Updated: A catch-up II

28 03 2018

Continuing our catch-up:

Khaosod reports on the prosecution of red shirt leaders: Nothing unusual about that. After all, one of the central tasks of the military dictatorship has been to break up and disburse the red shirt movement, jailing leaders and repressing the movement since the 2014 military coup. The unusual bit is that this prosecution refers to events in 2009. Prosecutors accuse red shirt leaders “group of inciting unrest and an open rebellion against the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva in a April 2009 protest, which saw parts of Bangkok occupied for several days.” Political advantage is being maintained.

Reuters reports on new political blood: It says that Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit sees little prospect of winning a junta “election.” He says: “Election laws are unfavourable to us, timing is unfavourable to us, the attitude of the government is unfavourable to us…. The chance is very slim. But a little hope is better than no hope at all.” Joshua Kurlantzick is quoted: “Political success in Thailand depends on being able to placate the military and royalist elite…”.

Andrew MacGregor Marshall has a new article available: Entertaining Ananda is the “story of Britain’s bumbling efforts to win the loyalty of Thailand’s young king [Ananda Mahidol] in the last months of his life.” PPT hasn’t read it yet – it is rather long – but it looks very interesting, based on documents from British archives.

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that the 10 United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship leaders have all entered not guilty pleas in the case mentioned above. The court “set May 28 for the examination of evidence and witness lists submitted by both the accused and prosecutors. Witness testimonies are to begin in August.” The charges are “illegal assembly and stirring up unrest from Jan 31 until April 4 of that year [2009] by organising rallies at several important government offices…. They are also accused of being involved in two more serious incidents — the torching of a public bus and the hijacking of a petrol tanker that was later found abandoned during a violent street protest.” (Some aspects of the report are historically inaccurate.)





Updated: After the funeral, more of the same

30 10 2017

The funeral is officially over but the hagiographical syrup and royalist nastiness and threats continue to flow.

As in other periods where ultra-royalism is boosted by the military state, it becomes dangerous for anyone who might dare to express different opinions.

The military regime may also be emboldened by the continued rise of ultra-royalism, which obviously feeds into its political ambitions when it decides to call its “election.” Presumably the coronation will add to all of that political use of royalism.

In the meantime, we might also expect cowed and submissive politicians to become warily more active.

A Bangkok Post editorial has a bet each way. It drips royal loyalty for a couple of paragraphs, observing what should be obvious: “The expiration of the mourning period returns the country to a semblance of normality…”.

It strokes the military dog:

The members of the government under Gen Prayut deserve a respectful thank you for their care and attention to the events brought to a grief-stricken climax last Thursday. The preparations for the funeral of the great King Bhumibol Adulyadej provided impeccable grace, and splendour remarked on around the world. When he seized power three and a half years ago, Gen Prayut promised to unite Thais. Last week, Thai people were united as never before.

In fact, the funeral was fitting in that it marked a crescendo of military-backed monarchism that has defined one of the most politically repressive eras in Thailand’s modern history, with that repression being in the name of the monarchy and claimed to be protecting it.

The funeral was fittingly militarized but few have bothered to think about what this means for Thailand going forward (well, backward, under the junta).

(If one watches the Ananda Mahidol funeral and compares it with the recent event, the military dominance and precision of the latter is clear.)

The Bangkok Post then reminds the junta and its readers that the “funeral occurred in the midst of political questions which now will return to the fore.”

It adds that several of these “questions” are “urgent.”

It lists:

These include the running scandal of Rajabhakti Park‘s improvement plan. The Prachuap Khiri Khan site of the massive statues of the seven great kings has been under a cloud from its inception. The latest controversy is a two-part “improvement”. These consist of what seem to be the most expensive 52 toilets ever installed at a government-supported facility, and five shops. These will cost yet another 16 million baht in “donations” — a word which has become synonymous with “scandal”. In countering the allegations about massive overspending, army chief Chalermchai Sitthisad said the military is ready to disclose full financial details about the project which was investigated once by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). He should realise the public anticipates getting the details.

Then there is the ongoing corruption and pathetic excuses for abysmal decisions from former Army boss and Interior Minister General Anupong Paojinda. His latest mess is over  laser, speed-detection guns at hugely exorbitant prices.

But, really, is that it? Of course not. As the Bangkok Post itself reports, “[l]ocals in eastern Thailand are opposing the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)’s [the junta] order to reorganise city planning in Chachoengsao, Rayong and Chon Buri provinces to bring it in line with the government’s Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) policy.”

There’s plenty of other land and infrastructure deals and shady, opaque stuff going on. And in the corruption in-tray there are all those cases around Rolls Royce that have never seen an out-tray. Just stalling, burying, hiding.

