Found, missing, who knows?

5 06 2018

Found: A couple of weeks ago we posted that social media was buzzing about the “disappearance” of Gen Apirat Kongsompong. We cited Andrew MacGregor Marshall suggests saying that he’d been “arrested” and is at the king’s jail. Soon after, he reappeared, shaven head and all, but back at work.

Now social media rumors are that despite his period of “re-education” by the king, Gen Apirat has come through it and his chances of appointment of new Army boss are undiminished, perhaps even enhanced by his capacity to endure strict royal discipline.

Missing: In a related post, Marshall refers to a missing Army officer. Marshall states that เฉลิมศักดิ์ เรือนมงคล (Chaloemsak Ruenmongkon), had been on the run in several Southeast Asian nations before perhaps being apprehended in Malaysia and sent to Thailand.

He is thought to have been involved with an anti-junta and anti-monarchy “พิซซ่าชาวใน,” a now-closed Facebook page.

He’s gone missing and the fear is he’s “detained by the military or held at King Vajiralongkorn’s notorious punishment camp and prison at Thaweewattana Palace.”

There’s no a dreaded silence.

Who knows?: More than a week ago the police reported breaking a red shirt plot and capturing weapons. The news since then, as expected, is zilch. Perhaps the plot is by the police, against red shirts?





Further updated: Social media stories to watch

19 05 2018

Social media has come alive with two stories today. The first concerns groups of people assembling at the Rajaprasong intersection to remember the deaths and injuries that took place eight years ago. Khaosod has an early report, but those following Facebook activists will see photos of people remembering the dead. Interestingly, there’s also an impression that those remembrances are also about solidarity.

The second story is much more sketchy and written carefully. Essentially, some people are asking: Where is Gen Apirat Kongsompong? Said to be next in line to be Army commander, the impression is that he has gone missing. Ever alert, Andrew MacGregor Marshall suggests that he’s been “arrested” and is at the king’s jail.

Update 1: The Bangkok Post reports:

Yesterday, a number of red-shirts representing the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) converged outside Gaysorn Village, formerly known as Gaysorn Plaza, to remember the bloody clashes between security forces and red-shirt protesters on May 19, 2010.

Among the noted participants in the event was Phayao Akhad, whose daughter, Kamolket Akhad, a volunteer nurse, was shot dead at Wat Pathum Wanaram during the 2010 dispersal of the protesters at the temple.

We doubt the Post will report on the second social media story….

Update 2: Marshall now states that Gen Apirat has reappeared in public.





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.)





Observing the funeral

27 10 2017

There’s now a ton of reports about the royal funeral. Much of it involves repetition of the kind of unduly reverential stuff we have posted on of late. Funerals don’t tend to get much critical attention.

While we haven’t looked at every report, one of the most bizarre from the foreign media was an Australian reporter’s effort to find a link with his country. Not the king having been to military school in his country. No, the link to the funeral was found in the horses, said to be from Australia.

Some international reports were visually interesting. A couple mentioned lese majeste, including one at Al Jazeera. Yet this report is schizophrenic in that it is headed by a wholly hagiographical video that is among the most hopelessly useless repetition of palace propaganda we’ve seen. The written report below it is at least a little more insightful. Much better is a BBC report that at least attempts to provide some critical assessment of situation and event (the report is difficult to find at the BBC website, but Andrew MacGregor Marshall provides the link via his Facebook page.

As the BBC report states, many who wanted to attend the funeral were kept out of the area. We assume that many watched the live broadcast of the funeral, which went at a snail’s pace and dragged on all day and night. It concluded by not showing the cremation at about 10 pm. In place of the cremation, well-worn footage of the dead king in the field was shown. Most Thais will have seen these exact images hundreds of times in recent years and more times over several decades.

One thing that was odd about this failure to show the cremation is that the live stream did not advise viewers that it would not be shown (at least that we heard, and we didn’t watch it all). It did repeatedly state the time of the cremation.

The Bangkok Post states: “Live broadcasts were not allowed for the real cremation among the royal family, scheduled to take place at 10pm after another religious rite at 8.30pm at the Song Dhamma Throne Hall.”

One can only wonder as to the reason for this. The cremation was a family event? There’s a taboo about it? Commoners can’t watch such royal events? Or, as some of the more scurrilous social media accounts have it, the  queen, who was not seen during the events of the day (at least not by us), was not to be seen in her sadly incapacitated state.

Whatever the reason, many Thais may well feel that, after a year of official mourning and calls to be “involved” in the funeral, they were short-changed.

Some other events of the funeral deserve mention.

It was noted that the “royal cremation ceremony organising committee” allowed “157,778 people” enter “the Sanam Luang area as of 1pm to attend the royal cremation ceremony.” These people “were separated from the invited VIPs and distinguished guests, who were in the inner area, by fences.” Apart from foreign guests, the VIPs were mostly minor royals, senior bureaucrats and military.

