Palace, politics and privilege

3 02 2010

In the past, one of the privileges of being associated with the palace is that one has been able to enjoy special treatment, political access and other benefits without having to be particularly visible and therefore likely to be open to public scrutiny. Some of this has changed in recent years as the palace’s political involvements have been more visible due to increased political contestation.

The press today has a series of stories that each relate to the topic of this post. PPT has already posted on judicialization . The other stories listed here are in no particular order.

Police: The front page story in the print edition of the Bangkok Post (2 February 2010) is about the continuing standoff over the appointment of the police chief. It explains that this standoff has allowed politicians to get involved in promotions wrangles within the police force. Which politicians? The article says politicians from the Democrat Party and their partner, Newin Chidchob the true leader of the Bhum Jai Thai Party. More startling is the claim that members of the People’s Alliance for Democracy are pushing favored candidates.

All of this politicking has hamstrung the police, or so the article says. They still seem to be out there collecting money, running drugs and murdering people (on the latter, see a story tucked away and that ought to be front page news of the murder of at least nine migrants near Mae Sot, attributed to police in the Bangkok Post, 2 February 2010).

The cause of the delay in the police chief appointment is seldom discussed in the reports but most informed insiders are clear that the problem is a lack of congruence between a senior royal and the government.

National Telecommunications Commission: Not that long ago, PPT posted on how the Royal Household Bureau had refused to send the Senate’s nominations to the NTC to the king for endorsement. This was because of a petition that claimed one nominee was corrupt. The Senate has investigated and “found no evidence of wrongdoing.” However, the Bureau has received a further petition regarding conflicts of interest so the NTC will remain commissioner-less for some time as further checks are made (Bangkok Post, 2 February 2010 ).

Protecting privy councilors and the monarchy: Army chief Anupong Paojinda is reported in the Bangkok Post (2 February 2010) is reported as having ordered increased army protection for the palace advisors targeted by red shirt protests – president of the Council, General Prem Tinsulanonda and his deputy, General Surayud Chulanond. An army spokesman explained that “There have been attempts to insult the Privy Council, which is close to the monarchy…. The army views this as a very inappropriate act.” The argument is that these men are appointed by the king, so no one can criticize them. A fallacious argument legally, but the politics and ideology are clear.

At the same time, Anupong is reported to have ordered all army units to be aware of the importance of protecting the privy council. He is also said to have ordered all senior officers to talk with their families about the need to protect the monarchy. This is a kind of odd order as one might have thought that these would be the last people needing to be reminded of the army’s role in supporting the monarchy. But politics has changed irreversibly for the palace and the army.

Privileges of wealth and position: A short report in the Bangkok Post’s business section (2 February 2010) has a story of the demise of PB Air. The airline failed some time ago, and as it is being wrapped up, its liabilities are estimated at 2 billion baht. The airline was the plaything of Piya Bhirombhakdi, a very wealthy and well-connected man. His family’s links to the palace go back a century, and its Boonrawd Brewery (Singha Beer) was set up with “a suitable contribution” from King Prajadhipok. With Piya’s airline going under with massive debts, you’d think he’d be washed up. But, you’d be wrong. The same story reports him devoting his financial resources to “his new luxurious hospitality venture, the 3-billion-baht Ritz-Carlton Reserve” in Krabi. Privilege and connections make a huge difference (see a royal link for Piya’s winery). The privileged can shed a couple of billion here and there, leave hundreds unpaid, and then go off on another pet luxury project.

We know, this happens in many places, but it often elicits investigations or condemnation. Just imagine the outcry if this kind behavior was somehow linked to a Thaksin Shinawatra supporter….

It has been quite a day for the palace and its supporters.


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3 02 2010
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