Catching up on the monarchy

8 08 2017

PPT has been posting regularly and yet we have not been able to post on all the stories in the media we’ve found interesting on or related to Thailand’s most feudal of institutions. Thus, this post is a catch-up. We will list several of these stories, from the past week or so, with little comment and just a quote of interest from each one:

Thai dissident’s lonely fight to keep history alive

Carrying a bucket of cement and a heavy bronze plaque, Ekachai Hongkangwan set out across Bangkok’s heavily-policed Royal Plaza in late June to perform a solo act of D-I-Y dissent.

But the 42-year-old was quickly bundled into a police van before he could lay down the metal disc – an exact replica of a monument that was mysteriously removed in April, sparking fears officials were trying to whitewash history.

The attempted restoration was a dangerous and rare act of subversion in a country smothered by an arch-royalist military and where criticism of the monarchy is being purged at an unprecedented rate.

Silencing dissent: digital capitalism, the military junta and Thailand’s permanent state of exception (we are not exactly sure how an exception becomes permanent)

In the last three years of military rule in Thailand, arrests and prosecutions for defamation, sedition and offences under the Computer Crimes Act have soared. Human rights advocates, democracy campaigners and ordinary citizens have been threatened, harassed and detained in military camps. The junta have sought to silence public discourse on every conceivable aspect of their rule. Global social media platforms are ground zero in this repression, and each month citizens are arrested and detained for what they post, share and like on Facebook.

Thai King’s Birthday Celebrations Mark Consolidation of Power

Thailand to celebrate birthday of assertive new King

The new monarch has shaken up the palace. A law quietly passed in April by Thailand’s interim assembly allowed him to consolidate control over five agencies which handle palace affairs and security. These agencies, which previously reported to the prime minister and defence ministry, remain funded by the state, but need not return revenue to the treasury.

A Straits Times examination of over 100 notices published on the Royal Gazette website since January shows the palace has promoted over 200 employees, removed or demoted over a dozen, as well as appointed over 100 more – many of them senior government servants.

All these moves have taken place amid tighter enforcement of Thailand’s lese majeste law, under which individuals have been jailed not just for insulting or defaming royalty, but also for trying to profit from their connections to the palace. Open discussion about the king, already constrained under the previous reign, has withered.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn expands his territory – but at what cost?

Change is afoot in Thailand. Amidst continued instability and uncertainty, King … Vajiralongkorn asserts more control. This move puts the ruling military junta in check.

The king now has full control of the agency that manages the holdings of the monarchy. Details about the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) are shrouded in secrecy. But it is worth at least US$30 billion thanks to significant holdings and investments, estimates suggested.

The Frontlines of Cyber Repression: Thailand and the Crop Top King

This post is the first of many in which we will begin the process of documenting the digital frontlines of cyber repression. By building better awareness about cyber repression, we hope this blog series will help illustrate current examples from across a wide spectrum of states and highlight actions being taken to push back on repression.

Trial of Yingluck sparks deeper crisis for Thailand

Why must she be eliminated at this point in time? The political elites are increasingly concerned about their position of power now that King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who passed away last October, is no longer on the political scene. Under Bhumibol, their political interests were firmly secured through the monarchy network, which had dominated political life for decades. Without Bhumibol, Thailand has moved into an uncertain phase under the new controversial king, Vajiralongkorn. Those political elites fear that the Shinawatras might exploit political uncertainties to regain power.





A feudal king

26 07 2017

One of the themes of the new reign has been the accumulation of power to the king. Since his December 2016 accession, King Vajiralongkorn has managed a rapid unwinding of arrangements regarding the relationship between crown and state that were put in place following the 1932 Revolution.

That process has seen constitutional change demanded and received, control of formerly state offices associated with the palace handed over to the king and the king gain unfettered control of the Crown Property Bureau and its great wealth.

It has also seen a large reorganization of palace staff as Vajiralongkorn purged masses of people including many formerly considered close to him. These purges seemed to begin with his third wife, Srirasmi.

A further step in the king’s massing of wealth and power in his palace has been a refeudalization of the king’s relations with those in the palace. The most recent example of this has been revealed by exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul. He shows that at least 11 women have been royally granted the family สิริวชิรภักดิ์ /Sirivajirabhakdi.

This royal attention to young women seems to indicate that a return to 19th century  concubinage and a royal harem will be another retrogression introduced in this reign.





Rolling back 1932

19 07 2017

The period since the accession of King Vajiralongkorn has seen a very rapid unwinding of arrangements regarding the relationship between crown and state that were put in place following the 1932 Revolution. In fact, these were relations were to establish a separation of state and crown, not least in terms of the state’s funds and the those of the crown and the monarch.

