Lese majeste mania

21 10 2016

Following from our post yesterday, it is becoming clear that the post-death lese majeste action is shifting from vigilante mobs to the military dictatorship.

On the one hand, if there is a decline in mob vigilantism, this might be considered somewhat positive. On the other, the military’s state hardly needs encouragement to enforce the feudal lese majeste law. As readers know, lese majeste has been used by the military regime to enforce social and political order.

In a period where succession remains a subject of intense speculation, using lese majeste for maintaining order is becoming a mania.

The Bangkok Post reports that “[f]ive people have been arrested on lese majeste charges since … the King’s passing…”. This contrasts with an earlier Prachatai reports that stated “police have so far prosecuted 12 people for lèse majesté since King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death on 13 October…”. We think the differnce is that five have been charged and another seven are “identified” and under investigation.

Whatever the number, we can be sure that there will be more prosecutions.

The alleged breaches of the law include references to the dead king, the crown prince and the regent (General Prem Tinsulaonda).

The monochrome nation is in the hands of intolerant royalists and the bland condemnations of vigilantism are often crafted in the most syrupy royalism and efforts to join with the junta in blaming victims and reproduce some of the most flagrant palace propaganda. At times these  propagandists seem to have lobotomized out the work of Handley and others over the past decade.

A member of the routinely hopeless National Human Rights Commission has also condemned vigilantism, but there seems nothing on the NHRC website about this.

None of this faux liberal facade should be permitted to obscure the military dictatorship’s continuing lese majeste mania and ongoing purge.

The deputy national police chief also warned netizens against posts which defame the royal institution. Junta spokesman Lt-Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd has warned against lese majeste. The Dictator has warned too. The message is clear. The authorities are actively seeking out those it considers are in violation of the feudal law and are prosecuting them. They seek to prevent the expression of different opinions on the monarchy.

Sansern stated: “The government won’t avoid enforcing the law in cases of proved violations [of the lese majeste law].”

Indeed. The fact is that the junta is scouring the internet for “offenders.” It is encouraging cyber-vigilantes to report any cases.

Prachatai reports that the “Digital Ministry has increased its staff at an online surveillance centre tasked with searching for lèse majesté content…”. The Ministry “has appointed 118 new staff to the Cyber Security Operation Center (CSOC), a 24/7 online monitoring center…”.

Minister Air Chief Marshal Prajin Juntong stated:

We’ve co-operating closely with the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commissions and internet service providers both inside and outside the country. This operation is to prevent people who are already in mourning from being subjected to further mental impact…. We don’t want everything to be shown in public because it is an inappropriate time. Please understand that we are seriously working 24/7.

The air force general also claimed “that the CSOC detected 52 lèse majesté webpages on 14 October and another 61 the next day.” He proclaimed that “35 per cent of them have already been blocked…”.

He added that there was now an effort to prosecute those responsible for the pages.

The courts will see a frenzy of lese majeste and computer crimes charges.

Lese majeste to protect the dead monarch

20 10 2016

As we know from a previous case, under the royalist judiciary, the lese majeste law has been applied to the alleged defamation of dead kings.

We assume this is why the authorities have gone on a lese majeste arrest spree for those considered to have defamed the late king since he died.

Prachatai reports that “police have so far prosecuted 12 people for lèse majesté since King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death on 13 October…”.

The police commander went on:

On the prosecution of online lèse majesté offenders, I’ve urged local authorities to closely follow the cases since 13 October. So far, officers have prosecuted 12 suspects under Article 112 (the lèse majesté law)…. Eight arrest warrants have been issued. Two suspects have been arrested. And charges will soon be filed against two people. For offenders living abroad, we’re asking for cooperation [from other countries].

As expected, while the regime has called for an end to royalist mob violence against those accused of lese majeste, The Dictator blamed the victims:

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has warned people to refrain from upsetting those who are still mourning the passing of … the King…. He said insensitive remarks and actions could provoke strong that could lead to physical assaults….

