Reasons to think about 1932

20 06 2017

As the anniversary of the 1932 revolution draws closer, the palace and the military dictatorship must be getting twitchy.

First, there’s the speech by the now aged Octobrist, Seksan Prasertkul. He was widely reported after a speech at Thammasat University, honoring Direk Jayanama, a member of the Khana Ratsadon that overthrew the monarchy in 1932.

Seksan seems to have caught up with PPT (sorry, couldn’t resist), saying that the military junta “is systematically laying down the foundations to allow its power to take deep root in Thai politics and overshadow the role of elected politicians in the future…”.

He sees something he calls a “state elite” branding “politicians who sought power through elections as bad people,” and seeking to stay in place itself. He says the “Thailand 4.0 banner, the Pracharath state-and-people cooperation scheme, the national strategic plan, and the current constitution to change Thai politics and keep political power in the hands of the ‘state elites’ and bureaucrats for at least 9-10 years…”. We have been saying that for more than three years (sorry, couldn’t resist).

He says that “the bureaucrats” are Thailand’s “old power” before  Thaksin Shinawatra came along. In a report at The Nation, Seksan is reported as saying that state elites and their “norms have been challenged or at some point eroded by globalisation and capitalism. With the writing of new rules and regulations, the new charter has become the tool they use to rearrange power relationships in the society.”

That’s kind of right, but there is no link between capitalism and an open society. Thailand’s middle class has demonstrated this and so have China and Singapore. Thailand’s capitalists have lined up behind the old elite that is broader than “state” officials. Missing that is risking missing the story of 21st century Thailand.

He is right to warn that “[i]f political parties cannot think of anything better than to challenge state elites or don’t dare touch the neo-liberalism model, or don’t dare to think differently on big issues, it’s no use our having these political parties because they will only be groups of power seekers.”

Look at them lining up for the junta’s rules and the junta’s “election.”

The second story is Thongchai Winichakul at Prachatai. When he talks of rule by law, he’s pointing to a point we have been making for several years (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Thongchai, ever the clever commentator, notes that the “months of May and June mark several key milestones in Thai history. There is June 1932 (the People’s Revolution) and June 1946 (the assassination of King Rama VIII), the two bloody crackdowns in May 1992 and 2010, and the coup in May 2014.”

He’s right to say that “the revolution of 1932 is not yet finished, not merely in with regards to the political system, but with regards to the establishment of the rule of law.”

What we’d emphasize, though, is that 1932 was an event that unleashed a struggle that has gone on since. The royalists have worked for more than eight decades to roll back the changes of 1932. What the junta has put in its constitution is a system of government that the royalists (and the royals) have tried to establish again and again. Now they think they have succeeded.

The 2017 constitution is the political victory of the royalists. Accepting it as the rules of the political system is a capitulation to the anti-democratic royalists of 1933, 1947, 1957, 1976, 1991, 2006 and 2014.

Only a people’s movement recognizing people’s sovereignty can defeat the anti-democrats.





1932 will be erased

16 06 2017

Remember that plaque, commemorating the 1932 Revolution that, for the first time, reduced the absolute power of the monarchy? It was either stolen or semi-officially removed (in secret) at about the time that the junta and the king came up with the idea of making the junta’s constitution a royal constitution by proclaiming it in a royal ceremony on Chakkri Day.

The two events appear related, which seems appropriate as the removal of the plaque was a symbolic rejection of constitutionalism as law and people’s sovereignty and the junta’s constitution similarly rejects those principles.

With the anniversary of the 1932 Revolution coming up on 24 June, activists were planning to mark that event, as they had previously, at the site of the (now missing) plaque.

In anticipation, the police have “warned democracy activists … that they will be arrested if they gather to mark the upcoming anniversary of the revolution that ended absolute monarchy, a historical moment that has taken on renewed significance.”

In particular, police said “they would not tolerate any attempt to gather at spot on this year’s anniversary…”.

The police, who are remarkably dull and mainly focused on managing their own corrupt incomes, are probably acting at the direction of the junta.

One of their spokesmen “explained” the “thinking” behind the ban: “This year we will not allow activists to come to lay flowers at the Royal Plaza because this is palace ground and it violates the NCPO (junta) order banning gatherings for political purposes…”.

That is a perfect illustration of how the monarchy and military have been intertwined in opposing electoral democracy and popular sovereignty. It is a statement that acknowledges the rollback of politics to a royalist authoritarianism that seeks to establish a royalist political system that is anti-democratic.





Extreme lese majeste secrecy?

16 06 2017

PPT had an email alert today about a lese majeste case. As it turned out, this was a link to an old Reuters story at the Jakarta Globe, from late May. That story referred to the arrest of “five people for allegedly setting fire to portraits of late King Bhumibol…”.

The report set us thinking. Has there been a change to the already significant levels of secrecy associated with lese majeste cases, coinciding with the new reign?

