Assessing the king after the funeral

11 11 2017

In an article we should have commented on earlier, authors at Foreign Policy look at the monarchy’s future.

Like many of the accounts following the dead king’s funeral, there’s a ridiculous glorification of the deceased king in order to show the new king in a poor light. This devise is unnecessary and devoid of any serious analysis of the past reign.

Yet this report does gently point at some of the “missing” details in the official discourse of the “good” and “great” king:

The king’s good deeds abounded: talking to the poor, directing countryside renewals, instructing students. Not pictured were his political interventions, occasionally on behalf of the military, sometimes keeping a fragile democracy afloat. By the time of the 2014 seizure of power by the current ruling junta, he had been far too frail to act.

While this position on the king’s interventions is common, it is not necessarily true. The two events usually said to reflect “keeping a fragile democracy afloat” are October 1973 and May 1992. Neither fits the bill.

In 1973, there was no democracy to keep afloat and with the military splitting and with murderous attacks on students, the king moved to restore “stability.” His support for the new democracy drained away quickly when he couldn’t get his way. The October 1976 massacre followed, perpetrated by enraged royalists and the military, a part of a coup.

In 1992, there was no democracy to protect or sustain. That’s why there was an uprising. People rose against the military junta’s efforts to maintain their power following the 1991 coup and appointing the junta leader premier. Is The Dictator listening? The king’s intervention was late, after it was clear the military could not restore “stability” and had murdered scores of protesters.

It is interesting to read this:

Along the urn’s procession route, a row of truncheon-wielding police blocked the way to the 1932 Democracy Monument. Their presence was noticeably heavier than at any point along the route, perhaps cautious of the possibility for protest gestures at a site that had been a locus for political uprisings since the 1970s.

That area was central to both the events of 1973 and 1992 and the military knows that history of anti-military dictatorship and seeks to suppress those memories.

Interesting too is the response of devout royalists to questions:

But when we asked about what, exactly, the king had done for them, there was a moment of puzzlement, and then the same answers every time: “Well, there were the visits to the countryside and the ‘sufficiency economy.’”

The authors are right to note that:

The king’s countryside trips were part of a 1960s and 1970s anti-communist campaign, dating from well before these kids were born, the concept of the “sufficiency economy” another 1970s buzzword dragged back up in 1997 to remind Thais to be happy with their lot, even amid the financial crisis.

The sufficiency stuff was recycled from E.F. Schumacher and stripped of any progressive content.

Yet, as the authors note, these events and notions have been made royal lore and have been so nauseatingly repeated that they become “truisms.”

The report is also commended for noting that there were many Thais who tried to ignore the funeral, its militarization and all of its repetitions of propaganda.

Turning to Vajiralongkorn, the story notes that on the evening of the cremation:

… the mood soured. Following the symbolic cremation at 6 p.m., the real event was supposed to take place at 10 p.m. — broadcast live as everything else had been. Just beforehand, though, the feed was suddenly cut, and journalists were ushered out of the press center. The crowd was disappointed and unhappy; rumors spread that the decision had been made by the current king, the 65-year-old Maha Vajiralongkorn, who had attended the cremation accompanied by both his ex-wife and his mistress. The cremation remained unbroadcast, with the palace putting out the story that it had been decided it was a “private event.”

Privately, however, some saw it as an act of spite by the new king against his father….

The story then runs through the usual bad and odd deed associated with Vajiralongkorn, well known to all readers of PPT, and his protection under the lese majeste law.

In concluding, the article muses on the future:

The role of the new king is still uncertain. His coronation has been delayed until an unspecified future date, although he has already taken on monarchical duties.

The king is indeed still defining his role, scheming, sacking, disgracing and having the junta do his bidding. In fact, though, delaying coronation is not at all unusual, in Thailand or elsewhere. The article continues:

Although he backed the authoritarian new constitution imposed by the generals, his relationship with the military reportedly is not that close. With most of his time in recent decades spent out of the country, he hasn’t built up the close rapport with particular units that older royals did, despite his own air force training. Practical power will remain in the junta — and the symbolic power of the monarchy may have drained away with the old king.