There was some social media discussion of the fact that the (dead) king’s body was not in the ceremonial golden urn. We were bemused by this discussion as this was well-known from the time of his death and reported several times. The urn has become a ceremonial throwback, not unlike the monarchy itself.

We also noticed that all of the officials involved seemed to have the now standard throwback short back and sides military-style haircut that the new king demands of all of his minions.

Meanwhile, we also noticed some of the king’s concubines in full military kit and heard several shouted orders to assembled troops from them. One, presumably (General) Suthida Vajiralongkorn na Ayudhya, acting as head of the king’s guard, hopping in and out of his several cars as the king went to and from the ceremonial grounds.

The overall image of the funeral was its militarization. The funeral was essentially a military parade, including several iterations of the Colonel Bogey March. The king, all those of the royal family who could, and civilian officials all marched in military style, punctuated by numerous gun salutes from soldiers firing rifles and cannon.

Religious and ceremonial aspects of the funeral were subordinated to its martial tone. The Dictator and the king appear united on Thailand’s military future, just as the dead king appreciated the symbiotic relationship he had with military strongmen.





All that money and the Crown Property Bureau

28 07 2017

No one who has decided that monarchy matters in Thailand will be happy about the headline recently at the ASEAN Economist: “Clown king nears crisis point.”

Taylor McDonald’s piece uses material from Andrew MacGregor Marshall, now described as a “veteran observer of the Thai monarchy,” and apparently drawn from a recent BBC interview. Marshall, who previously argued that there was a succession crisis in Thailand, is cited in this report as declaring that “the situation was becoming increasingly unsustainable.” He is quoted as believing that as “details of the king’s lifestyle spread, the kingdom was approaching a ‘crisis point’…”.

We are not sure that there is any more crisis now than over the last decade or so, although Marshall’s account of the king’s cruelty, womanizing and his grab for power while re-feudalizing the palace are all undoubted, we have yet to see “crisis.” Some speculate that the crisis comes after the previous king is cremated.The article makes this point:

How much longer Thailand’s inflexible generals will tolerate Vajiralongkorn as their head of state will have to be seen. He will no doubt go down, along with the Emperor Caligula, as a key case study used by republicans arguing against constitutional monarchy.

While we may hope that this king gets the boot, the fact is that the deep political change needed in Thailand – an end to the monarchy – remains unlikely. That’s our speculation.

But to the point of this post. What caught PPT’s attention in the article were comments about the Crown Property Bureau.

The article states: “A close aide of Thailand’s King … Vajiralongkorn was this month named head of the agency which manages the monarchy’s vast holdings after legal changes giving the king total control of the Crown Property Bureau.”

About a week or so ago, secretly considered changes to the law governing the CPB were announced, giving the king absolute command over it. That change, the article notes, mean it is no longer possible for royalist regimes to claim the CPB is not the king’s but held “in trust for the nation.”

The CPB website continues to allow the download of a chapter on crown property in the palace-approved book King Bhumibol Adulyadej. A Life’s Work, which begins the chapter this way:

Since 1936, the law has made a clear distinction between property that belongs to the king as a person and that which belongs to the crown as an institution. The Crown Property Bureau (CPB) exists to manage the property of the crown. This property does not belong to the king in his private capacity, but to the monarchy as an institution which continues from reign to reign. This rather special category of property arose when an absolute monarchy, under which the king was lord over his realm and everything in it, both people and property, evolved into a constitutional monarchy that exists within a vibrant globalised economy.

By legal definition, the CPB is a juristic person. It is not part of the palace administration, nor is it a government agency, nor is it a private firm. It is a unique institution. It is also a rather mysterious institution.

The distinction between crown and person is now removed by the changes made by the military junta, responding to the king’s demand.

A later part of the chapter is about The Crown Property Act of 1948 which:

… reconstituted the CPB as a juristic person, independent of government and not placed under any ministry. The minister of finance remained as the ex-officio chairman of the CPB board. Other board members were to be appointed by the king. One of these would hold the post of director-general of the CPB and have full executive power.

That was also changed a couple of weeks ago. Now the king has control of the CPB. As the article states, this change “removes any pretence that the assets are for anything other than the private use of the eccentric king.”

Air Chief Marshal Satitpong Sukvimol is now the “chair the bureau, a role which was previously held by the finance minister.” The report states that “Satitpong is Vajiralongkorn’s long-serving private secretary and was put in charge of the king’s private property in January.” The linking of the king’s private property and that of the crown, long a fiction in reality but maintained in law, is now gone, giving Vajiralongkorn control over a vast economic empire. PPT estimates that the CPB controls assets of about $55-60 billion and his personal property is likely to be at least another $10 billion.

The changes at the CPB go further, with the king putting other trusted favorites on its board. The table below shows the board before and after the change. THe sources are the 2016 Annual Report by the CPB (it can be downloaded) and the Thai version of the CPB’s webpage on the Board of Directors:

As can be seen, those added are all former or current military and police officers, all of whom have been close to the prince-now-king and have seen promotions under his new reign.