We can’t think of any recent reports regarding these five. Have they been brought before a court in the last three weeks? If so, was this in secret, with no reporting? Or have we just missed it?

Then we recalled the Stolen history 6 case. Their detention was approved on 3 May 2017, for allegedly sharing a Facebook post by Somsak Jeamteerasakul on the theft/official removal of the 1932 revolution plaque.

The last report PPT can recall on their cases was when, on 11 May 2017, the Criminal Court in Bangkok refused bail for human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul, one of those arrested, renewing his detention.

We checked at iLaw, and couldn’t find any more. We also had a quick look at Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, but no recent reports there either.

Again, we wonder if this is a case of extreme secrecy.

If this is the case – and we may have missed a report – then the military dictatorship has ditched all pretenses that lese majeste is a legal charge. It is more like an extreme purge by a gang. No law is necessary.

As a footnote, we wonder how all of those academics attending the International Conference on Thai Studies are feeling about the arrest of the six? One is a human rights lawyer and another is an academic, just like them, who has even had a paper accepted for the conference. They were arrested for sharing a social media post by a historian who has to live in exile. How’s that feeling?





An impressive feat of mental gymnastics

13 06 2017

In an op-ed at Asian Currents, Arjun Subrahmanyan, a lecturer in Southeast Asian History at Murdoch University in Australia, makes some excellent points about how the understanding of the 1932 revolution has been kidnapped by royalist propagandists.

Some of his points can be quoted here, but we urge readers to look at the whole thing. He begins:

The recent disappearance of a plaque commemorating the 1932 revolution in Siam shows the suspicion over popular sovereignty that still prevails in the country. The event, staged by a group of commoners known as the People’s Party, ended the absolute monarchy and introduced constitutional democracy. In a region where state-enforced historical amnesia is rife today, Thailand has turned it into an art form.

He asks: What threat did the plaque pose? His answer is “its symbolic reminder that commoners revolted against the king and that democracy once did, and still does, matter to people.” That’s why the military dictatorship and the king wanted it disappeared, just like uncomfortable critics.

He refers to the invented ideology of “royalist democracy” or what we call Thai-style democracy as an “impressive feat of mental gymnastics, [for] this contortion has identified the monarchy as democratic, and the king of the 1930s as bestowing democracy on a grateful people. Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth…”.

He says this has been a powerful and silencing “royal democratic swindle” that deceptively

presents the People’s Party as neither popular nor a party, but an oligarchic cabal bent on power. The revolution was a coup against established, sacred authority. The democracy introduced in 1932 was a sham, a power grab by people who used highly idealistic language that no one understood….

It’s a royalist lie, perpetuated by military and royalist regimes and their academic ideologues.

But to defend “democracy’s popular origins in Thailand seems like a doomed cause, and today a very dangerous one.” That’s especially true as the military junta presses Thailand towards an “election” that is also a royalist swindle.

The pity is that those who populate the decrepit political parties are salivating like hungry dogs over the possibility of following the junta’s rules for years to come.





King, fear and feudalism

26 05 2017

A couple of recent articles that seek to comprehend the admittedly odd politics of contemporary Thailand deserve wide attention. We summarize and quote below.

The first is by Pavin Chachavalpongpun at the Washington Post. Pavin looks at the oddness that has emerged in the early months of this reign, with the military junta frantic to control the king’s image. He says “Thailand finds itself in the grip of a strange political fever.” It is a potentially deadly disease.

He notes that “there’s nothing particularly new about Thai officials displaying zealousness in their efforts to protect the image of the king.” But, there’s something different: “there is a palpable sense that the current government is reacting with much greater sensitivity in the case of the current king — far more so than at any other time in recent memory.”

Pavin continues to the widespread view that the “mysterious incident six weeks ago, when a modest memorial plaque suddenly disappeared from the sidewalk of the Royal Plaza in Bangkok” was on the king’s orders.

He continues, noting that “the removal of the plaque and the intense official reaction to any online questioning of King Vajiralongkorn’s image show that he [Vajiralongkorn] is beginning to exert his influence over the state.”

That’s scary enough, but its scarier still when Pavin says that the king “is clearly very serious about reintroducing royal absolutism, and not at all interested in defending democracy or free speech.”

That raises a question. Will the king’s “increasingly hard-line policies … reinforce support for the monarchy or ultimately contribute to its weakening.” We are betting the latter. But it could be very messy.

The second article is at Asia Sentinel. It pulls no punches, beginning with this:

Thailand, once known as the Land of Smiles, is a country today seemingly trapped in a perpetual nightmare, headed by a half-mad king determined to return the country to the era before … the last absolute monarch of the country after the military ended [royal] absolute power in 1932.  Nobody appears willing to stop him.

