Reporting official political vandalism

24 04 2017

The Nation has a particularly useful report the details surrounding the removal of the 1932 plaque, which most pundits now agree was at the behest of the palace, probably based on faulty astrological advice.

Reporters have now tracked down witnesses to the event and constructed a kind of timeline. The report states:

Some photos shared and scrolled down on social media pages, along with accounts of “regulars” and concerned authorities as checked by the Nation have shown that between late last month and April 6, at least two distinctive activities took place at the Royal Plaza before the public was alerted last Friday [14 April] that the plaque was missing.

A regular visitor to the area stated that “late last month the statue of the former [k]ing [the equestrian statue] was renovated, with some framework set up and covered with translucent green sheets.” That renovation was confirmed by the Fine Arts Department.

This witness then states that “from April 4 to 6, there were a few tents set up next to it – around the spot where the plaque was located.” He adds that these “tents were closed and draped with cloth, so the regulars could not see anything inside.” When the tents were gone, so was the plaque, replaced by royalist graffiti.

His account was generally confirmed by others and by photographic evidence. “Other regular visitors …[stated] that they saw a couple of tents near the statue of King Chulalongkorn a few days before Chakri Day on April 6.” These “tents were located some metres away, on the right side of the equestrian statue, where the plaque was.”

These witnesses add that on “April 5, the Plaza also closed early – at 9pm, due to arrangements needed for Chakri Day…”.

Photos from “March 28 [show] the framework was set up around the statue. Other photos, … taken at least on April 1, also show individuals working inside the sheeting. However, no tents were seen set up nearby…. The tents appeared in some photos taken on April 4 to 5. But on April 6, there were no tents seen on the spot.” The Fine Arts Department confirmed that the tents did not belong to them.

Confirming this timeline,

Sarttarin Tansoon, a political science lecturer at Kasetsart University, told The Sunday Nation that a group of his students saw the original plaque during a field trip to the Royal Plaza from April 1 and 3.

On April 8, another group of his students went to the Plaza to see the plaque, but found it had been replaced.

Several agencies have official tasks in the area. The “Dusit district administration takes care of overall tidiness, the police are in charge of security. The Department of Public Works and Town and Country Planning is in charge of the road surface, while the King’s statue is overseen by the Fine Arts Department.” In addition, the “Bureau of the Royal Household (BRH), meanwhile, is authorised to permit activities or events to be held on the Plaza…”.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Authority’s Traffic and Transportation Department is responsible for the CCTV cameras in the area, which they ever so conveniently claim were all turned off before one of the main royal events of the year in that area.

Now the military junta has arranged for the protection of the new royalist graffiti:

Dozens of metropolitan police, plus plainclothes officers were deployed and on guard 24/7 around the compound, and especially the spot where a new plaque was embedded to replace the 81-year-old Constitution plaque metres away from the [k]ing’s statue.

Reporters are told not to take photos. Visitors are told to leave the site.

It is clear that the removal was an official act. Something this symbolic and this significant was ordered from on high.





Political vandalism and the control of history

23 04 2017

1932 plaqueThe political theft of the 1932 plaque has had unintended consequences.

The thief-in-chief was seeking to remove a perceived threat to the new reign and the junta’s constitutional basis for authoritarianism.

One unintended consequence has been to shine a light on 1932. The understanding of that time and the revolution that ended royal absolutism has been “controlled” by royalists for a considerable time. Think of the King Prajadhipok Institute and its mangled version of history. (If the KPI “The history” and “About KPI” seem reasonable, then you are a victim of the royalist control of history.)

Over the past couple of days, the Bangkok Post has had several op-eds that have posed questions about the received “history.” Each deserves attention. We’ll just quote some bits and pieces.

The first is by Wasant Techawongtham. He begins:

The switcheroo involving the 1932 Revolution memorial plaque seemed at first to be a simple act of theft or vandalism. But once the matter was brought to the attention of the authorities, things rapidly spiralled into the realm of the surreal.

And the more people try to make sense of it, the murkier it becomes.

He points out the quite banal and seemingly inexplicable initial responses from the junta:

Both government [junta] spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd and National Council for Peace and Order [junta] spokesman Winthai Suvaree, who can normally answer anything the press might throw at them, were lost for words.

