Updated: Absurd defenses of feudalism

16 10 2017

Update: A reader rightly points out that our headline is potentially misleading. Let us be clear: the absurdities are all on the side of those implementing, using and defending the feudal lese majeste law.

PPT has had several posts regarding the efforts of a couple of retired generals, public prosecutors and a military court’s decision to go ahead with investigations of a lese majeste charge 85 year-old Sulak Sivaraksa. He dared to raise doubts about a purported historical event from centuries ago. (In fact, the prosecutors have until 7 December to activate the charge or let it lie.)

We have been interested to observe how parts of the media seem to far braver in pointing out the absurdities of this case than when it is workers, farmers, labor activists or average people who are charged in equally absurd cases. If these people are red shirts or fraudsters, there’s often barely a peep from the media.

Conservative, middle class, aged, royalist and intellectual Sulak, who has also been anti-Thaksin Shinawatra, is far easier to defend than those in more uncomfortable political and social locations for some reporters and writers.

His case also generates more international attention, as his cases have always done since 1984, when international academics supported him (and an alleged communist) under the administration led by General Prem Tinsulanonda.

Just in the Bangkok Post, there have been three op-eds and one editorial that each point out the ridiculousness of the case against Sulak. These include:

Yellow-hued, anti-Thaksinist Veera Prateepchaikul writes that the latest case is “unique in its absurdity.” He says he sees two troubling issues with the case:

First, … why did it take police three years to decide to send this case to the prosecutor — a military prosecutor in this case because we are now under the junta regime?

The second issue concerns the police interpretation of the lese majeste law or Section 112 of the Criminal Code in a way which makes the law look like it has an infinitely long hand which can delve into an event which took place some 400 years ago. The land on which the elephant duel was said to take place was not even called Siam.

Kong Rithdee, who has been pretty good and brave in calling out the lese majeste fascists, points out the absurdities of the case:

Another day, another lese majeste story. This time the interpretation of the contentious law goes back much further, to 1593 to be precise, to a dusty battlefield somewhere before “Thailand” existed.

The use of a military court to possibly sentence an 85 year-old to 15 years in jail is also mentioned as absurd.

Kong makes some connections that warrant more attention:

The scope of interpretation of Section 112 has been one of the central bristles of modern Thai politics, and while there have been cases that raised your eyebrows and body temperature (that of Jatupat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpattararaksa, to name just one), this wild reading of the law to cover an event from 400 years ago borders on dark comedy.

He asks if the absurdity of Sulak’s case tells Thais that they must not discuss or adopt a critical perspective on history. It seems Thais are expected to accept schoolbook nationalism and the jingoism of royalist film-makers.

Ploenpote Atthakor takes up the blind royalist nationalism. She observes that, in Thailand, there is no “dialogue” about historical events, “especially the parts concerning historical heroes or heroines, or even villains, hardly exists. Anyone who dares to question particular historical episodes may face trouble.” She notes how the history that got Sulak into trouble has changed several times and is disputed by historians.

Ultra-nationalism blinds Thais. The red hot pokers have been wielded by feudal-minded royalists and military dictators.

The Bangkok Post editorial extends the discussion to law and injustice:

In what appears to be an attempt at law enforcement, authorities in the past two weeks have taken legal action against two prominent public figures by resorting to what appears to be a misuse of both the law and its principles.

One is Sulak’s case and the other person is Thaksin, one of his lese majeste cases and the retroactive application of a law. The Post states that the cases “not only put the Thai justice system under the global spotlight but will also jeopardise law enforcement in the country.”

The editorial questions the police’s interpretation of the law, saying it:

is worrisome and has prompted questions about how far such a law should be applied. If Mr Sulak is indicted, it would create a chilling climate of fear and hurt the credibility of Thailand’s justice system….

In proceeding legal actions against the two men, the authorities must realise any abuses of the law can set bad precedents with a far-reaching impact on Thai citizens.

All these perspectives are right. We applaud these journalists for daring to defend Sulak and, in one instance, even Thaksin. At the same time, it would be brave and right to point out the absurdities that face many others charged with lese majeste. The military dictatorship has gotten away with being absurd for too long.





Updated: Rewarding Suthida

15 10 2017

A couple of days ago a Royal Gazette announcement was circulated quite widely. It was about the award of one of the highest-ranked royal decorations to the commander in King Vajiralongkorn’s guard.

The reason for the interest is that, as Khaosod reports it, that commander is none other than the king’s most senior girlfriend/consort/concubine (we are unsure of the appropriate term), General Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya.

The Knight Grand Cross of the Most Illustrious Order of Chula Chom Klao is reserved for the royal family members, Privy Councilors and members of the royal household). There are normally 30 male and 20 female members of this order.

