On coronation V

8 05 2019

The BBC has a long, unsigned “Viewpoint” on the occasion of the king’s taxpayer-funded self-coronation. PPT offers a few snippets and some commentary here.

Like so many others, the account begins with an unflattering comparison between Vajiralongkorn and his father. What such comparisons do is compare the new king with a manufactured and sanitized image of Bhumibol. Ignoring the foibles, wealth and political interventionism of the previous king is a failure of journalists and some academics.

The BBC says that “[n]o-one knew what to expect when King Vajiralongkorn took the throne in one of the world’s most powerful monarchies at the end of 2016.”

This is incorrect and badly misleading. Vajiralongkorn’s personal history and his many failures are well-known. His erratic behavior and his many personal crises have been  public. Discussion of his unsuitability for the throne has been around since the early 1980s.

That he has “a more remote and forbidding public image” than his father is due to his “controversial lifestyle and mercurial personality” and his reputation for violence and vindictiveness.

All of these traits have been on public display in this decade.

This weak and ill-informed introduction is a “hook” for a better discussion of recent years: “What have these 30 months told us about the new king?”

[H]e has started reshaping the monarchy, restructuring the palace bureaucracy and security apparatus to put them more firmly under his control, and dismissing staff who displease him with unusually blunt public statements, sometimes condemning them as lazy, or accusing them of “extremely evil acts…”.

“Some of these officials have been publicly humiliated and faced criminal charges…. There are persistent reports, impossible to confirm, of harsh punishment routines imposed on those who do not meet the king’s exacting standards…”.

“He has a personal royal guard of at least 5,000 well-equipped and well-trained soldiers, and has presided over changes to troop deployments in Bangkok which appear to put more army units under his command, and shift[ed] others out of the capital…”.

“Under King Vajiralongkorn the much-criticised lese majeste law is no longer being used against perceived insults to the monarchy. But other repressive laws, like the sedition law and the computer crimes act, are being used against those judged too critical of either the military or the monarchy, and can carry long prison sentences…”.

“… the mysterious removal of two monuments in Bangkok marking the end of the absolute monarchy after 1932, and the disappearance of five republican activists living in exile in neighbouring Laos, two of whose bodies were found, cut open, in the Mekong River…”.

“The king has taken direct personal control of the crown’s vast assets, valued at well over $30bn (£23bn)…. The king is also reported to have taken more direct control of significant shareholdings in the two most important royal companies…”.

“He has installed his closest adviser, retired Air Chief Marshall Satitpong Sukvimol, who has served King Vajiralongkorn for 14 years, to run the Crown Property Bureau, and put army chief General Apirat Kongsompong onto the board as well.”

“King Vajiralongkorn has also reclaimed royal properties in the old historic quarter of Bangkok which had been the site of important public institutions…. [I]it is unclear what his plans are for these strategic parcels of land.” [PPT: it is not clear to us that the king is “reclaiming” in any legal sense. It seems to us that he is simply grabbing land.]

“… King Vajiralongkorn showed a willingness to intervene in areas that mattered to him…. He insisted on changes to the new constitution brought in by the military government in areas defining royal powers.”

“… The generals are intensely loyal to the monarchy…. The Thai armed forces and the royal institution have built a symbiotic partnership over the past 70 years of coups and Cold War conflict. Each needs the other…”.

“… King Vajiralongkorn has discomfited the current military rulers by some of his actions, and is actively promoting officers who may be seen as their future rivals. His palace has become a distinct source of power in Thailand, an opaque and unquantifiable one…”.

… At one time Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn was thought to be uninterested in many of the affairs of state, that he might be a hands-off monarch. His actions as king, however, have shown him to be keenly concerned with redefining royal power, and with the success of his reign…”.

“One quality of the new king has shone out these past 30 months – his unpredictability.”



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