The now monochrome nation cannot, according to The Dictator, allow the expression of any divergence from palace and royalist propaganda. The junta did warn “against any attempts to get the monarchy embroiled into any conflict” and warned against vigilantism. Yet its “Justice” Minister has encouraged it.

The junta’s view is that those who “think differently” may not express their views, and “they should keep their opinions to themselves.”

All the king’s men

19 10 2016

It may be seen as fitting that the men at the head of major institutions in Thailand are now all authoritarian loyalists of the deceased king.

The youngest of the royalist trio is General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who seized government in a military coup in 2014. The Dictator made his career through acts of loyalty for the palace. Prior to becoming Army boss, he commanded troops that murderously crushed red shirt protesters in 2010. That was also an act of loyalty.

At 96 years of age, the doddery General Prem Tinsulanonda is now regent. When unelected prime minister, he presided over the years in which the monarchy was catapulted into a more exalted position than it had enjoyed since the days of absolutism.

The third of the royalist stooges is doddery privy counselor Thanin Kraivixien, 88, who is now selected as head of the Privy Council while Prem assumes the position of regent. Thanin was catapulted into the prime ministership in 1976 following a massacre of students and a military coup. He was a palace favorite and it is accepted that the king wanted the right-wing Thanin as premier. He presided over a period of fascist-like repression that was so extreme that even the military leadership soon ditched his government, much to the displeasure of the king who immediately vaulted Thanin to the privy council.

Wikileaks notes that Thanin was “ideological and politically extreme. After his taking office, he sent police special forces to notoriously [sic.] liberal book shops, and ordered the confiscation and burning of 45,000 books, including works of Thomas More, George Orwell and Maxim Gorky.”

In recent days, this unreformed rightist royalist has provided advice to the Prayuth dictatorship. Indeed, the junta’s 20-year “roadmap” to “democracy” is modeled on Thanin’s 16-year plan for “democracy.” There are other similarities and comparisons can be made. Among them, the draft constitution draws inspiration from the Thanin era, with Meechai Ruchupan having served the book burner in 1976-77. Like Prayuth’s military dictatorship, Thanin’s civilian dictatorship made use of the lese majeste law to repress political opponents.

Updated: Succession now officially bizarre

19 10 2016

The succession is becoming a crisis for the military dictatorship.

Initially The Dictator stated that, after apparently prepared for succession to proceed on the evening that the king died, nothing happened, and General Prayuth Chan-ocha stated that Prince Vajiralongkorn, the heir apparent, wanted time to grieve before succeeding to the throne.

There was then a coordinated effort to tell people not to worry and that succession was a done deal and the kingdom just had to wait for the new king.

The speculation about what delayed succession might mean caused Prayuth to put a time on succession. He was first reported as saying it would occur after at least 15 days of mourning.

Soon after, it was reported that he’d actually said 7-15 days. That seemed like a timetable.

Remarkably, within hours, this timeframe was ditched.

Described rather disingenuously as a “clarification,” Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said “Prayuth meant to say it would happen after the funeral was complete, which would take up to 172 days…”.

Was Prayuth drunk? There’s quite a difference between 7, 15 and 172.

Wissanu told reporters: “That’s all the meaning there is. There’s nothing complicated or mysterious.”

Really? If there’s nothing complicated or mysterious is it just that the junta is incompetent?

Even more remarkable, like Prayuth, Wissanu stated that Vajiralongkorn “would sign the new constitution, which was approved in an August referendum and is now pending minor revisions.”

That is flabbergasting. As far as we can tell, there is no legal basis for this unless the prince has become king. Otherwise, the regent would sign.

Perhaps the junta is reinventing the meaning of royal assent.

Yet we can see that an illegal approval of of the junta’s constitution might be entirely appropriate.

Succession is now officially and seriously bizarre. Speculation about it will be even more rife than it has been.

