Courts uphold military coups

31 01 2021

We are slow in getting to this story, and many readers will have seen it at Prachatai (with a date error in the final lines). We were going to write that this is a “remarkable story,” but nothing is particularly remarkable in a country that has an erratic monarch who favors neo-absolutism and a “civilianized” military junta that has maintained tight control since its military coup in 2014.

On 26 January, the Appeals Court “found Pholawat Warodomputthikul, 28, a former technician in Rayong, guilty under the sedition law for distributing leaflets expressing opposition to the 2014 coup.”

For opposing a military coup, made “legal” after the event by a pliant judiciary, “Pholawat was sentenced to 4 months in prison,” but “commuted the prison sentence to 2 years on parole.”

The leaflets reportedly stated:

“Wake up!!! and stand up to fight already … Everyone who loves democracy … Dictators shall fall. Long live democracy,” with an image of the three-finger salute, with the message “Liberty, equality, fraternity, oppose the coup.”

Most of the “leaflets were distributed in Rayong province, which, the court ruled, showed the intention to rally people who share Pholawat’s political ideas to oppose the government led by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the head of the junta which had seized power.”

The court “ruled” that such opposition to the [illegal] coup, “might cause disorder or violence among people to the point that it may have caused unrest in the country, and does not constitute honest criticism…”. In fact, it was absolutely honest and an action protected by the constitution had it not been trashed by the junta.

The court’s verdict mangled and conccoted to justify its support for military coups. Much of the court’s verdict, as it is reported, reads like it was put together by the junta itself.

Pholawat plans to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.





Updated: Real news and rumors

29 01 2021

There were lots of royal rumors being shot around over the past weeks or so. Some of them refer to allegations of unspeakable acts against Sirindhorn by her brother, King Vajiralongkorn. Since she was reported as breaking both ankles in a “fall,” rumors gripped social media until they finally became “fact” through international reporting.

We can’t say if this rumor has any truth to it. And, we wouldn’t imagine that we would ever know. Not only is the palace notoriously opaque, but fear is likely to be at play if there is any truth there somewhere.

What we do know is is that the notion of stumbling and breaking both ankles is odd, and the palace gave no explanation of what happened to her. Nor did it say much after Sirindhorn had surgery. That said, she is getting on in years, has long been overweight, and was recently seen riding about official functions on an electric mobility scooter. So it might be that she has brittle bones. But who knows?

If the palace doesn’t say anything or give any depth to its reporting, then it can only blame itself when rumors go viral. But the international media should ask itself if reporting rumor is warranted.

Another story that did the rounds which, so far, is untrue, has been widely reported by tabloids internationally. The Daily Mail reported in one of its paragraph-length headlines: “Thai king ‘makes his consort his second queen as her birthday gift’ in historic move…“. Likewise, The Sun had a similar story, reporting this “fact.” Both “stories” were false and based on rumor.

On-again-off-again favorite consort Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi was not made second queen on her birthday. She did appear with the king in cheeky matching outfits to do the usual birthday stuff, releasing captive animals and so on. But no promotion.

At least, that’s how we understand it because such promotions are always made royal announcements. We suppose one could come out later and be backdated, but nothing emerged.

So why is the salacious part of the international media making rumor fact? And why do this when there are some juicy tidbits that have been officially announced.

We refer to the announcement on 27 January that the king had promoted both his next favorite consort and another one to higher military positions. The announcement was that Sutthatphakdi Borirakphuminth (สุทัตตาภักดิ์ บริรักษ์ภูมินทร์) was made a major-general and the more minor consort was promoted to colonel. Not much is known about Sutthatphakdi but BBC Thai has done the journalistic work and discovered all of the announcements about her over the years she seems to have been in the king’s inner circle.

This recent announcement suggests that Vajiralongkorn is unchanged by all the calls for reform and is continuing on with his neo-absolutist agenda. Maybe the media should be reporting on that and on the news that is real and confirmed about the king and his queens, consorts and wives. There’s enough material around to show that the king is an erratic, vengeful, and nasty person, unfit for any office.

