Still getting the monarchy wrong

17 02 2017

Ralph Jennings, a Contributor at Forbes says he “cover[s] under-reported stories from Taiwan and Asia” but seems to specialize on China and Taiwan. Thus, venturing into things royal and Thailand is thus a stretch and a test of knowledge.

He’s right to observe that the monarchy in Thailand has “massive influence.”

But the picture he paints of the last king is pure palace propaganda when he states:

He had stopped coups, spearheaded rural infrastructure projects and met commoners in rough or squalid conditions. His actions helped strengthen people’s confidence in their country with an otherwise wobbly government.

Let’s correct a bit. He also initiated coups, as in 1957, and he supported coups, as in 2006, when it suited him. And that’s just two examples. He also supported right-wing extremists and acted as a prompt to massive blood-letting, as in 1976. The palace hand was always meddling in politics. The “infrastructure projects” are presumably the royal projects, many of them grand failures and, since the General Prem Tinsulanonda era, at great taxpayer expense.

And, “wobbly government” hardly seems to fit much of the reign, when the monarchy collaborated with ruthless military regimes, just as it does now.

The author is correct to observe that King Vajiralongkorn “is not expected to advocate changes in Thailand that reflect mass concerns or even go around meeting people.”

Recall that the dead king also essentially gave up “going to the people” for most of the last two decades of his reign. For one thing, he was too ill. For another, the “going to meet the people” was a political strategy for winning hearts and minds in his campaign to remake the monarchy. By the 1990s, this was largely achieved.

That King Vajiralongkorn is claimed to have “signaled little interest so far in shifting Thailand from quasi-military rule toward more democracy after a junta took power in 2014” seems an odd observation. And, in this quite natural political position for a monarchy such as Thailand’s, the new king follows the dead one.

That the new king wants more power for the throne is clear to all. That’s why the military’s “constitution” has been changed. But to say that the new version – we still don’t know the exact nature of the changes – allows the king “more freedom to travel overseas, where he has spent much of his life, and can appoint a regent to rule when he’s not around” is a misunderstanding of what The Dictator has let be known. The point of the changes was to allow him to not have a regent during his jaunts.

And, Mr Jennings must be the only one who thinks “[e]lections are due this year.”

He is right, however, to add that “[o]bservers believe that with King Vajiralongkorn, Thailand will continue to retain its strict lese-majeste laws, which ban any criticism of the monarchy.” That is a requirement of continued domination by a royalist elite.

The interventionist king

15 02 2017

Some time ago, PPT posted on the trove of documents released online by the CIA that can be searched and downloaded online.

In that post we also mentioned one document about General Sarit Thanarat’s 1957 military coup and the king’s alleged involvement, at least as far as the Americans were concerned.

A reader has now sent us another document, from the same source, saying more about this. Here’s the document in full, as a PDF. And we have a couple of clips below. The first from earlier in the document:

king-and-coupAnd then this, reflecting on the palace’s involvement:


CIA documents released and accessible

22 01 2017

The automatic declassification provisions of US Executive Order 13526 (formerly EO 12958, as amended) require the declassification of non-exempt historically valuable records 25 years or older. At the CIA this meant that it maintains a program operating out of the CIA Declassification Center to review records under the purview of EO 13526 before they reach their automatic declassification deadline.

Since 2000, if one visited the National Archives College Park, Maryland in the USA, the CIA had installed and maintained an electronic full-text searchable system named CREST (the CIA Records Search Tool), with about 11 million pages of data.

However, in January 2017, the CIA published the records of the CREST collection online, and they can be searched and downloaded online.

Helpfully, Andrew MacGregor Marshall has done a bit of a search through the material and provided his initial impressions, especially searching for material related to the monarchy and posted. Readers will surely find this of interest

One document we at PPT found of considerable importance is in regard to General Sarit Thanarat’s 1957 military coup. A few pages into the report, it provides what we think is a first-hand corroboration of the king’s involvement. It has always been known that the young king found Sarit a father figure and supported him, as Sarit supported him and the monarchy. This document says something more:

king-and-1957-copyHe did not become disillusioned with Sarit or the military and the military-monarchy political partnership was born. That the king played “an active role in the events leading to and subsequent to the army coup” is a revelation that blows another hole in the palace’s now shredded propaganda that the king was “above politics.”

Not mentioned by Marshall in his post is another document PPT found interesting for its resonances with recent events:

khuang-1khuang-2Khuang was a founder of the Democrat Party in 1946, which was then, and is now, a royalist party of anti-democrats. After the shooting death of King Ananda Mahidol in 1946, it was Khuang and the Democrat Party that accused Pridi Phanomyong of having been a mastermind of the king’s death, leading to Pridi’s exile until his death. The palace and royals hated Pridi for his role in the 1932 revolution and they never forgave him.

However, it is the phrase that Thailand “would never be secure until Pridi and his chief followers were eliminated” that caught our attention. We guess that similar words have passed around the yellow-shirted cabals and we would assume that General Prem Tinsulanonda and the 2014 coup leaders said very similar things with Thaksin Shinawatra now the mortal enemy of their royalist Thailand.

Palace involvement in coup planning (1957)

12 03 2013

Andrew MacGregor Marshall has managed to find yet another critical cable (reproduced, left and right; click on them to get a larger image) for understanding the role of the current monarchy in Thailand’s politics and especially in the planning of military coups.dhani1

Many readers will know that the palace was deeply involved in the planning of the 2006 military coup. There is no doubt that palace figures were very closely connected with the cabal of plotters who schemed to get rid of Thaksin Shinawatra’s government. Likewise, Privy Council President  General Prem Tinsulanonda actively campaigned against the government. Academic Kevin Hewison summarized this planning and scheming in a set of articles from the Journal of Contemporary Asia that can be downloaded as a large PDF:

… the palace’s footprints litter the trail to the coup. Prem’s critical role has been noted, and it is impossible that he would act without palace approval. Indeed, through Prem, the palace knew of the coup well in advance: “The coup plot was known within a tight circle of people, among them Gen Prem Tinsulanonda … and his close aides…, Air Force Commander … Chalit Pukkasuk and Lt-Gen Anupong Paochinda, commander of the First Army Region” (Wassana, 2006).