But what about the political repression that has juveniles charged with lese majeste. There is the old man potentially charged with lese majeste for comments about legendary events. And there is the law student, singled out by the military dictatorship for lese majeste for sharing a BBC Thai story that was also shared by several thousand others. What of the mothers and others jailed for scores of years on pathetic lese majeste charges? Protection of the monarchy means crushing many and threatening everyone.

Then there’s the missing/stolen/vandalized and enforced historical lobotomy of the “missing” 1932 commemoration plaque and associated lese majeste cases.

Military murders remain unresolved, with a recent tragic example of Chaiyapoom Pasae, shot by troops in very opaque circumstances and with the “investigations” adding farce to tragedy.

And who killed Ko Tee in Laos? We can all guess but probably the assassins, speaking Thai, will never be revealed. That’s the impunity that official murders enjoy.

We could go on and on and on…. After all, the ninth reign saw thousands of state crimes against the people.

Update: Readers will be interested in two views of the events and legacy of the ninth reign at New Mandala. Both are reasonably tame and the first quite lame.





Good rich king, bad rich king

25 10 2017

Are we the only ones who have detected a change in the way that critics of the monarchy are writing about it?

While we recently posted on the ninth reign as a bloody era where thousands of citizens were disappeared, jailed, tortured and killed by the state, usually operating in the name of the monarchy and, for the most part, supported by the king, other commentaries seem to be eulogizing that reign.

An example, and it is one of several, is a New York Time op-ed by Matthew Phillips, a historian in Wales.

Phillips repeats several of the lines from Bhumibol hagiographies and palace propaganda:

Thailand’s previous king … is credited with transforming Thailand into a modern nation-state and unifying the country during times of political turmoil.

The author might acknowledge that this is pure propaganda that ignores real history.

Then in 1946, Bhumibol ascended to the throne, and after a discreet first decade….

The author doesn’t seem to think it important to mention the death of King Ananda Mahidol or the royalist efforts to pin that on innocents and to send political opponents into exile. We would have thought that period was pivotal for the rise of a royalist military.

A military coup in 1958, pro-American and high on Thai pride, placed the (U.S.-born) king at its center, and the Thai public reacted enthusiastically.

We can’t help wondering about how public enthusiasm is measured? By the bodies that piled up under General Sarit Thanarat’s despotism?

King Bhumibol is often credited with foiling a Communist movement during the Cold War, liberalizing the Thai economy and keeping the country together despite its often-fractious politics.

Again, he is “credited” with these superhuman feats, but it is usually palace propagandists making these points.

The rest of Phillip’s article is quite good, so we are not sure why he repeats these lines of hagiography. In other stories, it seems the authors are pining for the past 70 years, comparing that era with what they think is going to be an awful reign under the erratic and narcissistic Vajiralongkorn.

The good bits seem to us to build on several insights from Paul Handley’s The King Never Smiles. The previous king and his advisers came up with the propaganda device that made its wealth a sign of merit and allowed others to share in it.

On the funeral, he notes that “… there is little discussion over the expense of King Bhumibol’s cremation.” He adds that, “for the monarchy, has been to make royal wealth seem sacred, and any contribution to it appear virtuous.”

He notes the growth of royal wealth under the dead king.

The royal family, thanks in part to a raft of projects with business, academia, the arts and charities, has implanted itself at the center of Thailand’s cultural and social life — apparently far from the messy, brutal realities of capitalism and political gamesmanship. Giving money or labor to a royally endorsed project has come to be seen as a good deed, and so an opportunity to improve one’s chances of an auspicious rebirth in the Buddhist reincarnation cycle.

… Bhumibol’s material legacy also is great. The Crown Property Bureau, the agency that manages the royal finances, has vastly expanded its business portfolio. Neither the bureau’s assets nor its operations are entirely known, but the Thai monarchy is now thought to be the world’s richest, with an estimated fortune of at least $30 billion. Under … Bhumibol, the royal family of Thailand has become fabulously rich….

No debate there, although the figure is probably closer to $50 billion now. And the new king has control of it. The “fun” is about to begin.





History re-made for the dead king

21 10 2017

The monarchy has long had scribblers working in its interest. As the author of a Bangkok Post op-ed says, truthfully, “There is a lot of hagiography and officially enforced views about Thailand’s traditional institutions…”.

This is Thitinan Pongsudhirak, who has, in recent years, become a hagiographer himself. And, this latest outing is gross in its hagiography, smashing history into a royalist shape. Thitinan is no dummy, so his choice to take a hatchet to recent political history is an effort to mislead.