While we agree with the view that “practical power” will remain with the military, we are not convinced by the idea that the king and military are not close, whatever that might mean. The claim that he has not built a “rapport” might be true, but he has built a relationship and he has allies. After all, as prince, he was associated with, first, the Army, and then with the Air Force. That relationship has been consistent over five decades.

The story then wonders about image:

Looking at the image of Vajiralongkorn, with his mouth seemingly always open in a mildly idiotic gawp, it seems hard to imagine a new [public] faith taking hold.

We are not so sure that the image will matter all that much. Coming to the throne when there’s a military dictatorship means the new king has the kind of “stability” his father always promoted. He seems content not to fill his father’s shoes and seems to favor repression and fear as much as he craves power and wealth.





Calling Bangkok’s middle class

28 04 2017

Thitinan Pongsudhirak deserves just a little praise for rather suddenly (and almost) taking a stand. His call to Bangkok’s middle class suggests that criticism of the military junta in elite circles is gathering some steam. While we don’t see Thitinan ever being a political rabble-rouser, he does speak the language of the Bangkok middle class:

Headed by Prime Minister [he means The Dictator] Prayut Chan-o-cha, a retired general and former army chief, the current military government that seized power by force will soon reach its three-year mark in office without the kind of civil society resistance and opposition that ousted ruling generals in October 1973 and May 1992. Whether the current Thai apathy in the face of military rule is attributable to a political culture that privileges order over liberty, and to what extent this phase of Thai political tameness extends, will be decided over the next several years.

What he means is that the middle class hasn’t risen. He continues:

Either [middle class] Thailand will break out of its military repression and return to a system of liberalising popular rule with an open society, or it will descend firmly into military-authoritarianism in the guise of illiberal democracy, dressed up with ersatz elections and rigged rules.

Well, yes, but that’s been the junta’s plan all along. It hardly takes three years to work that out. Again, he’s asking the middle class in Bangkok why they love the military and anti-democrats. He continues:

Not a week goes by without some kind of questionable government actions and top-down decision-making without public input and any semblance of accountability.

That’s true, but it began when the junta seized power. But, wait, there’s an excuse:

In the early months of the military government, the Thai public largely gave the benefit of the doubt to the generals who did put an end to endless street protests.

[And then there was] There was also a once-in-a-lifetime royal transition to consider, and a military government seemed most suited to oversee this delicate interval.

The latter is buffalo manure. Do think about what the military has managed through succession! Hope you are happy in the shophouses and apartments with the new arrangements. But, truly, if the military hadn’t been mutinous, and if they hadn’t been supported by the self-interested in Bangkok, maybe the anti-democrat street demonstrations could have been brought to an end without the coup the Bangkok middle class craved.

But what about the repression and the “deaths in custody” and the ridiculous fabrication of lese majeste cases? Thitinan sort of gets there:

Certainly, those in Thailand who dissent have been prosecuted and persecuted. Clearly, the quelling of dissent and spreading of fear are core reasons why Thais are putting up with military rule….

Related to fear is the lack of leadership. In social movements against military rule, only the Oct 14 uprising in 1973 was organic, spontaneous and broad-based. It was led by university students but they had wide support among other segments of society, including the media and merchants. In May 1992, the catalyst in what was dubbed a “mobile-phone mob” was the leadership of former Bangkok governor and popular politician Chamlong Srimuang and the Bangkok middle class.

This position is not supported by the historical evidence. One can only say that 1973 was “broad-based” if the working class and farmers are forgotten. When those groups did get involved, when electoralism developed, the middle class deserted in droves and cheered the military and its murderers in 1976. It was also the middle class that supported the coup in 1991 and then changed its collective mind. When it again felt that the working class and farmers were getting uppity by rejecting anti-Thaksinism, they supported the military again.