Often this deep involvement is portrayed as a “slip” in the king’s constitutional role, “necessary” for returning Thailand to the conservative hands of the ruling elite, delivering it from the “populist” and “authoritarian” Thaksin.

Interestingly, what the document uncovered by Marshall shows is that the palace has been involved in earlier coups – in this case the royalist putsch by General Sarit Thanarat – that was to result in a catapulting of the monarchy back to political and economic centrality.dhani2

In Paul Handley’s The King Never Smiles, mention is made of the Sarit gaining “palace backing” by February 1957 and that “the palace aggressively undertook to undermine the prime minister” (p. 136). Later, Handley notes that the king called on Prime Minister Phibun to “resign to avoid a coup” (p. 138). Phibun refused and Sarit threw him out.

A missing link in this trail of palace politicking is the cable that details the planning of the coup. In the cable, British Ambassador Berkeley Gage writes on 17 April 1957 about a remarkable meeting the previous day in which a gaggle of royalists, including the President of the Privy Council, Prince Dhani, and the royalist agitators Seni and Kukrit Pramoj, amongst others. This was effectively a meeting of royalists and opponents of the 1932 political revolution, planning a coup, to reinstate royal power and wealth.

The presence of Prince Dhani is highly significant as this prince was the motivating political force in the palace and could not have occurred without the king’s approval or even suggestion. Clearly the palace was deeply involved. As the cable states:


The palace’s footprints litter the trail to the coup in 1957, as they did in 2006.

Piling on the royalist nonsense

9 07 2010

They keep saying it. AFP states that Thailand’s “82-year-old king has been a stabilising force…”. The agency refers to 1992. The evidence is, however, that the monarchy and this king has also been a force that has encouraged partisanship and instability. Just a few examples: 1946 regicide, 1947 coup, 1957 coup, destabilization of governments in 1973-76, 1976 massacre and coup, 2006 coup. Why do they keep saying this?

This error is made in an article citing Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on the political role of the monarchy. He says that his government’s position “had always been that the monarchy should remain above partisan politics…”. As PPT has pointed out several times, and will do again below, this is a misrepresentation. In fact, the Abhisit regime has and continues to use the monarchy for political gain.

Abhisit also had to deny “speculation that the palace had sought to influence his administration during the recent crisis.” The reason he is forced to state this is because the assumption of palace involvement is widespread in the country. Abhisit states: “I can definitely say, categorically, that all the decisions during the protests were taken by the government. The palace does not interfere in the matter…”.

Even if one accepts this assertion, the proximity of Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda to the civilian-military junta – called the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation – during the red shirt demonstrations would raise questions. Abhisit’s private audience with the king raises questions and so does the king’s speeches to judges.

When Abhisit says: “The institution plays the same role as in other constitutional monarchies” he’s just parroting royalist nonsense. His statement on lese majeste, where he claims “We have to make a distinction between people who make comments on the monarchy, maybe academic discussions, from people who clearly show intent in terms of undermining the institution, which would be a threat to national security…” simply and clearly confirms his adherence to the status quo.

In any case, the actions of the government are far louder than the premier’s bleating. The ever more Gestapo-like Department of Special Investigation is reported to have “begun its operations dealing with the anti-monarchy movement, setting up nine teams comprising nearly 300 agents from various agencies to do the task.” That’s three hundred!

The DSI doesn’t seem too bothered about issues like the presumption of innocence, but has decided to identify “people whose behaviours are considered ‘detrimental or ill-minded’ to the monarchy…”. How will it determine who these people are? It will rely on the so-called “Mind Map composed by the government’s Centre for Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES), which indicted 27 key figures released during the run-up to the red shirt protests in Bangkok.” This is a wholly discredited document, but the DSI is interested in destroying the government’s political opponents. It’s a witch hunt or worse.

The DSI’s director-general Tharit Phengdit makes things worse when he makes the government’s conspiracy even bigger by considering the “blacklisted 83 people whose assets had been frozen by the CRES were taking part in the [red shirt] movement.” Ahem. They are accused. But the political Tharit – he’ll get piles of royal honors and awards for sure – is going to try to make connections. Tharit also targets those who joined the UDD are in the Puea Thai Party and those who “took part in arranging the red-shirt protests in May…”. This is the flunky officer really wanting to show he can protect the monarchy better than anyone else. Such slithering individuals are the most dangerous. He says there is no deadline for the “completion of all lese-majeste and anti-monarchy cases.” This is because the cases involve “a large number of people through complicated networks of operations. The overall DSI investigation will be lengthy…”.

The ever-vigilant DSI has “identified two types of wrongdoing: online publication of lese-majeste content; and public statements in various forms, including public interviews, speeches during rallies and distribution of hard copies. The wrongdoers involved are divided into three levels: the leadership and commanders, who allegedly funded the anti-monarchy operations, gave directions and tactics and issued ideological themes. The second level are the ‘operatives’, who delivered lese-majeste content or speeches as directed by the leadership – individually, as groups, or systematically as a whole. The third level are ‘the masses’, who used public activities or gatherings to support the people in the second level.” They are going to be filling the jails!

International human rights groups need to look far more critically at the DSI as a politicized agency, operating with government mandate, Abhisit’s support, and regularly infringing on human rights. The potential is for it to get far worse and the rabid royalists and drooling yellow shirts urge them on.

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