The report notes that the announcement of this award “coincided with the first anniversary of King Bhumibol’s death, and the formal date of King Vajiralongkorn’s [retrospective] ascension to the throne.”

Suthida is often in the military uniform. The king promoted him to general when he took the throne. Her “qualification” is that she is the king’s favorite consort.

Today, General Suthida is the “de facto head of security for … the King. Although she formally holds the title of deputy commander of the royal guard corps, the top rank had been left vacant since December 2016.”

As the report states, “Suthida had been serving in the royal guards unit since 2013, when King Vajiralongkorn held the title of Crown Prince.”

Update: For those who can read Thai, BBC Thai has a very useful account of Suthida’s rise, beginning from 2012 and listing the many promotions and awards that have been showered on her by the prince-now-king. Each event is linked to the Royal Gazette.





Lese majeste expanding madly

15 10 2017

Since the 2006 royalist military coup, the use of the lese majeste law has been expanded and deepened. Under the military dictatorship its use has become downright bizarre. By the month ever more absurd cases are being pursued.

Some of the downright absurd charges and allegations have involved: “insulting” a dead king’s dead dog, expressing doubt about an ancient king’s elephant battle, juveniles, jailing the family of the new king’s ex-wife, “insulting” a long dead king, a palace associate who sold oversized chilli paste to the new king’s household, fraudsters and grifters charged under Article 112 and much more.

None of these cases have anything much at all to do with the law as written. All of these cases have been assessed by an unstated royalist judicial view of what might, possibly, perhaps, cause others to think less of the existing monarchy. (Yes, we know the current monarch is starting pretty low.) There’s also a lot of unexpressed fear of not being royalist enough. And, there’s the requirement to be seen to be doing the required posterior polishing.

In a recent story, Khaosod reports that a lese majeste charge “might be filed against a construction company that allegedly defrauded 300 million baht from its victims…”.

The Department of Special Investigation has nabbed the Hujjee Group for having “solicited investment by claiming to have won major contracts in Myanmar from bogus royal family members of the Mon ethnic group there.”

Bogus royals? In Myanmar? DSI is “considering” whether to file a lese majeste charge against the seven people already in custody other suspects still being pursued.

This seems like just another group of garden variety of fraudsters who are so common in Thailand, but their alleged claims are about Myanmar and a bogus royal family that has no relationship with Thailand’s monarchy.

Should the DSI file lese majeste charges, the next step might be to charge companies like King Power, Hotel Royal Bangkok, Royal Coffee, Royal Airport Services, Royal Skyways, Royal Foods and even similar companies in other countries for using allusions to the monarchy in their trading names!

It’s getting that risible.





More on VPNs

15 10 2017

We posted recently on VPNs.

A reader suggested another way of using VPNs. PPT can’t vouch for any of these suggestions as we have only tried add-on VPNs for Firefox and Chrome.

Readers in Thailand should search for more information on VPNs and evaluate them. They should also continue to be careful about their internet connections. Although more than a year old now, this guide for journalists may assist some readers.

Our reader suggested that those who just need ad-hoc VPN capability may want to consider installing the Opera browser as an additional browser for their desktop/notebook /tablet, since it incorporates  a number of useful security features, which include a built-in ad blocker and a VPN (provided by SurfEasy Inc., based in Canada), which is accessed when needed in the “Privacy and Security” section of Settings.

In a brief test (not by PPT) SurfEasy free offered several locations for non-Thailand IP access and reasonably efficient speeds for a “free” VPN service; a subscription service is available, which offers better speeds and location options.

Opera software is available for Windows, at http://www.opera.com/computer/windows ; Mac’s, at http://www.opera.com/computer/mac ; and Linux, at http://www.opera.com/computer/linux .

The software is available in “Stable”, “Beta” and “Developer” options; “Stable” has been relatively error-free while “Beta” and “Developer” provide wider ranges of options albeit with the occasional glitch and periodic updates/patches.

A  subscription VPN extension for Opera/ Chrome/ FireFox that has proved to be stable and memory-efficient under Thai conditions is ZenMate <https://zenmate.com/ >, which is based in Berlin and thus provides security in line with German law.





Measuring

14 10 2017

As long-time readers will know, PPT sometimes struggles with figures; none of us are mathematicians. That this post is about statistics may mean that we infringe on the data here and there, but we thought a recent story at the Bangkok Post carried a broader lesson.

The Office of Agricultural Economics is reported to have crunched some numbers and come up with a forecast that the junta’s “welfare cards for the poor scheme will generate more than 100 billion baht in value to the country’s economy.”