Update: For a “story” that does get Sineenat’s non-promotion right, look at the South China Morning Post. However, the SCMP still feels the need to concoct a “story.” In this it is a “what if” line that is taken, with a claim that has PPT stumped: “Less than two years after her sudden pardon, the former military pilot may be named as King Rama X’s second queen according to unconfirmed reports – will Sineenat emerge as a style icon like Queen Sirikit, or a humanitarian beacon like Princess Soamsawali?” Well, it is less than a year since she was “pardoned,” but the notion that the portulent Soamsawali was a “humanitarian beacon” is quite baffling. How do they come up with this stuff?





King and consort

12 01 2021

Quite a bit of material is appearing that displays King Vajiralongkorn and his official no. 2 wife Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi.

In the most remarkable of these events was reported by Reuters. It states:

King and consort. Clipped from Daily Mail

Thailand’s palace has released photographs of King … Vajiralongkorn visiting prisons with his royal consort … as the royal family steps up public appearances following mass protests demanding reforms to the monarchy.

In a segment on the nightly royal bulletin on state and private TV channels on Saturday, the king and his consort – restored to her position last year after having been disgraced and stripped of her titles – are shown inspecting projects in jails across Thailand.

They are photographed sweeping floors and speaking to officials during the last two months of 2020, and the segment also featured interviews with inmates speaking about the benefits of the projects.

The odd thing about these images and reporting is that the king had previously jailed his love interest declaring her a terrible woman. It was only in September 2020 that she was reinstated and publicly declared “untainted.”

Clipped from Daily Mail

The Daily Mail refers to these appearances as “a publicity stunt for a new documentary” and published several unflattering photos of Sineenat.

PPT has seen a video that looks like a documentary, but missed the royal news. We have to say that the video we saw looked odd, with prisoners shown moving and working, but with all images of the king and consort being stills, some of which looked suspiciously like the images might have been constructed. That might be by the palace, but it’s impossible to know.

 

Clipped from The Straits Times

A couple of things are clear from this palace propaganda. One is that Sineenat is completely rehabilitated and roughly in the position she was back in mid-2019, before her temporary erasure. Second, it is clear that the demonstrations and protests have done nothing to alter the king’s neo-absolutist desires.





Updated: Mad, mad monarchism

29 12 2020

Two stories at the Bangkok Post in recent days demonstrate how monarchists have gone completely bonkers.

The first story is about Lt Gen Soraphot Nirandorn, an old man with a terrible comb-over who claims to be the son of a member of Khana Ratsadorn, or the People’s Party. Ordinarily, that affiliation would not guarantee interest in Soraphot.

But in the royal and royalist efforts to roll back the 1932 revolution, Lt Gen Soraphot’s seeking of “forgiveness” for his father, prostrating “before the statues and portraits of King Rama VII, King Rama VIII and King Rama IX…” gained attention.

He says his father, Maj Sawek Nirandorn, or Khun Nirandornchai, one of some 194 “promoters” of the 1932 revolution, “felt remorseful that he as a soldier had violated the oath of allegiance.” He added that: “When serving on a committee examining royal assets, he did something inappropriate. His last wish was to seek royal forgiveness, but he died before he could do it…”.  Sawek doesn’t have much of a role in the standard histories of the period.

According to Lt Gen Soraphot, his father “left the military and was appointed by Khana Ratsadorn to take charge of the construction of the Democracy Monument and was also appointed as a member of a committee examining royal assets from 1932–1948.”

Some of the details here seem a little screwy, but that could be the reporting or the old man’s poor memory, but his angst seems to have to do with land. When asked “if he would return the assets, Lt Gen Soraphot said he has no objection but will have to ask for consent from the rest of the family.”

For those interested in the story of the land scandal of 1937, download Virginia Thompson’s Thailand A New Siam and read pages 93-95. There it is stated that 33 of the 34 persons named as having ripped off land returned it. Unlike the silence that surrounds royal seizures of land today, back then, there was a furious debate.

