What happened to that palace “crisis”?

9 12 2018

Readers may recall that, in the period before Vajiralongkorn came to the throne, there was a widely-held view that there was a “succession crisis” in Thailand.Nothing was seen publicly, although when the incoming king did not take the throne for a period, the media was abuzz.

Earlier, PPT wrote that it had to be admitted that Wikileaks, the 2006 coup, the role the palace played in that, the royalist opposition to electoral representation, the infamous birthday video, and the rise of the successionist line in blogs and on social media have changed the way most of the world thinks about Thailand’s monarchy.

There were also those stories circulating that the then Crown Prince was close to Thaksin Shinawatra and red shirts. This even led to a forlorn hope that the new king might be “more democratic.”

Then there were stories about rifts in the palace, most notably between the then prince and Princess Sirindhorn, who were characterized as competing for the throne. One story reckoned she was preparing to decamp for China if her brother became king.

PPT wasn’t convinced by this successionist argument., but we couldn’t ignore the way discussion of succession merged with rising anti-monarchism.

We can’t determine whether this crisis was a beat up based on limited evidence coming from an opaque palace, wishful thinking, an effort to destabilize the palace under the junta or something else. What we did notice was that the 2014 coup had a lot to do with snuffing out anti-monarchism.

In the end, it turns out, the biggest “crisis” for the palace occurred in late 2014, when the king-in-waiting “cleaned” out his family and continued a palace cleaning and reorganization that saw dozens of lese majeste cases and saw many jailed and some die.

All of this is a long introduction to a new op-ed by Pavin Chachavalpongpun at FORSEA. On all of the above, he now states: “There was no such war. Vajiralongkorn was already firmly in charge of palace affairs before his father passed away in October 2016.” He adds:

After the long authoritative reign of Bhumibol, some would have hoped that the new monarch would be more open, liberal even. Yet, they were wrong. Now that Thailand has installed a military-trained king on the throne, who is determined to expand the monarchy’s powers, the country’s future does not seem bright. The new monarch promises authoritarianism rather than democracy.

The op-ed deserves attention for its focus on what Vajiralongkorn has been doing on the throne:

Vajiralongkorn is striving to re-establish the power and authority of the royal institution, fully enjoyed by Thai kings prior to the abolition of absolute monarchy in 1932….

This is the first time since 1932 when a new Thai king holds more formal power than his predecessors. The entrenchment of the monarchical power has been made possible by a renewed alliance between the monarchy and the army through a repressive military regime.

His economic and political power has expanded. Under the junta, no one can say anything much about this.

Pavin mentions the huge land grabs in Bangkok:

has taken into his possession a number of major public buildings in Bangkok, from the Dusit Zoo to the Nang Loeng Horse-racing Track. Both are located within the close radius of the royal palace. The confiscation of these buildings was supposedly meant to be an expansion of the spatial power of the new king. A dream of redesigning Bangkok to mimic London where royal properties have been integrated finally comes true under Vajiralongkorn reign. The only difference is that whereas the British royal parks are open for public, those in Thailand will be forever shuttered.

The grabs in the area of the palace – also including Suan Amphorn, the so-called Throne Hall and the current parliament buildings and land – have coincidentally been about erasing 1932.

In terms of politics, it seems pretty obvious that all of this palace work depends on the extension of authoritarian rule.

Army and monarchy entwined

18 10 2018

Khaosod has a story that should be read.

While there’s much talk about lese majeste being (perhaps) rolled back and dependent on royal whim, the long mutual relationship between the monarchy and the top military brass is stronger than ever.

Gen Apirat Kongsompong reportedly:

“lashed out at those behind a recent bid to petition King Vajiralongkorn to remove the military junta, calling them “mentally insane”… A majority of those who slander the monarchy are mentally insane, and those who are not insane have strange ideas….

He continued, saying “the army should remember its loyalty lies with … the King.” Gen Apirat worrried that:

… [s]ome soldiers might have forgotten this, so let me remind them their supreme commander is the monarch…. The army is a servant whose duty and heart are for protecting the monarchy … the army will use every one of its capabilities and capacity to defend the monarchy.