For starters, he claims that the king worked for the 70 years and 126 days. That he stayed around for a long time is worth noting, but suggesting he was hard at work until the end is odd indeed. Clearly, over some of the last decade of his life, the king was unable to do much at all, being ill with the afflictions of old age.

That may be a minor point, but the discussion of the beginning of the reign ignores – deliberately – they key event: the shooting death of King Ananda Mahidol. This event brought Bhumibol to the throne. No one has tried to adequately explain that event. But to ignore it is misleading.

Thitinan says that in “1946, the monarchy was at a low point, whereas military and civilian elites in the emerging new bureaucracy dominated.”

He neglects to note that the monarchy was at the center of these “squabbles.” Royalists used the death o King Ananda to seek to oust the persons the old princes hated and viewed as republicans.

The royalist-anti-royalist struggles of the period need to be mentioned.

Thitinan is right that there was a “symbiotic relationship between the military and the monarchy.” Both sides benefited enormously, with the royal family and the king becoming hugely wealthy as a military dictatorship went on for 16 years. These seem worthy of some consideration, but not in Thitinan’s story.

Remarkably, Thitinan justifies all those years of dictatorship: “The fight against communism during the 1950s-80s necessitated a strong state revolving around the military, monarchy and bureaucracy…”.

His speculation on what Thailand might have looked like in those years “[w]ithout the monarchy” is hypothetical nonsense. His claim that it was that monarchy that “saved” Thailand from communism is just silly speculation that polishes the monarchy’s posterior simply to make it shiny. Military dictatorship, repression, murders of citizens, secret wars, massive U.S. funding seem not to deserve attention.

His hagiography gets really hysterical when Thitinan seems to say that it was the king who was remaking Thailand. It gets worse when  he makes this up: the “late monarch owned no fancy vehicles or other trappings that would have been seen as extravagant and lavish…”.

This is bizarre. The royal garage was stuffed with expensive cars. Maybachs, Mercedes, Rolls Royces and more. The palaces expanded and spend plenty. His family was and is fabulously wealthy and awash with jewelry and luxury accoutrements.The taxpayer has seen several regimes shoveling baht into supporting the royal family’s lifestyle.

Much of the rest of the op-ed repeats this propaganda in ways that is little different from the palace propaganda and hagiography poured out over many decades.

Then Thitinan recognizes that “there were dissenters during the 9th reign. They derived from a competing political narrative that arose from the 1932 overthrow of the absolute monarchy and lost out in power struggles…”. It is noted that “[m]any of them suffered from repression and persecution over the years.” But is was much more than this. Some of them were exiled, many were murdered, but that’s not stated.

The continual rebuffing of calls for democracy and human rights came from the palace and the military.

Thitinan then writes of reconciling the re-emerging 1932 narrative and that of the triumphal royalists. How much chance of that when he and others make up the historical events? How can dissidents reconcile with a make-believe royalist discourse?





The “necessity” of military dictatorship

13 10 2017

In the Bangkok Post, commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak comes up with his repeated excuse for military domination. He claims the succession explains it:

The consequent royal transition is likely to be viewed in posterity as the principal reason why the Thai people have had to put up with Gen Prayut.

Later he states, as he has before, that:

To appreciate how Gen Prayut and his cohorts could seize power and keep it with relative ease, we need to recognise the late King Bhumibol’s final twilight. The royal succession was imminent by coup time, and the Thai people collectively kind of knew the special and specific circumstances this entailed. Power had to be in the hands of the military, as it had to ultimately perform a midwife role. Unsurprisingly, ousted elected politicians may have complained about and deplored the coup but none wanted to retake power during the coup period. They knew that after seven decades of the reign in the way that the Thai socio-political system was set up around the military, monarchy and bureaucracy, it had to be the generals overseeing this once-in-a-lifetime transition.

This is nonsensical propaganda. There were, at the time, and today, many, many Thais who reject this royalist babble. But Thitinan just ignores the deep political and social struggles that marked the period of discord that began with the Asian economic crisis in 1997 and which was punctuated by two military coups.

Thitinan appears to us to be expressing the views of the socially disconnected middle class of Bangkok, those who hate and fear the majority of Thais, and “protect” themselves by attaching themselves to the economic and political power of the Sino-Thai tycoons, monarchy and military.

Thais have “put up with” ghastly military rulers for decades. The military dictators and rulers have used the monarchy to justify their despotism. General Pin Choonhavan used the “mysterious” death of Ananda Mahidol; General Sarit Thanarat promoted the monarchy as a front for his murderous regime; General Prem Tinsulanonda made “loyalty” de rigueur for political office.