We can return to Marshall’s comments. He says that the king “seems determined to reassert the rule of monarchy and he doesn’t want all these rules and regulations … he wants everyone to know that he controls the money…”. He’s got that. He also notes that the “king is notoriously spendthrift.” That’s true and he now has a huge pile of loot to use.

We recall that the monarchy and state were almost bankrupted when King Vajiravudh governed through cronies and was spendthrift. It remains to be seen whether Vajiralongkorn will cause the same level of disquiet that was seen under Vajiravudh and which inexorably led to the 1932 Revolution.





Updated: King’s power

18 07 2017

For some time there have been rumors that King Vajiralongkorn was seeking to take full control of the Crown Property Bureau. A Royal Gazette announcement on the weekend and reports in the Thai and international media make that takeover official.

Interestingly, the takeover of the CPB by the king was discussed by Andrew MacGregor Marshall in his book A Kingdom in Crisis. He said:

The prospect of Thaksin [Shinawatra] and the crown prince using the vast wealth of the Crown Property Bureau to transform Thailand and elevate a new ruling class at the expense of the old terrifies the oligarchy that runs the country.

If the oligarchs were terrified, half of that prediction have now come about. The Thaksin part of the equation seems to have been nullified by the 2014 coup and the military dictatorship’s efforts to destroy Thaksin and other identified enemies of regime, crown and tycoons.

At least that’s what they must be hoping.

Khaosod reports that the puppet National Legislative Assembly has passed a new law on the control of the Crown Property Bureau. (We assume that the NLA again met in secret session to do this deal for the king. We assume this because the previous new laws made following demands from the king have been made secretly.)

This new legislation, passed on Sunday, gives the king “sole authority over royal assets.” This is claimed to be the first change made to the law since 1948.

Whereas previously the Ministry of Finance and its minister had nominal roles in managing the CPB and its board of directors, this is now gone. Now, “the power to appoint a board of directors to manage the crown property rests solely with King Vajiralongkorn, and not a government official as delineated in previous laws.”

As Khaosod notes, this is the “latest move by the military government to cement King Vajiralongkorn’s control over palace affairs.”

Yet it is far more than this. Allowing for the growth of property prices, the CPB probably controls assets of $40-60 billion. Arguably, it is the most powerful and wealthiest conglomerate in the country.

The king now controls this mammoth business empire. More importantly, the new law also “prohibits any effort to take away any part of the royal assets without the king’s approval.” This provision has potentially wide-ranging implications for the future of the monarchy and further reduces the state’s authority over the monarchy.

The king now controls all aspects of the monarchy’s wealth and power, and in legal terms, he is now the most powerful monarch since 1932 and, on paper, is more or less independent of the state’s control that was established in 1932 and the years after.

As an AFP report notes, this is the “latest move by an increasingly assertive monarch to consolidate his power.”

While the previous king relied on networks of influential alliances, the power of the military and a personal capacity to politically intervene when he deemed this necessary, the new king is acknowledging his unpopularity and has joined with the military junta to consolidate and expand the monarchy’s economic and political power.

Update: Reuters adds some further detail to this change. It notes that the changes to the law “places the management of crown property under the direct supervision of the king. It states that the bureau’s properties, in addition to the king’s private properties, will be managed ‘at His Majesty’s discretion’.” It allows the king to “assign the Crown Property Bureau, any individual or agency to manage the properties and assets.”

Clearly the old claim that the CPB was not exactly the monarch’s property is out the window. The king’s personal property is indistinguishable from that of the CPB.

Interestingly, “Crown property, but not the king’s private property, had previously been exempted from tax,” and the “amended law says both could now be subject to tax, though it did not elaborate,” suggesting that there’s plenty of wriggle room.





Dealing with anti-monarchism

15 05 2017

The king is an unpredictable egoist with unprecedented powers (at least over the last 85 years). Yet the military junta has placed almost all of its chips in his hands. They will come to regret this political decision, and they probably already are.

The king has been demanding and grasping of power. His moves are coming under increasing criticism.

All the junta seems to be able to do is try to blot out all of the political and personal stains. Such actions make regime opponents lightening rods for all the information that is anti-monarchy and anti-junta. This is especially so when the junta announces who its opponents are by “banning” them.

From AMM’s Facebook page

PPT looked through some of Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s recent Facebook posts, and he has material that suggests the king continues to behave in ways that suggest a remarkable disconnect from reality.

Marshall posts some pictures that suggest the king continues to behave towards and with his consorts as he did in the past.

Best known was the video that showed his former wife naked before him. Of course, he had previously made soft porn photos of his wives and consorts.

Such behavior leads to increased opposition and political frustration. Here, too, Marshall has some recent material, suggesting attacks on royal propaganda.

He posted the above picture of presumably politicized attacks on royal symbols.

The junta’s response if to double down, and Marshall has more on this.

From AMM’s Facebook page

Marshall is chronicling some important events and that is one reason why the junta needs to block the information he receives and broadcasts.