royal assertiveness….

In addition, placing security agencies under the sovereign’s direct control allows him to place those he trusts the most in charge of protecting him.

The reign of Rama X is looking dangerous, not simply because the king is aggregating power to his position but because the military junta appears content that this is “reform” rather than a “counter-revolution” that turns back decades of constitutionalism.

Meanwhile, the king seems to taking it easy on the shores of Lake Starnberg, surrounded by courtiers and concubines.





Getting headlines wrong

21 04 2017

Brief corrections to two stories in the media that mislead, both noted by PPT readers.

First, at Prachatai, there’s a report headlined “Junta blocks Youtube channel of exiled Thai journalist.” This is a story that reports the censorship of a YouTube channel run by exiled journalist Jom Petpradab called Jom Voice. He makes his program in the US and is critical of the regime. The story adds:

In 2014, after he was summoned by the junta, he fled Thailand to live in the US where he founded Thaivoicemedia.com, a web-based Thai media outlet in exile. The website is also blocked by the government.

Correction: As far as we are aware, the blocking of a YouTube channel is the work of YouTube, a Google subsidiary. The military dictatorship’s minions might have asked for the blocking but it is Google’s YouTube that does the blocking.

Google’s policy states:

Government requests to remove content
We regularly receive requests from courts and government agencies around the world to remove information from Google products. Sometimes we receive court orders that don’t compel Google to take any action. Instead, they are submitted by an individual as support for a removal request. We closely review these requests to determine if content should be removed because it violates a law or our product policies. In this report, we disclose the number of requests we receive in six-month periods.

The latest report we could find at Google is for the end of 2015 and then they counted nearly 5,000 government requests for censorship. No information was listed for Thailand. It states that: “From July to December 2015, the top three products for which governments requested removals were YouTube, Web Search, and Blogger.” It adds: “From July to December 2015, governments from around the world requested that we remove 6144 items from YouTube. Of these, we removed 4242 items—3498 due to legal reasons, and 744 found to be violations of YouTube’s Community Guidelines.”

Google has been named previously as working with the military dictatorship.

Second, at the Bangkok Post, there’s a headline “Future govts ‘won’t face curbs’.” It’s first paragraph states: “The government has given assurances that a bill supporting its 20-year national development blueprint will not restrict future elected governments from making changes to the plan as they see fit.”

The puppet National Legislative Assembly, without a single dissenting voice, voted “to accept the government’s bill setting out action plans for national reforms for deliberation…”.

But here is how junta minion Wissanu Krea-ngam is actually reported:

… Wissanu … told the meeting that the national strategy bill will set out action plans for long-term national development as stipulated by the new constitution.

Mr Wissanu allayed concerns that the 20-year national development strategy will cripple future elected governments’ ability to run the country.

The bill still allows future governments to adjust the 20-year plan to suit changing circumstances both at home and abroad, though any changes must be in line with the law and the constitution, he said….

…[H]e said, a range of measures will be in place to enforce compliance with national strategy, including warnings and coercive measures.

If state agencies fail to comply despite warnings, the National Anti-Corruption Commission will be asked to take action against the chiefs of those agencies, Mr Wissanu said.

This plan is deemed to take precedence over all others. It is binding on all agencies,” Mr Wissanu said.

Correction: Wissanu actually warned future “elected” governments that will most certainly be restricted from making any changes to the military junta’s plan for 20 years.





Updated: Academic boycott III

21 04 2017

Back in May 2016, we posted on a call by Professor Thongchai Winichakul, made at New Mandala, for academics and conference organizers to think carefully about the consequences of holding academic conferences in Thailand under the military dictatorship.

ICTS13

There was a pathetic response from the International Convention of Asian Scholars (ICAS), seemingly misunderstanding the situation in Thailand.

New Mandala also published a response from Professor Chayan Vaddhanaphuti on behalf of the Organising Committee of the 13th International Conference on Thai Studies (ICTS13). The critical point in Chayan’s post at that time was his confirmation that any academically-qualified paper will be accepted, no matter what the topic, but that his Committee could “not guarantee the safety of presenters whom the government at the time of the conference deems to have breached Thai laws.”

Those laws are interpreted very harshly by the junta.

This debate has been re-opened with another call for a boycott from Andrew MacGregor Marshall.

Our view is that those who attend are in danger, just as Thai academics who dare challenge the junta have been since the 2014 coup.

The organizers at ICAS should be ashamed of themselves.

Marshall’s message to TLC: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia Studies Association:

Subject: Call to boycott the International Conference on Thai Studies 13 in Chiang Mai
Date: 20 April 2017 at 11:47:50 BST

To: tlc Tlc <Rels-tlc@groups.sas.upenn.edu>

In view of the worsening human rights situation in Thailand,and the efforts by the junta to prevent Thais having any contact with Somsak Jeamteerasakul and Pavin Chachavalpongpun, two of the most respected and courageous Thai academics, I would like to call on the organisers of the International Conference on Thai Studies in Chiang Mai in July to change the venue of the event to a location outside Thailand where people can speak more freely.

Holding this event in Thailand in the current circumstances would be absurd and would send totally the wrong message. Nobody who genuinely values academic freedom can credibly claim that this event could have any value if it goes ahead in Thailand. The only people who would benefit are the junta, who could exploit the conference to pretend that for academics in Thailand it is business as usual.

If the organisers refuse to change the venue of the event, I urge all scholars to boycott the conference. This is a moment in Thai history when academics need to stand up and do the right thing. There is no excuse for holding a fake conference in Chiang Mai when the academics who could contribute the most are being persecuted and threatened and cannot participate.

Update: We left out an important word above, now included and highlighted.





More secret king’s business I

21 04 2017

In case you missed it, the junta had the puppet National Legislative Assembly (NLA) meet in secret on 20 April to enact a “new bill … to reorganise the six agencies serving the Crown…”.

The puppet lawmakers naturally “approved in-camera the royal administration bill which the Cabinet had added to the meeting agenda.”

We can only guess that the king has directed that these changes be made as he establishes his authority and his people in the palace.

The report states that “Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam told members of the … NLA… the cabinet asked that the bill be deliberated in-camera. The sessions were no broadcast and non-members were asked to leave.”

The Nation adds that the “act was not available for public perusal.” NLA puppet-in-chief “Pornpetch Vichitcholchai … declined to speak on the matter, saying the meeting was confidential.”

The Post report states that “the new structure will have three agencies serving the palace.” A reconstituted Bureau of the Royal Household will merge the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary and the Bureau of the Royal Household. The Royal Guard Command will merge the Royal Thai Aide-De-Camp Department and the Royal Guard Command. A new Office of the Privy Council is said to be created.

If this is the sum of the changes, then the secrecy beggars belief because the 2017 junta constitution allocates powers to the king in these areas:

Section 15: The appointment and removal of officials of the Royal Household shall be at the King’s pleasure.

The organization and personnel administration of the Royal Household shall be at the King’s pleasure as provided by Royal Decree.

This suggests the need for Wissanu to explain why the NLA needed to be involved. Otherwise, wild speculation is invited.

It is left to the imagination as to why a reorganization of the palace administration should be something that needs to be considered in secret. Was something nefarious going on? Is the reorganization likely to lead to conflict? Does the secrecy imply that something unconstitutional is being done? Is there a “deal” being done?

The secrecy means that any interpretation is possible.