That the state’s dumping of a pot of money to the “poorest,”who tend to spend it, produces a boost to consumption and boosts the economy is well known to economists, and is sometimes called Keynesianism.

Thaksin Shinawatra’s government used the same kind of economic logic, so we might assume that the junta’s idea has something to do with Somkid Jatusripitak, who has worked for both Thaksin and junta.

The cost to the state is estimated to be 46 billion baht for the 2018 fiscal year. The aforementioned Office of Agricultural Economics reckons that this “return” is about “2.5 times higher than the government’s investment cost…”.

That is a useful calculation, not least for the military junta as it campaigns for its (now “promised”) “election.”

The report states that the Ministry of Finance calculates that “11.43 million people have registered as having income of less than 30,000 baht per year…”.

The surprising figure, however, is this: of this more than 11 million, “3.32 million are from the farming sector and 8.11 million from the non-farming sector.” This means that “13.37 billion baht is for the poor from the farming sector, while 32.63 billion baht goes to the poor from the non-farming sector.”

This is odd. Almost all the major agencies identify rural dwellers as the majority living below the poverty line.

For example, the World Bank states:

As of 2014, over 80% of the country’s 7.1 million poor live in rural areas. Moreover, an additional 6.7 million were living within 20% above the national poverty line and remained vulnerable to falling back into poverty.

The figures – 7.1 million vs. 11.5 million – are worth noting. The official poverty line was, in 2015, 2,644 baht per month, above the junta’s figure of 2,500 baht per month.

But even so, the junta’s registration for the poor appears to have only come up 3.3 million in the “farming sector,” when the data suggest this should be at least double that figure.

Academic Kampanat Pensupar, from Kasetsart University, notices this too, and is reported as saying that the small number of farmers “means the poor in rural areas might not be able to gain access to the scheme, or the poor in farming sectors have moved into the non-farming sector.” The latter seems unlikely, if the huge variation in the numbers are considered.

Our conclusion is that the junta is engaged in political campaigning. It is seeking to use the funds in areas where it will likely produce an “electoral” dividend.

Our second thought was about the difference between this program and the rice pledging project that resulted in a five year jail sentence for Yingluck Shinawatra.

On the one hand, the rice program was blunt in targeting, but did seek to have funds flow to farmers – recognized as those most likely to be relatively poor. The junta’s poverty program is not doing that.

On the other hand, we wonder if the Office of Agricultural Economics is crunched the numbers on the rice pledging project in the same way it has for the junta’s program? We can’t help thinking that the same multipliers would have applied to a program that better targeted the poor in rural areas.





The “necessity” of military dictatorship

13 10 2017

In the Bangkok Post, commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak comes up with his repeated excuse for military domination. He claims the succession explains it:

The consequent royal transition is likely to be viewed in posterity as the principal reason why the Thai people have had to put up with Gen Prayut.

Later he states, as he has before, that:

To appreciate how Gen Prayut and his cohorts could seize power and keep it with relative ease, we need to recognise the late King Bhumibol’s final twilight. The royal succession was imminent by coup time, and the Thai people collectively kind of knew the special and specific circumstances this entailed. Power had to be in the hands of the military, as it had to ultimately perform a midwife role. Unsurprisingly, ousted elected politicians may have complained about and deplored the coup but none wanted to retake power during the coup period. They knew that after seven decades of the reign in the way that the Thai socio-political system was set up around the military, monarchy and bureaucracy, it had to be the generals overseeing this once-in-a-lifetime transition.

This is nonsensical propaganda. There were, at the time, and today, many, many Thais who reject this royalist babble. But Thitinan just ignores the deep political and social struggles that marked the period of discord that began with the Asian economic crisis in 1997 and which was punctuated by two military coups.

Thitinan appears to us to be expressing the views of the socially disconnected middle class of Bangkok, those who hate and fear the majority of Thais, and “protect” themselves by attaching themselves to the economic and political power of the Sino-Thai tycoons, monarchy and military.

Thais have “put up with” ghastly military rulers for decades. The military dictators and rulers have used the monarchy to justify their despotism. General Pin Choonhavan used the “mysterious” death of Ananda Mahidol; General Sarit Thanarat promoted the monarchy as a front for his murderous regime; General Prem Tinsulanonda made “loyalty” de rigueur for political office.

Thitinan is wrong and, worse, whether he wants to or not, he provides the nasty propaganda that is justification for military dictatorship. We can only imagine that the military junta is most appreciative.