Like several army thugs before him, Gen Apirat observed:

Governments change, but the monarch must always exist side by side with the Thai nation. This is the duty of the army, and I will protect the monarchy with everything I have….

The Nation worried that these statements might mean that republicans could find themselves in a mental hospital. Pointing out that this was Gen Apirat’s first press conference since taking his post.

In its report, The Nation adds that Apirat, like his boss The Dictator, wondered if anti-monarchists were real Thais:

These people can’t be in Thailand…. We have always been protected by the monarchy, since the time of our ancestors. Why can’t they [the anti-monarchists] be grateful for that? Everybody is patriotic here.

Despite the royalist mouthpiece’s claims, the “change” on lese majeste remains unclear and is yet to be fully tested.

All the king’s servants II

7 10 2018

A few days ago PPT commented on the formation of a special police unit for the “protection of the monarchy” and especially the king. An AFP report adds a little more on this force of “[m]ore than 1,600 police … assigned to protect Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his family, … quadrupling the force as the new monarch continues to reorganise palace affairs.”

The report has all the blarney about the monarchy being “sacred and untouchable” and the dead king being “revered as a demi-god among Thais.” Presumably all this buffalo manure is meant to allow the reporters to say that this monarchy also needs “by some of the harshest royal insult legislation in the world.” But insufficient posterior polishing to allow them to observe that anti-monarchism was widespread before the military junta targeted and snuffed it out (at least for the time being).

Head of the upgraded royal security police unit, the Special Service Division, Col Torsak Sukvimol, said that it currently had a paltry “400 personnel from the Crime Suppression Division … which has long been tasked with protecting the royal family,” and needed to be increased to a total of 1,617. While recruiting and training the officers could take up to five years, that is still a minimum additional taxpayer impost of 300 million baht a year just in salary costs.

Col Torsak “explained” that this huge increase in security, including intelligence units and additional “patrolling” is required when the “king visits different parts of the country.”

As he went on, Col Torsak added that following the king’s “coronation, there is going to be more royal activities…. Four hundred people is not enough.” That will probably worrying a lot of people, as the interventionist king seems to be planning to be even more involved.

Helpfully, Col Torsak said that the “unit has not been tasked with scouring the public for violations of the kingdom’s draconian royal defamation law…”. We guess there are hundreds of others doing that. But he did add: “We will not be aimed at monitoring people for 112 prosecutions. The 112 charge will not be wielded repetitiously…”.

That will indeed be a relief. However, computer crimes and sedition are more likely to be used in cases the junta would normally use for its opponents and the monarchy’s critics. At the same time, the junta’s draconian use of 112 has already cut down and silenced the bravest of critics.

Republicanism and those shirts IV

14 09 2018

The flag of the Dutch municipality of Enschede is getting quite a run in Thailand.

The Bangkok Post reports another arrest associated with the t-shirts alleged to be for the Organization for a Thai Federation.

Jinda Achariyasilp, 55, a vendor, was arrested in Chon Buri “for allegedly making and distributing T-shirts for the anti-monarchist … movement…”.

Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, pleased his watch story is being buried by alleged republicanism, states that “the Laos government was looking for more associates of the movement.”

Jinda was arrested on Wednesday “with 16 T-shirts bearing the emblem of the movement, white and red ribbons and fabrics for the production of the emblem. She also had a list of T-shirt deliveries, 10 unaddressed parcels and script drafts for phone-ins to a programme run by a man known as Lung Sanam Luang, believed to lead the pro-republic movement.”

Officials claimed she “had delivered T-shirts to members in Chon Buri and nearby provinces…”, suggesting the movement, if there is one, is bigger than the junta thugs have suggested.

Jinda was said to have “confessed” and was taken off to the 11th Military Circle in Bangkok for further interrogation, without legal assistance, which is the norm in the junta’s world.

Updated: Republicanism and those shirts II

11 09 2018

Khaosod reports that the authorities have probably arrested another three people for “possessing black T-shirts linked to an underground republican group…”.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights are seeking to visit three men held in prison, “reportedly charged with inciting sedition and ordered jailed until trial.”

But police say they haven’t arrested anyone and point to the military.