The second story is even more bizarre, with the monarchist management and owners of the newspaper deeming it necessary to “clarify” a story from 1950. Yes, that’s 70 years ago. Of course it is about the monarchy and it is also a “clarification” dripping with political intent.

Phibul

The Post finds itself caught up in a series of royalist attacks on the doctoral dissertation titled “Thai Politics in Phibul’s Government under the US World Order (1948–1957)” by Nattapol Chaiching. Nattapol refers to the Post for 18 December 1950 in claiming that the regent attended cabinet meetings and that this caused annoyance for Prime Minister Phibul who demanded that the regent follow constitutional rules.

The Post contorts itself stating that “the paper never reported such information…”. it adds: “In fact, the article ‘Premier May Sit In with Privy Council’ merely reported that several cabinet members had voiced their concern about the appointment of 50 senators by the Privy Council without consulting the government as stated in the full article below.”

That sounds a lot like nitpicking, and we can’t find the article the Post claims to reproduce. All of this is prompted by a nasty royalist campaign. For those who can read Thai, there’s an account of the royalist effort here. The campaign is aimed at a group of revisionist historians.

What is clear is that Nattapol’s basic point is correct. Phibul was working against royalists who were reasserting their power and, as usual, ignoring constitutional procedures. As Sorasak Ngamcachonkulkid has it in his 2005 thesis, “The Seri Thai movement : the first alliance against military authoritarianism in modern Thai history” (p. 539):

Soon after the 1947 coup, senior and traditional members of the royal family and the aristocracy came back to play a central role in politics. The two traditional elite groups began by extending their control to the upper House of the legislature. Although the military leaders attempted to place their own followers in the senate, the Regent, Prince Rangsit, ignored their request and appointed one-hundred senators from among the nation’s most venerable and highly-educated elite. Only eight senators were selected from the 1932 revolutionary group, and no senators were appointed from members of the recent coup. Of the 100 Senators, 90 of them were princes … and [from] the aristocracy….

As time went on, Phibul railed against the royalists, seeking to roll back their power grab and especially against the regent. Indeed, in 1951, when Prince Dhani was appointed regent, Phibul voted against him.

Our point being that the royalists are grasping at straws and again trying to put the genie back in the opaque bottle.

Update: In the context of the above notes, it is worth reading Voranai Vanijaka’s op-ed “2020: Khana Ratsadon VS the Chakri Dynasty Part 2.” It sets out some of the ideological underpinnings for Thailand’s journey back to royal absolutism.





Knuckleheads, other royalists and threats

14 10 2020

Ultra-royalists are organizing and being organized to oppose pro-democracy protesters. They consider the protesters to be the tools of “politicians.” This time, the “politicians” are not Thaksin Shinawatra and his lot.

Khaosod reports that “[h]ardline royalists” have rallied “to accuse opposition politician  Thanathorn … of engineering the movement to call for reforms of the monarchy.”

The royalist group, propbably organized with support from the Army and ISOC, called “itself the Center for People Protecting the Monarchy,” and rallied “in front of the headquarters of Thai Summit, a company owned by Thanathorn’s family.”

They called for Thanathorn “to leave Thailand for allegedly having hostile attitudes towards the [r]oyal [f]amily.”

Protest organizer Chakrapong Klinkaew declared: “If you think there’s nothing good about Thailand, we shall unite to force you out of Thailand.” He also stated that his group would face off against pro-democracy protesters today.

Speeches by ultra-royalists demeaned Thanathorn as Chinese: “You people had never sacrificed your flesh and blood for the sovereignty of Thailand.” He was said to be “ungrateful to the king’s benevolence.” (Many ultra-royalists are Sino-Thai, so they are making a distinction between good Chinese and bad Chinese.)

Chakrapong focused on Thanathorn’s support for reform of the monarchy, seeing this as “disloyalty,” and akin to sedition. And, as yellow shirts have long proclaimed, monarchy is preferred to democracy, with Chakrapong declaring: “If you like western-style democracy, go and live there.”

Later, the protesters claimed their call for Thanathorn to be expelled was “figurative.”

