The ideological crisis

12 04 2017

Eugene Mark is identified as a Senior Analyst with Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS). He claims “a deep interest in Thailand’s political and security affairs.”

He writes in the Diplomat that “Thailand’s military-led reconciliation talks … have again wrongly perceived the country’s crisis as an elite competition played at the top of a hierarchical society.”

He thinks “the military elites are trying to seek a negotiated deal with opposing politicians while further entrenching their political control.” He sees this as a mistaken perception that may fit with the military’s past efforts to co-opt politicians while giving them little power.

Mark reckons the thing that’s really wrong with Thailand is a “fundamental ideological crisis.” This crisis pits a changing society against “official ideology, which forms the basis for the military elites’ authoritarian control.”

The threat is from electoral politics:

A demand for electoral democracy by the rural populace poses a significant threat to the ideological basis upon which the military elites can exist in the political realm. It essentially rejects the role of the King and his “few good men” in providing for the nation.

Mark thinks that this “ideological crisis can get more severe over time…” due, he asserts, to the end of the last reign: “In other words, the way in which King Bhumibol’s personality cult was formed set the military on the course of failure right from the start.”

The “attempt to strike a negotiated deal with politicians from the opposite end while entrenching their control suggests military leaders do not understand that their justification for authoritarian control has reached an expiration date.”

He predicts more instability unless the elite can come to terms with the people by coming up with a new social contract that is more than an elite arrangement for more exploitation and resistance to change.





On Vajiralongkorn

12 04 2017

It is six months since the late king passed and just over four months since the then crown prince acceded the throne. The first of the assessments are appearing on “the reign so far.”

One of these is by Claudio Sopranzetti at Al Jazeera. It may soon be blocked in Thailand.

Essentially, Sopranzetti makes an argument that Vajiralongkorn is a nasty piece of work seeking to ensconce himself and his privilege in ways that are different from the manner in which his father operated. His father was a networker while Vajiralongkorn is a thug.

This is not the potentially “democratic” king envisaged by another observer.

One might think that succession to a throne would see changes made to the royal household. Indeed, there have been such changes in the Thai royal household, but these have been completed in nasty, even vengeful ways.

That Vajiralongkorn is vengeful, thuggish and nasty should not come as a shock to anyone who has watched the royal family over the years. Those characteristics, along with his womanizing and his need for money, defined his life as crown prince. He’s also considered himself a military man, and the “military discipline” he seems to have imposed in the palace matches the vile treatment of recruit to the military.

That members of the elite now fear the erratic new king is to be expected, and if it is only now that they are making hasty contingency plans, then they can only blame themselves for not fully believing the stories they all knew to be true.

Perhaps the most interesting issue is how interventionist King Vajiralongkorn is going to be.

Sopranzetti gets a few things wrong. The lese majeste law was not introduced in 1957; Vajiralongkorn did not spend most of his adult life overseas (depends a bit on the definition of “adult”); he’s wrong that “changes provide the King with complete control over the appointment of a regent in his absence” for the king has long had this control and had it under the earlier version of the new constitution under Article 16. What he has now is the capacity to not appoint a regent when he’s overseas. He’s also wrong to reproduce bits and pieces of palace propaganda as fact.

He is right to say that with the “new constitution Vajiralongkorn will wield more power over the parliament than his father ever did.” However, no one should conclude that the previous reign was not highly interventionist. The previous king was forever meddling, sometimes on his own and often through trusted intermediaries. His relationship with particular military leaders meant that his view always counted.

What is in doubt is exactly how King Vajiralongkorn will intervene. So far, he seems intent on maintaining royal powers. His intervention on the constitution essentially rolled back changes that sought to deal with the end of the last reign and the political fallout from interventionism.

The new king sees no reason for the changes, so it is probably reasonable to assume that his future interventions will be erratic and nasty.





Defending Buddha Issara

11 04 2017

Buddha Issara is a despicable fascist and anti-democrat monk. He has lauded gunmen, acted with thugs, praised the military dictatorship, extorted hotels, accused opponents of lese majeste and been an ardent supporter of the ridiculous law, taken the law into his own hands, and supported vigilantes.

In short, he’s a detestable person and worse as a monk. Yet, in this post, PPT will support him. Why? Simply, because he’s accused of lese majeste in a case that warrants no legal attention.

Prachatai reports that on “10 April 2017, Wichai Prasertsutsiri, coordinator of the Centre for the Promotion of Buddhism Foundation, filed a complaint under Article 112 of the Criminal Code … against Buddha Isara at the Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok.”