Reflecting this democratic ambivalence, he then drops the ball. His “solution” is: “some kind of civil-military compromise, as seen in Myanmar now and Indonesia in the recent past.” He means a negotiated solution that allocates the military thugs power and prestige and gives the middle class a disproportionate political weight. He ends with this lament:

Nevertheless if the Thai people don’t do something about their military rule, they may well end up with a government they deserve.

The middle class has its government.





Students vs. hirelings and anti-democrats

31 05 2016

The Nation recently had an “analysis” article on the student movements against the military junta. It refers to “student groups such as Dao Din, the New Democracy Movement (NDM) and the Liberal League of Thammasat for Democracy (LLTD)…”.

It says that “[a]t first, people barely noticed them.” But then, “[s]lowly people learned more about them, and realised that their rebellion was not merely against the coup, but embraced a wider range of policies and social issues that were of concern to everyone.” The report notes how these groups have been politically innovative. They have had to be as their main opponent is the military dictatorship which has massive coercive power.

The report quotes activist Rangsiman Rome who is a key member of the NDM and who observes that the “movement has been ignited by the coup…”. He says that “the students could not tolerate abuses of power – such as tearing apart the 2007 Constitution and allowing members of the junta to go unpunished.” At the same time, they “fight for what ‘should be’ rather than accept what ‘will be’…”.

The article acknowledges that these students have been “at great risk,” but have not hesitated to rally and challenge the junta.

It is sometimes forgotten that these students were active before the 2014 coup. As Rangsiman states, “In 2013 we protested against the amnesty bill proposed by the previous [Yingluck Shinawatra] government…”. Khon Kaen University’s Dao Din student activist Panupong Sritananuwat says his “group has worked with villagers for more than 12 years. Their activities involve environmental issues and educating people on their rights to protect the community.”

The student activists argue that “across the country [students] are increasingly aware of their roles as citizens…”, with Natthisa Patthamaphonphong of the Chulalongkorn Community for People (CCP), saying that “the students wanted to demonstrate they cared about the country.”

The students also “challenged emerging allegations that their activit[ies] are insincere after people questioned whether they were sponsored by particular political factions.”

The article then gets bizarre by going to the source of such claims, reporting academic prostitute (again, apologies to sex workers) and a yellow-shirted “former activist” who has been made an “academic” in a yellow-shirted “university,” even when he lacks the usual credentials associated with academics.

The first is the decidedly slimy Panitan Wattanayagorn, described as “a long-time security lecturer at Chulalongkorn University,” which is probably a reasonable description although he spends most of his time doing tricks as “national security adviser to Deputy Prime Minister [General] Prawit Wongsuwan…” and before that being the ventriloquist’s dummy for the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime.

Panitan has probably never been an activist on anything. The best the article can do is say that he “has been close to a number of student activists…”. Perhaps he was the bagman for the military in this? We suppose that advocating the shooting down of civilian protesters counts as activism. As someone who has long been on the payroll of political masters, it is probably logical for him to declare that “it was inevitable for such questions to arise” about being “sponsored” by a political faction. Indeed, that is Panitan’s own position; he’s always sponsored by the military and right-wing royalists.

Panitan declares that “the public needed to keep an eye on youth-led movements to determine in the long run whether they are independent or not…”. He isn’t, and the public should watch him, for he’s dangerous through his connections with military thugs.

The other quotable “academic” is former People’s Alliance for Democracy co-leader Suriyasai Katasila, now transformed into a “deputy dean of Rangsit University’s College of Social Innovation…”. He isn’t a historian, erroneously comparing the students of 1973 and today’s students, saying “Today’s political condition is so complicated that students cannot straightforwardly do whatever they want, like students did in the past, in 1973…”. Clearly, he has no understanding of the conditions in 1973 that led to a corrupt military regime murdering students in the street.

We could go on, but what’s the point. These “commentators” have political axes to grind while being paternalist and denigrating the current student movements. Panitan blathered: “They should consider if their movements are appropriate and favourable for the society or not, otherwise the public will wonder about [the purpose of] the movements…”. We imagine there are no mirrors in the cheap Chula apartment he occupies.