About a month ago, Chakrapong had led a group to Thai Summit and then to a rally at the US Embassy, accusing it of being behind a conspiracy for a “revolution” in Thailand.

Meanwhile, emphasizing the good “foreigner”/bad “foreigner” dichotomy, the Bangkok Post reports that:

Indian-born businessman Satish Sehgal, who motivated the crowd with his speeches about his love for Thailand during the anti-Yingluck government protests, believes the young protesters demanding reform of the monarchy do not represent the country’s entire younger generation.

Sehgal, who was threatened with deportation during the anti-Yingluck protests, and who called on the monarch for support, reckons the demonstrators “are not properly educated about the country’s history and misled by false information.”

He, too, lambasted “political groups for allegedly trying to manipulate the young for their own personal gains…”.

Good foreigner Satish, emphasizes his diligence, hard work and loyalty. Predictably, his superior knowledge turns out to be nothing more than palace propaganda. Like other yellow shirts, he rejects democracy in favor of something like 19th Century royal absolutism.

He reaffirmed his support for military interventions in politics and defended the regime led by Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Finally, he declared that “groups loyal to the institution of monarchy would not sit idly by” while protesters criticized the king. He claimed that their positions would be represented “the army chief.” Sounds like a threat and incitement to us, and it is:

Mr Sehgal is confident that groups loyal to the institution will come out in force when necessary but noted that tomorrow’s protest was not enough to warrant them taking action yet.

… “People who love and respect the institution are not the kind that will mobilise first but when the time comes they will be ready to demonstrate that they do not want any other system…”.

The war on the monarchy is underway.





Playboy prince, fearsome king

25 01 2020

Readers may be interested in Richard Bernstein’s piece with Vox, “Thailand’s playboy king isn’t playing around.”

PPT finds some of the underlying assumptions a bit too accepting of elite propaganda:

Self-crowned

With King Bhumibol Adulyadej old and ailing, many worried the Thai monarchy would atrophy into irrelevance once his playboy son [Vajiralongkorn] ascended to the throne. And given its importance as a pillar of Thai nationhood and identity, that could be disastrous in a country already prone to deep divisions and political turmoil.

This ignores the fact that Vajiralongkorn was preparing for the throne for all those years that the old king was ailing. But, anyway, as the author says, “… things have decidedly not worked out that way.”

As Bernstein notes, the outcome of succession – so far- is that “… Vajiralongkorn has rapidly amassed power.” That’s legal, economic and political power. On the economic side, suggesting that the royal wealth is $43 billion seems a significant underestimate to us.

The article lists several of the ways in which this transition to an even more powerful king has taken place in a relatively short time.

Through all of this, Vajiralongkorn has behaved badly, just as he has throughout his adult life:

Vajiralongkorn gets away with things that would have ruined his predecessors, [and]… involves an intentional display of royal power, a signal that the rules that apply to everybody else don’t apply to him.

Fear is palpable when it comes to Vajiralongkorn:

Royal Household Bureau via Khaosod

It’s clear that nobody wants to be heard saying anything negative or derogatory about Vajiralongkorn. Thailand is a country where there can be lively conversations about all sorts of topics….

But there’s almost no discussion of the king’s grasping, his horrid treatment of his women, his militarization of the monarchy, his manipulation of the law or anything else. Political critics worry that they may end up in jail or floating in a river, murdered and disemboweled. It may be that lese majeste is no longer used the way it was under the military junta, but the beatings, deaths and disappearances are a potent warning of the lawless power wielded by and for the monarch.

Bernstein writes of the seldom-discussed “massive building campaign in the central Dusit district of Bangkok.” This area is now essentially a “royal compound”:

It’s an immense rectangle, surrounded by newly renovated walls surmounted by the yellow flag of the monarchy. Soldiers patrol the sidewalks alongside. Construction cranes loom over the ramparts. In one area, a row of large buildings that once housed senior members of the palace staff are empty and decaying, reportedly awaiting demolition.