The military junta’s agreement that King Vajiralongkorn could have total and personal control of the Crown Property Bureau is just the most recent of the changes that have granted extensive control of power and wealth to the monarch not seen since 1932.

A few days ago, Peter Morris had a story at Ozy on the events and impact of 1932. Readers might find this article of use in understanding what it is that King Vajiralongkorn is winding back.

Over the years, it has been widely assumed that Vajiralongkorn was little more than a dumb hedonist. The efforts he has made to challenge decades-old arrangements that have long annoyed the royal family suggest that he has imbibed the anti-1932 bile that has circulated in the family. He’s showing that he follows a line of royal relatives who plotted and schemed against the People’s Party and its legacy.





Updated: King’s power

18 07 2017

For some time there have been rumors that King Vajiralongkorn was seeking to take full control of the Crown Property Bureau. A Royal Gazette announcement on the weekend and reports in the Thai and international media make that takeover official.

Interestingly, the takeover of the CPB by the king was discussed by Andrew MacGregor Marshall in his book A Kingdom in Crisis. He said:

The prospect of Thaksin [Shinawatra] and the crown prince using the vast wealth of the Crown Property Bureau to transform Thailand and elevate a new ruling class at the expense of the old terrifies the oligarchy that runs the country.

If the oligarchs were terrified, half of that prediction have now come about. The Thaksin part of the equation seems to have been nullified by the 2014 coup and the military dictatorship’s efforts to destroy Thaksin and other identified enemies of regime, crown and tycoons.

At least that’s what they must be hoping.

Khaosod reports that the puppet National Legislative Assembly has passed a new law on the control of the Crown Property Bureau. (We assume that the NLA again met in secret session to do this deal for the king. We assume this because the previous new laws made following demands from the king have been made secretly.)

This new legislation, passed on Sunday, gives the king “sole authority over royal assets.” This is claimed to be the first change made to the law since 1948.

Whereas previously the Ministry of Finance and its minister had nominal roles in managing the CPB and its board of directors, this is now gone. Now, “the power to appoint a board of directors to manage the crown property rests solely with King Vajiralongkorn, and not a government official as delineated in previous laws.”

As Khaosod notes, this is the “latest move by the military government to cement King Vajiralongkorn’s control over palace affairs.”

Yet it is far more than this. Allowing for the growth of property prices, the CPB probably controls assets of $40-60 billion. Arguably, it is the most powerful and wealthiest conglomerate in the country.

The king now controls this mammoth business empire. More importantly, the new law also “prohibits any effort to take away any part of the royal assets without the king’s approval.” This provision has potentially wide-ranging implications for the future of the monarchy and further reduces the state’s authority over the monarchy.

The king now controls all aspects of the monarchy’s wealth and power, and in legal terms, he is now the most powerful monarch since 1932 and, on paper, is more or less independent of the state’s control that was established in 1932 and the years after.

As an AFP report notes, this is the “latest move by an increasingly assertive monarch to consolidate his power.”

While the previous king relied on networks of influential alliances, the power of the military and a personal capacity to politically intervene when he deemed this necessary, the new king is acknowledging his unpopularity and has joined with the military junta to consolidate and expand the monarchy’s economic and political power.

Update: Reuters adds some further detail to this change. It notes that the changes to the law “places the management of crown property under the direct supervision of the king. It states that the bureau’s properties, in addition to the king’s private properties, will be managed ‘at His Majesty’s discretion’.” It allows the king to “assign the Crown Property Bureau, any individual or agency to manage the properties and assets.”

Clearly the old claim that the CPB was not exactly the monarch’s property is out the window. The king’s personal property is indistinguishable from that of the CPB.

Interestingly, “Crown property, but not the king’s private property, had previously been exempted from tax,” and the “amended law says both could now be subject to tax, though it did not elaborate,” suggesting that there’s plenty of wriggle room.





Updated: Monarchy vs. 1932

4 07 2017

For the royalist junta, 1932 is very scary. Perhaps because they are royalist or because the king is poking them. Perhaps both.

Khaosod reports twice on Akechai Hongkangwarn. The last we heard of him was on 24 June, when he’d been apprehended by the royalist patrol dogs as he tried to install a mock-up of the missing historical plaque at the so-called Royal Plaza. Then, police apparently did not charge him.

Khaosod’s earliest report states that officials from the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration Bang Kapi District Office “visited a [Akechai’s]… Lat Phrao district office to discourage him from petitioning the prime minister to reinstate June 24 as Thai National Day.”