Update: On 18 October, the Prime Minister’s Office released this statement to news agencies:

On the matter of Royal Succession, this will proceed according to the Constitution, the Palace Law on Succession, and Royal Traditions. There need not be any speculation or confusion on this matter, as it is already clear that, following Royal Funeral ceremonies for 15days, it should be an appropriate time to proceed with the constitutional processes. In the meantime, the Regent Pro Tempore shall only perform official duties as deemed necessary. As for the announcement of the promulgation of the new constitution, the new King will sign the charter in accordance with the stipulated time period, and without any disruptions to this schedule.

Inside the Beltway commentary

19 10 2016

As we know if we read junta tea leaves, the US is always “misunderstanding” the country with which it has its longest treaty relationship in Asia. So for what it’s worth, what do the Yankees say about Thailand in the current period? A reader sent us a couple of posts from a privately circulated, “inside the Beltway” daily newsletter on everything Asia from business and government. Here they are:

Immediately following the king’s death:

THAILAND’S KING IS GONE…long expected bad news, but still bad news, given that his designated successor, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, is not especially popular except with the military junta.

And, to be brutally frank, the man has been seen by the USG for some 20 years as dishonest beyond the norm, utterly untrustworthy, and often dangerously incompetent due to let’s just call them personal recreational habits.

One of those you can perhaps work around, but all? And this has been a long-held concern in both Bangkok and Washington…and we suspect other places throughout Asia, including Tokyo.

Bangkok? Sure, if he can stay alive, it will be thanks to the protection and sponsorship of the junta…so the generals will call the shots, unlike his late father, who was often able to mediate in the country’s best interests.

We reported during the Bill Clinton Administration that because of trust issues, Vajiralongkorn was was refused a classified briefing at DOD and raised hell about it, but the White House held firm. We had that directly from involved NSC, so no indignant denials, please!

* * * * * * * * * *

State Dept. release:

Passing of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej

Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
October 13, 2016

I join President Obama and the American people in offering our deepest condolences to members of the Royal Family of the Kingdom of Thailand, and to the people of Thailand, on the death of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

For over 70 years, His Majesty led Thailand with integrity and compassion, always mindful of the needs and aspirations of the Thai people.

His Majesty the King was one of America’s most valued and trusted friends, and was the only monarch in history ever born in our country. The Bhumibol Adulyadej Square in the city of Cambridge, in my home state of Massachusetts, marks his birthplace and will remain an enduring memorial to the special bond he created between our peoples. He will be long remembered and will be deeply missed.

The United States stands with the people of Thailand at this difficult time. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

* * * * * * * * * *

Cardin Statement on Passing of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the Subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific, released the following statement Thursday after the passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, who at the time of his death was the world’s longest reigning monarch:

“I extend my deepest condolences to the royal family, the people of Thailand, and the Thai community of Maryland on the passing of His Majesty King Bhumibol.

“Over seven decades, through periods of peace and turmoil, the King was widely revered by the Thai people as a stabilizing and respected leader. In particular, his interests in rural development and in strengthening ties with the international community and with the United States benefited his country and his people.

“The United States and Thailand have an enduring, strategic partnership dating back centuries and it is imperative that we replenish and strengthen our relationship during this time of transition in Thailand and increased tensions across South and East Asia.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Here’s a section of VOA’s excellent coverage today…not too hard to read between various lines:

VOA… King Bhumibol — also known as Rama IX — came to the throne as an 18-year-old in 1946 after the mysterious shooting death of his 20-year-old brother, King Ananda Mahidol.

The 70th anniversary of his accession was celebrated in Thailand on June 9 with millions of his subjects donning yellow shirts for the day.

Bhumibol Adulyadej was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the United States, a grandson of one of the Kingdom of Siam’s most revered monarchs, Chulalongkorn, or Rama V.

Throughout the last half of the 20th century, Rama IX became the most familiar king Thailand had ever known with the advent of mass media portraying him as a wise and compassionate head of state, working effortlessly to improve the lives of his mostly rural subjects.