The gates to the old zoo are locked shut. A glimpse into the old race track revealed a bunch of construction sheds….

“It’s all a way of making his power formal, visible,” one person whispered to me. “He wants everybody to see, whether it’s taking back the land that the zoo is on or assuming direct control of military regiments. And nobody can or dares to stop him.”

The king and the junta’s years in power eliminated opposition to such grandiose designs and little is whispered about the vast (mis-)use of public funds for aggrandizing a monarch whose every action projects a desire for re-feudalization and absolutism. He cultivates:

an image of sternness, command, and Olympian distance from ordinary people. If there were people hoping somehow that, being a Western-educated, cosmopolitan person living mostly in the West, he would encourage a move back in the direction of liberal values and practices, they have by now been disappointed.

We have no idea how anyone could have thought that the obsessive-compulsive Vajiralongkorn was ever going to be anything other than a military man, a thug and greedy wasn’t watching him as he “matured.”





Further updated: Going backwards I

23 01 2020

Earlier this month we pointed to another effort directed by King Vajiralongkorn to erase all symbols of the 1932 revolution.

We pointed to reports that memorial statues to two leaders of the 1932 revolution – Phraya Phahol Pholphayuhasena and Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram – were to be removed at a military base in Lopburi.

This was just the latest in a string of secret, then semi-secret and now brazenly open re-feudalization efforts by the palace to de-memorialize 1932 and replace it with symbols of the monarchy.

We observed that history is being re-constructed as we watch.

This dirty deed has now been done, in the depths of night, as shown in social media posts of before, during and after the official vandalism.

What’s next? The Democracy Monument? Changing street names? We think anything is possible under a king who wants more absolutism and mad military monarchists who cravenly lick his boots.

Update 1: There’s now some confusion on social media about this removal of statues. The photos above referred to a statue of Phahon Pholpayuhasena being removed. Some reports had it as a statue of Phibun. It seems the latter’s statue remains. If we see any further news on this we’ll update.

Update 2: The confusion on statues seems to relate to a Phibun statue in Bangkok, which is still in place. The social media commentary on statue removal referred to Lopburi. Prachatai has a graphic summarizing the destruction and memory erasures:





Fear, the monarchy and democracy

17 11 2019

We feel the Asia Times interview with Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit of the Future Forward Party is worth reading in full. We were most interested in the comments – or lack of them – on the monarchy. That’s the fear that resurgent absolutism had created:

Asia Times: Your party has already made waves in challenging military power. What was the thinking behind your party’s voting against an emergency decree to move elite military units into the King’s royal guard?

Thanathorn: I refuse to answer this question. My official answer would be our secretary general Piyabutr (Saengkanokkul) has already answered this in parliament. That is our official answer (related to the decree’s lack of transparency).

Asia Times: Some construed that as a direct challenge to royal power. Was that the intent?

Thanathorn: I refuse to answer this question.

Asia Times: Why do Prayut[h Chan-ocha]’s ruling Palang Pracharat Party (PPRP) members consistently try to portray you and your party as anti-monarchy?

Thanathorn: Because we have no corruption cases, we have never been in government before. I think that’s the easiest way to demonize someone in Thailand.

Basically, tyranny anywhere in the world you need to create an imaginary enemy. It was Thaksin [Shinawatra] before, an imaginary enemy of the nation.

So now I have become an imaginary enemy of the state. And the easiest way to build that momentum is to brand the person you want to demonize as anti-monarchy.

Thanathorn is clearly right in his comments on the monarchy and democracy. We fear, though, that democracy is the last thing the grasping king wants:

Asia Times: Is there an inherent conflict between an emphasis on unity and loyalty, and the push, pull and contest of democratic politics?

Thanathorn: Let me put it this way: Everywhere in the world where monarchy still exists, a sustainable and strong monarchy happens to be in a democracy.

However, if there is no democracy and there is a monarchy, the institution creates stress, enormous stress in that society.

So I think the long-term prosperity of the monarchy as an institution goes together with democracy. Unless and until you build a strong democracy, monarchy as an institution will not be sustainable.