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.





Waking up to military dictatorship

10 11 2017

Thailand has been a military dictatorship since May 2014. If The Dictator has his way, the military and the current junta will be in power, directly or through proxies and clones, for another 16 years.

It needs to be recalled that this has happened before. Following the massacre of students at Thammasat University on 6 October 1976, promoted and conducted by military and monarchists, a military junta agreed to appoint palace favorite Thanin Kraivixien as prime minister. That rightist premier, selected and promoted by the king, declared that “reform” would require 12 years.

Thanin wasn’t around for long, being thrown out by military boss General Kriangsak Chomanan, who himself was pushed aside by another general and palace favorite, Prem Tinsulanonda. He remained unelected premier until 1988. That’s 12 years.

So we should believe that the current arrogant leaders and their allies think 20 years is possible.

It seems that there is a gradual awakening to these plans, even though they have, in our view, been obvious for years.

For example, a Bangkok Post editorial gets testy with The Dictator:

Praising oneself while discrediting others is a classic campaign tactic employed by most politicians ahead of general elections. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha seemed to be doing just that, behaving like a career politician, when he posed six much-criticised questions to the Thai public on Wednesday.

PPT has noted The Dictator’s campaigning throughout 2017.

The Post recognizes that The Dictator’s six “questions are also seen as an attempt to test the waters before deciding or revealing whether he will enter politics.”

In fact, he’s already entered politics, and well before the 2014 military coup. We well recall that he campaigned against Yingluck Shinawatra and the Peua Thai Party during the 2011 election. He began contemplating a coup against her elected government from even before that election victory.

The Post also recognizes that the junta “has set new rules on politics and has kept a firm grip on all state power…”.And it will do so for years after any “election” conducted under the junta’s rules, set by the illegitimate 2017 constitution. As the Post states:

In fact, the regime’s desire to cling on to the power it seized from the last elected government is demonstrated by certain rules specified in the constitution it sponsored.

The Post editorial continues: “Whatever plan he may be secretly hatching, it is illegitimate as long as he continues to be the rule-maker.”

This is correct, but the power-hungry generals aren’t about to do that. They have repeatedly stated that the time is not right, citing “fears” of political chaos.

The Post further observes:

The prospect of Gen Prayut as premier running the administrative branch for another four-year term while having the Senate, as a supposed checks-and-balance mechanism, on his side, is not a good thing for a democratic country.

But that’s exactly what Prem did. And, we think, that’s been the plan from the beginning.





Updated: 6 October and dictatorship

6 10 2017

A few days ago PPT post about the new website has been launched from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science, to establish and maintain an archive about the massacre of 6 October 1976.

On this day in 1976, royalists and rightists were mobilized with and by the police and military in a massacre of students and others they had decided were threats to the monarchy. With claims of lese majeste and communists at work, these “protectors” of the monarchy and royal family engaged in an orgy of violence, killing, injuring and arresting thousands.

For a radio program on the events, listen to the BBC’s Witness story on the October 1976 events in Thailand, with  archival audio footage of reporting from the time and Ajarn Puey Ungpakorn, and a present-day interview with Ajarn Thongchai Winichakul. Read Puey on the terrible events by following the links here.

The king and the royal family fully supported the massacre at Thammasat University.

In remembering this massacre in the name of the monarchy, we are reminded that the current military dictatorship bears many of the characteristics of the dictatorship that resulted from the murderous events of 6 October in 1976.

Thanin Kraivixien was a dedicated fascist judge who served the king. His government was established to turn back the political clock and established a 12 year plan to do this. Today, three years of military dictatorship is meant to be followed by 20 years of rewinding under military, royalist and rightist tutelage.

Mercifully, Thanin’s extreme authoritarianism only lasted a year but military-backed rule continued until 1988, first with General Kriangsak Chomanan as premier. He was replaced by the more reliable royalist posterior polisher, General Prem Tinsulanonda. After 1988, Prem retained considerable political influence and has repeatedly supported military coups. His support for the current dictatorship has been stated several times.

Update: The military remains exceptionally prickly about this event of 41 years ago. And justifiably so in that military fingerprints are all over one of Thailand’s worst massacres of civilians. So it is that Khaosod reports that a film about the event was prevented from being screened on the anniversary. By the Time It Gets Dark or ดาวคะนอง is a 2016 film directed by Anocha Suwichakornpong. It has has some very good reviews.

But the military censors weren’t interested in art. According to Khaosod, theatre owner Thida Plitpholkarnpim announced two hours before it was to show that the thugs had said no. She added: “Don’t ask for the reason…. They misunderstood the story of the film. They couldn’t even remember the name of [tonight’s] activity.”





The 6 October website

30 09 2017

As reported at Prachatai, a new website has been launched from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science, to establish and maintain an archive about the massacre of 6 October 1976.

That horrid massacre, mainly of students gathered at Thammasat University, was led by police, ultra-royalist rightists and the military. The massacre and the military coup that was a part of the plan was enthusiastically supported by the king, queen, then Prince Vajiralongkorn and other members of the royal family.

A photo by Frank Lombard available at the new website.

The students killed and the more than 3,000 arrested were maniacally alleged to be “communists and threats to Thailand’s monarchy.”

For a monarchy that is regularly said to be “revered” and “loved,” it is remarkable how many citizens have been killed and jailed to “protect” it.

The website is superbly designed and is an important resource.It is mostly in Thai, although some resources are in Thai and English (like the documentary “Respectfully Yours.”