It continues on the king’s time in waiting:

The prince, now 64, is said to be regarded with loathing by many within royal circles for his associations with Chinese gangsters, his womanizing and his apparent refusal to adhere to royal rules, according to official US cables leaked in 2011 by the Wikileaks organization, verbatim copies of which were carried in Asia Sentinel.  He has repeatedly scandalized the nation despite the military’s desperate attempts to use the world’s most restrictive lèse-majesté laws to keep a public lid on his behavior.

Since becoming king, he has largely lived up to his ominous promise….

And there is talk of the king’s bizarre and macabre behavior and how the junta must support it and even condone it:

“For decades, the Thai Army has used the excuse of upholding the monarchy to justify their actions and deeds that have included feathering their own nests, suppressing people’s rights, and conducting multiple coups to hold on to power and retard progress towards democracy,” a western source said. “So now Prime Minister Prayuth [Chan-ocha] is hardly in a position to meaningfully oppose Rama 10’s power grab that takes the situation back to the pre-1932 coup era, when palace officials had no protection and were subject to the king’s every whim, or in the case of this latest monarch, every cruelty.”

So far, the source said, “most of the new king’s abuses have been inflicted upon his own entourage, but the fear is what happens after Rama IX’s funeral in October, when the memory of his father is laid to rest and the last restraints on his power are released?  Will he start inflicting abuses against perceived opponents or dissenters in the wider populace? Will he launch a campaign against those who he views as having slighted him in the past, since it is well known that he has a list of such people?…”.

Who will be willing to stop him?





Updated: No remembering allowed II

18 05 2017

Not so long ago we posted on the military junta’s continuing efforts to censor and repress, several times going into royalist overload, and to seek to “control” history.

We mentioned the political vandalism of the 1932 plaque, several other events the dictators think best forgotten and swept under a military tarpaulin. The protesters killed in April and May 2010 were also noted as something the military junta wants its own story to prevail.

The most recent example of the junta’s efforts to control the history of its murderous past are seen in a Prachatai report.

It begins:

Uniformed and plainclothes officers have fenced off a plaque commemorating a teenager shot seven years ago during the government’s crackdown on red shirt protesters, lurking on as loved ones commemorated the boy’s passing.

On the evening of 15 May 2017, family and friends gathered around a footpath along Bangkok’s Ratchaprarop road to remember Samaphan ‘Cher’ Srithep, who was shot there fatally seven years ago as authorities were dismantling the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (known as the ‘red shirts’). Samaphan was only 17 years old.

The junta’s thugs tried to fence off the area where Samaphan was shot. Following that “scores of both uniformed and plainclothes officers stayed to observe the commemoration event.” This “observation” was, in fact, just one more act of political intimidation.

Update: Khaosod reports that the junta remains determined to prevent any commemoration or remembrance of its murderous crackdown on red shirt protestors in May 2010. To prevent this, it closed public areas around Rajaprasong.





Reporting successful internet censorship

12 05 2017

Khaosod reports that the “Royal Thai Army’s cyber unit claimed success Thursday in defending the monarchy online, saying it has gone after 820 offensive items since October.”

The report gets a little odd on the numbers, but essentially states that the “Army Cyber Center announced the figures at army headquarters in Bangkok, saying it was proof of progress in the crackdown against alleged online defamation of the royal family.”

We are guessing that almost all the references are to King Vajiralongkorn in the period since October, although we suppose some might have been critical of the dead king.

Assistant Army Chief Gen. Somsak Nilbanjerdkul was happy and “presented a plaque of recognition to those who performed [what he said were] excellent duties.”

Fascists like such symbols and recognition from big bosses.

The Director of the cyber snooping operation is Maj. Gen. Rittee Intravudh. He stated that “the center placed importance on cyber threats against the monarchy through social media.” The figures he provided were that “the 820 items targeted since October included 365 things posted to Facebook, 450 YouTube videos and five tweets.” He added that just “seven of the content creators were based outside Thailand..”.

The Major General did not reveal “how many led to actual blocking or removal.” Confusingly, the report then states: “435 sites defaming the monarchy have been shut down.” (That’s where the numbers get a bit screwy. Is it 435 or 820?)

Despite the huge crackdown and a whole-of-dictatorship effort at censorship, Rittee “said the center has discovered 274 new items, among them 120 made just last month.” Yet he reckons the trend is “that there will be less dissemination of content [defaming] the monarchy…”.

We are guessing, but perhaps the king’s fashions and the royal-inspired theft of the 1932 plaque are the things that the junta most wants to block and which it has been ordered to block.

He would he say if the snooping led to prosecutions. However, if they are getting awards for their work, we might assume prosecutions.

Rittee also revealed “some success in getting Facebook to block some posts from users in Thailand but acknowledged that some have learned how to circumvent such blocking.”

He said a “court has also recently ordered the blocking of 6,000 websites deemed critical of Thailand’s monarchy.”