One reason Thais “put up with” military dictatorship now is because anti-democrats want it, because many of them hate elections that give a power to the subaltern classes. And, as Thitinan acknowledges,

Gen Prayut and his fraternal top brass in the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) have guns and tanks to intimidate and coerce. In their first year in power, the ruling generals detained hundreds of dissenters and opponents for “attitude adjustment”. They even put some of those who disagreed on trial in military court. They also came up with their own laws in an interim charter, including the draconian absolutist Section 44. And they have used and manipulated other instruments and agencies of the state to keep people in check and dissent suppressed.

To be sure, dozens of Thais are languishing in jail during junta rule. One young man, a student with his own strong views, has been jailed for re-posting a social media message that appeared on more than two thousand other pages. The junta also has banned political parties from organising, and has generally violated all kinds of human rights and civil liberties all along.

In addition, the generals have not been immune to corruption allegations….

Thais, it seems, must just “put up with” all this in order to facilitate the death of a king, succession and coronation. Thitinan goes even further, lauding The Dictator:

who grew up in the Thai system from the Cold War, who came of age at the height of Thailand’s fight against communism in the 1970s, seeing action on the Cambodian border against the Vietnamese in the 1980s, serving both the King and Queen and the people in the process with devotion and loyalty.

In fact, General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s military promotion was not forged in “battle” but in providing service to the palace and especially the queen.

Thitinan declares that General Prayuth is the “soul of the nation,” a term once used for the dead king:

When Gen Prayut spoke for the nation [after the last king died], he meant it. Fighting back tears, in seven short minutes, he said what had to be said, and directed us Thais to two main tasks, the succession and the cremation after a year’s mourning. Had it been Yingluck [Shinawatra], who is not known for her eloquence, she might have stumbled during the speech. Had it been Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is fluid and flawless in speechmaking, it would have lacked the soul of the nation.

It had to be Gen Prayut, the strongman dictator and self-appointed premier. He is an earnest man, purposeful and well-intentioned….

Make no mistake, this is pure propaganda for military dictatorship. Make no mistake, Thitinan is justifying military dictatorship for the West, “translating” Thai “culture” for those he thinks are Thailand’s friends. He is saying to The Dictator and to “friends” in the West that 2018 or 2019 will mark the end of an “unusual” time and a return to “normality.” That “normal” is Thai-style democracy, guided for years by the military and its rules.

For those who seek a more nuanced and less propagandist reflection try Michael Peel in the Financial Times. He was formerly a correspondent for the FT based in Bangkok, and has penned “Thailand’s monarchy: where does love end and dread begin?” (The article is behind a paywall, but one may register and get access.) Peel asks: “In a country where few dare to speak openly about the royals, how do Thais feel about their new ruler?”

That is, how do they feel about the succession that Thitinan propagandizes as having “required” military dictatorship working as midwife.





Royalist myth-making

12 10 2017

A story at The Nation caught our attention. It is about the absurd lese majeste case facing conservative royalist Sulak Sivarasaka.

As we know, Sulak is being charged under Article 112 for daring to “wonder aloud whether King Naresuan’s famous elephant duel in defence of 16th-century Ayutthaya actually occurred.”

The possibly mythical battle between Naresuan and a prince from what is now Myanmar “is regarded in Thai mainstream history as a momentous event that freed Ayutthaya from the threat of Burmese rule.”

The modern military, which has no relationship at all to Ayutthaya thinks that the date of the “battle” was 18 January and makes this Armed Forces Day.

Thais are taught that Naresuan was “Great” and they are told that he is to be “revered” as a “national hero.”

The Nation states that the “reality [is] that the combat took place centuries before the Thai nation-state came into being and thus cannot be confined within modern political boundaries.”

It then tilts at other elements of “Thailand” and “Thainess,” including muay thai which is regional as is Songkran.

It says “monopolising the story surrounding King Naresuan is especially damaging because it misguides everyone, especially Thais, into believing there is only one version of history.”

It adds that the elite “discourage[s] any further study of history because for them the official version – or the version that supports the powers-that-be – is the correct one and everything thing else is wrong.”

Examples of similar ultra-nationalist furors stage-managed by the elite include the “graduate student questioned whether the historical figure of Lady Moe had actually existed.” She was threatened with being lynched.

Back to Naresuan, “Thailand’s history textbooks criticise many Ayutthaya monarchs for failing to protect their kingdom. Why should King Naresuan be an exception? The dismal answer is that he is admired by the military, and the military are now in power.”

Naresuan did ally with the (now) hated Burmese for a considerable period, if chronicles are to be believed.

On Sulak’s case, it observes:

The fact that the case was not thrown out the minute it was raised three years ago is a strong indication that Thailand’s authorities and many of its citizens have lost any sense of that normality.