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.





New king, old king, same story

29 07 2018

On Saturday evening, The Dictator and his junta buddies got their best uniforms on to hail the king on his birthday.

As far as anyone can tell, the junta, the military it represents and the monarchy continue their anti-democratic partnership that has crippled Thailand’s political development for about six decades.

More than this, though, the birthday presents an opportunity to celebrate the presumed defeat of the anti-monarchism of the period before the coup.

This is why the birthday celebrations seem so familiar. Nothing much seems to have changed since the old king: new king, old message. Perhaps the only change is that no one (yet) has to listen to the rambling of he who must be obeyed.

If readers think back to all the talk and words printed about a succession crisis and how much Vajiralongkorn was hated, feared and the wrong person for the position, the wonder is that it never really happened, and that (maybe) there was more hope that there was a crisis than there really was a crisis.

Now all the monarchy stuff and the propaganda just feels so familiar. Heck, even some Puea Thai Party supporters are praising the new king as a great king.

As in the past, the media are required to provide the outlet for palace propaganda, whether coming from the palace directly or just manufactured by royalists. Looking just at the English-language efforts of The Nation and the Bangkok Post, we see little different from years gone by, except for the fact that they have had to stretch a bit to fit the new king into the palace narrative.

in one item, The Nation wishes to advertise the king’s alleged sympathy for the downtrodden. Of course, this theme was long-term propaganda fodder for the past king, pointing to royal projects (publicly funded since the 1980s). In the new story, which will be recycled year after year, readers are told that a poor village in the northeast (no coincidence that its oppositional heartland) has “a new life thanks to a Royal initiative.” It is added that the villagers owe everything to “the efforts of one very special individual…”. No prizes for guessing that its King Vajiralongkorn.

Apparently the then crown prince visited in 2000, and immediately ordered things done that miraculously changed the villagers fortunes. All of the “innovations” mentioned in the article and attributed to the crown prince-now-king sound exactly like those attributed to his father.

The point is to tell one and all, but especially the monarchy’s political base in the urban middle class, that the “results of this royal project, one of the many models that exemplifies His Majesty King Rama X’s resolution to fulfil the wishes of His Majesty the late King Rama IX and work for the benefit of all Thais.” That the villagers troubles inconveniently arose from royal-sponsored dam projects is overlooked.

The rest of the article is the usual story of how grateful every villager is and how successful the royal projects have been. Royal magic works wonders: “Every time we think of the royal graciousness, we shed tears of joy. Wherever Their Majesties visit, prosperity comes to those areas.” How could it be otherwise?

The Bangkok Post takes a different tack, inventing the new king as a great sportsman. According to this tale, the new king has followed the old king “on several paths including sports.” Who knew?

The story claims the king “was once known as the ‘Football Prince’ but is now renowned for his involvement in cycling.” Of course, he’s been a great sportsman since birth: “The King’s love for sports is obviously in his blood through his late father, a great athlete and patron of sports…”.

“Great athlete” seems to mean that the former king won a medal skippering a dinghy. That victory saw Bhumibol proclaimed “king of sports.” Now it is Vajiralongkorn’s turn. (Just by “chance,” when Bhumibol won his medal, he shared first place with none other than his eldest daughter.)

Vajiralongkorn is said to have been talented at every sport he’s tried! But now he’s a “major supporter of Thai cycling” since he headed the Bike for Mom/Dad stuff. Most sporting associations seem to be headed by serving or past generals. So a quote from president of the Cycling Association of Thailand Gen Decha Hemkrasri is quoted: “”We have enjoyed success thanks to enormous support from [then] HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn…”.

And so the story goes on.

The Nation also gets into reporting congratulatory messages (perhaps message is a better way to put it) from other royals and global leaders. Apparently His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan of Brunei Darussalam has consented to send message of congratulations to King of Thailand His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, on the occasion of the King of Thailand’s 66th birth anniversary.” We’d have thought there’d be more than this – after all, Vajiralongkorn is head of state – but maybe the story was run on Brunei based on the length of the title.

In short, nothing has changed and the same palace propaganda – with the help of junta repression – is ensuring that the new king get the reverence his father had and that the international media repeatedly says he lacked. That will change too, unless the erratic Vajiralongkorn has yet another public meltdown.





Worth reading

18 07 2018

Over recent months we have neglected suggesting some of the more academic works on Thailand that some readers might find of interest.

We were reminded of this omission when we saw an excellent account of the 6 October massacre and associated events in a story at the Los Angeles Review of Books by Suchada Chakpisuth and translated by Tyrell Haberkorn. As ever, when it comes to anything on Thailand’s politics, there are likely to be negative responses. In this case, so far, there is only one such comment. All we can say is that what one reader finds sentimental and sophomoric, we found enlightening, sobering and a painful reminder of the ways in which ultra-nationalism and ultra-royalism can spin out of control or be made to become demonic and murderous.