Prachatai notes that “Thai society has tried to remove the 6 October massacre from the history timelines…”.

Another Lombard photo from the website.

In fact, it is not “Thai society” that has tried to erase the massacre but the ruling class, including royalists, police and military.

Because Thailand is currently ruled by a repressive military junta that came to power following a massacre, to “protect” the monarchy and to wind back political space, this online archive is an important innovation.





Making a cruel point

17 11 2016

student-6oct1The 6 October 1976 massacre was one of the Thai military’s periodic interventions in politics that saw many citizens murdered and arrested.

While the numbers killed total in the 40s for official counts, but perhaps 10 times this in reality.

This massacre was particularly brutal, with civilians being raped, burned alive, lynched, dismembered and tortured. It was conducted by police, military and rightist and royalist gangs that owed allegiance to the palace.

The ruling class cheered the end of a turbulent democracy that they had been unable to totally control.

The monarchy, fearful of communism, unions, students and socialists, thanked those who supported it by murdering and imprisoning those it identified as enemies.

The king spoke to his “subjects” about their duties to support his murderous regime – he had had his man Thanin Kraivixien, appointed premier. This event and the monarchy’s central role was defining of a brief reign of terror under Thanin’s regime, followed by a long period of military and military-backed governments, lasting through until 1988.6-october-1976

The full speech by the then king is reproduced in Prachatai and we reproduce it here, because of its callous support for authoritarianism and rejection of democratic politics.

The speech doesn’t mention these things directly, but everyone knew that the king was supporting those who massacred political opponents:

People of Thailand, thank you for expressing your kindness and cordiality to me, the Queen and all of our children. Thank you for your cooperation and support in all our activities which has given us much encouragement.

The Thai people have clearly expressed their wishes. With this, there is a common understanding and there is an opportunity to work together in order to fulfil our aspirations. Although there may be obstacles or challenges along the way, we can overcome them as long as we sincerely cooperate with one another. However, we should also understand that the country’s overall situation is not so promising.

I strongly wish that all of us could understand and see the reality of the situation in our country.

6-oct-1976Currently our country needs to be improved and developed to the highest level of efficiency so that we can fully optimise the use of resources on our land, as well as wholly benefit from the labour force and wisdom of all Thais. We must utilise them in order to swiftly advance our country and bring about prosperity in all dimensions.

For this purpose, we must urgently execute many development projects and implement them quickly and fruitfully. We cannot delay them for any reason otherwise we will lose out on any potential benefits and in this case it will be damaging.

We can contribute by being strongly determined to uphold the nation’s interest, forego personal interests and refrain from unnecessary disputes.

Those who hold duties and responsibilities must tend to them and successfully fulfil them to the best of their potential and with honesty, with compassion, compromise and goodwill. Our collective work will soon lead to success and a lasting development for our nation.beating_corpse-6-october_1976

I would like to invite the blessings of the Triple Gems and all things sacred to the Thai people to protect you all from danger and misfortune and to bestow upon you good health, inspiration, wisdom and unity, so that you can perform your duties in order to move our country forward while also maintaining our sovereignty and peace for the sake of our well-being and prosperity. I wish you all happiness and success in your endeavours throughout the New Year.

Why is this of interest now? Because the current royalist military junta has decided that every Thai must be reminded of its power for tyranny and repression, in the name of the monarchy. It has chosen to do this with a 9-minute anthem that all Thais will have to listen to and respect into the future. It is also a threat.





Remembering 6 October after 40 years

6 10 2016

40 years after the massacre at Thammasat University, and Thailand is again under a under the boot of a military dictatorship.

The 6 October 1976 attack on students and supporters by rightist and royalist vigilantes was supported and promoted by elements in the police, military and palace.

Each year we post on this day, remembering those who were murdered, burned alive, raped and beaten. Previous posts: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.6 Oct

This year, we link to just a few of the stories that have become available because it is the 40th anniversary of those tragic and brutal events:

The military dictatorship prefers that Thais do not remember such events.





Chinese flunkies or anti-democratic sloths?

5 10 2016

Thai authorities have detained and will or have deported Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong.

Prachatai reports that Wong was detained “at the request of the Chinese government” in the “early hours on 5 October 2016…”.

wongThe report states that Wong “was invited to the faculty of political science, Chulakongkorn university, to give a talk on new generation’s politics at an event commemorating 6 October [1976]…”.

Wong’s “political group” is said to have issued “a statement condemning the Thai authorities.”

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post also reports on Wong’s detention. The 19-year-old, “famed for his galvanising role in the city’s 2014 pro-democracy ‘umbrella movement’, “had apparently been held incommunicado by authorities. His group in Hong Kong says they have been unable to contact him for at least 10 hours.

Activists in Bangkok stated that Tourist Police stated that the detention followed “a written letter from the Chinese government to the Thai government concerning this person.”

As the Post points out, this is not the first time that the military dictatorship has appeared to be acting as the Chinese regime’s toadies. Thailand deported more than 100 Uighurs to an uncertain fate in China just over a year ago. The disappearance of Chinese dissidents and their reappearance in China and in custody suggests Thai collaboration with agents of the Chinese state.

The military regime is certainly willing to do Beijing’s bidding. At the same time, the junta is so anti-democratic that the idea of a democracy activist arriving in Bangkok to commemorate the 1976 slaughter of civilians that was prompted by rightists, royalists, palace and military is not likely to be appreciated. It is likely that in doing Beijing’s bidding the military dictatorship is also serving its own warped interests.