The king was revered as a semi-deity in the deeply Buddhist country. His rule provided a bedrock of stability in a country faced with many social and economic challenges, including a fragile democratic system. The kingdom now is governed by a military junta, which took power in a bloodless coup on May 22, 2014, ousting a weak civilian government beset by sometimes violent street protests.

During his reign there were frequent military coups. Bhumibol acted as the ultimate arbitrator over feuding generals, defusing dangerous situations and sometimes consenting to the army’s request for the overthrow of elected governments.

His son, the 63-year-old Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn is heir apparent. The prince also inherits properties said to be worth in excess of 35 billion dollars.

Prince Vajiralongkorn, however, has never achieved the esteem that the king and Queen Sirikit — who has been in poor health for years — enjoyed. The prince remains a rather remote figure, especially compared with his popular younger sister, Princess Sirindhorn, known for being humble and active with charitable work.

Some Thais have quietly spoken of having the princess succeed her father. But she has not been designated a possible heir and most Thai political analysts say the powerful military backs the crown prince.

The succession can not be openly discussed in Thailand. The kingdom has harsh lese majeste laws and any perceived criticism of the monarchy or its top royals can result in quick arrest and long prison terms.

Thailand is now expected to enter into a long period of official mourning. Analysts say that will put on hold any quick return to civilian government, indefinitely extending the military’s rule…

* * * * * * * * * *

US-ASEAN Business Council Mourns the Passing of His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand

The US-ASEAN Business Council offers its sincere condolences to the people of Thailand upon the death of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej after a long illness. His Majesty was 88 years old, and had served Thailand as its King since 1946. He was the longest-serving monarch in the world. Thailand is the United States’ oldest treaty ally in Asia, and under His Majesty’s reign the bilateral relationship has grown into an important political, economic, and cultural partnership. In addition to his moral leadership, King Bhumibol’s promotion of economic development led to Thailand’s current position as a regional economic powerhouse.

“His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej was a great friend to the United States,” said Alexander Feldman, President & CEO of the US-ASEAN Business Council. “Not only was the King born in the State of Massachusetts but he visited many times and met with American Presidents from Eisenhower to Obama. The King personally did much to strengthen the relationship between the peoples of Thailand and America during his long reign. We recognize the exalted position of His Majesty in Thailand, and the deep devotion felt by Thailand’s 67 million loyal subjects and countless others around the world. We send our condolences and our sincere sympathy to the Thai people during this difficult period. The King will be missed.”

* * * * * * * * * *

“ANON” FORMER USG #1…reporting “from the field”:

A — We don’t really know when it happened, but preliminary indications of extreme nervousness on the part of the regime suggest that the backfield was in motion well before the announcement late this afternoon, the 13th. Real trauma for millions of people. The media are full of retrospectives, bespeaking a fair amount of apprehensive confusion.

B. — The PM/dictator spoke on TV about an hour ago, and because I saw it in a loud restaurant, some things he said were unclear to me. Nonetheless, he put his foot in it. First, the European trope for continuity (the king is dead; long live the king), doesn’t scour here. His second thought, after the respects, was to emphasize just what thinking Thai dread most, the succession. (I was sitting with royalists … people who support the current government, and they were put off and dismayed.

C — Then he told everyone to support his new constitution and remain calm, which was way too much of the usual fluff. In brief, he treated the most traumatic event in recent years as one of his Friday night fireside chats, wherein he bores everyone with statistics about what his regime is doing to help the country, and failed to register an appropriate level of grief. He even spoke of “sending the king to heaven”, which was so tone deaf that I was actually embarrassed for him, a little.

More anon, as the situation unfolds. No reason to expect any problems before all the ceremonials are completed (a couple of months), since respect for the old king is widespread, though far from universal. I anticipate a favorable exchange rate when the portrait changes on the money.

“ANON” FORMER USG #2…now in DC:

The form and procedures of the transition will go smoothly. The Army and palace have been planning for this for a long time. After the mourning period, the palace intrigues and the bureaucratic politics in the palace and the junta are going to be opaque and unpredictable, in my view.