The students in these groups have more mettle, more integrity and more principles than a herd of Panitans and Suriyasais.





Looking after the family’s interests III

22 04 2016

One of the unfortunate consequences of the junta running down and keeping him in custody for a couple of days has been that attention has been diverted from the ruling family’s nepotism (see here, here and here).

Fortunately, Supalak Ganjanakhundee at The Nation has an op-ed that makes some excellent points.

He begins: “Those Thais who still believe in the junta’s pledge of national reform obviously haven’t been heeding the words of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, his brother Preecha or the draft charter.”

Well, it might depend how one defines “national reform.” Supalak has a middle-class notion of reforming for the better in mind. Well, it might depend how one defines “better.” There’s undoubtedly a group of anti-democrats who appreciate the military dictatorship’s regressive and repressive regime, and they may even consider it “reform.”

But, we get Supalak’s point.

As he puts it: “Prayut, his clan and his crew have embarked on a mission to re-establish a … polity of patron-client bonds and nepotism.” He sees that as a problem with the “deeper structures of culture and society,” essentially unchanged since 1932. We don’t agree, but we do get the point. Culture is not unchanging, and Thai culture has changed substantially over the decades. It is the structures that matter, and these have been sites of struggle. The victors have become the elite and they now defend their decrepit system tooth and nail – or should we say with baht and bullet.

This is why there is some truth in the claim that while “the Thai people have indeed elected governments, … the country has in the main continued to be run by a bureaucracy and a feudal elite.”

It isn’t true, however, that “[p]olitical struggle before the 1973 uprising mostly comprised power plays among the elite.” Think of students, workers and peasant leaders being murdered, the communist rebellion that went on for two decades, separatism in the south over two centuries, the struggle against military dictatorship in 1991-92 and the red shirt rebellions of 2009 and 2010.

But, again, we get Supalak’s point.

He’s right that the “military has been a constant presence in Thai politics throughout modern history. Although the uprisings of 1973 and 1992 directly challenged its power, they did little to shake the foundations of military authoritarianism.” This is a very interesting observation:

The Thai army was established more than a century ago by the monarchy and run by aristocrats familiar with patron-client system. The Army looked modern, but the blue-bloods who took charge of its units, barracks and camps treated it as their personal fighting force – just like old times. Thai commanders have a tradition of employing soldiers and military resources for their personal use. Low-ranking privates, for example, routinely serve their bosses as house boys, cleaning, cutting the grass and washing clothes….

Nepotism is tolerated in the military….

Supalak concludes: “If it has been decided that nepotism and the patron-client system are okay, why maintain the attitude that Thailand needs reform?”

Again, we get the point. However, it is mainly anti-democrats who have been shouting about the need for “reform.” What they mean is that the old system has to be maintained and strengthened.

What he couldn’t say is that the monarchy is the keystone of this old and decrepit system of nepotism and hierarchy.





Liberal authoritarianism

25 03 2016

An aged former prime minister who served twice but was never elected seems like an unlikely source for advice on democracy. That he served a military junta and then was put in place by the king in an arguably unconstitutional move should add to considerable doubt about his credentials.

Anand

But this is the Teflon-coated patrician Anand Panyarachun, sometimes seen as one of Thailand’s “liberal” royalists. So it is that the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand decides to invite the old liberal royalist to give his views, yet again. Some journalists have tweeted and gone on social media making out that Anand is someone who must be taken seriously while posing with him in photos as if he is a celebrity.

The Straits Times refers to Anand as “Thailand’s elder statesman…. Today, he remains among a handful of people with the stature to be able to speak his mind even under a military government.”

What the article should probably have stated is that he is one of the few to be able to speak and not fear detention. Others speak their mind, but are harassed because they say things that are interpreted as critical of the junta. Anand is essentially a junta supporter. He supported both the 2006 and 2014 military-palace coups. He doesn’t say anything that is likely to get the junta steamed up.