The Dusit district chief who has jurisdiction over the area knew nothing about it either. The Fine Arts department chief not only did not know anything about the switch but claimed — rather hilariously, I should say — that the plaque was neither an artefact nor had any historical value.

The police not only did not know about it but would not accept complaints to look into the matter, claiming — I’m not sure whether I should laugh or cry here — that no one owned the object, and therefore no one could file a complaint. Huh?

You have to ask yourself: Is this for real?

The plaque was installed there for only 80-plus years and is associated with arguably the most significant political development in modern Thai history.

He refers to more ridiculousness by the junta and its minions before observing:

The silliness in this country knows no bounds. But this latest episode really takes the cake.

This really worries me. The Thai people under this military regime are already under orders not to think or speak their mind. But now we are supposed to not see or hear as well.

George Orwell would love to have written such a story.

We seem now to be living in another dimension where reality is distorted out of all proportion and truth is anything the powers-that-be say it is.

A second op-ed is by Ploenpote Atthakor. She begins:

… the plaque, which marks one of the most important incidents in modern Thai history, is a hot potato politically.

But though I fully sympathise with those inflamed by this apparent act of “political vandalism”, the extent of the public outcry has surprised me. Like those who are up in arms, I also wish the plaque, which marks the political transition from absolutism or constitutional monarchy, had stayed at its original site.

I believe Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who has ordered a probe into the case, will never give a full account of what has happened. Nor could he restore the original plaque to its rightful place….

She seems to believe she cannot say why this is. The vandal-in-chief is beyond criticism. The Dictator is beyond criticism.

She continues by noting the failure of people to understand 1932 or to respect its symbols. Likewise, she does not point to the royalist hold on “history” as the reason for this. It is fine to opine about “the people” being “ignorant,” but the reasons for their alleged ignorance need to be explained. But she sees a silver lining:

… its sudden disappearance has triggered an interest in this particular period of Thai history like never before. The people who removed it probably didn’t expect that.

The third op-ed is by Kong Rithdee. He begins:

Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present (tada!) controls the past. In summary, the military, like quantum physicists or mad sorcerers, controls time: The past, present, future, ad infinitum.

Through their coups, their fantasies and their laws, they control history — meaning the things that have happened or they want us to believe have happened. They also want to control the making of history — history as work in progress — meaning the shifting of glaciers and governments, the removal of memory and the manufacturing of dreams. Through the new 20-year national strategy bill, they also want to control the laying of future laws that will govern our life until eternity….

Much has been pondered about the missing plaque marking the 1932 Siamese Revolution. The erasing of history, an elusive heist, a voodoo ritual? Take your pick, for it looks like the burglary of the artefact is going down as one of the greatest puzzles of modern times. The sorcerers know they can’t change the past, even with chicken blood or powerful mantras, so they feel a need to change the record of the past — the imperfect past written by the revolutionaries who transformed the country into a constitutional monarchy.

He can’t get into the palace’s role although he could look at the role of royalist “historians” in the service of palace and military, writing “politicians” and the anti-royalists out of “their” history that is now “the” history. Or maybe he can, by allusion:

With the new plaque discreetly put in place of the original one, a palimpsest of history is being constructed before our eyes by the hand that appears firm, inexorable, invisible. So invisible that even the CCTV cameras (which only function when you’re speeding) lost all trace of what happened. The ghost did it. Again.

Some might see the ghost as a devil. He concludes:

The mark of dictatorship is when someone controls our life and our choice — that’s harder now because modern dictatorship still operates under capitalism, a system that values choice.

So it’s true dictatorship when someone attempts to control the concept of time — the mad aspiration to rule history and lay siege to the past, present and future while preventing us, the true holders of destiny, from writing our own parts. The clock is ticking but time is frozen. It’s not, as they often say, Orwell’s 1984.

This is a dystopian sci-fi, a country beyond Brave New World.

 





A curse on their house

22 04 2017

Many readers will have seen Teeranai Charuvastra’s excellent piece “The Curse That Haunted Bangkok 150 Years – Until Now?” at Khaosod.