It probably will not matter too much to the US; external relations will continue more-or-less unchanged, I suspect….

I am a bit surprised at a mourning period of only one year. That was the period for the king’s sister. I figured his would be longer.

A little later:

The overall current mood is somber, but satisfied that things are proceeding predictably. It is a bit of a (welcome ) surprise that the heir has decided to bide his time and postpone any announcement of succession until he has had time to grieve. This introduces some legal complications ( a regent to be appointed so that government may function, the Legislative Assembly cannot meet to pass bills). The latter is important because without organic laws required by the new constitution, the December 2017 election can’t go ahead. This will have to be worked. But the most important fact is that things are proceeding precisely according to long established protocols.

It is important to note that the NCPO/Junta does not seem to be taking steps to postpone the election, far from it, they seem to be intent on plodding along on the old timetable. Many here were surprised – and most were gratified – that the initial announcements gave zero indication of an intention to delay things.

The timetable is fluid. The next monarch can be announced whenever, maybe after the 30 day period of “refraining from entertainment”. However, he cannot have a formal coronation until after his father’s funeral which will take place next October after the year of mourning. (The NCPO determination to move on deliberately is reflected in the year mourning period. It was two years for his sister and earlier predictions were for three years this time.)

Whatever the regard in which the next monarch is held internationally will have little influence on U.S. relations. Is the German President central to U.S.-German relations? Also, ignore U.S.-based commentary about bureaucratic and palace politics here. Those are opaque even to people with an ear to the Bangkok street. Also, be cautious about the “analysts” who are already talking about plots to delay the election. As above, there is no such indication as yet. Some do have “sources” here (I know several of them), and those sources are about as useful as the Lyndon Larouche acolytes who serve as sources to Chinese commentators on U.S. politics.

Thus, the outlook is for stability over the medium term. Economic growth will be modest at best, but the exchange rate will be more determined by Fed policy rather than by the face on Thai currency.

Given an appointed 250 member Senate voting together with the 500 MP elected House divided into several contending parties, the current talk is of the NCPO head becoming the next PM. Perhaps. But few now anticipate a quick return to the zero sum scorched earth politics of the recent decade, and that is modestly to the good.

Here’s another, from the same source:

THAILAND…here’s the latest from an “ANON former USG” who lives there and must, perforce, be protected:

After what I’d call a bungling misstep in his address to the nation on the day, in which the regime’s main goals, priorities, and worries were much too obvious, the PM and the regime generally are handling this crisis time pretty handily. As many have noted, the succession is a problem for them because it is: a. the basket in which they’ve put their eggs, and: b. not at all popular.

Therefore, although they want it to happen, they don’t want it too soon. Better to stand in the afterglow of the old reign for as long as possible, and try to construct a legitimate façade in the constitution (note, I do not suggest that they are moving the country toward a free and fair election at the end of next year).

The announcement by the Crown Prince that he will not ascend the throne during the mourning period almost certainly reflects the powerful hand of the regime, and was about the best “middle way” available under the circumstances.

It’s clear from the massive amounts of organized programming that all the media coverage, both the well-produced historical retrospectives and coverage of the ceremonies, was all prepared and rehearsed well before the event. The unending drumbeat of ceremonies is really impressive and beautiful to see. There is no doubt that we are watching the funeral of the King of Siam.

Other commentators have mentioned the futility of trying to see into the machinations of the palace. I fully agree, and will only add that machinations within the palace, and the inner ring of retainers and advisors, are no longer the important dimension here, and may amount to nothing more than Kabuke.

The question is not even whether the monarchy still has any power or influence, but rather what the several surrounding institutions which claim to derive legitimacy from it, especially the army, are going to do to retain power in the absence of that legitimacy, which must evaporate like dew over the coming months.

There’s considerable fluff in this but does show what voices are being heard inside the Beltway. Lots of speculation and guessing.

Updated: Prayuth says succession resolved

18 10 2016

General Prayuth Chan-ocha seems to read PPT and related media for he seems to have agreed that “delayed succession” is a cause for speculation.