It is not known if or how these three or any of those arrested are connected with the “Organization for a Thai Federation, which seeks to establish a federal republic in part of Thailand,” that is claimed to be the source of the “plot” to raise the profile of republicans.

Meanwhile, the Deputy Dictator, Gen Prawit  Wongsuwan has claimed the t-shirts originate in Laos. Saying that his thugs had seized about 450 shirts in the recent arrest and detention of a woman, Prawit blamed “a group of Thai anti-monarchists fleeing prosecution for lese majeste…”.

Gen Prawit claimed this group wanted “an administration without the institution.” The terminology “the institution” is a royalist linguistic innovation to refer to a monarchy that is not a strictly constitutional monarchy.

More revealing is Gen Prawit’s claim that the republicans have a “network in Thailand.” We have to say that this is beginning to feel a little like so many other “plots” revealed by  the military regime.

The Deputy Dictator then named a name: “He identified a person behind the movement as Chucheep Cheewasut, who had fled the country. The man was prosecuted for lese majeste and sedition, and security authorities had monitored his activities for a long time…”. Chucheep does appear in PPT files, but from a very long time ago and with scant information. (We will update).

Prawit warned that “anyone else who became involved with the movement would … be arrested.”

Despite all of this, the general added that “the movement had no significant momentum. It existed only on social media and aimed to inspire people to think about a new state without the institution [monarchy]…”.

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that Col Burin Thongpraphai, a junta legal official “handed the woman identified only as Wannapa, who allegedly sold the T-shirts, over to the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) Tuesday for legal action.” She is to be charged with numerous offences: “ang-yee (running an illegal secret organisation)…”.

Dangerous republican shirts

7 09 2018

Both Khaosod and Prachatai report on the detention of two women for allegedly being in possession of t-shirts that some claim are associated with something called the “Organisation for Thai Federation.” The military believe this to be a republican group.

Soldiers detained the two women “without charge after searching their homes for T-shirts they had purchased…” several months ago.

It isn’t known why the soldiers targeted these women or why they purchased the t-shirts. It is reported that they purchased the shirts online, so we guess that the miltiary’s cybersnoops have cracked the sales site and are now tracking down those who bought the shirts.

While republicanism does bubble along below the surface in royalist Thailand, the organization named is not well known.

When the two reports came out, one of the women had been released. The other seemed to be still held at a military base but her family was unable to contact her.

Updated: On not being anti-royal

12 08 2018

The level of self-censorship in Thailand is at an all-time high. That’s an outcome of the military junta’s 2014 coup and its heavy-handed crackdown on anything considered anti-monarchy.

One of the reasons for the coup was to crush anti-royalism and republicanism. These rising sentiments threatened the social hierarchy and the ideology of conservative royalism that holds Thailand’s military-monarchy alliance and the whole exploitative class structure together.

The Dictator’s assigned task was to crush anti-royalism. This task was made all the more important as it was clear in 2014 that succession was not far off.

The use of lese majeste and sedition laws, together with a militarization of bureaucracy and an embedding of military personnel at all levels of Thai society in order to repress anti-royal sentiment has been successful. Indeed, in the past year or so, lese majeste cases have dwindled after a huge spike after the coup. A combination of repression and self-censorship, along with the jailing of several hundred has had a marked impact. So too have the huge sentences that were being handed out. These said to people: you are warned! Cross the line and you rot in a stinking prison!

This long background is a way of introducing a Bangkok Post editorial that raises questions regarding the opaque deal being done on the Dusit Zoo. This is a deal to return public space to the monarch. It is a part of the king’s unstated but all too obvious plan to recover land that he feels rightly belongs to the monarch. He’s rolling back the 1932 revolution one property at a time.

The best the Post can do is stress animal welfare and the royal heritage of the zoo. These might be well-made points, but the real issue is the opaque deals being done between the junta and the palace.

The Post simply can’t say anything direct on anything that may be construed as critical of the monarch or the monarchy.

Update: Displaying high royalism but hinting at the unease over the royal land grab, Thai PBS has not one but four pictures of the title deed and land that the king has swapped for his prized piece of real estate. It is about 50 kilometers from central Bangkok. This report says there are more than 1,600 animals that have to be moved elsewhere and also indicates the shock of the deal for some patrons.