They accuse the “ultra-royalist monk and a key leader of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), of royal defamation over a ritual to bless Buddha amulets.” Wichai claims that “on 30 May 2009 the monk performed a ritual to bless Buddha amulets engraved with the monograph of the late King … before selling them to his disciples.” Yes, that’s 2009, eight years ago.

The complainant says that the royalist monk “used his own blood to bless the amulets.” This, apparently is the cause of the allegation, with Wichai claiming “[s]uch action was defamatory to the … monarchy since the amulets were engraved with the royal monograph…”.

What a load of buffalo manure. Wichai is like many others who lash out at others using this feudal and ridiculous law, making up ever more balmy claims about what “defames” a royal.

The detestable monk responded that “the ritual was performed to honour the monarchy, adding that the plaintiff just wanted to find a way to attack him.” We are sure the latter is true, while the former is as balmy as Wichai’s accusation.

Of course, the “police accepted the complaint and said they will investigate the matter.” They have to for they are too spineless to just tell the accuser to go home and stop being ridiculous.





Elections vs. the patronage system

11 04 2017

The Puea Thai Party may think it has a chance of doing well in an election, even if it is the junta’s “election.” We have serious doubts that they could win another election under the junta’s rules. Even if they did, the junta’s constitution will stymie them as a government.

In line with their faith in electoral democracy, the Puea Thai Party has demanded a “general election early next year, revocation of ‘unconstitutional’ orders of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the military junta] and freedom to express opinions about legislation.”

Somewhat oddly, at least in our view, the party sees the “promulgation of the 2017 constitution last Thursday started a process to restore democracy…”. We see it as the beginning of a period of military-backed government.

Meanwhile, the enemies of electoral democracy met with General Prem Tinsulanonda, the President of the Privy Council. The now frail Prem beamed as he accepted the obeisance of some members of the junta (who was missing?), cabinet members, military commanders-in-chief, the national police chief and other top officials.

General Prem “wished Prime Minister [General] Prayut Chan-o-cha success in his handling of the country’s administration and advised him not to be discouraged by problems he has encountered.” For the grand old political meddler, “success” involves “returning happiness” to “the Thai people.”

The Dictator was puffed up and proud, praising General Prem, “who he said was a role model for everyone in the country in terms of loyalty to the nation, religion and the monarchy.”

Readers will be amused to learn that The Dictator “presented a vase of flowers and a basket of gifts to Gen Prem, who in return distributed a CD on the tribute to the late King … and a book of prayer to everyone present.”

Just the thing for men who were responsible for the attacks on red shirt demonstrators seven years ago to the day that eventually left scores dead and thousands injured.

Meanwhile, it seems that Prayuth has decided that as The Dictator, he deserves Prem-like obeisance. He will “open Government House on April 12 for cabinet members, members of the National Council for Peace and Order, armed forces commanders and other officials to perform a rod nam dam hua [water-pouring] ceremony for him to mark the Songkran Festival.”

The juxtaposition of these political positions is defining of Thailand’s political present and indicative of its futures.





Updated: The constitution and the king’s coup

10 04 2017

The New York Times carries an op-ed by David Streckfuss. It is titled “In Thailand, a King’s Coup,” and we guess it will be blocked here in Thailand before too long.

We are not sure we agree with all of it, but will comment later.

Update: Streckfuss is like everyone else. He’s reading royal and military tea leaves and trying to work out what is going on. We can’t do anything different. His hypothesis seems to be that the the changes the king demanded of the junta’s constitution might represent a slap to the military. We are not so sure.

He’s not entirely right when he says that one changes “allows the king to name a regent to act on his behalf, including when he is traveling outside Thailand. This strips the Privy Council, a royal advisory group known to support the junta, of its traditional authority to act in the king’s place on such occasions.”

This isn’t correct. In previous constitutions, the king has had the right to appoint a regent. The change that impacts the Privy Council is that the new constitution removes the Privy Council President’s role of acting as regent when there’s a void. Grand old political fiddler General Prem Tinsulanonda may not like that, but he’s frail and on the way out.

There’s also the capacity for the king to nominate a person or a group to act as regent. We are not sure how this might work.

Another change is that the king doesn’t have to appoint a regent when he’s (often) away. That is giving him a power he didn’t have before but which is an acknowledgement that the new king intends to be away a lot.

Most of the other changes are a rolling back to earlier arrangements.

Then there’s the hypothesis that the king has a political “clean slate” and that this may result in some kind of association with a more democratic Thailand, as Streckfuss has it, the king might “foster a somewhat more open political atmosphere…”.

Don’t hold your breath. For a start, the prince-cum-king does not have a “clean slate.” Anything but. He has been manipulative in events since his father became unable to do much. Think of his efforts to have the now disgraced Jumpol Manmai made police chief.