The truth is that Anand is a royalist authoritarian who seeks to cloak his anti-democratic perspectives in a language of “transparency,” “anti-corruption,” “human rights” and a decidedly technocratic language for Western audiences is interpreted in Thailand as the code of a supporter of the anti-democrats.

Anand’s speech is reproduced at the Bangkok Post. Interestingly, the only persons cited in it are the king – ho hum – Gandhi and a rightist libertarian (rather than a liberal).

It is a Khaosod report that shows the anti-democrat authoritarian. Anand declared that “people [he means Western critics and the journalists he spoke to] should not see coups and their makers in black or white, adding that those in Thailand are different from those in Africa or Latin America.” He defended the “unique nature of [Thailand’s] military coups.”

Ignoring the military’s repeated use of war weapons against its own people, “Anand said coups in Thailand are bloodless and nonviolent…”. He went further:

They are not brutal and bloody,” Anand said of the 12 “successful” coups in the eight-decades of modern political history. “I am not proud of that, but the damage is relatively insignificant.”

We understand that he needs to dissemble in order to support the 2014 coup, but he does this by ignoring mass murder. He ignores 1976, the attempts by the military to stay in power in 1973 and 1992, and the more generalized use of deadly force against civilians, most recently in April and May 2010. This is crude elite justification of military rule and its murderous past.

FDIHe also went into liar mode when he said “the most recent coup that installed the military regime of Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha in May 2014 hasn’t deterred foreign investment.” The real picture is in the graph.

If on looks at Board of Investment data, the declines following the coup are even sharper, as shown in the graphs from the Nikkei Asian Review.BOI

He defended the current junta:

At one point Anand was asked by a Singaporean journalist if the current military regime is capable of pushing for reform.

“Just because because they are a military government, it doesn’t mean they are stupid or always stupid,” he said.

Asked about democracy in Thailand, he said: “I’m not apologetic about the slow pace of the development of democracy.  I am sure I will not live to see it. I am 83.”

It is clear that the talk of human rights, rule of law, transparency and so on are not elements of a democratic Thailand but of a technocratic and authoritarian Thailand. When “liberal royalists” preach it is self-interested class warfare.

He even blames the “people” for the longevity of the military: “I think in a way that helps the present military regime to survive, because quite a number of people still give them credit for restoring peace and order.”

He does not blame his own class as the ones who cheer the military and benefit from its repressive power, again and again. He may not want a military regime for years to come, but he knows his class needs the military.





Memories of murderous military must be mute II

14 10 2015

The military dictatorship cannot erase memories of its institutional violence but it can try to prevent public memorialization of those murdered by the military. In an earlier post, we commented on this erasure of public memorialization for the 6 October 1976 massacre.

Khaosod reports that the military junta has tried to prevent some aspects of public events associated with a remembrance of 14 October 1973, when students led an uprising against military dictatorship that began in 1957 when the royalist general Sarit Thanarat seized power.

The military as an institution still mourns their loss of power in 1973 and they have constinued to celebrate the vicious generals who were overthrown back then. They resisted, along with a coterie of rightists and associated royalists, the public memorialization of the scores of students gunned down by the military in that uprising.

They still seek to alter memories of the events.

Royalists seek to seize the event as theirs by claims that the king opposed the generals. In fact, their is no solid historical evidence for this claim. Rather, the king and his advisers saw their regime was defeated and sought to make political capital from the events. In essence, this intervention marks the beginning of the palace’s political ascendance over the military, which lasted until the current king’s declining health, which has required the return of the military to top leadership.

As Khaosod reports, to this day, the families of those killed and injured 42 years ago have never been compensated by the state.

In fact, the “government led by Yingluck Shinawatra approved a plan in March 2012 to pay out 7,000 baht per month to immediate heirs of those injured or maimed, but the legislation was never enacted. The Yingluck administration was later ousted in the May 2014 coup d’etat, which brought the current junta to power.”