Thitinan is wrong and, worse, whether he wants to or not, he provides the nasty propaganda that is justification for military dictatorship. We can only imagine that the military junta is most appreciative.

One reason Thais “put up with” military dictatorship now is because anti-democrats want it, because many of them hate elections that give a power to the subaltern classes. And, as Thitinan acknowledges,

Gen Prayut and his fraternal top brass in the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) have guns and tanks to intimidate and coerce. In their first year in power, the ruling generals detained hundreds of dissenters and opponents for “attitude adjustment”. They even put some of those who disagreed on trial in military court. They also came up with their own laws in an interim charter, including the draconian absolutist Section 44. And they have used and manipulated other instruments and agencies of the state to keep people in check and dissent suppressed.

To be sure, dozens of Thais are languishing in jail during junta rule. One young man, a student with his own strong views, has been jailed for re-posting a social media message that appeared on more than two thousand other pages. The junta also has banned political parties from organising, and has generally violated all kinds of human rights and civil liberties all along.

In addition, the generals have not been immune to corruption allegations….

Thais, it seems, must just “put up with” all this in order to facilitate the death of a king, succession and coronation. Thitinan goes even further, lauding The Dictator:

who grew up in the Thai system from the Cold War, who came of age at the height of Thailand’s fight against communism in the 1970s, seeing action on the Cambodian border against the Vietnamese in the 1980s, serving both the King and Queen and the people in the process with devotion and loyalty.

In fact, General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s military promotion was not forged in “battle” but in providing service to the palace and especially the queen.

Thitinan declares that General Prayuth is the “soul of the nation,” a term once used for the dead king:

When Gen Prayut spoke for the nation [after the last king died], he meant it. Fighting back tears, in seven short minutes, he said what had to be said, and directed us Thais to two main tasks, the succession and the cremation after a year’s mourning. Had it been Yingluck [Shinawatra], who is not known for her eloquence, she might have stumbled during the speech. Had it been Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is fluid and flawless in speechmaking, it would have lacked the soul of the nation.

It had to be Gen Prayut, the strongman dictator and self-appointed premier. He is an earnest man, purposeful and well-intentioned….

Make no mistake, this is pure propaganda for military dictatorship. Make no mistake, Thitinan is justifying military dictatorship for the West, “translating” Thai “culture” for those he thinks are Thailand’s friends. He is saying to The Dictator and to “friends” in the West that 2018 or 2019 will mark the end of an “unusual” time and a return to “normality.” That “normal” is Thai-style democracy, guided for years by the military and its rules.

For those who seek a more nuanced and less propagandist reflection try Michael Peel in the Financial Times. He was formerly a correspondent for the FT based in Bangkok, and has penned “Thailand’s monarchy: where does love end and dread begin?” (The article is behind a paywall, but one may register and get access.) Peel asks: “In a country where few dare to speak openly about the royals, how do Thais feel about their new ruler?”

That is, how do they feel about the succession that Thitinan propagandizes as having “required” military dictatorship working as midwife.





Dealing with death

8 06 2017

The military dictatorship has decided – or perhaps the king has decided – to kill three birds with one stone. Yes, puns are intended.

In a brain wave that may be a brain fade, it is “encouraging Thai citizens to join in a merit-making ceremony in tribute to King Rama VIII and King Rama IX this Friday at the Royal Plaza, Dusit Palace.” And, oh, almost forgot, “concurrently offering their blessings to Queen Sirikit.”

The ceremony is to “observe the anniversary of the passing of King Ananda Mahidol and the succession to the throne of King Bhumibol Adulyadej on June 9…”.

By “passing,” they elide the whole deal: gun shot death, the accusations by royalists and the Democrat Party that Pridi Phanomyong did it and his exile for life and the execution of three innocent people for the “murder.” King Bhumibol never explained his role, although others reckon he was responsible.

Forget that all of this is a mammoth propaganda construction; but then so is the whole monarchy a house built on lies and large dollops of taxpayer money and the support of the corrupt military. Forget it and join the king’s Supreme Patriarch as he leads “195 high-ranking Buddhist monks in chanting holy stanzas, dedicating merit to the two monarchs and also offering well-wishes to Her Majesty Queen Sirikit of the Ninth Reign.”

The king “has kindly conferred prayer books on officials who are responsible for distributing them to public members participating in the merit-making ceremony.” We wonder if he knows about the family skeleton in the golden cupboard.

The junta says this is a “good opportunity for Thai people to express their loyalty to Kings Rama VIII and Rama IX and reminisce about their contributions to the nation…”. Perhaps they can reflect on Bhumibol’s political interventions.





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 this particular 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.