To date, over 64 years, PPT hasn’t seen any evidence that Vajiralongkorn is going to be a democratic king. We would be very surprised if he turns out to be this, but we’d welcome that almost as much as a democratic republic.

There’s no doubt that Streckfuss is right when he sees the proclamation of the junta’s constitution on Chakri Day as significant. But what, exactly, is the significance? Is it that constitutionalism resides in the monarchy? Is it that “[t]ying the promulgation of the Constitution to Chakri Day is significant …[as it] seems to signal that constitutions are a gift to the people from the monarchy…”.

That’s also a misreading. In fact, royalists have made this point since 1932. That’s why Thailand has the daftly rendered King Prajadhipok Institute, as if the king targeted in 1932 was the real founder of democratic constitutionalism in Thailand. That certainly is an ideological misrepresentation.

We can think of another rendering: if the constitution was granted by the king and on Chakri Day, will it constitute lese majeste if anyone criticized it or wants to change it?

(We must add that Streckfuss is wrong that the previous king criticized the lese majeste law.)





Library, princess and the loot

10 04 2017

Many readers will have seen various stories in the media about the failures of the education system in Thailand. The royalist-run universities do poorly when compared with peer institutions everywhere else. Elementary and secondary education is way behind most other places, populated by sometimes dull and nasty teachers who enforce notions of hierarchical Thainess over education. And so on.

So it was that there was some jubilation that one of the first new libraries in the capital, หอสมุดเมืองกรุงเทพมหานคร Bangkok City Library. At 4,880 sqm, it is the largest of the capital’s 36 public libraries. It opened last Friday:

[the] three-story library opened its doors in Bangkok’s old town Friday with tens of thousands of books and a lending service expected to launch in three weeks.

At the Bangkok City Library on Ratchadamnoen Road, Thais and foreigners alike can peruse more than 41,000 volumes. When the lending service launches April 28, it will only be available to Thai nationals.

Junta-appointed governor, Pol. Gen Aswin Kwanmuang was effusive when he presided over the opening: “Come on and check it out…. Your brains will become filled with knowledge! The library is for everyone, not just students.”

But, wait. It turns out that it was, perhaps, maybe, a sort of “soft opening.”

Khaosod reports that “[l]ess than 24 hours after opening with much fanfare, Bangkok’s largest public library shut its door and will not open again for three weeks.” Huh?

The management of the new library issued a statement that the closure is because “it needs to prepare its facility to host a royal visit by Princess Sirindhorn, who will attend the library’s formal opening ceremony on April 28.”

Three weeks of preparations for the portly princess!

The one-day opening was, the library bosses now say, a “system test.”

Then this:

The facility was built at a cost of nearly 900 million baht, about 300 million of which was used for construction and maintenance, while the rest was paid to lease the land from the Crown Property Bureau. Its budget for book acquisition was set at 5 million baht, and officials said they’re still accepting book donations.

Books = 5/900 million baht (0.56%)

Crown Property Bureau = 595/900 million baht (66.11%)





Another “plot” against the junta

9 04 2017

In an earlier post citing Deputy Dictator General Prawit Wongsuwan on why the constitution did not mean that political parties could again become active, he said there was too much “trouble” still going on.

We wondered if he meant a tiny but convenient bomb? Or that “assassination plot” for which no evidence has been produced? Or the rusty bunch of weapons claimed “seized” from red shirts that became a sparkling bunch of newer weapons after the military had the “suspects” and “evidence” for a while? Or the Wat Dhammakaya debacle?

What we missed was another dastardly plot by the nebulous “opposition.” The junta’s spokesman, Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd revealed a wicked conspiracy involving a supposedly bogus “set of nine restrictions for the Songkran holiday…”. These restrictions “prohibited Songkran revellers from wearing tight and revealing clothes and using high-pressure water guns and hoses…”.

Lt Gen Sansern cried that “groups with ill intentions were capitalising on the controversial traffic rules to undermine the administration.”

He added: “Some groups want to discredit the government by linking these [alleged nine restrictions] with the new traffic regulations and a ban on water throwing on [main] roads.”

Let’s get this right…. The junta issued new traffic rules that were then modified, delayed or something like that. Then a plot has developed, circulating bogus rules to make the junta look even worse. Got it?

Well, not quite. “Lt Gen Sansern said that some of the bogus restrictions were ‘guidelines’ made by the cabinet during previous years of the Songkran festival.”

Confused? You bet. Anyway, his point is that, no matter what things the junta has actually done, there’s a conspiracy to make it look bad. Perhaps he should look in the mirror.