He has apparently sought to resolve this, reported in the Bangkok Post, as saying: “citizens in Thailand and abroad should not be worried or concerned” about succession.

He added that “Thailand must observe at least 15 days of mourning for King Bhumibol Adulyadej before the royal succession can take place…”.

With the “at least” added, there seems considerable “wriggle room” and, hence, speculation will continue.

The Dictator “also confirmed the roadmap to restore democratic [sic.] rule, which includes a general election in 2017, will not be affected by the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej last week.”

He also “said the next king would sign the constitution by the timeframe set forth in the roadmap and there should be no delay.” (That the prince is expected to become king and sign the charter into law is a bit of a surprise after it was earlier intimated that Regent Prem Tinsulanonda would sign.)

Update: A reader drew our attention to a report at Khaosod which states that Prayuth said not “at least 15 days of mourning” but “seven to 15 days after the funeral of His Majesty the Late King began.” We went to news reports and found that 7-15 days was also mentioned in one report by Manager TV. While we didn’t see Prayuth saying this, we’d suggest that the 7-15 days is so specific that any variation on this would be a cause for even more speculation about succession. On this timetable, succession could be as soon as tomorrow.

Further updated: Lese majeste after the reign

18 10 2016

It looks like there is to be no let up in the use of lese majeste. Both Matichon and Thai Rath report that “Justice” Minister Paiboon Khumchaya, who is yet another General, is looking at royalist mobs and thinking that this provides him with license to (again) seek out and prosecute persons deemed unduly critical of the king, even if they are overseas. The General seems to imply that, in addition to making representations through diplomatic channels, overseas “offenders” may be tracked by “agents.”

One of the cases he seems to refer to is in Phuket. One report, in the Phuket Gazette, refers to lese majeste charges being laid against Suthee Arammetapong. He was one of the people chased down by royalist mobs after the king’s death. Prachatai has a similar story. Yet its report states:

… Pol Maj Gen Teeraphon Thipcharoen, Commander of Phuket Police [arrived], with about 30 police officers and soldiers arrived at the scene and attempted to pacify the crowd [mob].

He told the crowd that the Facebook message does not seem to violate Article 112 directly, adding the police could make an arrest when the allegation is investigated and seems sufficiently substantiated and after the court grants an arrest warrant for the suspect.

Dissatisfied, the mob wanted lese majeste blood. The report states that “the crowd agreed to disperse after the intervention of Surathin Lien-udom, former key leader of the [anti-democratic] People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC)…”. He gathered up “four people from the mob to Mueang Phuket Police Station to file a lèse majesté complaint against the accused.”

That accusation is now being investigated.

Vigilantism and state repression seem required for a nation that now views all as black and white.

Update 1: Vigilantism is swelling in Thailand. Rightist foreigners associated with the Democrat Party and the broad anti-democratic movement are calling for harassment of foreign journalists. By far the most despicable case is the beating and humiliation of a 19 year-old worker in Chonburi.

Not only was the vicious mob attack livestreamed over Facebook, but it is clear that his employer – Thai Steel Cable – first alerted the mob to the alleged lese majeste by the young man and then told the mob where to locate him. The company sacked him and the company’s HR manager stated that he “would want to beat the crap out of him…”.

A photo later circulated on social media showed Jirawat in the back of a police vehicle, but the officer in charge of the case would not discuss the case other than to say police are investigating it.

Khaosod reports that “[n]one of the vigilantes involved in these incidents is known to be under criminal investigation for any crimes.” In other words, vigilantism is promoted and condoned, including by Minister Paiboon.

Update 2: The Nation reports on these matters. One notable paragraph states:

Overseas commentators are also being monitored. Minister in the PM’s Office Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana said the government had noted six social media users who live abroad making inappropriate comments online. The government would use intelligence and security agencies to deal with them, said Suwaphan, who is also a secretary to the command centre monitoring the situation.