As almost everyone knows, magic plays a role in politics and is deployed in various symbolic ways for political advantage. Teeranai’s brave article explains another way in which 1932 is significant in Thailand.

We recommend the article to those who haven’t yet seen it.

The article concludes with a royalist practitioner of black arts stating that no matter what happens, “we [he seems to mean the Thai people] will forever be ruled by Chakri kings, the descendants of King Rama I.”

We can say that he is wrong. Our astrologer, who has studied under powerful masters in Cambodia and Burma, is emphatic: those responsible for removing the 1932 plaque are in for a lot of trouble, and the dynasty remains threatened. He says that the vandals believed that they were acting to remove an impediment to the reign. His reading is that removing it will bring nothing but troubles for the regime and the reign, threatening the dynasty.





A feudal future beckons

21 04 2017

Yellow shirt commentators do not worry much about military dictatorship. They see military dictatorship as “normal” for Thailand.

While most yellow shirts still believe that the military is the only thing standing between them, an election and the hated Thaksin Shinawatra, it is also clear that not all yellow shirts expected an enforced royal dictatorship that fosters Thailand’s refeudalization.

Nonetheless, yellow shirt anti-electionism and royalism naturally promotes refeudalization.

The symbolic removal of the 1932 plaque is not just a royalist act of political and historical vandalism. It is also one more step by the military junta that marks the path of Thailand’s refeudalization.

The attraction of a feudal political arrangement for the military dictatorship is that it has no truck for notions that the people are sovereign.

In this sense, while symbols can have multiple meanings, expunging those that can be used by those who demand popular sovereignty is a part of the military’s palace alliance and its 20-year plan for a “reformed” Thailand.

This is part of the reason why The Dictator is both mum on the removal of 1932 commemoration plaque and protective of the royalist plaque that replaced it. It is pretty clear that this vandalism initially caused fear among some in the junta. Now, however, they have fallen into line, knowing that by their own design, they are politically bound to the reign.

That the opposition and agitation over the removal of the plaque has largely come from those the junta considers the “usual suspects” has also meant that protection of feudalism and its symbols is an easy and “natural” decision.

The most recent act of protection has been to accuse opposition figure Watana Muangsook of “a computer crime for posting on Facebook that the missing 1932 Revolution Plaque is a national asset.”

As Prachatai explains it:

On 19 April 2017, Pol Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, the Deputy Chief of the Royal Thai Police (RTP), revealed that the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) filed a complaint against Watana Muangsook, a politician from the Pheu Thai Party, for breaching the Computer Crime Act.

The police apparently think that the use of the term “national asset” is threatening and false.

Watana was due to report to the police. He is the second to face charges or detention over the plaque. Like Srisuwan Janya, Watana has called for the “return of the missing plaque and for prosecution of those responsible for its removal.”

No one associated with the removal of the plaque has been named, arrested or charged. The chances of this happening are pretty much zero.

As one correspondent stated, everyone knows who is behind this act, but no one can say for fear of lese majeste and jail.

Expunging the symbols of 1932 expunges notions of popular sovereignty. That serves the interests of the military-monarchy alliance where King Vajiralongkorn looks like a throwback absolutist.





CCTV “failures”

20 04 2017

As the regime continues to feign a lack of knowledge of political and historical vandalism that saw the removal of the 1932 plaque, while it protects the new royalist plaque, the humble CCTV provides evidence of the links between the political past and present. But not how one might immediately think of it.

The political vandal responsible for the removal of the 1932 plaque will not be identified as the police refuse to investigate and the junta and its minions deny the significance of the plaque. In other words, the junta, the palace and assorted royalists have managed to expunge one more symbol of Thailand’s constitutional revolution.

Another reason no one will be identified is because “the 11 CCTV cameras that were situated at traffic lights around the Royal Plaza had been removed on March 31 when City Hall workers began work to improve traffic lights in the area.”

What an astonishing coincidence! Well, probably not, for as a Bangkok Post editorial observes:

what is more astonishing is that the 11 cameras were removed just days before the promulgation of the 2017 constitution by … the King which took place at the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall. With such a big event being eagerly watched by the entire nation and where leaders and prominent figures had gathered, the BMA [Bangkok Metropolitan Authority] still managed to remove the cameras.