June 24 is the day of the 1932 revolution. The report states that “June 24 was National Day from 1940 to 1960 before then-dictator Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat pushed a cabinet resolution changing it to Dec. 5, the birthday of King Rama IX.”

The BMA officials visited Akechai’s workplace “and asked that he submit a petition intended for Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha to them instead.” He refused, saying he intended “to submit a petition with 200 online signatures Tuesday at Government House…. He said it would be registered, so he could follow up on it.”

Akechai said “the man who spoke to him was polite, but the activist didn’t let the five – including a man with a short military-style haircut – inside his office, fearing they would arrest him.” He added: “I locked the door…”. The group then went off and found Akechai’s mother as a means to pressure him.

Akechai made a prediction: “Since they came to visit me today, I think they will apprehend me tomorrow…”.

The second report is on that prediction being proven correct. Thug-soldiers took him away earlier today, taking him “a local district office in a bid to prevent him from submitting a petition letter to the prime minister urging he reinstate June 24 as the country’s national day…”.

A district official stated that he was “just invited since this morning. I don’t know further details…”. The official was petrified:

“Please don’t name me or I will be damned. What they did was to borrow our equipments and all those were soldiers,” he said, adding however that a district official accompanied the soldiers. “The NCPO has the power and I must follow their orders.”

The official added that some 30 soldiers “use the district office as their workplace” but do “not report to the district chief.” This seems to be the situation at every district office as part of the junta’s militarization of the country by the fascist, authoritarian, royalist and erratic regime.

Update: Khaosod reports that Akechai was permitted to go home after “being taken away by four policemen and pressured by a soldier for nine hours.” He said he was “arrested by four police officers at about 5am on Tuesday and dragged away as he was leaving his residence in Lad Phrao for the Government House.” After that, Army Captain Cholapat Pheungphai, “a junta officer in charge of anti-junta activities in the district” who “pleaded to me [Akechai] to concede otherwise he would have had nothing to show his commander.”

In the end, the captain “succeeded in convincing him not to proceed to the Government House to submit a petition letter asking for the reinstatement of June 24 as national day.” Akechai “agreed” to submit the letter at the District Office.

Any guesses why The Dictator is so fearful of a letter about 1932? Akechai says he “tried to explain [to the soldier] that [the junta] should not be foolish…”. May as well talk to a large rock; it would be as bright and as responsive as The Dictator.





What went wrong in 2475?

26 06 2017

There’s been a lot of discussion about 1932/2475 and what went wrong and what went right. One of the big questions asked is whether 85 years is a long time to wait for electoral democracy.

Academics can debate all kinds of things about 2475. How was it that a military faction gained the ascendancy?What was the commitment to democracy and equality? And so on.

But the real issue that needs to be recognized is that the People’s Party proved unable to rid itself of the royal family and royalists.

The path to a new society – and, yes, we do benefit from hindsight – is to establish a republic. Notice that we use the present tense.

Getting rid of royals and their hangers-on is arguably far more difficult now than it was in 2475, because the failure then has allowed them to be stronger now.

If the history of the royalist re-establishment is considered, it is clear that the royalists were far less squeamish in dealing with their foes than were the progressives of 2475. Today, as they have been over the last 85 years, royalists are vicious and retributive.





Junta, YouTube conspire to repress 1932

24 06 2017

The military dictatorship seems to have convinced YouTube that four minutes of Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator with Thai subtitles, denouncing dictatorship and praising the people, unity and dem0cracy, is against the law in Thailand. The video of the movie’s closing speech  was reported as geo-blocked for Thailand.

The Dictator wanted it blocked because it showed a replica of himself and was attached to the memorialization of 1932.

Try this version:

This situation shows the stupidity and preciousness of the gang of thugs monopolizing power in Thailand. And, if the reports are accurate, as we predicted, it shows the gross stupidity and/or gross profit motivation of YouTube and other online outfits that agree to geo-block anything a that comes from any ruling gang with a court order.

As we said, writing of Facebook, Thailand’s military junta can order up anything it likes from its courts, all of them the junta’s tools.

That is Facebook’s [and YouTube’s] problem, and not just for Thailand. Many governments, just like Thailand’s junta, have little legal legitimacy and can get a court order as easily as a home delivery pizza. Thailand’s Dictator gorges and it seems YouTube cleans up for him.

This makes Facebook [and YouTube] a pawn in the hands of governments, both legitimate and illegitimate. They do the dictatorship’s work.

The full movie, without Thai subtitles, Chaplin’s Great Dictator is available in full.