Back to recent articles that may be of interest:

There’s a Commentary behind a paywall at Critical Asian Studies by Kasian Tejapira: “The Sino-Thais’ right turn towards China.” Also at CAS, there are pay-for-view commentaries reflecting on Thailand: “Thailand’s urbanized villagers and political polarization” by Duncan McCargo and “Modern day slavery in Thai fisheries: academic critique, practical action” by Peter Vandergeest, Olivia Tran & Melissa Marschke.

At the Journal of Contemporary Asia, there are several pay-for-view articles and book reviews: Owners of the Map. Motorcycle Taxi Drivers, Mobility, and Politics in Bangkok is reviewed by
Kevin Hewison who also reviews Working Towards the Monarchy: The Politics of Space in Downtown Bangkok, while A History of Ayutthaya: Siam in the Early Modern Period is reviewed by Robert H. Taylor. Björn Dressel & Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang author “Coloured Judgements? The Work of the Thai Constitutional Court, 1998–2016.” The most recent issue includes two Thailand articles: “Anti-Royalism in Thailand Since 2006: Ideological Shifts and Resistance” by an anonymous author (which was, for a time free for download, but not now) and “Politics and the Price of Rice in Thailand: Public Choice, Institutional Change and Rural Subsidies” by Jacob Ricks.

Pacific Affairs has a pay-for-view article by Aim Simpeng, “Participatory Inequality in the Online and Offline Political Engagement in Thailand.” and free book reviews of Thai Politics: Between Democracy and Its Discontents reviewed by Kevin Hewison, Siege of the Spirits: Community and Polity in Bangkok reviewed by Charles Keyes, The Lost Territories: Thailand’s History of National Humiliation reviewed by Søren Ivarsson.

Contemporary Southeast Asia has a free book review of Thai Politics: Between Democracy and Its Discontents reviewed by Aim Simpeng, Khaki Capital: The Political Economy of the Military in Southeast Asia reviewed by John Blaxland and Thailand: Shifting Ground between the US and a Rising China, reviewed by Pongphisoot Busbarat. It has a pay-for-view article by Duncan McCargo, Saowanee T Alexander and Petra Desatova, “Ordering Peace: Thailand’s 2016 Constitutional Referendum.”

The Journal of Southeast Asian Studies has “Mae Fah Luang: Thailand’s Princess Mother and the Border Patrol Police during the Cold War” by Sinae Hyun and available for free download. It also has several book reviews of general Thailand interest, some for free download.

If an article is behind a paywall, we recommend searching by title as authors and their universities sometimes make them available in a pre-print format.





A catch-up

9 02 2018

PPT has been concentrating on short posts in recent days, trying to keep up with rapidly developing stories. That means we have neglected some stories and op-eds that deserve consideration. So this post is a bit of a catch-up.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun at The Diplomat writes about election delays. We’ve posted plenty on that. He also links to the king, noting that “Vajiralongkorn has been preoccupied with consolidating his position, most evidently through his request to have the constitution amended, particularly when it comes to the provisions related to royal affairs.” Those changes fir the mold of a king comfortable with the regime.

Brian Klaas may not be a well-established commentator on Thailand, but selling himself as “on democracy, authoritarianism, American politics, US foreign policy, political violence, and elections.” He has an op-ed at The Washington Post. There are problems with his op-ed. His description of the 2014 coup sounds more like the 2006 coup, some factual errors – no “elections approached in 2015” and there’s a bunch first person references including this gem: “Every time I’ve interviewed generals in the junta in Bangkok, they say the right things. They know how to speak in the Western lexicon of democracy — promising a swift return to elections and human rights protections. But they don’t follow through.” Still, his analysis of the junta’s delaying tactics on “elections” is accurate.

At the East Asia Forum, Tyrell Haberkorn is correct that the “dictatorship has methodically entrenched itself…”. She goes on to explain how a central element of that process is political repression. She’s also right to observe that the “most potent tool in upholding the status quo of the dictatorship is the most feared provision of the Criminal Code: Article 112, which stipulates a punishment of 3–15 years’ imprisonment per count of lese majeste.”

At the Journal of Contemporary Asia there are a couple of new papers on Thailand. One is behind a paywall but is probably of interest as it is on rice policies. Politics and the Price of Rice in Thailand: Public Choice, Institutional Change and Rural Subsidies by Jacob Ricks looks at the history of rice policies and subsidies. The second, anonymous, article is currently available for free download. It is Anti-Royalism in Thailand Since 2006: Ideological Shifts and Resistance.

The last link was sent by a reader and is in the category of the weird. The Independent, said to be Singapore-based, recently had this headline: “‘Very erratic’ new Thai King may pave the way for Kra canal leading to Singapore’s doom.” It says that the king is “favorable to building the Kra Canal … [and] that several leading figures on the Thai Privy Council are fully behind the project…”. The source is revealing: the extremists of the LaRouche organization, including its Schiller Institute, misidentified as a “think tank.” The LaRouche group has been promoting this project for decades as part of its support for a “new Silk Road” with LaRouche speaking in Bangkok several times. We have previously mentioned some of the LaRouche links to rightists and royalists in Thailand, including Sondhi Limthongkul, and the connections to the alt-right in the U.S., including quite mad conspiracy theorists.