Most unlikely indeed. When looking at the question of cover up or cock up, PPT would usually go for cock up, but not in this case. This shouts cover up.

The more so when additional information is provided by Khaosod. The report states: “a representative said City Hall did not order the cameras removed, but declined to say which agency was responsible.”

(There’s the fear again. You get the picture of how very threatening the vandal is.)

The BMA “explanation” gets even more laughable: “[an activist] asked how police could hope to investigate any potential crime that took place there without aid from the cameras. Yutthayapan [Meechai, secretary to Bangkok’s governor] replied that crimes are unlikely to happen there because of high presence of security officers about the Royal Plaza.”

So no reason to have the CCTV in the first place – clearly a case of malfeasance – and there are “security officers” who know exactly what went on there and who ordered the removal of the plaque.

We can be pretty sure that the cover up includes lying about the non-operation of the CCTV cameras.

Here, the CCTV cameras and their alleged non-operation allow the state to blur political visions, blur crimes and erase history.

This is not so different from the case of the extrajudicial killing of Lahu activist Chaiyapoom Pasae about a month ago. That case has gone very quiet, and this also suggests a cover up and one that is likely to be successful simply because the junta (this time) wants it covered up.

Prachatai reports that “police have revealed that the military has not yet sent the CCTV footage of the crime scene to them.” We can guess why that is. Cover up. The “military unit whose personnel is responsible for the killing has not yet sent it to the police investigator.” Cover up.

The police make a ludicrous claim that “the fact that the military is still withholding the footage will not affect the investigation” while everyone can guess that the CCTV footage is incriminating for the military involved and they demand impunity.

Then there’s the lies. In earlier reports, “3rd Region Army chief Lt Gen Vijak Siribansop … said then that the military had already sent the CCTV footage to the police and that the military had no authority to reveal evidence to the public without court permission.”

So it is the police or the general who is lying, but probably both as they collude.

Even without CCTV coverage, the picture in both cases is clear. Lies, collusion, cover up, impunity.





Fear and unintended consequences II

19 04 2017

Most of the breaking stories on the fate of the 1932 plaque are on social media, including the Facebook accounts of Andrew MacGregor Marshall and Somsak Jeamteerasakul. Another Facebook account worth following is that by Pravit Rojanaphruk, one of the bravest of local journalists.

The mainstream media is publishing material but because it is now widely assumed that the king had the plaque removed, that media is treading very carefully and fearfully.

Marshall claims that the plaque was removed on 5 April, the evening before the announcement of the military junta’s 2017 constitution. That, of course, would be symbolic vandalism.

When thinking about the king’s reason for moving against memories and symbols of 1932, it is important to recall that all he would know of that revolution would have been gained from his grandmother and father, both of whom were anti-People’s Party and anti-Pridi Phanomyong, or from disgruntled royals who mostly hated the events and people of what they consider a travesty of (their) history.

Reuters reported that The Dictator and the junta have been getting a plausible story together.

Self-appointed royalist premier General Prayuth Chan-ocha has “warned people not to protest against the mysterious disappearance of a plaque commemorating the end of absolute monarchy, a theft some activists see as a symbolic threat to democracy.” He’s also been working on “protecting” the replacement plaque “celebrating the monarchy.”

Prayuth babbled something about “police … investigating…”, but also diminished the significance of the theft, the plaque and the 1932 revolution. Essentially, Prayuth’s message was a mafia-like “forget about it.” He said that it was all in the past, history, and not worth the effort.

The idea that the junta doesn’t know what happened in an area that is usually crawling with police and military and is watched by dozens of cameras beggars belief. As Reuters says, the “square where the plaque went missing is close to parliament, to a royal throne hall and to an army barracks. The area is also surveyed by several police posts.”

Prayuth knows what happened. He is now worrying about the political fallout and the boot he may get up the backside if he says or does anything wrong.

Meanwhile, at The Nation, the police claim sudden attacks of brain death. Deputy police chief Srivara Rangsibrahmanakul “admitted yesterday that he had no idea how to proceed with the case involving the mysterious removal of a plaque marking a 1932 revolution that ended absolute monarchy.” He knows he can’t move on this without some kind of “insurance” that he won’t end up shaven headed in the Bhudha Monthon Temporary Prison.