One of those who lost a family member “bitterly questioned whether there remains any point in marking the uprising when its ideal – ‘freedom from tyranny’ – was far from being achieved.” She went on to upbraid government officials – led by the princeling, M.L. Panadda Diskul – who attended the ceremony: “You are here to commemorate the event, but are you not ashamed? Many of you are the October Generation now sitting in the government. You are sitting on the pool of blood, but you don’t care about us. I have had enough.”

anti-junta

In a like-minded protest, “[m]embers of the Dao Din group, which has protested against the junta and the 2014 May military coup, were also present at the ceremony. Activists unfurled a banner denouncing former leaders of the 1973 uprising who have now shifted to supporting the military’s rule in Thailand.”

Even with government officials attending, Khaosod reports that a “company of police officers was placed around the ceremony to maintain order [sic.] at the Oct. 14 monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue.”

ThaiPBS reports that the princeling Panadda tried to hijack the meaning of the event for royalists, declaring that “Thai democracy” is comprised of “four main principles, namely unity, sufficiency, no mud slinging or lying, and no corruption.” That’s the royalist mantra that underpins the repeated destruction of democratic government in Thailand. He even went so far as to describe this “democracy” with the junta’s label: “sustainable democracy.” The princeling is beneath contempt.

The video below, part one of a series at YouTube, is a documentary made a few years ago at Thammasat University, bringing together what remains of the materials of the time. The short note under the video describes 14 October as one of Thailand’s “darkest moments.” That refers to the use of state force to attempt to put down the student-led revolt. At the same time, 14 October is remembered as a rising against military dictatorship that sought to establish a democratic Thailand. The struggle continues:





More paternalism

7 07 2015

In an earlier post PPT wrote of The Dictator’s paternalism as a marker of military dominance and rule in hierarchical Thailand.

Of course, Thak Chaloemtiarana wrote about this many years ago, analyzing the Sarit regime that many have seen as setting a political tone for the current dictatorship.Thak book

Prachatai reports on more paternalism from the military dictatorship. This time it comes from Maj Gen Weerachon Sukontapatipak, spokesman for the junta. Last time we posted on delusional spokesmen for the junta was a story on rights. Weerachon joins the “team” with a remarkable piece of paternalist nonsense tinged with a statement that dismisses the heroic student uprising in October 1973, indicating that the military dunces still smart about that defeat by the people.

Weerachon stated that international organizations wanting the release of the 14 students “lack a true understanding” of the political context of the arrest of the students. We think that what is not understood is the paranoia of the military junta.

According to Weerachon, “the Thai political context of the arrests” is that the junta:

is concerned about certain groups who hope to take advantage of the student activists’ protest by turning it into a situation similar to the 14 October 1973 student uprising, stated Weerachon. Therefore, international organizations pressing for the activists’ release must first understand the Thai political context and goals of various interest groups….

In other words, 1973 wasn’t a brave student uprising but that the students were dupes of political conspirators. Consider this clip from “Thailand 1973,” by now dedicated royalist Jeffrey Race, writing in Asian Survey, 14, 2, 1974:

1973

It seems the internal culture and learning of the military rejects anything but the memories and hallucinations of dictators.

Weerachon displays the arrogance and paternalism of the military when he says: “The students came to protest with pure intentions, but they are still children. They can think on some level.” Even if that statement is taken at face value, that the students can think on any level seems to locate them as intellectual giants when compared with the military leadership. But such claims are nothing more than the arrogance of fools.

Weerachon also referred to the pro-junta activists who have been permitted, at the behest of the junta, to protest against the students’ actions. Weerachon then claimed that the junta had public legitimacy, saying the students needed to “why most Thais still accepted the junta’s regime.” He added: “We’ll have to discuss with the students why they don’t accept laws that everyone else does.”

The junta seems to have convinced itself that it is popular. General Thanom Kittakachorn and Prapas Charusathiarana made similar claims. They were wrong then, and the junta is delusional today.