His babbling seemed like a man crazed or crazed by fear. In any case, while Prayuth declares the police are investigating, the police say they aren’t.

A group of activists filed a complaint, part of which explained to the police what they should be doing and why. We doubt the police, knowing the risks, will get of their ample posteriors.

What the police did do, according to several reports, was throw up a protective fence around the new royalist plaque, with a sign declaring it “royal ground.” You get the picture.

Reporters didn’t get the picture, however, as the police with some military support tried to prevent them from filming in the area.

They would not have done this without orders from The Dictator or from Tutzing.

Srisuwan Janya, arrested yesterday while trying to complain about the removal of the plaque, was released from military custody. He proclaimed that he would continue to complain, saying the new constitution gave him that right.

It remains to be seen what the full consequences of royal vandalism will be for the junta and the monarchy. It is certainly a damaging fiasco. Yet the junta knows it can manage fiascos – it has in the past. The question for the junta is whether they can manage the king.





Updated: Who took the plaque?

18 04 2017

Being on holidays and out of Bangkok for a few days, the social media frenzy surrounding the political vandalism of the People’s Party plaque has been a bit difficult to follow.

This post is quite a bit out of the ordinary for PPT as we are getting into very heavy speculation with little to go on other than joining some dots together. We are posting now because we think this is a very dangerous reactionary trend in Thailand, one that goes far beyond that of the military junta.

We think we know why it is difficult to follow, but more on that below.

The vandalism was not a minor bit of pilfering. This had to be a fair sized and well-planned operation.  After all, the historic plaque had to dug up and stolen on a day with light traffic and replaced with another plaque commemorating nothing significant, but displaying ridiculous monarchist graffiti.

That piece of royalist metal pap was set in cement, or so the pictures suggest, and that takes time to set, so this was not a snatch and grab raid.

This is all suggesting an operation that could only have been done by the authorities or with their connivance. (We will pretty much ignore the predictable ultra-royalist cheering that another step to re-establishing feudalism has been taken.)

The junta and its minions, including the police, are Sgt Shultzing this. They know nothing.

But, oops, someone complained. This brings one of those police responses which is the response you get when you just know that something is being hidden or that the cops have their private parts in an important vice.

Then some unexpected persons decide to protest, and the cops quickly get agitated and see off these more-or-less unknowns operating for reasons that are not entirely clear. It’s a small group and hardly threatening, but the cops feel differently. This is suggesting the motive behind the removal is somewhere reasonably high up.

This is followed by serial prodder of regimes, Srisuwan Janya of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution, showing up at the junta’s “public service centre” to “submit a letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha asking him to look for the 1932 Siamese Revolution memorial plaque…”.

So far The Dictator has been silent, suggesting that the normally talkative general is feeling unable to comment. It is as if he feels constrained, dumbfounded or fearful.

Odder than that, when Srisuwan shows up, soldiers are waiting and he is “whisked away in a military van … for talks at the 1st Cavalry Regiment…”.

That suggests there’s something to hide and that the regime is jittery as hell.

And then there’s the linking of the plaque and the earlier “order” about three overseas bloggers, seeking to criminalize and prevent contact with them.

We think there’s a story here of orders coming from the king. Of course, we have no evidence, but the fingerprints are there. There’s a fear that the banned bloggers are able to soak up leaks from close to the palace and that they will publicize them.

They already publicized the odd behavior of one of the king’s favorite concubines just meters from the plaque a month or so ago.

There’s a perspective emanating from the palace that suggests a desire to roll back 1932 as an aberration. In fact, the view is that the 17th century was a time when kings ruled with few constraints on their often aberrant behavior. Don’t be surprised to hear of suggestions that pre-Bangkok laws might still be useful in contemporary times.

We kind of hope our speculation is wrong.

Update: We think that Pavin Chachavalpongpun’s latest post at New Mandala, on the fear that infects palace circles and which infects much else, should be read with this post. He makes some excellent points about the reign after just a few months.